Review – Doomsday Clock #4: Johns Channels Moore

Doomsday Clock #4 cover
Image via DC Comics

Doomsday Clock #4 – Geoff Johns, Writer; Gary Frank, Artist; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ratings:

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Johns Is a Good Mimic

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

Ray: Doomsday Clock has consistently paid tribute to the original Watchmen with its panel layouts and distinctive dialogue style, but it’s rarely clearer than with Doomsday Clock #4, which puts aside all of the major plot for an issue-long character spotlight on the new Rorschach, currently incarcerated in Arkham Asylum as John Doe, ever since being betrayed by Batman the last issue. But this isn’t just about his time in Arkham – and yes, the inmates are very much locked in there with him – but about his origin story, and what makes him so determined to get out. The identity of the character is finally confirmed, although he was the most likely suspect since the beginning – his name is Reggie Long, the son of a psychologist and original Watchmen character Malcolm Long. While his parents were killed by the squid’s psycho-wave, he was driving towards the city and was hit with the remnants of the wave, driving him insane and leaving him a traumatized, rambling wreck who was placed in a cruel asylum on the Watchmen world and interrogated by government agents.

The new Rorschach has been kept deliberately vague since the start, so saving all his backstory for this issue works well. It’s intimate, it’s brutal, and you find yourself being pulled inside his head. The issue does a very good job of showing exactly the level of damage that Ozymandias caused, and I found the most compelling part of the issue to be Reggie’s only friend in the asylum – an eccentric, mostly harmless lunatic obsessed with moths and flying. A few writers have toyed with the idea of what happens to the gentle but completely insane eccentrics in a world like this, where the criminally insane are clustered together in a harsh asylum. The backmatter here, detailing the Moth’s backstory, really helps flesh out his character. If I have any complaint, it’s that the other half of the story – Rorschach’s escape, and his time in the DC world – is given short shrift a bit. We don’t see enough of him interacting with Arkham as opposed to his former asylum, for my tastes. But we do get a fascinating character study of one of the key characters of Doomsday Clock. As this series exits act one, I can’t wait to see how it begins interacting with the rest of the DCU.

Corrina: Ray says this pays tribute to the original Watchmen. I say it imitates the original and thus, suffers by far in comparison. It reads like fan fiction that’s a degree or two off from the original, just enough to know it’s not the original. Calling it fanfic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given all the DC characters live in a shared universe and all writers are building off other creator’s works. But this is Watchmen, a story with a unique style, and this sequel has no voice of its own and is instead riffing on Moore.

There is never mistaking Moore’s work for anyone else’s work. (Even if Moore is writing fanfic himself, which, arguably, Watchmen and some of his other works are fanfic, like League of Extraordinary Gentleman. But I digress.)

Johns, on the other hand, is an excellent mimic but that means his overall body of work lacks any distinctive style. (Other than adding angst to Silver Age characters like Barry Allen, that is.) His great idea with the Green Lanterns was to add more Lanterns of different colors. Justice Society was an excellent choice for him because he was able to write in the type of world he loves, using legacy characters.

When I pick up a book by Christopher Priest or Tom King or Gail Simone or Majorie Liu or Kate Beaton, they always have a distinctive voice, tone, and style. Whatever style Johns has disappears in his “homages” (you say “homages,” I say “imitations,” tomato, tomatoe) of others.

If you wanted Johns to write a big crossover event that smashes the Watchmen and DC characters together, written in the style of Alan Moore but not Alan Moore at all, I guess this is the book for you, as each succeeding issue makes it clear that Johns is very interested in writing just like Moore.

It sure as heck has never been for me.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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