Doomsday Clock #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

This series by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank came out of nowhere for me.  I literally heard about it maybe a month or two before its release.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Doomsday Clock reportedly merges the world of Watchmen with the DC Universe proper.

Brief history lesson: Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, originally wanted to use DC’s newly acquired Charlton characters in his story.  Characters like Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt, Captain Atom, the Question, and Peacemaker.  DC wanted to integrate those characters into their mainstream universe, though, so Moore instead used them as templates for characters like Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, the Comedian, Rorschach, and Ozymandias.

As you know, DC published Watchmen, but the two worlds were apparently always separate … until now.  With the Rebirth movement that softly rebooted the DC Universe a few years ago, it was heavily hinted that Dr. Manhattan had a “hand” in its reformation.  Doomsday Clock will presumably address this possibility.

So, let’s talk about the actual first issue itself.  It reads very much like issue #13 of Watchmen.  Rorschach is the main character throughout the entire book.  But wait … didn’t Rorschach die in Watchmen?  Yes, and his death is definitively discussed.  I will not spoil it for you, but this is Rorschach, and if the man beneath his mask is whom I think it is, Rorschach makes perfect sense.

Geoff Johns is DC’s Golden Boy.  He has been for years.  He has captured the tone and style of Watchmen, and for better or for worse, is doing a nice imitation of Alan Moore.  Gary Frank, an amazing artist, has also captured the essence of Dave Gibbons’ art.  These are still Gary Frank drawings, make no mistake, but the panel usage, the angles, the clothes … it’s all very reminiscent of Dave Gibbons.

It takes a while to realize that Doomsday Clock #1 spends all of its time picking up after issue #12 of Watchmen.  It is a direct sequel, of sorts, and it’s a very satisfying one.  It doesn’t feel cannibalistic to me or like a cheap knock-off.  It felt very organic as a follow-up.  I just didn’t expect such a blatant follow-up.

In fact, it isn’t until the final few pages that we see a DC proper character at all — Superman.  But here’s the thing, there’s something involving his parents in those final pages that has me scratching my head.  I haven’t kept up with Superman very well over the years, but there’s a scene involving his parents that seems out of canon.  What could this mean?  Is this Dr. Manhattan’s influence?  Is this a different Superman?  Is reality bending and changing even as the book progresses?  Or, maybe, DC simply changed a part of Superman’s history for which I was unaware …

If you enjoyed Watchmen and still enjoy DC Comics, I totally recommend Doomsday Clock #1.  Geoff Johns is one of the best super hero writers in the business, and it’s fascinating to see him try his hand at a style very different from his own.  And Gary Frank … he’s just a joy.  His art has always been clean, cool, and compelling.

When you go to the comic book shop to get your copy, you’ll have lots of covers from which to choose.  Of course, I chose the ridiculously priced $5.99 cover.  It’s lenticular and features Rorschach’s face.  His inkblot mask changes from splotches at one angle to the Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman symbols at another angle.  That’s something I never once even considered seeing during the past thirty years.  I had to have it.

Image result for doomsday clock lenticular

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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DC Universe: Rebirth #1 – A Longer Than Intended Reaction

I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard about DC Universe: Rebirth, I didn’t think much of it. I’m 39 and I’ve read DC comics since about the age of 3.  I’ve always loved my Super Friends, but yet another “event” failed to engage my interest this time around.

That is, until DC executed a masterful stroke of marketing – they spoiled the book’s biggest revelation.  Believe it or not, that spoiler is what drew me into the comic book shop today for the first time in over a year.

From this moment on, I will discuss the book as though you’ve read it.  If you’ve (somehow) managed to avoid spoilers and have yet to pick up your copy, turn back now!

Last chance.

Final warning.

I’m serious.

Okay, you’re still here.

Wally West.

Or, as I like to call him, The Flash.

