Doomsday Clock #12 (of 12)
Written By: Geoff Johns
Art by: Gary Frank
Colors: Brad Anderson
It has been a long wait, but Doomsday Clock finally delivers its final issue. More so than any other book, there are many outside factors that have harmed or influenced the material within. The previous twelve issues have been a mashup of DC mainstays and the characters from Watchmen (along with a few original creations). When the series was first pitched to the public there was a promise that it would have a line wide effect on DC titles, and it isn’t a shock that all of this has changed. Of course there are things that will touch on other titles, but most of it has already been mitigated months ago. If you have been following the book so far you know what it has been building up to, a confrontation between Dr. Manhattan and Superman, and there is a conclusion to that at least here.
Superman faces a fight on three fronts in this issue. Firstly, he is being attacked by a group of Russian superheroes that unjustly blame him for the Moscow attack a few issues back (he was set up). Black Adam is also confronting Superman, along with his nation state of superhero refugees. Finally, there is the threat of Dr. Manhattan and how he knows that this fight with Superman will lead to an “end.” The issue also carves some space for an ending/new beginning for the new Rorschach, how Marionette and Mime’s child fits into the narrative, how Lex Luthor and Ozymandis pull some strings from behind, and the final word on Carver Coleman. However, the bulk of this issue deals with Superman and Dr. Manhattan, and it lays the meta commentary on fairly thick. This final issue warps the DC timeline, much like a Crisis event would, but ultimately is softened for many reasons.
There is an oversized elephant in the room we have to talk about. Of course I am talking about the HBO Watchmen series. Since the last issue, the entirety of Watchmen season one (and maybe the entire series) has aired. Their mission was similar to what Geoff Johns was trying here in making a sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s masterpiece. You can look back at my reviews and see how I was fairly high on praising this title, however there is no doubt that the TV series has completely readjusted my expectations. The show is a masterpiece, and no piece of art can exist in a bubble. Doomsday Clock has now been exposed as a shallow version of what a follow up to Watchmen should be. It starts with Geoff Johns playing with Dr. Manhattan’s experience of time, and this plays throughout the issue. It is too bad that the TV show had just shown this same effect in a much more compelling story. Alan Moore wrote Watchmen as a piece of political protest against American conservatism. The TV show took this theme and ran with it and made one of the most hard hitting pieces of drama dealing with race, power, and corruption on TV today. Geoff Johns only plays small lip service to the political aspect of the series. I thought he was on to something when I saw a white man in a red hat (that is 100% a stand in for a MAGA hat) beating up the new Rorschach (who is black). It was Johns’s chance to make this comic political and contemporary and stop holding back his punches, much like the HBO show is not afraid to tackle white supremacy in the USA and police force. Sadly, Johns’s pivots and turns this moment into a lesson in “centrism” and makes a point to call out liberals for being too “self righteous” (excuse me Geoff, but you literally pointed out that the right has a white supremacy problem, but the left shouldn’t feel they are on the moral high ground here?) He then drops the political discourse like a hot potato and decides to never talk about it again, aside from some small snippets in speech bubble coming of a TV screen. This comic is as shallow as a rain puddle when it comes to making coherent points on American politics. If you can’t make a Watchmen comic politically meaningful, maybe don’t bother making a Watchmen comic.
Now this isn’t to say I completely hated this book. Where Geoff drops the ball on politics, he is able to craft a story that plays into the other half of Watchmen’s purpose as a comic. Alan Moore wasn’t just criticizing American politics, but American superhero comics as a whole. He explored the heroes as flawed, egomaniacal, fascists. Geoff Johns’s challenges this idea and is able to make an argument that super heroes can and should be inspiring. Don’t worry, he doesn’t decide to put The Comedian on a path of redemption, Johns’s knows which characters to change and which to leave as Alan Moore had them. The new Rorschach finds new purpose and meaning of the mask thanks to Batman. This thematically makes perfect sense as Batman himself took a symbol of fear to use as his symbol. But what really shines is Superman’s place in this book. Johns’s has always been one of the writers that truly understand Superman. While many people struggle to make Superman “relevant” Geoff Johns’ clearly gets it. Superman is shown as a beacon of hope in this comic, and the reason everything occurs in the comic book world. This metacommentary goes as far to aptly explain how the multiverse works, and why shifting timelines make sense. There is even a dig at Zack Snyder and how he characterized the Kents in Man of Steel. In Man of Steel, Jonathan Kent teaches Clark to not out himself as having powers. But in this comic Superboy returns and shows the folly in characterizing Jonathan and Clark as anything but helpful and hopeful. The big drops of JSA and The Legion of Superheroes returning have already been spoiled, thanks to The Justice League and Bendis’ Legion comics. The way they return here would have been more meaningful if this comic was published a year ago, as I prefer how they return here over how DC handled it.
Gary Frank is a stellar artist, and I really believe this is the best work he has ever produced (save the last page, but everyone has their weaknesses). It is incredible seeing how he handles the design of so many recognizable characters, and I wish we could see him working on a monthly title (I know it is impossible). Everything he does is so clean and realistic, and the perfect match to follow in the footsteps of Dave Gibbons.