To celebrate the fact that I finally got around to reading Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), DC Comic’s official sequel to the seminal Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987), I’ve dedicated every Wednesday of this month to Alan Moore’s influential maxiseries.
Published: 22 November 2017 to 18 December 2019
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Ever since Watchmen proved to be a critical and commercial hit, DC Comics have attempted to milk the property to capitalise on its popularity. A film adaptation had been in the works for decades and, when it was finally produced, spawned a videogame tie-in; finally, after years of trying to convince Moore and Gibbons to return to the franchise, DC drafted in a crop of the industry’s most talented creators (against Moore’s wishes, of course) to produce a prequel series.
After years of subjecting readers to the largely-awful “New 52” era, DC finally decided to relaunch and reboot their continuity with another of their trademark Crises; “DC Rebirth” not only returned a lot of characters and concepts to their pre-New 52 portrayals but also concluded with Bruce Wayne/Batman discovering Edward Blake/The Comedian’s iconic, bloodstained button in the Batcave and the first hints that Doctor Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan was observing the DC Universe. Doomsday Clock finally saw the worlds of Watchman and the DC Universe come together and, despite a questionable release schedule and wonky canonicity (the story took years to be told and its placement in the timeline is confusing, at best), was met with critical acclaim and even led to a solo book for the series’ popular vigilante, Rorschach.
So, like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock is quite a dense text with a lot of things happening all at once and a lot of lore to dissect so I’m going to expand upon my breakdown of the story as I did with that graphic novel. The story’s plot is split between different characters and complex concepts like the multiverse, perceptions of time, and public’s opinion of superheroes in the DC Universe.
One of the central concerns of Doomsday Clock is the state of Watchmen’s alternate world, now firmly established as one of the many parallel worlds in the DC multiverse. Seven years after Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias dropped his genetically-engineered squid into Times Square and killed millions of people, his dreams of world peace have been dashed after Walter Kovacs/Rorschach’s journal exposing his actions was published. As a result, the United States is once again on the bring of nuclear war with Russia and, desperate to save the world once more, Veidt allies with the new Rorschach, Reggie Long (son of Malcolm Long, Kovacs’ psychiatrist from Watchmen), and two of Dr. Manhattan’s former enemies, Erika Manson/Marionette and her husband, Marcos Maez/Mime. The group uses a refitted version of Daniel Dreiberg/Nite Owl’s (sadly, once again, entirely absent from the tale) Owlship to then follow Dr. Manhattan’s unique energy signature to the mainstream DC Universe just as their world is destroyed by nuclear war.
However, life on Earth-0 isn’t exactly much better; riots and violent protests against Batman’s presence run rampant in Gotham City and the public’s perception of superheroes has soured thanks to the publication of the “Supermen Theory”, which uncomfortably pointed out that the vast majority of the world’s superheroes are white American men and suggested quite explicitly that the American government (clearly led by President Donald Trump) have manufactured their superheroes through a series of clandestine experiments and operations. The only superhero that the public and the world’s governments has any faith in is Clark Kent/Superman, who is still regarded as a worldwide icon and allowed to freely cross borders. The linchpin of the animosity towards superheroes is the outspoken and volatile Ronnie Raymond/Professor Martin Stein/Firestorm and, to compound matters, the Russian government (led by Vladimir Putin) forms their own team of metahumans to protect their borders, while Teth-Adam/Black Adam offers sanctuary to all metahumans, good and bad, in the sovereign nation of Kahndaq.
Amidst all of this is the mystery of Dr. Manhattan himself; at the end of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan left to create some life of his own but, instead, was drawn to the DC Universe and discovers what is referred to as the “Metaverse”. The tumultuous nature of the DC Universe, which is not only populated by a wide variety of metahumans and magic but also subject to near-annual cosmic events and reality-shifting Crises, intrigues Dr. Manhattan, who begins to experiment with altering Earth-0’s history by subtly changing events in the past. This leads to the creation of multiple, widely different timelines and realities but, no matter what Dr. Manhattan does, Superman continues to emerge as the premier superhero of this world. Haunted by a vision of Superman flying at him in a rage and once again curious at his inability to see beyond this point, Dr. Manhattan observes the turbulent events unfolding around him with a morbid interest as he awaits to see if he destroys all reality or is himself destroyed by Superman.