Allow me a brief aside.  As a  7 year old, I felt sure Barry Allen was THE Flash.  When Kid Flash took over the the mantle, I felt cheated.  Yes, even then, my comic book rage was fully developed.  They portrayed Wally as a selfish, immature, horn dog.  But then a funny thing happened.  Wally and I started growing up together.  When I reached high school, Wally realized his full potential under the guidance of Mark Waid.  I watched Wally accept his legacy and role as Barry Allen’s successor.  As I sought to discover my own identity, I cheered as Wally overcame his own doubts and achieved both the respect and friendship of the entire DC Universe.  He became the heart and soul of the JLA, the moral compass of the super hero community, and the guy everyone came to for advice.  I marveled at how a fictional character could go through such growing pains even as I endured similar dilemmas.  He inspired me to make peace with myself, to accept myself, and to realize that I have to believe in myself before I can expect anyone else to do so.

I walked away from comic books in my early 20s, but, of course, Wally reached across the multiverse and invited me back in after only  a few years’ hiatus.  This time he had to learn not just how to love himself but how to love someone else.  I don’t mean just love, I mean truly LOVE.  Geoff Johns gave us a Wally West who gave himself, all of himself, to Linda Park.  Interestingly enough, this story line occurred as I myself got engaged and married.  Just as Wally discovered true love and devotion, real loyalty and humility, I also underwent such change.  Both of us became better men as a result.

My God … I never realized until now just how much I identify with Wally West.  I mean, I knew I did, just not to this extent.  Wow.

Time progressed, and Wally took the final step – fatherhood.  Guess what?  Yep, I’m a dad, too.

Things happened, Bart Allen (aka Impulse/Kid Flash) took over the mantel, Wally returned with Linda and the kids – I loved it.  Here’s my favorite super hero and he’s also a husband and dad!  I literally grew up with this character and enjoyed the same milestones!

When I heard they were bringing Barry back, I felt nervous.  I understood why, I just hoped Wally wouldn’t be tossed aside.  Of course, Geoff Johns did the honors in The Flash: Rebirth, and he gave me exactly what I wanted.  There is a fantastic spread of Wally running alongside Barry, both in a Flash costume, along with the entire Flash Family.  Even Wally’s kids had costumes and were sprinting by their side!  It seemed a new age arrived, one that would be better than ever!  Love, family, legacy – it was all there.

But then Flashpoint arrived.  Long story short, Barry ran back in time, saved his mom, and when he returned to the present, things had changed.  Lois and Clark were no longer married, nor were Barry Allen and Iris West, Green Arrow and Black Canary didn’t even know each other, Wonder Woman was the daughter of Zeus, and Cyborg was a full member of the JLA and had never been in the Teen Titans. In fact, the classic Titans seemed to have not existed at all.  And, there was no trace of Wally West.  No one even mentioned him. A Wally West eventually appeared in The Flash comic, but this was a young African-American man who, while interesting and full of potential, was not the Wally West I’d grown up with.

Of course, this new direction had its ups and downs.  But as years went by, Wally stayed away, and no one really understood why.

Jeeze.  This has been the longest build up ever.  If you’re still reading … thanks for sticking with me.

So the spoiler I mentioned, the one that brought me back into the comic book shop?  My Wally West hugging Barry Allen with Barry saying, “How could I ever forget you?”  Geesh.  I’m tearing up just writing it.  I’m such a sap.

You got me DC; I had to know.  I had to know where Wally had been and what his return had in store for the DC Universe.

This book initiated a change in direction I didn’t even know I wanted, and it’s all thanks to the heart and soul of the DCU – Wally West.

Wally narrates the book.  He’s stuck in the Speed Force.  (This is not the first time he’s been in such a predicament.  I think it’s not even the tenth!  Surely it won’t be the last.)  He’s being held back against his will, but he doesn’t know why or by whom.

Wally needs a tether.  He needs someone to connect with and pull him out of the Speed Force.  He visits several people, all who fail to help him, but those visits set up fascinating plot devices for the future.  He even visits Linda Park, thinking that, like so many times before, she would be his anchor.  It’s a heartbreaking moment, yet not one without hope for days to come.

