Geoff Johns and Gary Frank gamble on the sacred status of Watchmen and it pays off.
In the colorful history of comics there are only a handful of sacred concepts that can never be sullied. They can be refined, reimagined, or expanded, but to twist them is akin to poking the Hulk in the eye. It's just a reckless invitation for outrage and anguish. Whether it's Superman's virtue, Batman's gadgets, or Deadpool's love of tacos, these ideas have a special place in comics lore that may as well be carved in adamantium.
In the annuls of the DC mythos, few stories are as sacred or revered as Alan Moore's Watchmen. Even today, it's impossible to overstate just how groundbreaking this story was for DC and comics as a whole. That story, in all its dark and cynical glory, shows just how far comics can take a particular concept. Watchmen really went for broke, taking on everything from the merits of heroism to the corruption that comes with god-like power. These are all concepts that play out in countless myths and Watchmen found a way to break new ground on these concepts.
It's for that reason that incorporating Watchmen into the DC universe carries a huge risk. It's one thing to expand the world of Watchmen, which was done in the Before Watchmen series. It's quite another to work it into the ongoing upheavals of the DC universe. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank set these worlds on a collision course with the events of DC Rebirth #1.
Now, with Doomsday Clock #1, the collision is imminent and the sacred status of Watchmen is at stake. Given that Johns and Grank are DC's creative equivalent of the A-Team, this historic gamble is in the best possible position to pay off. Doing so, however, means recapturing the same complexities and quirks of Watchmen. That's exactly what Doomsday Clock #1 spends most of the time doing and while Alan Moore may still resent everything DC does with his creations, it finds a way to succeed.
The world of Watchmen is still as dark as ever, but Doomsday Clock #1 effectively doubles down on it, building upon a world where heroes and men with god-like power set humanity on a dark, dangerous course. In a sense, it picks up where the last panel of Watchmen left off in a very literal sense. Rorschach's journal, which thoroughly documented the events of the original Watchmen, helps expose Ozymandias' elaborate ruse. From there, a world built on cynicism and disillusion somehow becomes even darker.
In a sense, the world of Doomsday Clock is the ultimate extreme in terms of what happens when a lie becomes too big to brush aside as an alternate fact. This concept is wholly relevant in an era where the biggest threat isn't the Soviet Union launching a nuclear attack. It's people who buy into the lies, half-truths, and agendas. A willingness to buy into those lies is exactly what characters like Ozymandias exploit, what Rorschach despises, and what the Comedian laughs at.
It's one thing to brush aside stories of presidents colluding with foreign agents. It's quite another to brush aside a massive deception that unleashes armies of monsters and kills millions in a bid to unite the world. That's a lie that nobody in the world of Doomsday Clock can accept or spin. Even the news media at their worst cannot hope to twist the facts into serving an agenda.
Johns and Frank really channel their inner Alan Moore and David Gibbons, which may be much easier today than it was in the mid-'80s. They don't just guide the narrative through a darker, more cynical path. They push it to an extent where extremes like nuclear war feel expected, if not logical. They build a world full of people who find out that their heroes and their most powerful icons lied to them in a way that killed millions. It's a dark world, to say the least, and one where outrage manifests in more than hashtags.
Doomsday Clock once again puts the world of Watchmen on the brink of destruction. However, it's the ties to the world of DC Rebirth that really raises the stakes. What happens in this world can't just be brushed aside like one of the many elseworlds that build their structures around apocalyptic scenarios. Due to the events of DC Rebirth #1, these worlds are entwined now. That makes the story that unfolds in Doomsday Clock #1 feel so impactful.
That story doesn't rely heavily on DC's biggest heroes, nor does it try to incorporate the entire cast of Watchmen into the mix. It focuses on key characters like Ozymandias and Rorschach with support from secondary characters like Marionette and the Mime. They guide the bulk of the narrative, bringing Superman and the world of DC's heroes at the end. The ties between the two worlds are somewhat loose, but since they are already established thanks to DC Rebirth #1, there's still a strong sense of cohesion.
A big part of what makes Watchmen such a powerful story is how well it reflects the sentiments of a certain period in history. It's something that Before Watchmen didn't attempt, but Doomsday Clock #1 dares to follow that same approach. By nearly every measure, it works. The themes in the story are even more relevant in 2017 than they were in 1985. Adding the impact on the greater DC Universe only heightens the importance of those themes.
Every comic tries to be groundbreaking in its own right, but few have the context and the themes to achieve this. Watchmen succeeded by being ambitious at just the right time with just the right kind of story. That's a big part of why it has such a sacred status in the history of comics. Doomsday Clock can't achieve that same sacred status just yet, but it succeeds in capturing many of the elements that make Watchmen such a powerful story.
The prospect of the world of Watchmen impacting that of the larger DC universe remains intriguing. The events of Doomsday Clock #1 helps set that story up in a way that captures the same sentiments that make both worlds so compelling. Such an effort still has some lofty goals with some long odds, but so far, that gamble is paying off in a profound way.