By Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
The essence of drama, and especially melodrama, is compression. Show only what’s important. So start the scene as late as possible and once the dramatic point is made, end it.
Dennis O’Neil, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics
Pound for pound, this might be some of the best writing advice I know. But in this age of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and tie-ins, it seems like it’s all but been forgotten. That is, the artistic discipline of narrative efficiency is no match for the commercial demands of more familiar content. I don’t mean to dismiss all sequels etc. out of hand (The Godfather: Part II is a goddamned masterpiece, and is both a sequel and a prequel), but I do think they need to work a bit harder to justify their existence — if the details of this prequel story truly are essential, why weren’t they included in the original. And that scrutiny goes double when augmenting a beloved masterpiece. It’s absolutely possible for a sequel to justify itself, even under those circumstances (again, The Godfather: Part II), but it’s no easy feat. Unfortunately, the longer Doomsday Clock wears on, the less it seems up to that task, not only failing to justify its existence, but pretty much every storytelling choice it makes.
I worry sometimes that I’m overprotective of Watchmen, so I found myself wondering if this story would work without the tie-in. Of course, if it did, that in and of itself might suggest that the ties to Watchmen are arbitrary and inessential. More vexing than that, though, is the fact that, Watchmen or no, the actual events of this issue feel just as arbitrary and inessential.
For me, the biggest failing of this series is its attempts at Watchmen‘s density are tone-deaf, mistaking “having lots of things happen” for “having lots of meaning.” For all of the threads and details of Watchmen, the storytelling itself adheres to the principles of efficiency O’Neil describes — everything has a purpose. Here, scenes are interminably long, crammed with dialogue that doesn’t matter, featuring characters discussing things that the story isn’t even interested in. Case in point, here’s how this issue starts:
If you wanted to make a list of things this series doesn’t give a shit about, “God” and “faith” are right up there with “this doctor character we’ll never see again.” It’s six panels that don’t reveal anything to us about the world or the story, beyond, I guess, the fact that Adrian Veidt is relatively unharmed, though I think we might have picked up on that when he wakes up and gets out of his hospital bed. In that way, this scene could have quite obviously started later.
Doing so would leave room for more storytelling later in the issue, but I’m honestly not sure there’s enough story here to fill it. I suppose this issue features the intensification of conflicts already established in previous ones, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have just been intense from the start. Maybe it’s that meandering path, maybe it’s the contrived cold tone of the series, but everything that happens in this issue feels arbitrary. Veidt was caught, so he escapes, but neither reveals anything to him or us, so we could have saved an issue or two if neither had happened. Marionette and Mime kill their way to Joker after learning about him, but we already knew they were murderous psychopaths, so we could have saved an issue or two if they had just met him rather than learned about him.
The result is a series that is shallow and repetitive — not the kinds of qualities that can justify augmenting a masterpiece. Every moment could start later and end earlier, though this series might well be so inessential that doing so would edit it right out of existence.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?