Doomsday Clock (2017 – 2019)
Reprints Doomsday Clock #1-12
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank
In 2016, when DC Rebirth hit the stands, it became clear that DC Comics was working towards some crossover between their universe of characters and the Watchmen reality. For the next year, the event was teased in smaller stories, but the details remained obscure. What we knew was that Doctor Manhattan has some role in the New 52 reboot of the DCU, a 2011 line-wide decision to try and revitalize the characters. It appeared to be an in-universe way to explain why such drastic changes happened and why certain characters vanished.
Doomsday Clock opens in the Watchmen universe. Adrian Veidt’s conspiracy to unite the planet via a faked alien invasion is now public knowledge, and society is crumbling. Everything feels like it has been reset to that crisis point just before the finale of Watchmen. Veidt has recruited someone new who is wearing Rorschach’s mask. The two assist in the breakout of a criminal duo, The Marionette & Mime. This husband and wife had their son taken away when they were incarcerated, and Veidt convinces them he’ll reunite the family if they help him find Doctor Manhattan. This leads to the quartet following the tachyon signature and ending up in the DCU.
In the DC Universe, turmoil is unfolding globally due to “The Supermen Theory.” This conspiracy posits that the reason for such a vast proliferation of metahumans in the United States is due to the government manufacturing them. The nations of the world have responded by building up their own native teams of heroes, with Black Adam opening his kingdom of Khandaq as a sanctuary for any metas wanting to escape. Superman and Batman become involved when the visitors from the Watchmen universe start to let them in on what is happening to their world.
There’s a very marked split in the middle of these twelve issues where the plot moves from a focus on the Watchmen characters in the DCU to Doctor Manhattan and the DC Heroes. I was a bit disappointed because, while they are made necessary in the finale, the Marionette & Mime were very interesting twists on the Joker archetype. The Watchmen universe actually produced a healthier version of the Joker & Harley Quinn’s relationship.
Two characters show up about a third of a way through that are essential in a metatextual way. Johnny Thunder was the mascot member of DC’s first team, the Justice Society. Since the New 52, the Justice Society was erased from continuity, but with Rebirth, it was hinted that they are out there somewhere. Johnny is a resident in a Gotham nursing home who has faint memories of a life that never was. He represents the forgotten past of DC, the silly history that brought a sense of legacy that has been lost.
Rorschach ends up in Arkham Asylum, where he meets a Jane Doe, a young blonde woman who has a prescient sense of what is happening. It’s revealed that this is Imra Ardeen, aka Saturn Girl of the futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes. After a brief attempt to bring them into the New 52, the LOSH was forgotten, much like the Justice Society. Eventually, in Doomsday Clock, we get Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl in the same room, and it’s clear where this part of the story is headed.
As with these characters, the story of Doomsday Clock is ultimately less interested in being a part of an ongoing in-universe plot but existing as a response to the effect Watchmen has had on the comic book landscape. Watchmen is rarely referred to as a comic book, instead a graphic novel to imbue it with some gravitas. Because Watchmen was seen as “serious,” and many people in the comic book industry have an insecurity about the childish nature of the material, a veneer of darkness crept its way into all corners. Something like New 52, trying to make classic characters relevant by taking away their joy and making them more violent, is a direct outcome of the influence Watchmen has had. Geoff Johns, a writer who makes no bones about both enjoying the rich history of the DCU and his role in the darkening of it, is presenting a rumination on what these heroes should mean.
I don’t think Doomsday Clock works as a narrative. There are way too many plot threads that don’t feel fully resolved and some big ones that get rushed in the conclusion. It is an interesting visual thesis, one worthy of examination about what DC Comic has become in the 21st century. Does it offer any new twists or concepts to explore? Not really. Johns basically frames Superman as the inciting force for the multiverse, that bumps in the timeline are always done to make sure Superman is the hero that paves the way for the others. It feels like a clear rebuke of Moore’s idea that the “Superman” figure will inherently be a distant, cold figure and argues that his human upbringing helps create a connection.
I can easily see a lot of readers hating this comic, it’s not an easy read altogether, and it was impossibly hard to follow in its messed up publishing schedule. I don’t even think a fan of Watchmen is necessarily going to enjoy Doomsday Clock. It works somewhat for me because I’m a big fan of the full scope of DC Universe, and it is interesting to hear Johns’ thoughts on how he feels about the strange place the company finds itself in 2019.