Perspective is the name of the game in Doomsday Clock #2. Though the speed at which writer Geoff Johns seems to be moving this story forward is much appreciated, this second issue’s most powerful moments are its shifts in perspective – shifts like flipping two of the original Watchmen’s most iconic scenes on their heads, a new helping of clues alongside seemingly innocuous connections between Earth-Prime and the Watchmen Earth, and refreshingly daring explorations of the famous nine-panel grid, brought to life by the cinematic style of artist Gary Frank and colorist Brad Anderson. Point of view is something not discussed nearly enough when it comes to monthly superhero comic book, but Doomsday Clock #2’s riffs and remixes on some of comic’s most noteworthy tableaus might just change that.
Titled “Places We Have Never Known” (a quote taken from author Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), Geoff Johns quickly makes good on that promise, while still keeping his script and his art team reverently adhering to the Watchmen format. In other words, readers should expect more nine-panel grids and plenty of in-panel callbacks to visual motifs, just like the debut issue. But unlike Doomsday Clock #1, this second installment starts to let the format breathe a bit, allowing for some really interesting artistic and narrative directions that will hopefully draw readers in instead of repelling them on the grounds of being “retreads.”
Briskly paced and more forthcoming with its plot than the first issue, Doomsday Clock #2 starts to make the format work for this specific story as it moves forward. For example, as Ozymandias, Rorschach, and his team prepare to make the “quantum tunnel” jump from their world to Earth-Prime, the creative team treats us to a brutally beautiful flashback of the Mime and the Marionette’s life of crime, leading up to their first brush with the all-powerful and nigh-omnipotent Doctor Manhattan. This sequence bolstered by Frank’s emotive art, who really gives this issue an extra boost thanks to his attention to facial expressions and character tics, like the ever shifting ink-blot mask of the new Rorschach and the silent mugging of the Mime.
This scene works for the second issue in two ways. Firstly, it is the first of many engaging exercises in perspective that the creative team presents as they lock the entire page in a cage-like grid, detailing the flashbacks in an X-pattern across the page and the present-day beats in the shape of a cross. Sound familiar? It should because Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins did the exact same thing in the original series, in particular during the scene of the Comedian’s funeral, which cross cut the exact same way between the graveyard and Laurie Jupiter visiting her mother. But perhaps most importantly, this robbery scene also reveals exactly why the pair are vital to the mission as the team shows, as we learn why the cold, distant Manhattan spared these homicidal maniacs in the first place. Without giving too much away, somewhere in those bioluminescent blue eyes burns a tiny spark of humanity in Jon Osterman’s soul, and that spark is what Adrian Veidt is counting on.
Yet this isn’t the only stylistic nod that Johns takes from the original Watchmen, as he transforms other iconic scenes to help prime Rorschach and Ozymandias’s journey to Earth-Prime. For fans of the original series, it’s a real trip to see Johns take sequences like Ozmandias’s “assassination attempt” or Rorschach discovering the Comedian’s trophy case and flip them on their ear, casting DC mainstays like Lex Luthor and Batman in co-starring roles, and making them work for this particular story – keeping the momentum and tone of Moore and Gibbons’ original scenes intact but playing out in fun, different ways.
From there Johns, Anderson, and Frank move pretty quickly – almost glossing over the apparent fact that as they travel to Earth-Prime, the Watchmen Earth goes up in nuclear fire – as Ozymandias and company find themselves in Gotham City, facing a world not unlike their own, given a roiling mob intensity thanks to the rough-hewn pencils of Frank and darkened colors of Anderson. It’s in Gotham that Johns and his art team really let loose, injecting a thriller-like energy into the increasingly fraught relationship between the public and superheroes thanks to a newly introduced “Superman Theory,” which posits that most metahumans are fostered and created by the United States government and the ongoing corporate fencing match between Wayne Enterprises and LexCorp.
The original Watchmen was a marvel of structure first and foremost, but with this spiritual successor, there’s an attitude of remixing the substance of Moore and Gibbons’ iconic work. This breaking down and reassembling – almost like a watchmaker – shows that Johns, Frank, and Anderson aren’t just aping the format, but they are stretching it out and making it work for them and the story while still adhering to the “rules” of the format. We still may not have as many answers as we would like (the TravoDart ads that follow the characters between Earths are still gnawing at my brain) but Doomsday Clock #2 shows that this series is more than just an empty remix; it’s a remix with a point and something to prove.