By Spencer Irwin and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: I wasn’t even five years old when the Cold War officially ended, so I can’t really comment on what it must have been like to live under its omnipresent dread. I have plenty of first-hand experience, though, living in 2017, a year where each and every moment has felt like it may be the world’s last, a year which has seen a constant struggle against tyrannic forces just to keep vital freedoms alive. If Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic Watchmen channeled the Cold War’s constant unease into its narrative, then Doomsday Clock does the same thing with the chaotic political battleground of 2017, creating a fraught, tense world that feels mere moments away from ending.
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank lay their allegories on thick and make them obvious, especially when it comes to President Robert Redford, a clear stand-in for Donald Trump.
A President who is busy playing golf as the world burns around him should feel familiar to any (clear-minded) American nowadays. Although set in 1992, other elements of Doomsday Clock‘s world feel just as prescient. There’s the nuclear threat of North Korea, a wall separating the US and Mexico (although, ironically, Americans seem to be fleeing over the wall into Mexico), and even a collapse of the European Union that, at least on some level, recalls Brexit.
The fraught political landscape Trump’s election has created is reflected all over this issue. When a random citizen, in the process of evacuating his home because of nuclear threats, refuses to go pick up his hysteric mother-in-law because he “told her not to vote for Redford,” I can’t help but to think of all the strife and divisions Trump’s election has caused. Justified or not, inevitable or not, a lot of cracks within families, relationships, and friendships have been revealed because of it. That interpersonal strife has been felt on a massive, country-wide scale, creating a nation that feels more divided, more bitter and spiteful than ever before.
Nothing captures the bitter despair so many have felt better than the issue’s opening page, featuring the new Rorschach’s narration.
I like to think of myself as an optimist, and although we know very little of the new man who has taken up the ink-blot mask, I recognize that it’s probably a bad sign to find myself agreeing with anything Rorschach says. Still, it’s hard not to find some sympathy for his perspective here. Probably not his take on the “undeplorable” liberals, which sounds like typical right-wing rhetoric, but his prediction that the moderates will be the first to go, torn apart by evils they indirectly supported, his observation that the “good old days” were never as good as the right thinks they were, his fear that maybe humanity doesn’t deserve to be saved, they’re all thoughts and fears I myself have considered at one point or another. Whether or not this issue says anything new about these issues is another issue entirely, but Johns and Frank certainly paint a tense and familiar picture with this world they’ve thrown readers back into.
The issue’s greatest scare, though, is a more subtle, yet also incredibly prescient one.
It’s a play straight out of any totalitarian playbook: shut down all independent sources of news and replace it with one government-controlled channel. It’s scary because it allows the government to lie while leaving almost no sources for citizens to discover the truth from, and it’s prescient because, with the Trump administration’s bold-faced lies and emphasis on “Fake News,” it seems like a move that might not be too far off. The world of Doomsday Clock may only be moments away from ending in a fiery nuclear holocaust, but it’s the smaller terrors that hit closest to home because they also seem the most likely.
This is the aspect where Doomsday Clock finds the most success as a Watchmen sequel — in replicating its political focus while also updating it. In every other respect, it really feels too early to tell what this series is trying to be or what it’s trying to say. I do appreciate that Johns and Frank mostly focus their debut on new and/or legacy characters, not trotting out Watchmen‘s greatest hits just yet, but I also still feel wary about whether we need this title at all. I don’t worship at the altar Watchmen the way so many do, but it still feels like a waste to give a concrete answer to Watchmen‘s open ending.
The one place where Doomsday Clock seems to be departing from Watchmen is in its view of heroes. Watchmen didn’t seem to think much of the concept of superheroes. Meanwhile, the main thrust of Doomsday Clock so far is Ozymandias’ quest to find Doctor Manhattan (or “God,” as Rorschach calls him); there’s a reliance here on heroes to fix the world’s problems that didn’t exist in the original story, and I’m curious about how much of that is a purposeful departure, and how much of this attitude will carry over to its treatment of the DC heroes. After all, the narrative shifts to Superman as soon as Doctor Manhattan’s name is finally uttered, explicitly linking the two. Is Superman the god who can save Ozymandias’ world instead of Doctor Manhattan, and if so, what does that even mean, both for the Watchmen characters and for those of us reading along at home and the world we live in?
Mike ol’ buddy, I’m really excited that I get to share this piece with you. This is such an unusual and divisive title, and I’m genuinely curious to see what you thought of it.
