More than a year after it was expected, Doomsday Clock, the sequel to Watchmen and DC Comics, has finally ended. Even if the Doomsday Clock had been finished on time in late 2017, there would have been many comparisons between it and Watchmen, the critic and hit by HBO.
But in a thermodynamic miracle of release delays, Doomsday Clock # 12 hit the shelves the same week as Watchmen’s latest installment. The question now seems to be even stronger: How is DC Comics’ own attempt to depict the future of the Watchmen universe compared to its TV relatives reflected?
The answer is: not good.
Geoff Johns, Gary Frank / DC Comics
But first a rebirth
Doomsday Clock started in November 2017 with a lot of hype on the part of DC Comics – most of it deserved it. With art from the team of Gary Frank, Brad Anderson and Geoff Johns, DC has brought DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer together with a trusted team of industry-leading artists.
The story, as advertised, seemed to be a well-considered answer to the way Watchmen’s success distorted the superhero genre, despite being told by the most clichéd superhero format that can be imagined. On paper, Doomsday Clock is a space-time warping transition that promised a definitive confrontation between Doctor Manhattan and Superman.
To explain exactly how it came about, we have to go back to 2016 – or 2011, with the debut of the New 52, DC Comics’ first continuity reset in 25 years. Almost nothing in comics happens without controversy, but the New 52 was famously controversial. The initiative was criticized for lack of diversity on and behind the page. for failing to attract the new readers, it should; and, of course, to throw out the baby of loved continuity with the bath water of excessive continuity.
In 2016, DC Editorial offered something like a Mea Culpa. The relaunch of “Rebirth” was a tonal shift that brought with it a lot of renumbering of books, and started with Rebirth # 1, a unique story that revealed that something had changed the timeline of the DC Comics universe without that Heroes noticed. According to Rebirth # 1, many loved but deleted elements of DC continuity – the Justice Society, the original buddy of Flash, the League of Superheroes, the marriage of Green Arrow and Black Canary, Superman’s human parents – all had the same universal reason they were missing.
Doctor Manhattan had deleted it from the timeline.
Rebirth was a promise of change and realignment that was largely preserved. But Rebirth # 1 had a big blue Chekov weapon on it, and only with the Doomsday Clock could we see the fire.
(Ed. Note: The rest of this post contains spoilers for the Doomsday Clock and HBO Watchmen series.)
The history of the Doomsday Clock
Gary Frank / DC Comics
Like HBO’s Watchmen, Doomsday Clock shows us what could happen after the end of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, but in a completely different way. In the television series, Ozymandia’s plan kept the world from diving into a nuclear apocalypse, and Rorschach’s diary, though discovered, was dismissed as the dangerous thought of a proven misleading crank.
In the Doomsday Clock, however, the publication of Rorschach’s diary was taken with deadly seriousness. Johns and Frank pick up with Ozymandias and Co. Just a few hours before Veidt is caught by an angry mob and Russia and America fire their atomic bombs and presumably destroy all civilization on Earth. But Adrian Veidt has a new plan: find Doctor Manhattan and convince him to return and use his almost all-powerful abilities to stop the destruction.
Veidt, accompanied by a hand-picked team of a young, black successor to Rorschach, and two former costume criminals – a trio of new characters that Johns and Frank created for the series – followed Jon Osterman’s trail to where he was in the meantime: the main DC universe.
For years, Watchmen has been calm, perhaps cheeky, positioned as one of the canonical parallel earths in the DC universe. And Doomsday Clock is also a story about what happens when Doctor Manhattan, in all its logic and power, becomes aware of the inherently illogical, non-linear DC main continuity. How does a man who perceives all the time at the same time perceive a universe in which the timeline itself is often flowing?
The answer is that he is confused. And as a scientist who had completely detached himself from humanity, he started to experiment with it. He discovered that changes in this universe can affect all other universes in the multiverse and called it Metaverse. He discovered that many events in this universe depended heavily on Superman’s life and decisions.
To understand why, Dr. changed Manhattan Superman’s backstory and wiped out the Justice Society, the superheroes who stood in front of him and inspired him, which in turn wiped out his childhood as a superboy, which in turn caused Ma and Pa Kent to die in a car accident on the evening of Clark Kent’s prom.
Doctor Manhattan felt that he understood better this new version of Superman, which was further from humanity. So he started changing other things, “creating” most of the major structural changes to the New 52. He also made a fascinating discovery.