It’s only fitting that it’s Barry, Wally’s hero, who finally saves him.  Wally appears before Barry, says he’s made peace with dying, tells Barry he loves him, says his goodbyes, and then begins to disintegrate.  Barry, not fully understanding, takes a leap of faith, believes in hope, and reaches for Wally’s hand.  Wally is saved.  And then they remember everything.

Geoff Johns wrote this book, and you can rest assured that his one moment is the mission statement of Rebirth.  It’s incredibly symbolic, perhaps even a metaphor, and it completely won me over.

In the middle of the 1980s, a few books came out that changed the industry.  Interestingly enough, several of them were released by DC Comics.  The Dark Knight Returns was one such book.  The other was Watchmen.  Neither were considered part of “continuity,” but the gritty, adult, psychological approach won fans over and ushered in what some call The Dark Age of comics.  Of course, it devolved over the years into sheer violence without the benefit of intelligent storytelling, then moved into crazy “extreme” versions of characters.   Hal Jordan went nuts and killed the Green Lantern Corps.  Superman suffered death by Doomsday.  Bane broke Batman’s back.  It eventually ran it’s course, and some of these stories were well executed and have withstood the test of time, but several characters were never fully restored to the core of what made them heroes to begin with.

In 2010, after Flashpoint, the DCU wasn’t quite as dark or extreme as it had been, but it seemed to be missing something.  Wally pointed this something out rather poignantly.  What was this “something?”  Love.  Real love.  Family love.  Friend love.  The kind of love that grows over time and bonds people from one generation to the next.  With the New 52, DC abandoned the very thing that made it unique – love, and the legacy that consequently results from it.

In this book we see the pre-New 52 Lois with Clark with their son – love.  We see Ryan Choi working with Ray Palmer – legacy.  We see a meaningful glance between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance – love.  We see Jaime Reyes side by side with Ted Kord – legacy.  We see Arthur Curry proposing to Mera – love.  We see the other Wally West living up to the name “Kid Flash” – legacy.  We see classic versions of Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder – legacy.  We see the classic Legion flight ring – legacy.

And just in case Johns hasn’t made it apparent, he kills off Pandora, the driving character of the New 52.  And who kills her?  All indications point to Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame.

Mind.

Blown.

Never in a million years did I think DC would go there.

Oh, they went there.

Imagine.  The heart and soul of the DCU has been held prisoner by the harbinger of the Dark Age.  From a story telling perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The DCU is a multiverse, we all understood Watchmen existed in that multiverse somewhere, but I personally never dreamed they would finally integrate members of Watchmen into the mainstream DCU.

Can this renewed direction of love, legacy, and hope start off any better than by having the heroes battle the one character who most perfectly encapsulates the antithesis of those things?  This is a bold step by both Johns and DCU, and I applaud them for taking a pretty big chance.  Watchmen is a seminal work and the author, Alan Moore, has made it explicitly clear he does NOT want his creations mucked with.  Oftentimes publishers purport that a story will “change everything!”  In this case, it’s true.  This has literally never been done.

How fitting that Wally West is leading this charge into a new era.

Watchmen – A (Very Long) Movie Review

When Watchmen came out in the mid-Eighties, it revolutionized the comic book industry.  It gave us an angle on “super heroes” that had practically never before been investigated.  It had nuance, complexity, characterization, pacing, and, most of all, it utilized the comic book format and played to the strengths such a genre allows.

After hearing Zach Snyder had been attached to direct the long-in-development film version of Watchmen, I liked it.  300, another comic book adaptation, had style, charisma, and seemed to honor the source material while displaying the director’s indelible talent.  In fact, I lauded Snyder’s first Watchmen trailer here:

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/07/24/first-reaction-to-the-watchmen-trailer/

and I offered him praise when he released the first images of his Watchmen characters here:

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/03/07/a-reaction-to-the-first-look-watchmen-photographs/

However, I cannot avoid the fact that while I felt certain I would love Snyder’s Watchmen, I simply found it too mired in detail, silly, and even a little boring.

Now, before you declare me Satan, allow me to explain.

Snyder’s version of Watchmen is nearly identical to the comic book in terms of story, dialogue, and framing.  We’ve all heard how Watchmen creator Alan Moore detests the idea of his works being adapted to film, and Snyder made it clear from the beginning that he hoped his version of Watchmen would please Moore and remain true to the source material.

