DC ROUND-UP: Why DOOMSDAY CLOCK Is as Important as the Original Watchmen

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DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal, Wildstorm, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!

THIS WEEK: Don’t call it nostalgia. This is the reclaiming of something important.

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict. 


 

Doomsday Clock #8

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Gary Frank

Colorist: Brad Anderson

Letterer: Rob Leigh

This is such a rich day for comics I didn’t know where to start. I was originally planning to review one of the new #1 comics out today, but it’s so difficult to judge a book by its cover or even by the first several pages. Stories take a long time to cook and opinions formed quickly are so often found to be wrong over time. So let’s allow those new stories to cook a little more and talk about an old one instead.

An evergreen and beloved comic, Watchmen is rewarding if you pay attention. When it came out in the 1980’s it was more layered and important than anything else being published at the time. It, along with Dark Knight Returns and Crisis on Infinite Earths, completely shifted the way that we interact with comic books. These books changed the landscape of the DC Comics universe profoundly because they were of the moment. Said another way, they arrived right on time. There was a story that needed to be told just then, and the comics world would never be the same.

Near the end of the Cold War, the original Watchmen foretold a future that was grim and tense and frighteningly possible. One of the reasons that it worked so well is that the premise was so easy to buy into. If only a few small events had transpired differently in the recent history of our world, we could have been living in that dystopian global environment of authoritarianism and everyday fear. Watchmen was a cautionary tale, a nighttime ghost story almost, warning us to remain vigilant. To pay attention.

There are a lot of different opinions about revisiting the world of Watchmen. I’ll go on record to say that the Before Watchmen experiment of a few years ago felt like a cash grab when first announced. There were certainly some very talented men and women involved in the project and some of the stories were quite enjoyable and well told. But even after reading it, there was never the sense that it was…necessary. The more recent announcement of Doomsday Clock brought some of that same apprehension, back when all we had to judge from was a cover and a few preview pages. But now that the story has had time to cook, it seems clear that this book is important. It is necessary.

Doomsday Clock is a story that arrived right on time.

A strange thing happened in the past thirty years. Our world began to inch closer and closer to what was prophesied in the pages of Watchmen. Did you notice it? I’m not sure how or where it happened, and there isn’t a single event that I can point to for blame. But here we are, in a world torn by deep divisions and hatred, people rioting and protesting across the globe. Counting down as we inch closer to disaster, perpetually one tense exchange away from a worldwide firefight. The reason that Before Watchmen didn’t seem important is that it asked the wrong question. The meaningful question is not how we got here or who is to blame, but rather: What comes next?

Doomsday Clock picks up immediately in the aftermath of Watchmen’s cataclysmic ending. (“Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”) The casualties of Veidt’s gamble are high and the world of survivors is collectively traumatized. The country and the planet have been ripped open with political unease. Issue #1 opens immediately with an indictment of both those who scream intolerantly for tolerance and those who refuse to remove their rose-colored glasses about the past. Dr. Manhattan has given up on his world and elected instead to try to save another that is on the brink before it suffers the same fate. But the troubles follow him.

It’s striking how perfectly the characters were chosen for this story. Rorschach, a broken survivor trying to make sense of a broken world. Johnny Thunder, an old man wanting desperately to recapture the magic of yesteryear. Marionette, a rebellious puppet who has cut her strings. Saturn Girl, who knows the future and assures us that everything will be okay. And Superman, who watched his world destroyed over a council who couldn’t come together to save it. Pay attention: these people are us and, like Rorschach, we see what we want to see.

This book is as layered as the original, with thought-provoking background elements like the mystery of two men who are murdered while playing chess. A fictional detective must determine which was the intended target and which the innocent victim. While the story is only three-quarters baked at this point, there was a hint of an answer hidden in the superheroic action of this week’s issue. Superman, who has until now been considered to be above the fray of American versus Russian or even one ideology versus another, learns a hard lesson when he takes a stand for what he judges to be the right side. When it doesn’t go as he expects, he finds that fighting justly is still fighting, and the hero’s simplistic morality of good versus evil may not be nuanced enough for this moment.

The solution is not to pick the right side and fight hard until you win. The solution is something else entirely. Look for it.

Doomsday Clock is one of the smartest commentaries on the modern world around. Period. It’s at times subtle, and then a slap in the face. In 1986, this story changed the comics landscape. If we are listening, it could now change ours. Will it? Who knows. We see what we want to see.

Verdict: Buy


 

The Green Lantern #2

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Liam Sharp

Colorist: Steve Oliff

Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

Hal Jordan’s back. For real this time.

If you were reading comics in the mid-nineties, you know how shocking it was when Hal Jordan gave up the Green Lantern power ring, tore apart the Corps, and subsequently died. You remember how the (pre-social-media) internet lost its collective shit over it and how the Hal vs. Kyle debate raged on for nearly a decade. There were some very vocal fans calling for Hal’s return and absolutely ripping the publisher over the new direction. If you weren’t alive or weren’t tuned in you’ll have to trust me- it got pretty ugly. When DC Comics finally decided to bring Hal back in 2004, it was a Big Deal. Death and rebirth of heroes is such a yawn-worthy event these days that it’s difficult to keep perspective. Let’s just say that there were fans who were hell-bent on seeing Hal in action again and they finally got their wish.

