Last night, on the West Side of Manhattan, DC Comics welcomed a group of journalists into a gallery room ringed with every page of the first issue of Doomsday Clock, albeit without color or dialogue. Over the course of the evening, Doomsday Clock’s writer (and DC Comics’ chief creative officer and producer on Warner Bros.’ DC films slate), Geoff Johns, walked the assembled press through the events of each page.
But I can’t tell you anything past the first six, revealed online during this evening’s Doomsday Clock panel at New York Comic Con.
Doomsday Clock is DC’s highly anticipated — and for some folks, certainly, dreaded — 12-issue series that will make good on the promise of the company’s 2016 relaunch, Rebirth. That is, it’s the book that’s going to show us what happens when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen meets the characters of the DC Universe. If Watchmen was a book that held a mirror to the DC Universe 30 years ago, it’s becoming more and more clear that Doomsday Clock is a book that hopes, at least, to use the DC Universe to hold up a mirror right back.
At San Diego Comic-Con this year, Johns was emphatic that Doomsday Clock is not a story about Superman punching Doctor Manhattan. The series will not have crossovers or tie-ins, and it takes place a year into the future of DC’s continuity. By the time it finishes, the rest of the universe will have caught up, and the fallout of its events will ripple out only once it has drawn to a close.
What Doomsday Clock is about, Johns said at San Diego, is “everything.”
“Cynicism, opportunity, corruption,” the writer said. “Lies and truth, love. The lengths people will go to for love. Hope, optimism, decay. Are our best days behind us or ahead of us? What is the truth? Do people give up? Is it OK to give up? When do you give up, when don’t you give up? All sorts of things about how I think how we’re all feeling.”
At the press event last night, Johns confessed that if he and artist Gary Frank had their way, we wouldn’t be seeing a single panel before the comic’s release on Nov. 22. But, on the bright side, he feels that the first six pages set the tone for his story.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers for Watchmen.]
The first six pages of the first issue take place exclusively in the world of Watchmen, several years after the events of the comic. Johns told reporters that a Watchmen story should necessarily respect the structure of Moore and Gibbons’ original work, which is why he refused to do the story with an artist other than Gary Frank.
Page one calls back to the first page of the 1987 story, with its infamous slow pull out from a tiny detail up the side of a massive tower, accompanied by Rorschach’s nihilistic narration. The six pages even replicate the original’s panel structure, not quite page for page, but close.
We also have an unreliable narrator for Doomsday Clock — one who isn’t even really sure what day it is, Johns pointed out. And, he warned us, any political references in the first issue were written nine or 10 months ago, which is the “scary” part. “I don’t think you can do a story without [politics], when you’re doing Watchmen,” he told the crowd at tonight’s Doomsday Clock panel.
You can’t tell from these pages, because there’s a narration box in the way, but without the lettering it is clear that a member of the crowd in the third panel is carrying a sign that reads “WE NEED A DOCTOR.”
The ending of Watchmen is famously uncertain. Has Ozymandias truly tricked humanity into world peace and a new dawn of human understanding? If he has, was it worth the high cost? Just as the reader is figuring out how they feel about those questions, Watchmen uses its final image to complicate things further, by threatening to ruin Ozymandias’ fragile and terrible achievement. Would it be a tragedy to destroy that peace, no matter how terrible the cost? Or is the truth its own, invaluable end?
Doomsday Clock supposes that worst/best case scenario: Rorschach’s journal was found in the crank file. Ozymandias’ “Great Lie” was uncovered; humanity realized that the “alien threat” was a hoax. And, it seems, things have spiraled out of control from there. “Everyone is blaming each other for being a part of it,” Johns said at the Doomsday Clock panel.
Just like Watchmen, each issue of Doomsday Clock will have back matter: fictionalized essays, articles and supporting material. The back matter for the first issue will be the text of “The Great Lie,” the front-page story that broke the world, seen above in the fourth panel of page three. Doomsday Clock will also have its own narrative experiment to parallel Watchmen’s “Black Freighter” interludes.
Caught up to the disaster, we follow Russian commandos into Adrien Veidt’s arctic stronghold, revealing medical imaging equipment and scans of some sort of tumor inside a human skull. At the same time, America’s access to world media is replaced by a single news feed.
Then we travel to a prison — the prison in which Rorschach was held during the events of Watchmen, Johns confirmed — as it is evacuated.
And finally, we have the reveal that will rule comic fan speculation for weeks: Rorschach, somehow alive and breathing after his explosive end at the hands of Doctor Manhattan. “[He’s] the most fun character I’ve ever written in my entire life,” Johns said.
Just how Rorschach comes to be standing in that prison on the sixth page of Doomsday Clock #1 will be explained once the series begins, according to Johns, but first, issue #1 will have a story about how his breakfast was ruined. What he’s doing in the prison is just the first step on his search for the missing Doctor Manhattan.
Doomsday Clock #1 will hit stands and digital stores on Nov. 22 and run for 12 issues.