When I was at ye olde comicks shoppe this past Wednesday, I wondered aloud whether I should buy Doomsday Clock #1, the new crossover event between the Watchmen characters and the DCU. I told the retailer it might be nicer to Alan Moore if I flew to England, found Mr. Moore, and set his beard on fire. That’s how evil and vile (and other anagrams of “live”) this book is, and I haven’t even read it yet! But then I thought, “Well, DC already got their blood money, so I might as well buy it and mock it on the internet.” I’m going to do it in the tried and true fashion – by reading it and noting my reactions to each page as I read it. I promise I haven’t read it yet. What will be in this post is my unfiltered, out-of-context reactions to each page. All I’ve done is check out that fancy lenticular cover, which was a dollar more than the regular covers (in for a penny, in for a pound, is my motto):
(You can click the image to see it change, if you haven’t seen elsewhere yet.)
I feel bad just from that cover. Man, I should have set Alan Moore’s beard on fire. But alea iacta est! Let’s do this thing!
Page 1: Hey, it’s 22 November, the same day this comic came out! Or the 23rd, because our narrator isn’t sure. Geoff Johns, who wrote this, is evoking Rorschach here, with the same ragged caption boxes and the same lettering as Rorschach’s journal in Watchmen. The page is in a nine-panel grid like Watchmen, but Gary Frank, who drew this, breaks that in the bottom row, using one panel instead of three and shifting the point of view, unlike on the first page of Watchmen, which simply kept pulling back from the street. The first six panels of this page do that, but the breaking of that pattern is significant, I think. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons constructed Watchmen very deliberately, with many layers, which is why it’s one of the best re-reads in comics. This shift in point of view by Johns and Frank seems to symbolize that this book is plot over theme, which doesn’t bode well. The first six panels show a riot, starting with a sign reading “The End Is Here” and pulling back to show a police car getting tipped over and smoke floating above the crowd. The shift in the final panel is back to ground level, as rioters turn their attention to the police and our point of view is as one of the rioters. We’re no longer above it, we’re among it, and it’s obvious that Johns and Frank are going for a visceral reaction to what’s going on. The language is poor, though – it’s 1992, not 2017, yet “Rorschach” uses buzzwords from this year, because Johns is making a point about politics in the age of Trump. “Rorschach” writes that humanity had a chance to make things right (he refers to the end of Watchmen, obviously) but “we” blew it. In Panel 3, we see a sign that says “Make America Safe Again,” another reference to Trump that is somewhat anachronistic (the world of Watchmen is far more dangerous than ours, of course, but the sign feels out of place because it’s referring to a campaign slogan from 2016/2017, not 1992). “Rorschach” writes that “undeplorables” blame “the other side for what they have instead of who they are,” those in power are nostalgic for a time when their power was unquestioned, not realizing that it wasn’t a great world for everyone, and nobody is tolerant of anyone unlike them. This is another anachronistic sequence, as I challenge anyone to recall when they heard the word “deplorable” outside of a C.S. Lewis book before Clinton used it in 2016. “Rorschach” writes that the bugs will soon take over unless we “bring God back down, kicking and screaming because maybe we don’t deserve it” and “maybe the world should burn this time.” Um, what? What does that mean? Don’t deserve what? The world, I assume, but how will bringing God down (and by God, he means Adrian Veidt, as the rioters are outside a building with a big “V” on it, but I’m not supposed to know that yet) [Edit: It could be Dr. Manhattan, too, I suppose, after I’ve read the entire issue] make them deserve it? That sentence is tough to parse. Anyway, that’s Page 1. The prose is turgid like Rorschach’s journal, but lacks the elegant bile of Moore’s writing. I’m not surprised.