Except…the Hal Jordan that Ganthet retrieved from the grave (okay, sun) wasn’t exactly the Hal that many of us remembered. In place of the brooding, grizzled veteran was a young and cocky go-getter who better fit into the ‘kewl’ DC Universe of the new millenium . Gone was the grey hair and the short fuse that characterized him in the early nineties. Looking back now, it almost seems like DC pulled off a sleight-of-hand trick by bringing back Hal Jordan in name, but replacing him with something closer to Kyle than any of us noticed. We were just so happy to have our boy back.

It didn’t hurt that Geoff Johns was such a great storyteller. He added elements to the GL mythos at a dizzying pace: the Emotional Spectrum, the Alpha Lanterns, the Book of the Black, the Third Army. He systematically retooled and updated Hal’s greatest enemies; making Hector Hammond, the Manhunters, and even the freaking Shark instantly cool. We barely had time to catch our breath as the Sinestro Corps War turned into Blackest Night turned into Brightest Day. These were great days to be a Green Lantern fan for sure and we finally got to see Hal share the spotlight as equals with Kyle, John, Guy, Carol, and others. Ten years of highly popular GL comics went by in a blink. The next five years under Venditti were just as imaginative and fun, and we all went along for the ride.

Now that Morrison and Sharp have taken over the reins, what most immediately stands out is what’s not there. The Guardians of Oa are once again indistinguishable from each other, identical bald-headed bosses without names or unique personalities. Two issues in, there have been no mentions of John, Kyle, or Guy. There are no Alpha Lanterns or Phantom Rings or Larfleezes (gezundheit). The only vague tie to the many other-colored corps is a reference to the anti-matter world of Qward, which has been around since the 1960’s. There is simply no trace of Johns or Venditti or the 2000’s to be found in this book. It’s like everything in the last twenty years, from Emerald Twilight on, never happened.

What is in this book is pure science fiction goodness. The alien landscapes are bizarre and imaginative, their denizens exotic and grotesque. The GL officers that hail from these worlds include some old favorites like the sightless Rot Lop Fan of the Obsidian Deeps and Volk, a being made of rock and burning lava. Morrison and Sharp have already added a few new Corps members as well — such as Floozle Flem, the sentient virus who infects criminals with…well, itself. This sort of unbridled imagination is exactly why we read Green Lantern, no?

And of course there’s Hal. Good old timeless Hal, who’s been the central hero of this story for the past six decades (minus the Kyle years, of course). With this new series Hal is back to being a vagabond drifter who lives for ring-slinging adventure and not much else. For those of us who remember his roamer days as a truck driver, toy salesman, insurance agent, etc., it feels so right to see Hal hitchhiking down a deserted California highway and staring off into space while sitting bored on Earth. When he gets back into the uniform and off-planet it’s a different story — his entire persona lights up as he shows the new recruits why he’s considered the best space-cop there is. This is your father’s Hal Jordan and damn if it doesn’t feel good.

As you’d expect from Grant Morrison, each issue of The Green Lantern is jam-packed and intelligent, infinitely re-readable. Liam Sharp is the perfect collaborator for this series, lending an otherworldly feel to the environment that’s been missing for some time. We’ve been lucky to have so many great storytellers on the series over the years and these two have already demonstrated a clear understanding of what made fans so zealous about Hal and the comics scene twenty plus years ago. It’s not just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake — it’s a reclaiming of something precious that was lost. In just two issues they’ve managed to include pitch perfect callouts to the Controllers, Kanjar Ro, The Book of Oa, Evil Star…

Now I just need to see Guy Gardner Warrior meeting G’nort on the Mosaic World and I’ll be complete.

Verdict: Buy


Round-Up

  • This is the best new comics week I can remember in a long time.
  • Martian Manhunter #1 is very promising. It’s got to be incredibly difficult to write a main character who has all the abilities of Superman, PLUS shapeshifting, invisibility, and intangibility. What do you even throw at him? This book goes for a crime noir/psychological thriller vibe and it totally works. J’onn has plenty of ghosts that haunt him still from the great Martian tragedy and this series explores the loss of his family alongside his attempts to fit in on Earth. Great character work. Beautiful book.
  • Speaking of family and fitting in, Shazam #1 sets up a fun new dynamic for Billy Batson and the adopted brothers and sisters with whom he shares his powers. There’s plenty of mystery to be explored in the Rock of Eternity and beyond, as the mythos is expanded there in a really creative way. But the real heart of this book is the home life of this misfit assortment of foster children (and pets) as they figure out how to approach superheroics in the adult world. Definitely looking forward to more of this.
  • The Dreaming continues to be something really special. It’s not just a return to the characters and setting of The Sandman, it contains that very same essence that lit us up inside.

 Miss any of our earlier reviews?  Check out our full archive!

3 COMMENTS

  1. I love J’onn J’onzz, but Martian Manhunter,is not only one of the ugliest books I’ve ever read, it’s also one of the least coherent and poorly-written. I’ll be passing on the rest of the series. It’s equaled in lack of quality by Shazam, which manages to muddy a perfectly simple concept in the name of (apparently) making it more “modern” and “relevant.” And leave us not mention the manga-influenced backup story. Not a great week for DC with these two.

  2. I had a look at Martian Manhunter and it’s vile. One of those artists like Humberto Ramos who go in for wilful ugliness.

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