Michael: Spencer, I gotta say that I really dug Doomsday Clock 1. It’s been nearly two years since the last published comic by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, which makes me appreciate the time they have taken to craft this tale. After DC Universe Rebirth 1 was published, Johns said he was a little wary of its Watchmen connection, but all of that changed following Trump’s electoral victory. I’m sure that witnessing the very worst our country has to offer made it a whole lot easier to enter the bleak world of Watchmen.
Doomsday Clock‘s mere existence begs for it to be compared to Moore and Gibbons’s Watchmen, but I don’t believe that it should be measured as a sequel, necessarily. As Spencer mentioned, it looks like Doomsday Clock‘s introductory issue might be trusting the platonic superhero more than Watchmen did. On the one hand, it might be too soon to make that claim, as we are just getting (re)acquainted with this world and its characters. On the other hand, I still believe that Johns is using Watchmen in a more meta way to explore how we can take the wrong lessons from these seminal tales of the 1980s.
Rorschach and pals are trying to “find God” but what they’re really looking for is hope. And who do we know that embodies hope? Everyone’s favorite Man of Steel! Do I think that, by finding Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias and Rorschach will restore hope to their world and everything will be all Watchmen Babies? Not really. The implication is that Doctor Manhattan messes with the continuity/history of the DCU; that he left Watchmen’s universe for Superman’s. At the very least then, Rorschach and Ozy’s goal can be condensed to getting something (Doctor Manhattan) and putting it back where it belongs. Arguably both Watchmen’s universe and Superman’s are worse off for Manhattan’s meddling.
Doomsday Clock 1 suggests that Doctor Manhattan orchestrated the car crash that killed Martha and Jonathan Kent — “God’s plan.”
Superman’s history is already pretty muddled, with interference from not one but two imps from the 5th Dimension. By altering the Kent’s death as a design of Dr. Manhattan, Johns emboldens my hypothesis of the negative effects Watchmen has had.
Spencer mentioned his unease at agreeing with anything Rorschach has to say — something I can relate to, even in the original Watchmen. It’s also important to note, however, that this is not the original Rorschach, so we can’t be sure of what he actually wants or believes. Rorschach proves to The Marionette that he is not the original inkblot bastard by removing his glove and revealing a black hand.
This illustrates that, among other things, this is a different Watchmen tale for a different time. I don’t want to go so far as to compare it to having the first black president, because it’s not — the character of Rorschach is a conservative, blood-thirsty maniac. But by having one of the most recognizable Watchmen characters be a black man, Johns and Frank are saying that there are more voices to be heard than the Dan Dreibergs and the Walter Kovacs of the world. Were there any black heroes in the original Watchmen? I want to say no but I can’t fully recall.
Doomsday Clock 1 also introduced us to two new characters: The Marionette and The Mime. Modeled after Charlton characters Punch and Jewelee, I’m not sure if they are heroes who went nuts or just straight-up bad guys. I love those names though — with their silly circus names they fit right in with Moore and Gibbons’s parable of masked heroes.
The Mime himself is a joy a to watch in action. Gary Frank has a knack for making characters that are charming as well as those who are all kinds of creepy; Mime is a bit of both. The sequence of Mime going to the weapons locker and getting his imaginary weapons was a delight. Frank emphasizes the “weight” of each item as Mime straps on his belt and clutches his gun. This is only topped by a later scene when Rorschach tells him “Don’t point imaginary guns at me.” I would absolutely love it if Mime could actually kill a man with an imaginary bullet.
I’m glad that Spencer pointed out that “President Redford” is actually Robert Redford, because that went completely over my head. Let’s be honest though, even evil Robert Redford from Captain America: Winter Soldier would be preferable to Trump. The panel where the reporter is waiting on a comment from the president and all we see is a golf bag and clubs was simultaneously hilarious and depressing.
Adrian Veidt himself is somewhat of a Trumpian figure. After he’s proven to be the one behind the the death of millions, Veidt is a wanted man and the figure of the public’s anger. While Trump hasn’t committed genocide and people aren’t vandalizing his buildings, there are definitely echoes of those who wish to resist the orange tyrant. Doomsday Clock is the perfect book for this terrifying moment in our country’s history. At best, we might be able to find some hope along with the characters of the book. At worst, we might get to see a world fall apart faster and more disastrously than our own.
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