Page 2: “We shattered the American dream,” the narrator writes. “This is the American nightmare.” Yawn. So many clichés already! In the first two panels, a brick smashes the glass door of the building and in Panel 2, rioters burst into the atrium of the building, where we see a long pool and some Egyptian artifacts. Then we abruptly shift to a news broadcaster, and we’ll shift back and forth between the television and the riot for a few panels. In Panels 3, 5, and 8, we hear news of the world. The vice president has killed the attorney general (?) and is apparently holding 17 people hostage, while the president is golfing (??). The European Union has collapsed (another anachronism, as it wasn’t called the EU until 1993), and Russia is threatening to invade Poland. North Korea has nukes that could reach Texas (needless to say, another anachronism, as North Korea didn’t have nukes until the mid-2000s), and people are fleeing south to Mexico after having broken through the wall (okay, that was a bit funny). Meanwhile, police are shooting rioters in the back and trampling on “The End Is Here” signs in the other panels.
If Johns wanted to comment on Trump, he should have just set this in 2017. And why is the president playing golf in the middle of a hostage crisis during which his vice president is shooting his attorney general? Someone like Johns might think that’s exactly what Trump would do, but it feels so beyond the realm of reality that it’s obviously just a way to insult the president. As you might know, I think the president needs to be insulted a lot, but over things he actually does, not what we think he would do in a certain situation.
Page 3: As the rioters enter Veidt’s office, the news broadcaster tells us that there’s a global manhunt on for him, and the American government says that they will prove they didn’t collude with him, even though the Russians claim they did. The newsman gives us a brief biography of Veidt as the rioters chuck his chair out the window and we see a newspaper lying on his desk with “The Great Lie” as a headline. In the final panel, we get brief mentions of the rest of Watchmen‘s characters as they were at the end of the book (or at least what was publicly known at the end of the book) as soldiers move through the snow toward a large structure. I assume this is Veidt’s Antarctic refuge.
Page 4: We get a growing cacophony of voices, which then become one voice, of someone who is presumably a newsman (his name is Howard) doing something that is forbidden on television (someone wants to cut the feed). We also get random snippets of commercials for prescription drugs and the announcements about newspapers and broadcasts ending because of the bad reporting of the Veidt case, I guess? The New York Gazette ran the story about Veidt’s “big lie,” and is now being forced to shut down, and I guess the newsman is either killing himself or shooting some other people live on the air (committing suicide on air is not a new thing for newspeople, unfortunately, so maybe that’s what’s happening). All of this is juxtaposed with the soldiers entering Veidt’s fortress and finding it empty. They pass the bank of television monitors and hear what “Howard” is saying, and enter a room with medical equipment in it an X-rays on the wall. The X-rays show a skull with a large mass inside it. That can’t be good.
Page 5: The nine-panel grid is back, and we begin with a news report by William F. Buckley, Jr., who works for the president, telling us that Russia has invaded Poland (the William F. Buckley we all know was a “junior” and was 57 in 1992; this dude is, I assume, supposed to be his son, but Buckley’s only son is named Christopher and looks nothing like the dude in the comic). The president has issued an ultimatum to the Russians, demanding they leave in four hours or it’s war. A “mandatory evacuation” order has been issued throughout the country and everyone should move to their designated “red zones.” After we see the television, we switch to a prison, where a prisoner grabs a passing guard and demands the keys. The guard is knocked out from behind and a gloved hand takes the ring of keys. The prisoner sees this and is not particularly enthused about it.
Page 6: Because on the next page, we see that the person holding the keys is Rorschach. We get the title of the issue, “That Annihilated Place,” [Edit: Like Watchmen, this is part of the quote at the end of the issue] and then Rorschach approaches the cell and asks if the prisoner still wants out. He backs away, saying he’s cool. Then we’re off with Rorschach’s journal again, as he walks away.
Page 7: Rorschach walks through the prison, looking for door 31, which he finds in the last panel and inserts a key into the lock. Meanwhile, the narration continues. Oh, God, the narration continues. I’m tempted … yep, I’m going to do it. All the narration on this page, right here, right now:
Last day on Earth. Went to Morning Joe’s for pancakes. Best in city. Sat in Amy’s section. Doesn’t stare. Brings syrup hot. Amy’s boyfriend came. Dragged her out back. Redhead who stares brought order instead. Syrup cold. Couldn’t eat. Breakfast ruined. Amy came back. Bruises on neck. Split up. Found boyfriend. Broke hands. Put fork through tongue. Forgot to tell him why. Hope he got message. Went back to Joe’s. Stop serving breakfast at eleven. Was quarter past. Never been lucky. Was it thirteen? No. Thirty-one. Too much to do. Too much to remember. Never write anything down … Far too dangerous. Like her …
Yep. I had to read it, so now you do too!
