'Doomsday Clock' #9 Review: A Watershed Issue That Represents the Comic's Best and Worst Potential

This may be a favorite chapter for a lot of folks who just want to see DC superheroes fighting the guys from Watchmen, but honestly it feels like the wheels are starting to come off a little bit.

The pacing of the issue is erratic, as the two main events unfolding -- Doctor Manhattan battling almost every one of Earth's superheroes on Mars and Wonder Woman working to allay concerns about the power vested in superheroes following Firestorm's apparent attack at the end of last issue -- are of completely different styles. The battle is of course exciting, but it feels shallow, and the fact that Johns waited until #9 to put Ozymandias' (one assumes) plan into play feels like a misstep, as now we will have to cram a year's worth of plot into the final act of the story.

The Watchmen homages in this issue feel less like the loving, thoughtful nods of previous issues and more like a pastiche. Doctor Manhattan standing on Mars talking about his perception of time is a little too on-the-nose, and that coming in at the very beginning of the issue sets the wrong tone. The characterization of Trump here is likely no better or worse than the cartoonish version of Nixon advanced by Moore and Gibbons, but having it show up in an issue that plays things without any subtlety makes it feel like a bridge too far.

The art is, of course, spectacular. Gary Frank and Brad Anderson continue to turn out beautiful pages that are evocative of Gibbons and John Higgins' work without feeling too much like a carbon copy. Frank continues to make solid use of the Watchmen grid, although there were a couple of pages in this issue, particularly a full-page splash, that felt distinctly un-Watchmen-like. That could be seen as a positive -- he is breaking with convention at exactly the time Johns is becoming more derivative -- but that isn't how it feels; it just kind of feels like, Watchmen style be damned, modern comics call for that splash page to be a splash page.

Some of those choices, the first time it has felt like the famously deliberative relationship between Johns and Frank has turned out some questionable individual page choices, may have contributed to the sense of poor pacing that the book suffers from. Given how well Frank's art complements Johns' narrative, it is easy to give Frank all of the credit and none of the blame, but that is likely unfair.

That said, the fact that the two are so perfectly intertwined speaks to how, on a nuts-and-bolts level, Doomsday Clock continues to be a beautifully executed series. The notion of a creative team so in sync that even when something is not working it is difficult to say with confidence who is to blame is so rare as to be non-existent.

There are some visual callbacks to Gibbons' work, especially in the back half of the book, that are particularly effective, and one in the first pages that falls a little flat because it comes so close to being a straight-up lift. Of course, that opening sequence feels like a lift on purpose, and does so in service of Johns' script, so your mileage may vary on whether that sequence is a liability, artwise.

To say there are too many characters, and that the narrative is spread too thin, is likely unfair. Watchmen had a sprawling cast of its own and would leave characters out of entire issues. The reason it feels like a distraction here is that Doomsday Clock is not, and has not been billed as, a standalone story. This is a DC Universe event that looks poised to have significant consequences for fan-favorite characters. When characters disappear for a whole issue in this story, readers are left wondering what they are up to, since not all of the stories feel organically connected yet, even if you can start to see how Johns is going to pull them together in the end. And when certain concepts are dangled in front of readers who have not seen them in years, it becomes easy to feel slighted when they disappear again for months at a time before anything is explained or paid off.

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It was fun to see Gary Frank lovingly render so many DC heroes, though, and some of the faces we have not seen since Rebirth or before raised some serious questions that will have to be wrestled with down the line in terms of continuity. What is unfortunate is that every time he renders the Justice Society, it becomes clear that Gary Frank would make an absolutely killer JSA artist, but the nature of this story is that he only gets to draw them once every few issues.

This is a watershed issue for the series; it is at once the thing so many fans wanted to read (hell, the premise of the issue was one of the very first images that DC ever released to promote the series), and the thing that a vocal minority of readers were dreading. For that reason alone, it is worth reading, as it represents at once the best and worst of Doomsday Clock's potential. Whether Johns, who has sometimes struggled to create endings worthy of his best story ideas, sticks the landing or not will be key to whether Doomsday Clock lives up to its potential or whether it becomes another Before Watchmen-style bit of apocrypha.