Doomsday Clock #7

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Gary Frank (pencils/ inks), Brad Anderson (colours) Rob Leigh (Lettering)

Publisher: DC Comics (November 2018)

 

In no way is this issue of Doomsday Clock a jumping on point for the series. If you’ve just joined the action then all I can guarantee you are gorgeously rendered illustrations, sharp dialogue, and a lot of questions. That goes double for you if you have no idea of the source story this series builds on. Watchmen (the 1986 series that deconstructs super-hero storytelling) is such a watershed moment in comic book lore that it extends beyond the medium. Doomsday Clock is a series that integrates the characters of the Watchmen universe into the current world of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Delivering it to readers garbed in equal measures of mystery, noir, and realism.

The issue opens with a condensed history of the original Green Lantern, then expands out to unite all the key players introduced by the series thus far. Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder, and Rorschach (all characters of questionable sanity) are met by Ozymandias (also someone whose sanity is unstable). These four then rescue Batman and The Comedian (who you could also say are both at least a little insane) from the torturous clutches of The Joker, The Mime, and the Marionette (so insane that I feel I owe the others an apology).  Dr. Manhattan disrupts the gathering and whisks some characters away. He reveals some shocking truths and leaves the arc of each character upside down and in disarray. What we get essentially, is a smart, inverting, and entangled display of Joseph Campbell’s refusal of the call.

I mentioned the gorgeously rendered illustrations and I emphatically stand by that. Gary Frank has been drawing comics since the early 90s. He has never fallen below excellent. His clean lines and comedic expressions eventually developed into a realistic style, instrumental in controlling storytelling pace. He conveys emotion with a sense of purity often overlooked in comics. You forgive the book its continued delays if the reason for them is so that Frank can tug on one more heartstring or make that last hair on the back of your neck stand to attention and salute.

Geoff Johns, honestly the torch bearer for DC superhero mythology, re-establishes that he is a brilliant writer. Layered, constantly innovative, and without limits. This isn’t just hyperbole or pandering to an industry heavyweight. Geoff Johns breathes love and veneration into every detail, every word, of these characters. He bows courteously to the original Watchmen series, treating it with the reverence of someone entrusted with minding a Faberge egg. But he also builds on its mythology, explores the psyche of today’s society, and works beautifully to exist both inside and outside of the comic book medium. The book feels like it comes from the same Reaganomics-driven-post-Nixon climate that Watchmen was born from, yet it also exists simultaneously in our world today.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you can jump on to Doomsday Clock with this issue and find yourself in the middle of something special. A legitimate event comic.

If you do, you’ll put it down. You’ll run to wherever you get your comic book fix from and pick up the previous issues of the series.

Hurry, before it’s too late.

Before the Doomsday Clock hits midnight.

 

Watchmen

Watchmen was never going to be an easy project for the person who was brave enough to finally adapt it to the screen. For years it had been tackled by director after director, each time ultimately shelved. How would you adapt the bible, in all its entirety, and succeed? It’s impossible. How then would you adapt what is revered as the greatest piece of graphic fiction ever published? The Citizen Kane of comics? Something so glued to its medium that no one would have faulted the notion it could never be done at all.

A story that is essentially a murder mystery while also serving as social commentary. A deconstruction of the super-hero genre. A parable of the human condition. Not just what it is to be a super-human. But what it is to be simply human.

How would you adapt the story of a team of superheroes who were shut down by a government act? Decommissioned by the country and the laws they served. Who shed retirement to reveal the truth behind the death of one of their own and to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved along the way?

Zack Snyder gave it his best shot.

Zack Snyder cast this movie almost perfectly. From the principal cast, it’s too hard to pick a stand out between them. Billy Crudup’s tragically human portrayal of an omnipotent being who has lost his faith in humanity and his actual humanity along with it. Patrick Wilson as the idealist crime-fighter whose life is an empty shell, without a sense of self or purpose. Jackie Earle Haley’s unhinged vigilante who may be the only sane person in a world gone insane. Even Matthew Goode who seems unconvincing as the world’s smartest man, the perennial overachiever, peels back that layer to reveal his removal from a realistic portrayal is necessary for a character who is ten steps ahead of the rest of the film.

