Since last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot, it’s been known that Watchmen character, Doctor Manhattan, has done something to the DC Universe. Consequences have appeared here and there in the comics that followed, but they are set to be fully explored in Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock – and they released the first six pages at NYCC.
The 12-issue series, will take the controversial step of introducing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen characters to the DC Universe.
Scheduled for debut in November, Doomsday Clock has been shrouded in secrecy, but the NYCC panel has shed a little light on the details.
Johns stepped out in front of the audience, saying, “This is a nice big room for a comic book,” with the panel’s moderator The Magicians author Lev Grossman estimating that there were at least 3,000 people attending.
“Watchmen was a really intense and new look at comics,” Johns said, “The mid-‘80s for DC was a really crazy time. There was nothing else like it at the time. The impression it’s had on readers and creators is undeniable.”
Grossman was quick to ask whether Johns had ever considered intersecting the worlds of Watchmen and DC before now. “I never thought about it for a lot of reasons,” Johns replied. “I actually never thought about it until a year and a half ago, when I was writing the Rebirth special. For me, DC has always been about heart, heroes and humanity. It felt like some of the humanity had been ripped away from the books. Who would have the power, the inclination – the curiosity – to remove that humanity from the DC Universe? And the ability to do that? Doctor Manhattan and Superman, you’ve got one that’s an alien, that’s probably the most human of superheroes. And you’ve got one that’s a human, and is probably the most alien of all superhumans. I thought, a conversation between those two would be amazing.”
“Back then, all I was going to do is hint at it. It wasn’t until the story that coalesced in my head, and I pitched Gary – Gary said, ‘I have to draw this story.’ Then we committed to it last year.”
When considering what he thought to be missing from the DC Universe, Johns concluded, “It was missing those personal relationships, it was missing emotional storytelling, for me. I wanted to get back to the essence of these characters. That’s what made me more interested in contrasting it with Watchmen. This was such a challenge on every level. The expectation of even scratching the surface with Watchmen, doing anything with those characters, it’s daunting. It’s daunting as a creator, not even the outside pressure of, ‘It’s sacrosanct,’ which I get. If I do something like this, I’ve got to go to a place I’ve never gone. It’s going to take much more time than an issue of something even as complicated as Blackest Night.”
Grossman wondered whether it felt as though an “astral projection” of Alan Moore over his shoulder while he wrote, and Johns wholeheartedly agreed. “He’ll never read it, he’ll never look at it, I know that. But there’s a lot of people who love that work, and there are a lot of people who love the kind of work we do. I think we’ve earned the right to try.”
When considering the artwork, Johns was adamant that Gary Frank was the only one who could draw the story. “Gary’s art is just phenomenal, and you’ll see why he’s the only artist. He’s got the echo of Dave Gibbons in it, and it’s emotional. It’s all about the story. I’m proud of everything I’ve done with him, and I know the way he told a story, and the way we work together, was the only way I could try and do this book.”
Bringing Frank on board, Johns hopes that Doomsday Clock will pay tribute to Watchmen in a stylistic way. “When you open the book, I wanted people to go, ‘That has an echo and reminds me of Watchmen.’ The storytelling is based on a nine-panel grid, though it varies from that.”
Johns showed the audience six of the book’s opening pages:
The first page opens with a narrator explaining that it’s November 1992 – establishing how much time has passed since the end of Watchmen – though he isn’t sure of the day, confirming his status as an unreliable narrator. He is unhappy with the world – a world “without a god” – without Doctor Manhattan.
Page two shows reports of a world where peace is crumbling – a direct consequence of the climax of Watchmen.
Page three offers a look at news reports on Ozymandias, who’s now the most wanted man in the world, after killing three million people.
Page four sees a group of Russian soldiers looking for Ozymandias (unsuccessfully) and an image of a tumour – something which Johns teased during SDCC a few months ago.
Page five; and the ‘National News Network’ taking over independent news outlets – nuclear war is imminent. Cutting to a jail, and a prisoner is looking for freedom, while an unseen figure yanks away a guard’s keys.
Page six reveals the figure who attacked the guard and took the keys – and it’s only bloody Rorschach. This apparently got a huge standing ovation from the audience, and we can all understand why. Rorschach asks if the prison still wants out, to which he replies, “No way man, I’m cool.”
Johns confirmed that Rorschach is a central figure in Doomsday Clock, which makes sense, given his role in Watchmen – and he’s searching for Doctor Manhattan. “He’s in a very familiar place, if you read DC Comics.”
Grossman commended the team on the amount of humour in the pages of Doomsday Clock which the author has read so far. “People think if something is gritty, serious and dark, it’s realistic,” Johns replied. “I think people laugh every day. Humour is necessary, and it’s a part of life. That’s realistic. The stakes are high, obviously, but there is a humour, a quirkiness and an oddness throughout the whole series.”
Johns stressed that there are no tie-ins to Doomsday Clock. The 12 issues stand alone, and you don’t need to read anything else.
So, what do you think? Should Watchmen have remained untouched? Or is Doomsday Clock on your reading list? Let us know in the comments!