Monday, January 8, 2018

REVIEW: Doomsday Clock #2 (2017)

DOOMSDAY CLOCK #2 (2017) —
Regular cover by Gary Frank.
©DC Comics
DC Comics, $4.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 27, 2017

“Places We Have Never Known”
28 pages, Read Time – 19:35

by Geoff Johns (story), Gary Franks (art), Brad Anderson (colors), and Rob Leigh (letters). Edited by Brian Cunningham.

 BOTTOM LINE: A couple of significant storytelling errors, but still a far better story than I had any reason to expect, based on the BEFORE WATCHMEN books.

In 1992 or so, I saw Art Spiegleman, creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel MAUS, speak at a showing of comic book (and strip) original pages at the Portland Museum of Art. At that event, Spiegleman insisted he did not create comics — his medium, he said, was “comix.”

He said this was because his work is “a co-mixture” of words and pictures. I thought that was a bit of an overreach, in essence making the word fit the chosen definition, in order to avoid dismissal of his work as “only comics” by his intelligentsia pals. Also, it seemed to be not a little but of cultural appropriation from the porn industry. But whatevs.

Anyway, the reason I tell you that, is to tell you this: Even if I never bought Speigelman’s insistence on “comix,” he was right, comics are a union of words and pictures. They work together to tell a single tale in a way only comics can.

But sometimes, as in this issue, they can actually work against each other.

To wit (and at this point you may want to bust out your copy and follow along, as this will be hard to explain, otherwise): We open Chapter 2 of this 12-issue limited series with Marionette rummaging through a box of old villain gear once worn by herself and her husband The Mime, as she recalls a woman known as The Tailor’s Wife, who once made costumes for super-villains. This is interspaced with black & white panels I now know to be from a bank security camera. But on the first read, I thought I was seeing a flashback to villains visiting some shop run by this Tailor’s Wife peson. She says, “Good morning,” her customer says, “What’s good about it.” Very villainous, right? We’re told she was in business shortly after The Minutemen were a thing. That’s pre-World War II. So, black & white to depict that timeframe is an obvious choice. There was nothing in the images that really signaled to me that I was looking at a bank setting. And, when the teller-not-tailor says she’ll float a loan to someone who has overdrawn her account — what bank teller would, or could, do that? — of course I’m thinking The Tailor’s Wife is extending a courtesy to a regular customer.

Then, as The Mime and Marionette don their gear in the present, we see on Page 2 during the security-camera-not-a-flashback panels that someone is robbing the Tailor’s Wife. Them, on Page 3, I get my first inkling that, 1) Mime & Marionette are the robbers, and 2) this may not be the tailor’s shop that’s getting robbed.

On Page 4 we get confirmation that this is definitely Mime & Marionette, but I’m still not quite sure who they’re robbing. But then as the black & white security footage turns to color and the bank manager is addressed, I figure it out. Or, at least I think I do. I’m all the way to Page 7 before I feel like I’m certain. So, I go back and re-read everything just to be sure. And I finally get that, yes, the lady getting robbed is indeed a teller-not-tailor. I still don’t buy that a teller whose son has special needs is loaning personal funds to customers, even one’s she knows on a first-name basis with, but I’ll let that one go.

But here’s the thing — I think because me brain had already fixated on the black & white panels being flashbacks, even when I figured out Mime & Marionette were robbing a bank, and not a tailor’s shop, I then presumed what I was seeing was still a flashback, to the robbery that landed the villains in jail until sprung by Rorschach last issue. But I’m not sure. I think, maybe the villains donned the gear Marionette unpacked from the box, suited up, and went to commit this robbery. Maybe this is what Ozymandias needed them to do. But then Dr. Manhattan shows up and I’m like, oh, it IS a flashback. And I’m sure of that when it appears Manhattan notices Marionette is in the early stags of pregnancy, based on a look from him and a close-up of her still-taut belly. But then Marionette has a photo of her lost son. And I’m like, ah, Manhattan conjured up the photo from the future as the one thing that could calm her down, because maybe she already knew she was pregnant.

BUT THEN, we’re for certain in the present and Ozy is talking about using Marionette to draw out Manhattan, and how she represented a special case to him, and I’m, like, wait, did the robbery happen in the present and we’ve just seen the re-appearance of Doctor Manhattan?? Was he not noting that Marionette was pregnant, but remembering when she had been? OMG! Is her lost son actually Manhattan’s kid?!?