Well, it remained true to the source material in terms of nuts and bolts, but Snyder forgot one very important fact – the source material is a comic book.  You see folks, comic books are very different from movies.  First of all, comic books require a lot more effort on the part of the audience for obvious reasons.  Secondly, pacing, illustrations, word balloons, and narrative boxes play a crucial role in the comic book format as well.  They all come together to create an experience.  Also, the Watchmen comic book spanned twelve issues and employed incredibly complex layering.

In other words, what works in the comic books doesn’t work in the movies when closely copied.

Consequently, my biggest disappointment in Watchmen is that Snyder mistakenly tried to remain so precisely true to the source material that he seemingly lost all sense of self in the process.  Everything I loved about 300 disappeared in Watchmen.  Other than the slow-motion fights, I saw nothing indicative of Snyder.  It literally looked as though the Watchmen comic book had, in a way, come to life, but without the passion of Moore’s storytelling.

Initially, I was excited to see Snyder’s take on Watchmen.  I didn’t expect nor want a frame-for-frame interpretation of the comic book.  The comic book is a separate entity that can never be translated to film simply because of the medium for which it originated.  I’d hoped Snyder would take the source material, bend it to his own sensibilities, then inspire his audience to give the book a try if they liked Snyder’s adaptation and thus discover the brilliant writing of Alan Moore.  Instead, Snyder literally endeavored to transform sequential artwork and dialogue to film and lost his own unique talent in the approach.

And because of Snyder’s unrelenting efforts to remain true to the comic book version, I felt his film became too reliant on detail and back-story and thus became – dare I say it – a little boring.  Remember, Moore peeled away later after layer of his intricate story over a span of twelve issues – the equivalent of twelve months.  Snyder took all of that and crammed it into two and a half hours.  Unless you were well versed in the comic book, I honestly have no idea how you could follow the film, much less enjoy it.

Furthermore, I felt the film, at times, just seemed a little silly.  Remember, once again, in the comic book, you’ve got essentially one artist drawing the characters, the backgrounds, the settings, and so on.  So, in effect, everything “fits.”  Everything looks similar to a degree.  In the film version of Watchmen, I’m afraid these characters looked very awkward next to each other.  A movie featuring one of them alone?  No problem.  Putting them all together, especially when set against a very realistic world just looked a little goofy to me.  Other silly aspects included the in-costume sex scenes, Kung-fu Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan’s muscles-upon-muscles.  I’ll get to Ozymandias in a moment …

Now here comes a slight spoiler: the lack of any “real” villain caused this film to get lost along the way.  Yes, I realize it’s a murder-mystery, but, unlike the comic book, I didn’t feel the “clues” were well placed, nor did I believe the realization of who the “villain” was held enough impact.  Again, what worked very well in the sequential art medium simply didn’t convert to film.  A movie such as this needs to deliver a “villain” much sooner in the story.  I felt the “mystery” of the Comedian’s murder got lost in the mix somehow, yet it was the driving force in the comic book.

And now let’s talk about Ozymandias.  Once he arrived in costume near the end of the film, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was willing to give the outfit the benefit of the doubt in the early still photographs, but he just looked ridiculous when captured in movement.  I felt like we were back to the Batman and Robin costumes – those sculpted, rubber muscles.  The grim and gritty violence preceding his big scene were all but negated by the sheer buffoonery of his appearance.  And don’t tell me he was supposed to look asinine.  They could have stuck to the original costume with its flowing fabrics and gold if they were trying to accomplish that – and it would have reinforced his Egyptian and Alexander the Great motif.  You can’t have graphic sex and people’s arms getting cut off on one hand and sculpted rubber muscle suits on the other.  They simply can’t coexist.

That’s not to say that the film didn’t have its moments of victory.  Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian could not have been more perfect.  His undeniable charisma when coupled with the Comedian’s savagery created a character that repulsed me, yet I loved him at the same time.  He looked the part, acted the part, and I believed he was the Comedian.