Page 7: We get more juxtaposition, as Rorschach’s key is matched with a hand turning the key of America’s nuclear weapons, which are ready to fire. Someone tells the president that Veidt’s “global date exchange program” has left the country exposed, because the Russians could wipe out America’s infrastructure very quickly. Rorschach, meanwhile, is opening the door while telling us that despite every other person in the prison screaming, behind this door, there is silence.
Page 8: Rorschach opens the door and reveals a woman, whom he calls Erika Manson, “the Marionette.” He tells her that in about 3 hours the prison will be ash, and makes a cute reference to his watch not running correctly. He tells her if she doesn’t want to be charred flesh, she should come with him. She says he threatened to throw her down an elevator shaft the next time they met, and he tells her he’s a different guy. She, naturally, wants him to prove it, so he takes his glove off and shows her that he’s black. OOOOOOOOHHHH, so edgy!
Page 9: She tells him, rightly, that he’s insane to dress like that (mainly because she doesn’t know that Rorschach is dead), as he will not like being copied. The new guy ignores her and offers her payment in a sticky envelope, which he tells her is syrup. Sure, Rorschach. She tells him that the rumor around is that Rorschach killed himself, but the new guy isn’t saying. Inside the envelope is a picture of her son, and Rorschach promises to tell her where he is if she comes with him and does a job.
Page 10: Manson, quite naturally, leaps at Rorschach and screams for him to tell her where her son is. Rorschach, unfazed, says he doesn’t know, but his partner does. She needs to come with him to “find God” and save the world. Of course. She agrees, but says she’s not leaving without her husband, but Rorschach balks at that, because her husband is a “bad man.” Well, what the hell is she doing in maximum security? She sticks to her guns, and Rorschach agrees to get her husband, Marcos Maez, the Mime. He asks where Maez is.
Page 11: We switch to a different part of the prison, where some escaped prisoners have grabbed a guard. Naturally they’re going to rape him before they escape, because of course they are. In the middle row of panels, a voice off-panel yells that he can show them the way out, but the prisoners just stay there raping. “Billy,” the main prisoner, is told that the “mute” is giving him the “evil eye.” Billy asks the “mute” if he has anything to say as we see him in his cell, looking stern.
Page 12: According to one of the prisoners, this is the Mime, and he never makes a sound. They begin to beat on him, but in the last two panels, Manson and Rorschach appear and the Marionette tells him they’re leaving.
Page 13: The Mime looks up at her, and she says that she knows he’s in the middle of a performance, but they have to go – he likes to play the underdog, and then give the dramatic turn – so her husband beats the crap out of the dudes. He’s grinning from ear to ear in the final panel.
Page 14: Manson convinces Maez to come with them, telling him that it’s not the real Rorschach (touching his hat when she does, which upsets Rorschach), I suppose to make the Mime trust that this one won’t kill them. The Mime wants his “special weapons” from lockup, which Rorschach balks at, because of the explosions to come and all that and his watch not working. Manson, of course, says that he’s not leaving without them, and she’s not leaving without him. Rorschach reluctantly agrees to fetch the weapons.
Page 15: The Mime arrives at a locker, which is empty. Rorschach begins to say that the weapons must have been taken, but the Mime mimes taking out weapons and putting them away. Rorschach tells him that he has “big problems.”
Page 16: The three of them escape through a hole in the fence and walk toward Rorschach’s car. Manson needles him the entire time, asking about how long the job is going to take (he doesn’t know), where they’re going (he won’t tell her) and why he drives an old car (he doesn’t like the electric ones). The car smells bad because Rorschach lives in it, but he says he can’t smell through the mask. She asks if he can see through it, and he says, “Perfectly.” Dum-dum-DUMMMMMMM!!!!!