In the unfortunate absence of Nite Owl and Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre, and with Kovacs dead, there’s not a lot of opportunities for the iconic characters of Watchmen to interact with the mainstream DC Universe. Indeed, Doomsday Clock is less “DC Universe Meets Watchmen” and more “Some of the Watchmen characters pop over to Earth-0 alongside characters you’ve never heard of and a new Rorschach”, which is honestly a little disappointing. Like the television show, Doomsday Clock is a sequel to Watchmen but, because of its very nature as a comic book and its integration into the larger DC canon, is actually considered to be the true follow-up to the original graphic novel. Similar to the show, though, the future is depressingly bleak for Alan Moore’s characters; Veidt’s attempt at world peace was almost immediately undone and that world is quickly destroyed early into the story, making you question what the point of all that death and drama even was.
Veidt, however, is largely undeterred by the state of his world; though he sees a macabre irony in his elaborate plan falling apart and despairs at the world’s insistence on destroying itself, he immediately concocts another desperate plot to save the world by tracking Dr. Manhattan down and convincing him to intervene. As is his way, Veidt’s scheme involves deceit, lies, subterfuge, and his unmatched intelligence; smug as ever, Veidt easily manipulates Reggie Long into assisting him by faking that he (as in Veidt) has a tumour on his brain (and feigning remorse for his actions, which led to the death of Reggie’s parents) and has him recruit Marionette and Mime to their cause specifically because he knows that Dr. Manhattan once spared Marionette’s life in a past encounter.
Upon arriving on Earth-0, Veidt attempts to recruit Lex Luthor and is met only with scorn and a surprise attack by the Comedian, whom Dr. Manhattan transported to Earth-0 moments before his death. Having read Kovacs’ journal, Batman is also less than impressed with Veidt’s actions and megalomania; Veidt, however, maintains that he did what he did in an attempt to save and unite a world on the brink of destruction and attacks his new scheme with just as much blind obsession. Thanks to a cute little clone of his lynx, Bubastis, the green lantern of Alan Scott, and the presence of another temporal anomaly, Imra Ardeen/Saturn Girl, Veidt is able to forcibly summon Dr. Manhattan, who not only refuses to help but also exposes Veidt’s lies. Veidt orchestrates a massive conflict between Superman and other metahumans in order to inspire Jon to finally intervene and, though this does result in the restoration of Earth-0, the Watchmen world, and the entire multi/metaverse, he ends up imprisoned at the conclusion of the story.
One of the things that disappointed me about the television show was the absence of Rorschach; I know we’re not supposed to like Rorschach but I don’t give a shit, he’s still the most interesting and compelling character in Watchmen. Although Kovacs is dead, his spirit and influence lives on in Doomsday Clock; not only was his tell-all journal instrumental in revealing Veidt’s deception, his crusade is taken up by Reggie Long, a confused and volatile young man traumatised by the effects of Veidt’s destructive squid. Like many exposed to the squid’s nightmarish psychic field, Reggie was driven to near insanity and spent a great deal of time confined to a mental hospital. There, he befriended former Minuteman Byron Lewis/Mothman, who becomes a friend and mentor to Reggie but ultimate contributes to Reggie assuming Rorschach’s mantle by purposely hiding the truth of Kovacs’ relationship with Reggie’s father.
Believing that Rorschach and his father were friends and that Malcolm was able to reach and help Kovacs, Reggie is initially focused on killing Veidt for his actions but is convinced to aid him when Veidt claims to be dying and remorseful for his actions. Having read truncated versions of his father’s notes and Kovacs’ journal, Reggie assumes Rorschach’s costume and mannerisms and initially goes to Batman for help and finds himself imprisoned in Arkham Asylum for his trouble. Like in Watchmen, an entire issue is dedicated into delving into Reggie’s past and psychosis but he quickly gets lost in the shuffle as more and more characters and conflicts bog down the tale, even abandoning the mask and his crusade after Veidt’s lies are exposed. Ultimately, Alfred Pennyworth and Batman are able to convince Reggie to mask up and join the fight and Reggie even chooses to spare Veidt to see him brought to justice, claiming “Rorschach is me” but, while I appreciate the presence of a Rorschach, Reggie fails to be as compelling and instrumental as the real Rorschach and I think I would have preferred it if Dr. Manhattan had undone his actions or brought Kovacs forward in time as he did with the Comedian.