Jackie Earle Haley also nailed it with Rorschach.  His natural face and size went a long way to convincing me he was the iconic character, and his voice, body language, and general creepiness in the film scored big in my mind.  And thank goodness they got his mask right.  I could have watched a movie starring Rorschach alone and been very happy.  Again, I felt Kung-fu Rorschach pushed it a little, but I can overlook that due to Haley’s magnificent interpretation.

I think we can all agree Dr. Manhattan had to be just right for this film to work.  I’m afraid he wasn’t.  Yes, the unnatural glow, the eyes, the particles surrounding him, his “powers” – those all came off wonderfully and seemingly broke new ground in special effects.  However, his over-the-top muscular frame distracted me, and Billy Crudup’s tiny, tiny voice simply didn’t fit the character.  I understand the importance of Dr. Manhattan lacking inflection and emotion in his words, but Crudup’s voice was so small, so earnest, that it just didn’t sound right coming out of Dr. Manhattan’s mouth.  And let’s not argue that his “Arnold” physique represented his achieving “perfection,” because the juxtaposition of his frail, self-conscious voice served as to much of a clash for that defense to succeed.

Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl failed to move me one way or the other.  In the comic book, his was the main connection to the human condition – he was the one who represented us all.  In the movie, he simply didn’t matter.  Instead of coming across as modest and reserved, Wilson gave us tepid and inconsequential.  And when his halfhearted character suddenly became a bone-breaking machine it slammed the movie to a halt and felt “wrong” in every way conceivable.

Which brings us to the movie’s other star – Silk Spectre played by Malin Akerman.  I’m not familiar with Ms. Akerman’s previous work (though I’m told I saw her in The Heartbreak Kid), but until these moviemakers start treating women in comic book movies as more than sex objects, I’m afraid actresses like Ms. Akerman won’t have much to work with – not that I’m convinced she could have done better even if given superior direction.  (By the way, I realize the irony of asking moviemakers to treat comic book women as more than sex objects when most of the comic book industry is guilty of the same indiscretion, but I truly thought Moore presented a well-rounded, multifaceted character in Silk Spectre that was not adequately reflected in the film.)

As far as Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, well, he was apparently doomed from the beginning.  Wrong look, wrong costume, wrong “vibe,” wrong everything.

Now let me commit the ultimate act of sacrilege by admitting that I actually liked the film’s version of Ozymandias’ critical act against humanity better than the tentacle monster of the comic book.  Everything about the comic book worked in my mind, except for the monster.  I always found it too clichéd and beneath Moore’s sophisticated imagination.  I felt the film’s climax made more sense and I applaud Snyder for at least putting his stamp on the story in that regard.

So while Watchmen was well-made from a production standpoint, and while its special effects were incredible, and though it surpassed my expectations in regards to the Comedian and Rorschach, it failed to capture the passion of the source material and Snyder committed the one mistake that I said would doom Watchmen – he denied his own cinematic sensibilities and unique talents in favor of attempting to create a literal translation of a work that simply cannot be exactly translated to film.

300 – A Movie Review

When I first saw the preview for 300 several months ago, I knew that this would be a film that would have the same impact upon the industry as did The Matrix and the original Star Wars.  It looked so unlike anything else out there!

Guess what, folks?  It finally came out last week, and it delivers.  300 was a visual feast from start to finish.  Moreover, it was quite compelling!

Granted, I’m not going to say it will win any awards for story or acting, but I have to tell you, the acting was much better than I expected.  Gerard Butler had me convinced he was King of the Spartans.  That guy just seethed power and passion!  Plus, it actually had much more story to it than I thought it would.  Bonus, right?  At no point did it feel drawn out or overextended, yet it still came in at feature-length.

I was a bit concerned going in because of Frank Miller’s connection to this film.  Miller, who created the source material, is known for his gratuitous violence.  I feared 300 would resemble Sin City in its ridiculously over the top displays of brutality.  Anyone remember the scene where a man had his testicles pulled off in Sin City?  Yeah, that’s when I decided that movie was not for me. 

