(w) Geoff Johns (a) Gary Frank (c) Brad Anderson
If you’re new to this website, we are not particularly fans of how DC Comics has handled the Watchmen property over the years, especially their decision to incorporate them into their main comics continuity during DC Rebirth. So it should come as no surprise that I gleefully read comments from readers complaining about the snail’s pace of a release or the even slower pace of the story’s development. An oft-repeated sentiment was that after half of the issues’ release there seemed to be little plot progression. Then there’s the fact that Geoff Johns has mostly been a writer of popcorn comics. They’re fun, and the plot may twist and turn around, but outside of superheroics there’s is very little substance. Johns’ works have historically seen very little in terms of social or political commentary.
With that background, Doomsday Clock #8 is a game-changer. To be clear, this comic is not going to cause any major shift in the industry. However, it does a couple notable things. First, it delivers substantial progression in the plot of this story. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it proves that Johns can construct a narrative that fits well within the story while successfully addressing major issues in the world we live in. So yes, it is a game-changer, specifically with regards to Geoff Johns’ creative output. While he may never do a creator-owned series over at Image, this issue may be the beginning of his transition to a writer willing to take bigger risks and challenge readers.
Throughout Doomsday Clock, there has been mentions and allusions to the so-called “Superman Theory.” The general conceit is that there is a U.S. government conspiracy to create metahumans, which is a pretty decent in-story reason as to why most superheroes are American. With the “Superman Theory” comes social and political questions with regard to how these people should be handled. In many ways, Johns is channeling vintage X-Men themes, updated for current world climate. In one sequence, Superman visits the fictional country of Kahndaq, ruled by the sometimes villain, sometimes antihero Black Adam. It is during this sequence when Johns broaches the subjects of racism, refugees, and nationalism. These subjects are revisited later in the issue as Superman addresses the world while attempting to thwart a crisis in Russia. Johns paints Superman as someone who subscribes to a liberal (or for the rest of the world, centrist) ideology that is consistent with who the character has been for the entirety of his publication history. But more notably, it allows Johns to publicly take a stand on issue that the world is facing today. It is perhaps the issue’s greatest and most pleasant surprise.
Another reason this issue works so well is that it has very little involvement (at least on the surface) from the Watchmen characters. Their incorporation into the DCU has been controversial, to say the least. However, Johns and artist Gary Frank focus almost the entirety of the issue on Superman and the “traditional” DC characters. The lack of Ozymandias, Rorschach, and the others results in a narrative that is less choppy and expository, but smooth and cohesive. The characters are familiar, and because of that readers are able to quickly invest in their plight and the differing perspectives they bring to the story.
Despite these positives, the issue is by no means perfect. Batman’s inclusion in the final pages feels tacked on and largely unnecessary. While he does provide a hint as to the true identity of one of the book’s central characters, it’s impact on the issue’s ending is immaterial. Continuity hounds are still scratching the heads about the “Superman Theory” and why it hasn’t been seen outside this book. Lastly, and perhaps this has yet to be revealed, but the inclusion of the Watchmen characters seems to add nothing to the story outside of being a publicity stunt.
I should probably also say something about Gary Frank’s artwork before wrapping this up. It’s fantastic, to the surprise of no one. Same with Brad Anderson’s colors. That’s one thing about Doomsday Clock that has been consistent from start to finish. Though it has caused delays, you really can’t argue with the results.
Eight issues into Doomsday Clock, and we’ve finally received an issue worthy of the hype surrounding it. Shocking that when you strip out the Watchmen element and just deal with the struggles of the DC Universe by focusing solely on DC characters, the results are good. Snarky commentary aside, this might just be the single best issue by Geoff Johns in his long career. Sure, there are some bumps that keep the the narrative from being completely smooth, but his writing is showing clear signs of maturation. Hopefully, this is indicative of truly great things to come.