Top critical review
Not for Me, Most Likely Not for You Unless You're a DC Completionist
Reviewed in the United States on October 21, 2020
Spoilers. This one is pretty messy. But here's what works. The core conceit--that this arc explains the creation of the New 52 universe and ties together the subsequent Rebirth clues that Dr. Manhattan was messing with the main DC continuity--is a great idea. Some of the issues toward the end, when Dr. Manhattan is essentially monologuing the thesis of the story, are also interesting, and you can tell that this thesis is what Johns et al. really wanted to get on paper, i.e. Superman is the heart of the DC multiverse (or metaverse), and changes to Superman throughout the decades are the core of the various rebooted universes. It's obvious, but also elegant.
In addition, the art by Gary Frank is well done. And of all the subplots and new characters, I thought Mime and Marionette were the most intriguing, and I really loved everything about their storyline.
Now, that being said, what didn't work? Pretty much everything else.* And I mean everything. Every time the story tries to be a Watchmen copy, it's grating. The story-within-a-story told via a noir film, the escalating mystery with political cold-war type tensions rising in the background, even the darn 3 x 3 grids (which you can feel constraining the story, especially as they occasionally, thankfully break from the format). You can feel the writing try super hard to imitate Watchmen and it just. Does. Not. Work. Whereas Watchmen was a dense, literary puzzle-box of interwoven materials and themes and references, this story is like a wikipedia article thrown in a blender--a whole lot of surface level mess.
Similarly, the majority of character interactions between the DC and Watchmen characters, Batman and Rorschach, or Joker and Mime/Marionette, Luthor and Veidt, was like really cringeworthy fan fic. Hey, let's put together the detectives! The clowns! The evil geniuses! We get it dude.
I don't pretend that I'm an expert in DC lore, but I do think I read more than the average person. So every time there is a Crisis-level event, I do my best to keep up with the canon. And, usually, while these events are flawed, I admire the ambition and guts it takes to try to write these universe-changing stories. But some of them, like Final Crisis, and now Doomsday Clock, are ones that I do not recommend to most readers. I think folks should buy this if you really, really, really, really, want to be a completionist and cover all major DC events. But otherwise skim/rent/borrow whatever this one and just get the cliff notes.
*In re-reading this, I realize this came off as more blunt and harsh than I intended, so I just wanted to edit and add, I am a huge fan of Johns' work as a general matter, so I don't mean to imply he is a bad writer by any means. I just think, stepping back, and comparing this to some of his other major works, like Infinite Crisis, this doesn't reach that level (which is a high bar, for me). So, grain of salt.