And by this point I’m totally friggin’ confused.

But I press on and eventually decide that I was right the first, er . . .second time — the robbery was indeed a flashback to the job that landed Marionette and her silent partner in jail. And Manhattan was noticing she was pregnant. She had the kid in jail. And the use of her to draw out Manhattan is part of Ozy’s plan yet to come, after taking her to another dimension — which just happens to be the DCU.

So, who’s fault is all of this confusion, the creators’ for not being clear, or mine, for not being smart enough to get it?

A little of both, maybe.

I think on Page 1, writer Geoff Johns and Gary Frank were trying to draw parallels between the words and the pictures. But I think those parallels were simply drawn too closely. As Dan Aykroyd famously said, “Never cross the streams!”

After all, when the words say, “They all lined up to see this woman out in Jersey,” and the image shown is of people lined up to see some woman, you can maybe see how I naturally assumed I was seeing the woman out in Jersey. I think Johns & Franks needed to not have the scene depicted so closely resemble the scene described without, in some way, making it clear that these two things were not the same — that we were only seeing something like the event described, not the actual thing.

And then, when we have a close-up panel of Dr. Manhattan paying close attention to something, then see that something is Marionette’s belly, then have a close up of a hand holding a photo of a baby, then turn the page to see Marionette holding that photo, and all the panels are colored the same, you can maybe image how its easy to miss there’s been a time jump, especially when we’re already confused by the first parallel construction.

 I only really figured this one out on the third read, when I paid closer attention to the background behind Marionette as she’s clutching the photo and realized she was in the Owl Cave, not the bank. Apparently, although we did not see it, Marionette must have picked the photo out of the box from which she drew her gear — because the panels of her and The Mime changing were in the present, getting ready to go with Ozy and Rorschach, not in the past prepping for the bank heist (although they may have been meant to depict both, in yet another parallel construction).

I think my confusion might have been prevented if editor Brian Cunningham had asked to have the panel of the photo close-up switched with the one of Marionette clutching it to her bosom. This way, we’d see more clearly, while still n the page with Manhattan, that we’ve jumped to the present, and then see the baby photo. But I also think that at some point after Marionette donned her costume in the present, we needed a panel of her taking the photo from the box of stuff, just as she did the bottle of Nostalgia perfume, so that we have some foreshadowing of the moment to come, making the transition from Doc & soon-to-be-mama then, to no Doc and sad-mama-now, less jarring.

I also think that after the transition to color in the flashback, that color still should have been a sepia tone, or depicted with rounded panel borders, or used some other trick to better differentiate the then from the now.

But, as they said, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

Well, it was pretty great.

I was not a big fan of the BEFORE WATCHMEN books. I felt then that WATCHMEN needed to be respected and left alone as its own entity. But, even more, I just didn’t think most of the books were all that good. In fact, while I started all of the series, I never did finish buying DOCTOR MANHATTEN, OZYMANDIAS, or RORSCHACH.

But this series, so far, has been pretty fantastic. Despite my confusion, I really did enjoy this issue, once I got on the right track, and I appreciate all Johns & Frank put into it, both in terms of the obvious respect they have for the source material, and the story they are building off of it. What we’ve had so far has totally disarmed my fanboy outrage and I am, quite honestly, no longer offended by the idea of folding the WATCHMEN characters into the DCU.

So, I am super excited to see where all of this goes.

Finally, two other comments: One about paper, the other, font sizes.

At first I thought the additional material at the end of the book detailing the “Superman Effect” and the corporate conflict between Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor was inspired. But then I realized I couldn’t read the damn stuff. The font was too small. Not even with my reading glasses on could I make it out. I actually resorted to busting my wife’s magnifying glass out of her sewing kit, but the material was still such a pain in the ass to read, I gave up, especially after realizing the second page was mostly a repeat of the first, in an attempt, I guess, to simulate scrolling down a web page. So, this material was not a success for me, although I wanted to love it.

But one thing I did love was the paper — not newsprint, but not that dam glossy crap that’s easily damaged and impossible to read under a lamp of any kind. Though not glossy, this paper was heavy enough to pick up fine line work and gradient coloring. Really, I’d greatly prefer if the entire DC line transitioned to the paper stock used in this book.



COVER: 7.50 | PLOT: 8.50 | SCRIPT: 9.25 | LAYOUT: 9.50 | ART: 10.00 | EDITS: 6.50

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