Not to worry, friends, while 300 was very vicious, the violence, like everything else in the movie, was so hyper-stylized that it at no point even resembled reality.  I think that was a good call on the makers’ part.

Hyper-stylized-that’s how I would describe this film.  Truly a joy to watch.  Some people are complaining that its too testosterone-fueled, there’s too much yelling, too much machismo, but you want to know what I think?  When done in such an interesting manner, I see nothing wrong with those things every once in a while.  I mean, if you’re going to see an action movie, don’t you want action?  Don’t you want fervor?  I do.  I was so in the moment, I didn’t even notice all the yelling.  To me that means it must have fit perfectly within the scenes.

The director of 300 is supposedly in line to direct the film version of Watchmen.  Let me just say that if he does half as good a job on Watchmen as he did with 300, I’ll be very happy indeed.

My only question is, where did those warriors in ancient Sparta get all the ab-rollers?  Seriously, every dude in this movie had a sixteen-pack for a stomach.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volumes I and II – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m one of those people who saw the film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen long before I ever read the comic books. I once thought the film was awesome, but after having the read the original stories, I now realize the movie could have been so much more! What’s so extraordinary about this league? I’m glad you asked…

Let me catch you up to speed if you’re not familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The stories take place in England in the late 1890’s. The characters are icons of literature such as the Invisible Man, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, and Alan Quartermain. The government of England assembles them to battle extraordinary circumstances within its borders. The first volume deals with a famous villain who shall remain nameless, and the second volume deals with a Martian invasion, ala the famous tale by H.G. Wells. Both volumes are rife with literary allusions, so an old literature nerd like myself was flying high throughout.

The author of these volumes is the eccentric but highly respected creator by the name of Alan Moore. He’s brought us many classics, but he is most widely known for his masterpiece, the mid-eighties magnum opus known as the Watchmen, which is largely responsible for moving comics out of the “comics are for kiddies” paradigm. He is obviously a connoisseur of the literary classics, for he has so many references to works of literature throughout these volumes that two companion pieces have been produced explaining the dozens of nuances found within (think of it like Breaking the Da Vinci Code for Dan Brown’s ultra-popular novel). Although his writing is at times disturbing, Moore is an expert at what he does and his stories are always captivating. The further characterization of such classical characters and bringing them together in such odd situations and having them interact, well, it’s completely delightful.

The artist is a man named Kevin O’Neill, and I was largely unfamiliar with any of his previous work. However, his style is perfect for this type of story, and his careful attention to nineteenth century architecture and dress is phenomenal. Again, like the author, some of his drawings are quite provoking, but they are all magnetic in their execution.

I would completely recommend these two volumes for a reader wishing to break into only the best of comics in their trade paperback form. Be mindful, however, these comics were not released as mainstream works, so they don’t play by mainstream rules. Very gory scenes, matched with the first and only actual sex scene I’ve ever seen in a comic book, requires an open-minded and tolerant reader. You won’t be disappointed in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I’m quite certain of that.

First Reaction to the Watchmen Trailer

If you read my reaction to the Watchmen “first look” still photos released some time ago (https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/03/07/a-reaction-to-the-first-look-watchmen-photographs/), you know that I’m totally supporting Zach Snyder’s efforts with Alan Moore’s seminal series.

The first thing I’d like people to understand is that no one will create a “by the book” interpretation of Moore’s groundbreaking work.  The best we can hope for is for a Hollywood director to stay as true to the source material as they can while infusing their own artistry and panache.  Zach Snyder employs dazzling visual effects, and, judging from the trailer, he’s staying true enough to the original work and “look” to satisfy this writer.

However, by no means do I suggest this movie will ever serve as a replacement for Moore’s work.  I implore everyone to read the book before seeing the movie, because there really is nothing else like the book out there.  It’s influenced artists for decades and will no doubt continue to do so.

But with that being said, Snyder’s trailer looks to blend his personal style with Moore’s original characters and story enough to please old and new fans alike.

You can view the trailer (astutely coupled with The Smashing Pumpkins’ “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning”) by clicking on this link:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/watchmen/med.html