“The Superman exists, and he’s American.”
More than any comic before it, Doomsday Clock #9 lives up to the sheer geek appeal of having the Watchmen and DC Universes cross paths. This issue balances out the mounting darkness of the plot with a larger-than-life showdown between Doctor Manhattan and a literal army of Earth’s heroes. Who says the impending end of the world can’t be fun?
There’s an almost childlike glee fueling the big showdown in this issue, as Geoff Johns and Gary Frank actually address the question of whether Doctor Manhattan can take the Justice League in a fight. The resulting brouhaha is plenty memorable, though it does draw attention to the inherent limitations of the Watchmen aesthetic. As integral as those nine-panel grids may be when it comes to replicating the methodical pacing and tone of Watchmen, they don’t allow the massive battle on Mars to breathe and expand to its fullest potential. Frank’s art stands out more for its detailed, draftsman-like lines and emotionally charged figures than the way he presents the action in this issue.
Fortunately, this issue has more on its mind than simple superhero spectacle. If anything, the battle itself is treated like a foregone conclusion. For a man like Jon Osterman, who can manipulate the laws of reality and see all directions in time, an epic superhero brawl is less a desperate battle for survival and more an opportunity to study the insects in his latest experiment. His own emotional detachment makes for a compelling contrast to the desperation of the Justice League and the mounting political tensions back on Earth. Johns also effectively draws on the nonlinear narration Alan Moore used way back in Watchmen #4, conveying the mind of a an almost godlike being who can’t quite confine himself to one point in time.
Speaking of that tension on Earth, this issue also provides some intriguing revelations on the “Superman Theory” front. What had up till now been treated like a mere plot device finally begins to take on a greater sense of urgency and relevance. Honestly, it may well wind up having a more lasting impact on the DCU than most of the events in this book. At the very least, Johns and Frank establish an excellent foundation for a revival of a popular DC hero.
The series does continue to suffer from a strange quirk that’s cropped up in the last couple months. There’s a strange imbalance to the plot, with the first half of Doomsday Cock skewing heavily toward the Watchmen characters and the second half (so far, at least) abruptly shifting over to the DC cast. Mind you, it’s about time characters like Superman and Hal Jordan starting taking on a more active role in this story. But the sudden shift in focus makes Doomsday Clock feel almost like two books grafted together. The prolonged absence of formerly integral characters like Rorschach, Marionette and Ozymandias is a hard pill to swallow. It throws off the pacing of the story and raises the question of just how neatly Johns and Frank will be able to wrap up this story in the final three chapters.