Speaking of Dr. Manhattan, he, too, gets another entire issue dedicated to him and his journey throughout the DC Universe. It’s basically exactly the same as issue four of Watchmen, with Jon spending a lot of time on Mars, ruminating about his origins and past with Janey Slater, and recapping the events of Watchmen. Although Jon appeared to have somewhat rediscovered his humanity at the end of Watchmen, to the point where he willingly went along with Veidt’s plan and even killed Rorschach to protect it, and his desire to reconnect with humanity was a big aspect of the TV show, in Doomsday Clock he’s basically exactly the same disconnected and emotionless demigod he was in the original graphic novel. He is despondent to discover that he feels just as out of place in a world of metahumans and magic as he did amongst mortals and takes to exploring and experimenting with the DC Universe’s fragile reality to keep himself from growing bored.
Dr. Manhattan’s perception of time is both the same as in Watchmen (he can see the past, present, and future simultaneously but cannot see anything past his vision of Superman rushing at him) but different. I always assumed from Watchmen that Jon could only perceive time from his lifetime since he never visits the past beyond his lifetime in Watchmen but, in Doomsday Clock, he can freely walk between the past, present, and future of the entire DC canon, including a multitude of parallel worlds. Fascinated by the metaverse and the role Superman plays in this world, he purposely messes with time, killing Clark’s parents before their time and causing Alan Scott/Green Lantern to die, thus removing the Justice Society of America (JSA) from continuity, intervening in Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011), and basically creating the New 52 and Rebirth continuities through his actions.
Accordingly, Superman is a central figure in Doomsday Clock; Dr. Manhattan is curious to see whether the Man of Steel kills him for his actions or whether he (as in Jon) destroys all reality and, still vehemently refusing to even try and go against the inevitability of fate, he refuses to intervene or to help Superman when he ends up battling against a horde of metahumans. As the only superhero who maintains the trust and respect of the public and world’s governments, Superman desperately tries to keep the peace, repair relations, and to help Firestorm after he accidentally turns a bunch of people to glass. However, he ends up making things worse and escalates the tensions between the world’s governments and metahumans, leading to an all-out war. Though disgusted at Dr. Manhattan’s refusal to get involved, and his part in causing not only the events of Doomsday Clock but also the tragedies of his life, Superman is ultimately able to inspire Jon into restoring the worlds and multi/metaverse to normal through his selfless nature.
I mentioned before that Doomsday Clock is swamped with characters and it really is; a handful of the Watchmen characters obviously feature, including a brief appearance by the Comedian, who mainly features to try and kill Veidt for his attack on him at the beginning of Watchmen and to be a pain in the ass. Marionette and Mime, two completely original characters, feature extensively as Dr. Manhattan imbues their child with his powers in the finale to, presumably, become the Watchmen version of Superman. Additionally, a whole host of DC characters play a role in the story: Batman finally solves the puzzle of the mysterious bloodstained button but uncharacteristically chooses not to believe Reggie’s claims and has him locked up in Arkham, leaving him underequipped to intercede in the events of the story; Firestorm, here a volatile and immature character, escalates much of the tension regarding the perception of metahumans and the Supermen Theory when he is unable to control his powers; and, of course, the Joker makes an appearance but does little more than derail the main plot with an ultimately pointless side story.
Like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock contains an allegorical story-within-a-story, in this case the films of Carver Coleman, with whom Jon forms a strange kind of bond and how becomes his “anchor” in this new world. Carver’s hit film, The Adjournment, parallels the mystery that permeates Doomsday Clock and Jon’s own struggle against his true identity. Doomsday Clock also goes out of its way to closely emulate the art style and presentation of Watchmen but greatly overdoes its commitment to this by slavishly sticking to a rigid 3×3 panel structure. Like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock is also rather light on action and packs a whole bunch of symbolism, imagery, and references into each panel, mainly to Watchmen but also to the long and convoluted history of the DC Universe. The conclusion of the book sees the JSA returned to continuity, Clark’s parents and Alan Scott returned to life, and the restoration of the multi/metaverse but also leaves the story open ended for further continuations down the line exploring the restored Watchmen universe.
It seems that DC’s attempts at recapturing and revisiting Alan Moore’s seminal work are doomed to fail; just as I was unimpressed by the TV show, I can’t help but feel let down by Doomsday Clock, which is a quagmire of convoluted plot threads, self-indulgent allusions to Watchmen, and is a largely confusing and uninteresting mess. I feel like the book focuses too much on being sequel to Watchmen but it doesn’t really work since seven years have passed since the end of that book and we only spend about an issue and a half really reconnecting to Moore’s world before it’s destroyed. After that, it’s just another elaborate “Crisis” event as the few surviving Watchmen characters mingle about in the DC Universe and spend far too much time interacting with obscure characters like Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl rather than the big guns like Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.