Page 17: We see New York getting evacuated, including a view of the Gunga Diner, and one man tells his wife that they’re not getting her mother because she’s way out in Queens. The mother-in-law voted for Redford, who I guess is the president now. As we see scenes of evacuating, we focus on a manhole cover that’s slightly off.
Page 18: The manhole leads us underground, where Rorschach, the Marionette, and the Mime are walking. Manson asks Rorschach where they’re going, and Rorschach doesn’t remember. They reach two tunnels and he’s unsure which way to go. The Mime mimes pointing a gun at him, and Rorschach, without looking, tells him to knock it off. He’s looking at his wrist while he says this, but his glove seems to be covering any watch he’s wearing.
Page 19: Manson threatens Rorschach, then tells him that her husband pulled his own tongue out. Well, that’s odd. Rorschach remembers that it’s right, so he heads that way. The two others follow.
Page 20: They stop at a giant flood door, upon which Rorschach knocks. Eventually it opens, and they move into a dark tunnel with a light at the end of it. SYMBOLISM!!!! In case we miss it, Rorschach says they’re going this way, and when Manson asks where, he says, “Into the light.” ON-THE-NOSE SYMBOLISM!!!!!
Page 21: They enter a basement, which the Marionette recognizes as Nite Owl’s secret hideout. Rorschach looks inside Archie, the Nite Owl’s ship, as Manson narrates rumors about him – that Rorschach killed Nite Owl and Silk Spectre before committing suicide, which this Rorschach says are false. Manson says that he must be partnered with Nite Owl, but a voice off-panel says he’s not.
Page 22: Adrian Veidt walks forward in Panel 1, saying that Nite Owl is retired and he, Ozymandias, is teamed up with Rorschach. He’s carrying a kitty Bubastis. SUH CUTE! Veidt says he expected Manson’s husband, but it’s disappointing because he only needs her. She doesn’t care – Maez tosses her a screwdriver he picked up on Page 21 and she holds it to Veidt’s face, saying if he doesn’t tell her where their son is, she’ll kill him and the “pretender.” She knows they’ll make some money, too, because Veidt has a huge price on his head.
Page 23: Veidt pushes the screwdriver aside and tells her he can pay much more than the bounty on him, and also tell her the whereabouts of her son, but he warns her that threats are not appreciated. Veidt says that they shouldn’t anger Rorschach either, launching into a reminiscence about the first Rorschach, calling him predictable because he held onto his principles. The new one, however … but New Coke Rorschach tells him to stop, even as Veidt tells him he’s complimenting him. Veidt puts his hand on Rorschach’s arm, saying he didn’t mean to upset him, but Rorschach says he’s not upset … yet, looking pointedly at Veidt’s hand. Veidt gets the message and says they should start over.
Page 24: Manson asks what Rorschach meant when he said they were looking for “God,” and instead of answering, Veidt asks them if they know what he did. Manson says everyone knows what he did, and Veidt says for a moment, there was hope, and then it was over. He narrates for a few panels, then winces in pain. Meanwhile, William F. Buckley says that the Russians are continuing to advance with only two hours left until the deadline, “despite what any foreign press may claim.” More fake news commentary by Johns? Anyway, back with Veidt, Manson asks what’s wrong with him, and Rorschach says he’s an asshole. Veidt agrees, but reveals that he also has cancer.
Page 25: Veidt pity parties around, saying that the cancer is spreading and his dream has died (spreading cancer???? SYMBOLISM!!!!!) and only one person can save the world. That is, of course, Dr. Manhattan. Manson says no one has seen him in years, but Veidt says that’s the mission – to find him.
Page 26: Veidt’s voiceover says “Wherever he’s retreated to,” referring to Dr. Manhattan, of course, and we get an establishing shot of a city. Long-time DC readers ought to recognize it as Metropolis, because we see the Daily Planet building in the middle foreground. Then we go into an apartment, pass over a chair and a night stand on which rests Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, which is a whole mess of foreshadowing and symbolism and thematic shit, if you care to read up on the book (I haven’t read it, but Wikipedia is helpful). We see that the man sleeping is Clark Kent, and he seems to be dreaming, as he’s definitely asleep but in the final panel, someone talks to him and says “they’ve” never seen anything like him.
