Light dims in the DC Universe.
While Doomsday Clock has so far proven itself to be an engrossing read and a worthy follow-up to Watchmen, it hasn’t been delivering *everything* readers have been wanting out of this story. For a conflict that hinges so heavily on the confrontation between Superman and Doctor Manhattan, we’ve seen surprisingly little of either character in the first six issues. But as the series passes the halfway mark, that’s finally beginning to change. Doctor Manhattan finally becomes a central player in the narrative in issue #7, offering new and compelling insight into how this godlike being reshaped the course of an entire universe.
One of Doomsday Clock’s strengths is the way in which this series so effortlessly replicates the look and tone of Watchmen despite not involving any of that book’s creative team. Part of that boils down to the fact that Gary Frank and Dave Gibbons have such complementary art styles. They’re both precise draftsmen who bring plenty of detail and nuance to every page. But it’s also due to the way Frank and writer Geoff Johns emulate so many of Watchmen’s storytelling devices. There’s the ironic juxtaposition of narration and image, something that only works when writer and artist are working closely in sync.
This issue is perhaps the most Watchmen-esque yet. That’s because Johns very purposefully recreates Doctor Manhattan’s narration from Watchmen #4. Not only does this character finally enter the story in a significant way, we again see events through his eyes and get a sense of what it’s like to live as someone who experiences time out of linear order. Only this time, instead of Manhattan reflecting back on his time as Jon Osterman and the events that transformed a man into a superman, we see the way in which he altered the course of DC history. Doomsday Clock may not have an overt villain character any more than Watchmen did, but there’s a new layer of darkness to Manhattan thanks to this story. Perhaps he’s just being the detached scientist he always was, but he clearly lacks any understanding of the damage he’s wrought on an entire universe.
Manhattan’s emergence is just one way in which issue #7 gives the series’ narrative a swift kick in the pants. By this point, Johns and Frank have done about as much as necessary in terms of fleshing out the new additions to the Watchmen cast. Now the series can introduce new hurdles for these characters and test them in unexpected ways. Rorschach becomes more compelling than ever in this chapter, as Reggie is forced to come to terms with the idea that neither his father nor Walter Kovacs were the men he believed them to be.
I do wish this issue made a little more use of the DC characters. Superman is still conspicuous by his near-total absence, and even Batman does little beyond fighting Joker, Mime and Marionette. The often awkward intersections between the DCU and the relatively more grounded Watchmen universe are always entertaining, but that element is never as big a focal point as it could be.
In addition to his detailed figure work, Frank’s art stands out thanks to its terrific use of the nine-panel grid format. His pages are densely packed yet always very readable and easy on the eyes. Frank really takes advantage of the format whenever Manhattan uses his power to travel through time. The art and gutters merge in these cases as Manhattan literally disassembles and reassembles reality. It’s been said ebfore, but it’s tough to imagine anyone other than Frank rendering a book this visually faithful to Watchmen yet also so impressive in its own right.