The story is framed around this epic, potentially cataclysmic battle between Superman and Dr. Manhattan, a concept that feels like a betrayal of Jon’s character as he’s largely a pacifist because of his stubborn refusal and disinterest in getting involved in the affairs of mortals. Yes, he fought crime and waged war against the Vietnamese but that was a long time ago by the present day events of Watchmen, where he was simply content to just let life play out as is preordained so, while the idea of these two titans clashing sounds good on paper, it seems like the sort of thing a child would think up while bashing action figures together. To me, Dr. Manhattan has always seemed more like Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, a being of incredible power who shapes events but only really gets involved in them when the cosmic shit is about the hit the fan, which is kind of how he ends up being in the end since we don’t really get to see him fight with Superman because the entire promise of their conflict was a big fake out. There is, however, a pretty good scene where a whole gaggle of DC’s superheroes and Green Lanterns confront Dr. Manhattan on Mars only to be easily subdued by his near-limitless powers
Similarly, the idea of Rorschach meeting Batman and Ozymandias meeting Lex Luthor sounds great…on paper but this isn’t the same Rorschach and, no matter how hard Reggie tries, he will never be that same character so it wouldn’t really work even if Batman didn’t just disregard him and lock him up in Arkham. Luthor is scornful towards Ozymandias and a potential team up between these two is also immediately cast aside, with Luthor mocking Veidt’s intelligence and plan as though Johns is poking fun at the very work he is so blatantly trying to homage and leech off of. The absence of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre equally hurts not just the story’s plot but also Doomsday Clock’s legitimacy as a Watchmen sequel; again, it feels less like the characters of Watchmen meeting the DC Universe and more like a handful of them dropped into the unexplainably chaotic DC Universe and struggling to make sense of it.
Basically, Doomsday Clock tries and fails to emulate the unique narrative and approach that Watchmen took; Watchmen’s bleak, uncompromising and, dare I say it, adult themes don’t mesh well at all with the mainstream DC Universe and I can’t help but feel like it would have been better to supplant the Watchmen characters mid-way through the events of Moore’s book so that we could see all their recognisable and flawed heroes actually butting heads with DC’s big guns in a clash of both ideals and fists. Dr. Manhattan could have been responsible for this, manipulating events from behind the scenes to cause the two worlds to emerge, and we could have seen interesting team ups and interactions between these characters (Batman and Nite Owl and Wonder Woman and Silk Spectre spring instantly to mind) but, instead, we get this weird mess of a story that’s more concerned with turning superheroes into hated figures, destroying or leeching off of DC’s Golden Age and Watchmen’s legacy, and desperately attempting to address some of the issues with the Rebirth universe.
Ultimately, I feel like I have to recommend Doomsday Clock, though, if only to see the botch job DC makes of officially canonising Watchmen into the DC Universe. As a love letter to Watchmen, it’s not so bad; the way it evokes the imagery and atmosphere of Moore’s work is pretty astounding and the artwork is quite appealing but the problem is that, while reading it, I just felt like I’d rather be reading Watchmen or any other “Crisis” event. It’s better than the TV show, I’ll give it that, if only because it actually includes a number of recognisable Watchmen characters but it similarly fails to properly recapture the magic of Moore’s story because the characters haven’t really changed and they don’t really fit in the mainstream DC Universe. This is brought up a few times but not often enough as the story has to make way for the escalating conflict between Superman and other metahumans and its confusing ending, and I can’t help but feel like Johns dropped the ball and that Doomsday Clock failed to really live up to all the hype and potential it had.
Could Be Better
Did you enjoy Doomsday Clock? Did you suffer through the comic’s long publication or did you pick up the collected edition, like I did? Were you excited to see the Watchmen characters interact and be integrated into the DC Universe and were you disappointed with how the story turned out? What did you think to the new Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan’s role in the DC Universe? Were you a fan of the interactions, characterisations, and references included in the story or do you agree that it failed to live up to its potential as a concept? Would you like to see the Watchmen characters interact with the DC Universe again in the future or do you think it’s best that it stays separate from mainstream canon? Whatever your thoughts on Doomsday Clock and Watchmen in general, drop a comment below and thanks for joining me for Watchmen Wednesday.