Review: Doomsday Clock: The Complete Collection trade paperback (DC Comics)


Since the publication of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, we’ve seen two other notable Watchmen spin-off projects, Damon Lindelof’s superlative television show and Tom King’s excellent Rorschach comics miniseries. These — focused, biting, relevant, with Watchmen’s very combination of sci-fi and gritty realism — answer the question of how a Watchmen sequel can be created well, almost if not entirely overcoming the issue of whether such sequels should be made at all.

I don’t think Doomsday Clock is poor by any stretch, surely among Johns' masterworks, deeply researched (both among real-world geopolitics and DC Comics history) to such a degree that it can’t just be dismissed as a vanity project or money grab. For me, however, for all that’s good within it, it simply can’t overcome the limits of its premise. By design, the Watchmen characters are such intentional analogues of the DC Comics heroes that to bring the two families together to discuss philosophy must necessarily be reductive; what the DC heroes have that the Watchmen characters lack is verily the point of the original deconstruction.

[Review contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock and current DC Universe events]

I read Doomsday Clock originally in single issues and then held off reviewing it through the release of two six-issue volumes until it was finally collected complete. But at that point, Doomsday Clock’s original position as the culmination of the DC Rebirth era had imploded spectacularly, the book and its storylines seeming all but abandoned. I was already intimidated at trying to condense my thoughts on a book so gigantic in scope, and given Doomsday Clock’s sudden irrelevance, I chalked it up as a book I might never re-read to review.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But many things are astounding about DC Comics' current place and time — between Dark Crisis and Flash: One-Minute War, we have the all-of-the-sudden emergence of a DC Universe that finally feels of a piece with its pre-Flashpoint counterpart. Just as strangely, Johns' return to the DCU, actually picking up threads from Doomsday Clock, continuing into Flashpoint Beyond and New Golden Age. It feels like a time of waking up, and things thought lost are found again — so, I re-read Doomsday Clock.

I can’t hardly blame Johns for thinking it was time for a Watchmen sequel. Concerned as Watchmen was with American and global politics, Doomsday Clock’s publication years of 2017–2019 were heady times — except, of course, for the year after that and the year after that. As such, where Doomsday Clock opines about “the world drowning in hate … sides separated by an ever-widening canyon of digital bile” (mostly at the book’s beginning and end; it seems to forget its topicality in the middle), it feels as though it only has part of the story, political bickering but not racial reckoning, contagion, misinformation, or insurrection, some if not all of which the later projects were able to tackle.

At the same time, Johns' conception six years ago of how the world might end seems eerily prescient now. In Doomsday Clock’s conclusion, the countries of the world begin to take sides against one another, and when Johns name-checks the leaders of Russia and Israel, it’s all the same as if taken from today’s headlines. Again, I think the solutions Doomsday Clock comes to are too simplistic, but Johns does well in presenting threats that turned out all too real.

Doomsday Clock, the first official meeting of the Watchmen “universe” and the DCU, culminates in a face-off between Superman and Dr. Manhattan. Without perhaps fully intending to, Manhattan finds himself cast in the role of super-villain, a representation of hopelessness set against Superman, the so-called “Metaverse”’s avatar of hope. What happens, unfortunately, inevitably, is exactly what you would think — Superman inspires Manhattan to return to his own universe and become the kind of take-humanity-in-his-hands-and-save-the-world hero that Watchmen was meant to be far too realistic to tolerate.

For a book that has plenty of good — the depiction of the collapse of Ozymandias' peace seven years after the events of Watchmen, the profile issues particularly of Marionette and Reggie Long — Johns can’t find a way to end beyond that most common of Superman chestnuts, that Superman’s sheer gravitas drives people to do good. Similarly, Doomsday Clock has a secret villain manipulating events to try to bring about a misbegotten peace, and that villain is … Ozymandias still. If the other hoped-for team-up was Batman and Rorschach, well, Batman pointedly avoids his counterpart almost the whole time. Doomsday Clock is a book that tries very hard, in a serious manner, to bring together Watchmen and the DCU — and well drawn throughout, as always, by Frank — but finds in the end not that much for the two properties to say to one another.

It was a delight in re-reading this book to have the Watchmen-esque artifact documents at the end of each chapter; I admit too often I forgot they were coming and was pleased to find them, if indeed you can see the endeavor losing steam by the end. The faux Nathanial Dusk serials we get here in lieu of “Tales of the Black Freighter” made me sorry again that DC cancelled the planned Nathanial Dusk collection alongside Doomsday Clock’s boom and bust; I enjoyed the hard-boiled detective cut-scenes and would have happily pretended I was watching Carver Colman flicks as I read more.

“Nothing ends,” Dr. Manhattan once told us, though ultimately in Doomsday Clock he isn’t so sure. Doomsday Clock seemed to end, ingloriously, swept under the rug in the wake of Dark Nights: Metal and Death Metal, until now it’s unexpectedly returned to relevance. I’m curious, given now a place to land, a way in which to be meaningful rather than just a curio, whether the fact of its own sequels can redeem this ultimate of troubled sequels itself.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Rating 2.5

Comments ( 5 )

  1. I'm just hoping we get the Marvel/DC crossover Secret Crisis in 2030, as promised in Doomsday Clock

    1. I’d say it’s unlikely, but I didn’t predict the upcoming DC/Marvel omnibuses either.

  2. I think "Doomsday Clock" is so much more interesting as a thought experiment than a centerpiece of continuity -- perhaps one of the best arguments for the existence of a Black Label. I don't want a DC Universe that is always connected to Watchmen (the Batmanhattan Who Laughs was a bridge much too far for me). Nor do I really want a Watchmen that carries on and on (though I'll accept the spin-offs and sequels, somewhat firewalled off as they are). When I used to teach Watchmen, I had students who wanted to treat "Before Watchmen" as canonical, and I had to remind them that the interpretations of Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke had no more weight than their own. And Johns's reading of Watchmen is no more legitimate than mine.

    "Doomsday Clock" is Johns's repudiation of the legacy of Watchmen, an insistence that superhero stories don't have to be grim-n-gritty. The fact that Superman gets through to Dr Manhattan, that Dr Manhattan then creates a son in Superman's image, reads like asking the fans not to stop with Watchmen, not to let its suspicions and postmodern cynicism be the final word on superheroes, but it also smacks a bit of Johns's hope that Alan Moore will one day understand and agree -- the son becomes the father, etc.

    But I do compliment Johns on his restraint. He didn't bring Walter Kovacs into our world, left Laurie and Dan mostly alone, and found the cleanest way to include The Comedian, eating his continuity cake and having it too. I suppose that restraint is how Johns "earns" the wildly-ambitious epilogue outlining the next thousand years of DC (and Marvel!) continuity. Then again, the fact that the story keeps going into Flashpoint Beyond and New Golden Age and JSA, coupled with interminable delays, makes "Nothing ever ends" feel more like a threat than a promise.

  3. Will you be putting this in the DC TPB Timeline, or is it so far out of continuity that it doesn't fit anywhere?

    1. I will! (I love that you asked this. You all are my people.) Between references in Justice/Doom War, Death Metal, and now Flashpoint Beyond (and beyond), this is definitely going on the timeline. Pretty sure I know where to put it, too.


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