Zack Snyder picked the perfect soundtrack to carry this film through time. From the ingenious opening credits that move thematically to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changing” to the hollow echo of “The Sounds of Silence” to “All Along the Watchtower”. This soundtrack is on the cutting edge of relevance. Think of the great compilation soundtracks at the forefront of movies that are identified by them. From Easy Rider to Saturday Night Fever, to Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction to Trainspotting. This soundtrack belongs rightfully among them.

Zack Snyder captured the look and feel of the comic perfectly. He gets the balance right with the costume design. That perfect point in between ridiculous and realistic. Functional and silly. He gets the tones and colours spot on, grim when it needs to be, bright when it has to be. Initially, you’ll think this is a dark film, and you can’t argue, given the subject matter, it is. But the colours, the costumes, the settings of this film are all perfectly placed. Even the black and white in this movie has a visual flair.

So why hasn’t Zack Snyder made a perfect film?

Was it written too “in its time”, that the cultural events that lay the framework for the plot points have been done to death?

Was it not what an audience, that is ever growing attached to its big screen comic book movie adaptations, want from its comic book films?

Is it too smart for its own good? Is the subject matter too dense? Are there too many stories happening at once?

Surely it isn’t the one glaring difference that Zack Snyder made in the story from book to film… That change was a necessary one.

Why didn’t Watchmen succeed when there is so much to enjoy and appreciate in this film?

It all goes back to the question of how do you do it?

How do you adapt watchmen for the screen?

The answer’s simple.

You’re not supposed to.

You don’t.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises closes out director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Batman returns eight years after the events of ‘The Dark Knight’ to combat Bane, who has seized control of Gotham City and threatens to destroy it completely. Batman is joined in this movie by thief Selina Kyle (don’t call her Catwoman, nobody else in this film does) and John Blake, a GCPD officer who reminds Batman why Gotham City needs its heroes.

The story borrows key plot points from the ‘Knightfall’ story arc, where Batman must return from crippling injuries, after suffering defeat at the hands of Bane.

A large part of the second and third acts are also based on the ‘No Man’s Land’ storyline, where Gotham city is declared a disaster zone after an earthquake, isolating it from the rest of America.

At just under three hours long this is a huge movie to take in. The pace of this film carries it well and manages to resolve character arcs and plot points that reach as far back as ‘Batman Begins’, without feeling as if there’s too much going on in this movie. It also does well at making new characters matter. Not a single scene or plot point is filler in this film; everything ties back or reaches forward with purpose and good reason. The scale and scope of events are epic without losing any realism, and although stylistic, it looks very different to the first two movies, and it feels like it belongs securely as the final piece of a near-perfect comic book movie saga.

As with most Batman films, the villain is the showpiece. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is menacing, beastly, animalistic and powerful. But it is also carefully nuanced and thoughtful. If Heath Ledger deserved his Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker in the last installment, then it is a great injustice that Hardy isn’t seen as deserved for what he does for this rendition of Bane. It could just as easily be his movie as it is Christian Bale’s, and he uses every inch of his acting ability in an attempt to break each finger of Batman’s grip on the film.

The fight scenes are bone-crunchingly brutal and the action is visceral. The truest parts about this film are the ones where these scenes break free of the writing and acting and emit pure primal force.

The comic book version of ‘Knightfall’ was a year-long journey into innovative storytelling when it was published. On the heels of killing Superman, DC comics came up with a way to replace Batman that would renew interest in a flagging comic book industry. For its time it was tightly written. Its logical progression of cause and effect that lead to the wearing down and breaking of a hero was gripping. It introduced new characters that have lasted in the almost thirty years since, and have rightly taken their place in the Batman rogues gallery, alongside icons such as the Joker and Catwoman.

Nine years after ‘Knightfall’ was published, ‘No Man’s Land’ would serve to reinvigorate the Batman character once again. Its sprawling, far-reaching story was even more ambitious an event than ‘Knightfall’. Its gritty artwork perfectly encapsulated a mood of dire hopelessness and ruin. Its writing was an unflinching look into even the deepest and darkest places society will go to when the world has given up. It added new layers, and new motivations to every character in the Batman mythology while never deviating from the core of who these sixty-year-old masterworks of American fiction are.

The Dark Knight Rises does well to take the central points of both ‘Knightfall’ and ‘No Man’s Land’ and refashion them into the concluding chapter of a rare cinematic experience.

A journey through the power of an ideal.

The birth of that ideal.

Standing resilient when that ideal is tested.

And rising from the rubble so that the ideal becomes everlasting.