Page 27: We get a 12-panel grid on this page (4 across, 3 down), as Johns has a lot to impart, I guess! Clark is with his parents, and they’re dropping him off at his senior prom. Clark doesn’t want to go, because he’s a whiny baby, as Lana is going with Pete and so he’s grumpy. Jonathan Kent, in Johns’s rebuke to Kevin Costner, says that one day Clark will let the world know his secret, and he – Jonathan – can’t wait for it, even though it scares him because the world sucks so hard. Clark gets out of the car and Martha says she’s worried about him, but Jonathan tells her he can’t be hurt just as Clark sees Lana dancing with Pete. Oh, Jonathan, you’re so wrong, because Clark can be hurt … IN THE HEART!!!!!!
Page 28: As Martha says that Clark has the two of them and Jonathan says they won’t be around forever, the Immutable Law of Fictional Irony rears its ugly head and a car smashes into theirs and they smash into a tree, presumably dying. Don’t tempt the Immutable Law of Fictional Irony, Kents! Never talk about how your son will always have you or that you won’t be around forever! Talk about simple things, like baseball and quilting! YOU FOOLS!!!!!
Page 29: Lois wakes Clark up and tells him that he was shouting and the room was shaking. He’s also floating above the bed. He tells her it was a dream, and she says she doesn’t remember the last time he had a nightmare, and he says he doesn’t think he’s ever had one. DUM-DUM-DUMMMMMMMM!!!!!! Exeunt. Well, except for a quote from “Ozymandias” by Horace Smith, which is a similar poem to Shelley’s, written about the same time on the same topic (they were buddies, apparently), but, like this comic, is a lesser version of Shelley’s (it’s not bad, just not as good). Alan Moore = Shelley; Geoff Johns = Horace Smith. Eerie. The doomsday clock below the quote is at eleven minutes to midnight, and the “12” on the clock is a Superman “S.” Sigh.
Page 30: It’s a completely black page, with “Dedicated to Len Wein” written on it. That’s both very nice of DC and also another fuck-you to Moore. Well done, DC!
Pages 31-32: The New York Gazette has the story about “The Big Lie,” in which we find out that on 2 November 1992, on the eve of Election Day, trailing in the polls, President Redford exposed Veidt’s gambit. That’s about it, except that the president named the operation to find out the truth about Veidt “Commodus,” and why he would name it after one of the worst Roman Emperors is kind of a mystery. Explain, please!
Pages 33-34: We get some random newspaper clippings, with a story about the nuclear disarmament talks that helped get Redford elected in 1988 and their consequent blow-up when Veidt’s deception was discovered. We also get a story about Seymour, the schlub at the end of Watchmen who was about to grab Rorschach’s journal for publication. Seymour was found beaten to death not long after the journal was published, and police suspect they got the wrong man as the killer, mainly because Rorschach’s journal was stolen from Seymour after his beating. Also included are some advertisements, an obituary for Byron Lewis, and a Gunga Diner menu.
Pages 35 to 39 are advertisements for the very book we’re reading, done in the style of those Watchmen ads from 30 years ago, except this time we see DC characters as well. Veidt’s hand comes from off-panel and rests on Luthor’s shoulder, Batman reads Rorschach’s journal, the Joker clutches a compact with the “Nostalgia” logo. Fun times ahead!
