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DC's Doomsday Clock reflects modern society, not just comics history

“Are our best days behind us or ahead of us? What is the truth? Do people give up? Is it OK to give up?”

Howard Porter/DC Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

The best comics make you think of things outside comics, Geoff Johns told a small group of reporters at DC Comics’ Doomsday Clock event during San Diego Comic-Con. And Doomsday Clock is no different.

The upcoming series will finally show us what happens when the collision course that the DC and Watchmen settings have been on for more than a year reaches its end. But when Johns first outlined the idea for it, he and his artist collaborator Gary Frank decided not to do it.

“We walked around the set of Wonder Woman, outside, where the village is, for an hour plus and just talked about it all,” Johns said. He was on the set in his capacity as co-chairman of DC Films and executive producer on Warner Bros.' DC Comics movies, while Frank lives in Italy and had come to London for the meeting.

“At the end of the day we were like, ‘Nah, we’re not going to do it,’” Johns said. He then paused before continuing. “And then the election happened. And then other things in the world happened, and changed. And suddenly the whole story just jumped into my head. ... The story is bigger than I thought it was, it’s different than I thought it was. It’s more risky than I thought it was.”

He called Frank up and pitched Doomsday Clock to him again — and this time they agreed to do it.

We don’t know a lot about Doomsday Clock. We know that it’s a 12-issue story, just like the original Watchmen, and issue #1 will be out this Thanksgiving — but we’re not sure how long it will take for the whole series to get finished. Johns says planning is already underway for breaks in the book’s shipping schedule. That's a good thing to be thinking about when so many world-shaking comics events from big-name creators have wound up shipping late issues as they go on. The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race and Marvel’s Civil War II and Secret War II all saw significant adjustments to their schedules.

We also know that Doomsday Clock is just going to be these 12 issues — no crossovers or tie-in one-shots.

“You’ll never see an issue where Doctor Manhattan is fighting the Justice League. It’s just not what the story is, it’s not what we want to do,” Johns stated firmly.

We know that it is a Superman story, set one year into the future of the DC Comics universe, that will have significant repercussions for the setting. And we know that the series is the culmination of everything Johns set in motion with Rebirth #1, the extra-large one-shot that brought Wally West back into continuity, kicked off DC’s Rebirth relaunch and revealed that the drastic changes between the Post-Crisis DC Universe and its successor, the New 52 DC Universe, had been caused by Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan.

Rebirth #1 was a risk, Johns said, but one that he believed was worth taking.

“I believed in what the DC Universe was missing,” he said, then elaborated that “I believed in it so much and I wanted to do it.

Wally West and Barry Allen tearfully reunite in Rebirth #1.
Phil Jimenez and Gary Frank/DC Comics

"I was like, ‘I want to put the heartbeat back in,’ that was my goal. I wanted to" — he jabbed two fists forward and made a buzzing defibrillator sound — “CPR it, and try and get that heartbeat back. 'Cause all the stuff is there, it just needs to you need to feel something. I wasn’t feeling anything at the moment.”

Implicit in the statement was that Johns believes in Doomsday Clock with the same certainty as he did Rebirth. At the roundtable, the writer said that the new series — the arc that Rebirth has been building to for months, with strange occurrences and allusions to missing moments and a four-part, dimension-hopping Flash and Batman crossover, The Button — is a story about “everything.”

“Cynicism, opportunity, corruption." Johns listed words, seemingly off the top of his head. “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.”

A lot of folks have wondered what a story where Superman and Doctor Manhattan meet even looks like. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel was intended as a deconstruction of the superhero idea, and a damning one at that. How do you mash that idea up against the first and oldest superhero universe, much less the first and oldest superhero, Superman — without making one or the other concept bow to its partner in defeat? Johns seems confident that he has the answer.

“I think it’s going to be more than people think,” he said at the conclusion of the interview, “and different than people think. And I hope it surprises people in a really good way. I hope they read it and it makes them think and wonder and get excited. And also be afraid, and question things. And just be what comics are — comics are supposed to be fun, and the best ones make you think about things outside comics.”

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