Almost one year ago, DC Comics launched it much anticipated (and very controversial) event, Doomsday Clock. Though it took over 30 years, it marked the publisher’s middle finger being fully extended to Watchmen creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons as chronicled by our own Chase Magnett here. Now, as we sit almost a year since the series has launched with just over half of the 12 issues released, one can’t help but ask if the “event” is even worth it. I put the word in quotations because hardly anything of substance has happened in the series first 6 issues. And while its undeniable that the creative team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank is talented, it has come at the expense of holding the publisher’s other titles hostage as readers wait for a conclusion.
Even though Johns has publicly stated that Doomsday Clock is not a sequel to Watchmen, it certainly reads as one. But looking past the the well-covered ground of this being part passion project, part shameless cash-grab, there is also the promise that the events of Doomsday Clock would impact DC’s other titles going forward. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this script play out before, perhaps most notably with Marvel’s Civil War. The difference between these two scenarios is that while Marvel pushed forward with their publications despite the Civil War delays, DC is making a concerted effort to wait for Doomsday Clock‘s conclusion before their in-universe changes take hold. Unfortunately, it is causing their other books to stagnate.
Now, before continuing further, let me just say that stagnation has not affected every DC title. Tom King’s Batman, as divisive as it may be, continues to march to the beat of its own drum. The same for Brian Michael Bendis and the Superman books. Scott Snyder is taking Justice League for a wild ride exploring the aftermath of his own (and very awesome) event Dark Nights: Metal. But then there are other titles like The Flash, which is a pretty decent seller for the publisher and attempts to adhere to continuity. When writer Joshua Williamson does his own thing, the book has been pretty good – arguably the best a Barry Allen comic has ever been. However, in recent months it has incorporated elements of Metal into its storytelling, lost a key supporting character to King’s underwhelming Heroes in Crisis, and also play a big part in the overarching “DC Rebirth” story – which includes Doomsday Clock. And as a result of trying to balance these multiple stories, the title has become rudderless. In being pulled in 3 different directions, it ends up going nowhere. Though The Flash may be the best example of this, the problem persists among DC’s other books.
This is not just my own opinion. Having spoken with several other readers in person and countless others online, there is an overarching sense of fatigue when it comes to DC’s titles. The problem has been further compounded by the success of Marvel’s “Legacy” initiative, which has seen compelling and genuinely fun takes on their characters while also embracing the “back to basics” approach that garnered much goodwill under DC Rebirth. The main difference is that while the approach taken in Rebirth, along with the backlash from the New 52 and DCYou, allowed readers to overlook some middling storytelling, Marvel has managed to tap into that same sense of nostalgia while also delivering some really good storytelling. And while the likes of Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Amazing Spider-Man, have garnered praise for “restoring” the characters while maintaining a level of quality, Marvel has also been able to put out some quirky titles such as Cosmic Ghost Rider.
Meanwhile, DC has shuffled off their quirky books to various pop-up imprints, leaving their main stable of titles stale as Doomsday Clock limps towards its conclusion (expected around this time next year). There are signs that the publisher has recognized this problem, bringing in some new creative team changes in an attempt to inject some life into its bland, main universe. Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp will be turning Green Lantern into an actual police procedural – a concept so great and so obvious it’s astounding that it hasn’t been done before. Kelly Sue DeConnick will be taking over Aquaman with a rock-opera, Led Zeppelin-fueled take that genuinely sounds cool. G. Willow Wilson looks to restore Wonder Woman to a top-tier title after James Robinson made it nearly unreadable. And then there’s Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo teaming up one more time for what is essentially the final chapter of their Batman run.
To their credit, DC has made an effort to try some new things as it waits for Doomsday Clock to run its course. With Dark Nights: Metal, the publisher attempted to push forward some new ideas under the “New Age of Heroes” banner. Unfortunately, few people were clamoring for these new characters when fan favorites such as Booster Gold, Shazam, and the Justice Society of America were inexplicably absent from DC’s line-up of titles. But that has done little favors to historically strong titles such as Teen Titans, Nightwing, and Supergirl. The problem is not that storytelling has become bad; DC has at least learned its lesson from the New 52 when it comes to producing utter garbage (I hope). Instead, titles that started “Rebirth” strong, such as Detective Comics, have become woefully average. When something is really good, or really bad, it can elicit some form of passionate response. However, languishing in mediocrity is the root cause of apathy taking hold of the readership. A publisher can recover when it’s pissed off its fans, but it’s harder to win them back when they just stop caring.