Jon has trouble seeing the future in the DC universe, but the last thing he can see is that Superman hits him. Just like Watchmen, he is filled with an innocent and unsettling curiosity about this moment. He suspects there are two possible reasons for his future blindness: either he cannot see what happens next because it is the moment Superman destroys him or because it is the moment when he himself is the multiverse dissolves.
Geoff Johns, Gary Frank / DC Comics
So Doomsday Clock sparked a titanic confrontation between Superman and Doctor Manhattan, but it’s not as if everything else was sunshine and rainbow. Thanks to the combined machinations of Doctor Manhattan and Adrian Veidt, all good DC super teams on Mars are out of action, while international tensions on Earth have peaked. Aside from nuclear annihilation as a threat, countries around the world are building their own militant, nationalist super teams that are going to each other’s throats.
The end of the end of the world
The Doomsday Clock # 12, released this week, finally broke three years of playing and rubbing the continuity of DC Comics, but did so with a thin veneer of superheroic wishful thinking.
Doctor Manhattan confronts Superman and tells him about his sins. Superman refuses to attack him and instead reminds him of Janey Slater, his first love. And at that moment, Doctor Manhattan decides to reset the DC universe and restore all of his timeline changes as they were. (Of course, all the deleted superheroes appear exactly in the place of Superman’s fight so they can get into the action.)
“I see tomorrow,” says Manhattan, “tomorrow’s man.” And for the first time … I’m thrilled. ”
The next pages of Doctor Manhattan, which take a look at the future of the DC universe, could be the most interesting and moving part of the issue. Johns and Frank imagine that the DC universe is constantly revolving around and reforming Superman’s origins, while editorial restarts canonically find ways to push it further into the future. They place Superman adventures in 2026, 2030 (Marvel / DC Crossover, Natch) and 2038 – to 2965, a hopeful estimate of the life of the publication.
But that’s about the best that can be said on the subject. After repairing the DC universe and sending most of the guards home, Doctor Manhattan goes home to his universe and simply makes all the atomic bombs disappear and reverses the nuclear destruction. Then he adopts a human baby on four sides, lifts him into elementary school age, fills him with all his strength and drops him on the doorstep of the incognito Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk, in order to be brought up next to their newly discovered children. Jon himself fades into nothing.
The Doomsday Clock ends with the image of Jon’s “son”, who has a glowing hydrogen atom symbol on his forehead and says that his name is “Clark”. The problem also implies that this baby Manhattan will eventually make its way to the DC Universe as Good.
Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons / DC Comics
I think nothing ever ends
For two sequels with very different ideas about the continuation of Watchmen continuity, the HBO series Watchmen and Doomsday Clock rounded off their finale with some shocking parallels. Doctor Manhattan decided to stay away from human life less because he raised children. Doctor Manhattan passes on his strength before he dies. Ozymandias, who had averted an apocalypse, was arrested for his crimes.
And to be fair, it’s sequels based on the same material. The existence of some thematic contexts itself would not require comment, except that the Doomsday Clock is weaker in almost every way.
Watchmen is a story about two men of immense power who detach themselves from humanity so much that they commit terrible crimes of action and inaction, a topic that is like a thorn in the side of the premise of superhero fiction. The Doomsday Clock faces this error and flinches. Its ending feels chunky and self-congratulating even now – the power of Superman’s ability to triumph over the industry’s most notorious “anti-superhero” story.
Doctor Manhattan’s ability to essentially perceive the DC universe and make editorial changes invites you to take a meta-textual look at the Doomsday Clock, but the series looks even worse from a wider perspective. Johns and Frank undo a selection of editorial decisions that shaped the New 52, saying that they were all Doctor Manhattan’s attempt to obscure the Superman myth with cynicism. Metatextuality, this is to blame for unpopular DC editorial decisions on a character created by Alan Moore, who is known for arguing with DC Comics about the rights to Watchmen, and the entire Watchmen concept as the villain to the main -DCU broadcasts, but still one that just needs a bit of that Superman charm to solve all of its problems.
At the beginning, the doomsday clock seemed to reflect the value of uncynan heroic stories – the value of an unstoppable popular hero created by two first-generation Cleveland immigrant children. In the end, it’s less an argument than a tautology. The reason why Superman is worth having all this power is that if he weren’t he wouldn’t be Superman.
At a time when it has been proven that we have the space and resources to write superhero stories for large and small screens that are as vivid and visual as on the page, superhero comics have to do more than just that To ask question. They must be the smartest, bravest, and bravest inventions of the genre because they are the genre’s origin.
That HBO was able to make a sequel to Watchmen that said more about the power of Superman than DC Comics itself should be of concern.