Man, this is a lousy comic. The writing is bad, the pace is glacial, and while Gary Frank is a terrific artist, there are some issues there, too, which I’ll get to in a second. If Johns is going for a Watchmen vibe … well, he was always going to fail at that, as Watchmen was written by one of the best writers ever to sit down and script a comic, while Johns is … not. Moore’s prose could be (and still can be) obnoxious and turgid, but it’s always compelling, and the moments of sheer poetry make up for a lot of the silliness. Johns is not a poetic writer by any means (which doesn’t make him bad, don’t get me wrong), but when he tries to “get” the vibe of Rorschach, for instance, it’s laughably bad. Johns spends waaaay too much time with Rorschach, seemingly making the mistake that everyone has since Watchmen came out – Rorschach is a bad guy, not a good guy, and frankly, he’s more interesting in the book as Kovacs, not Rorschach, so this pale imitation seems even lamer. Watchmen was paced a bit slowly, true, but that’s because Moore was writing so many characters that he had to move around a lot, so the pacing for any one character felt a bit slow. Overall, though, there was always a sense of motion. In this issue, Johns basically focuses on Rorschach, and it’s a slog getting through the prison break and Rorschach’s painful dialogue and his tough-guy act. Johns hits the idea of clocks and countdowns pretty hard (I guess the prison will be incinerated because it’s so close to New York?), but it’s more subtle than I thought it would be. I’m not concerned that we really haven’t found out how everyone learned of Veidt’s deception yet – the New Frontiersman published Rorschach’s journal years earlier, so did it just take that long to verify it? – because it’s a 12-issue series, after all, but one would hope Johns will get to that. I get a sneaking suspicion that he won’t, though, as the final few pages signal a pivot to searching for Dr. Manhattan and arriving on the DC Earth. We shall see (well, I won’t, because I’m not buying the rest of this series, but someone will see!). This just feels like Johns wanted to end the book with Superman having premonitions but he didn’t have enough back story to fill up a longer comic, so he plodded along with Rorschach, Manson, and Maez. Blah.
As for Frank, he’s a fine artist, and the book looks quite nice. He works well within the confines of the grid, and he does a good job in a few places of half-obscuring graffiti, not unlike the original. The only real problem with the art is that it’s a bit too graphic. If Johns and Frank are trying to emulate Watchmen, they should remember that it wasn’t that bloody – it was in places, sure, but Moore and Gibbons made the violence worse in some place by suggesting it instead of showing it. This is most obvious during Rorschach’s prison break, where they never quite show what happened to the dude who got tied to the door. Zack Snyder, of course, showed it in all its glory, but when you’re taking cues in this book from Snyder instead of Moore and Gibbons, maybe you should rethink things. When the Mime finally decides to kick some ass, it seemed like it might have been better if we didn’t quite see what he was doing, so we could use our imaginations (imagine that!) and make him a bit more terrifying. We see everything, so he becomes just a good fighter. Frank does it a little bit, but it’s still a bit more graphic than it has to be. I know I’m just an old man, but it’s the small difference between a classic and someone aping a classic – like most people, Johns learned the wrong lessons from Watchmen. The lesson wasn’t, “Hey, we can show more bloody violence and people will eat it up!” But that’s what most comics creators and executives think. Oh well.
As many people have noted, there’s no reason to keep bitch-slapping Alan Moore like this, and from what I heard about Before Watchmen and from this issue, it’s possibly even more egregious because the comics aren’t any good. I mean, it would still be awful of they weren’t, but at least we’d get good comics out of them. I have no idea what the point of this series is except to milk every little bit of juice out of a 30-year-old comic (maybe DC hopes this will spur sales of the original?), and that’s just shitty. Yes, Moore takes old characters and puts his own spin on them. But his spins are breathtakingly original, and recently, at least, the characters he’s using are in the public domain. No one is putting any kinds of interesting spins on these characters – ooooo, Rorschach is black! – and the fact that DC is, at least partly, doing this out of spite are good reasons to let it go. They won’t, of course, but I really hope people don’t buy this thing, because Johns is mediocre at best and that’s what this book will be going forward.
If you’re interested in the ethical hijinks DC is getting up to with this book, start here, then go here, then here, and finally here. It’s a nice overview of the history between DC and Moore, in case you’ve missed it.
So that’s a wrap on Doomsday Clock. I definitely won’t be buying the rest of the series, mainly because I’m not interested in it at all, and only marginally less because I don’t like DC’s treatment of Moore. I mean, Moore did sign a contract, and while DC is being a douche about it, it’s being a douche within the law, so there’s that. I just think this is a shitty idea, and I’ve never been a Geoff Johns fan, so I have no confidence in him to make this work. But maybe he will!
Thanks for reading, everyone!