New York Comic Con featured plenty of panels spotlighting upcoming titles. For DC fans, by far the most exciting was the panel on DOOMSDAY CLOCK. The upcoming series by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank is set to feature the first-ever meeting between Superman and Dr. Manhattan. Acting as both a sequel to WATCHMEN and a crossover with the larger DC Universe, the upcoming twelve issue miniseries has been shrouded in mystery. Luckily, Johns himself was present at the DC DOOMSDAY CLOCK panel to help dispel some of the rumors.

Held in the Jacob Javits Center’s largest meeting room in Hall C, the panel featured about 3,000 spectators eager to hear from the c0-captain of DC REBIRTH. Johns sat on stage accompanied by Time Magazine writer Lev Grossman, a self-professed WATCHMEN enthusiast, who was prepared to hit Johns with numerous pointed questions about the challenges of following in the footsteps of legendary writer Alan Moore. The WATCHMEN writer’s presence filled the room at NYCC and also, apparently, loomed over Johns’ shoulder throughout his writing process.

“I think we all do [feel Moore’s presence]. Absolutely. He’ll never read [DOOMSDAY CLOCK]. He’ll never look at it. I know that,” Johns admitted. “But I think there’s a lot of people that love that work and I think and hope there’s gonna be a lot of people who love the kind of story that we do. And I think that Gary and I worked so hard [getting to this point in writing a sequel]. I feel like we’ve at least earned the right to try.”

DC's DOOMSDAY CLOCK

For Johns, the conception of writing a WATCHMEN sequel came up about a year and a half ago. Prior to that, the thought had never even crossed his mind. It came about for Johns as a natural answer to a key problem that loomed with the DC Universe — the disappearance of its heart and soul. “For me, the DC universe was missing… those personal relationships. It was missing emotional storytelling,” Johns stated. “There was a lot of fly-by, a lot of double-page spreads of guys fighting, a 2-page epilogue. I wanted to get back to the essence of these characters. And that’s what made me interested in contrasting it with WATCHMEN. With DC and WATCHMEN, the aggregate of each universe is very, very different.”

Superman Meets Dr. Manhattan

In Johns’ conception, that contrast boils down to a central conflict between Superman and Dr. Manhattan. As the all-powerful beings that lead their respective universes, there are many similarities between the two — but some essential differences too. “Superman was kind of my central character [who represented DC’s core humanity]. Who would have the power, or the inclination, or the curiosity to try and remove all the humanity in the DC Universe? And I don’t know where it came from but [I thought] — Dr. Manhattan and Superman. You have one that’s an alien, that’s probably the most human of all superheroes. And you have one that is a human that’s probably the most alien of all superhumans. And I just thought, wow, the conversation between those two would be pretty amazing.”

DOOMSDAY CLOCK

Bringing together the very different worlds of Dr. Manhattan and Superman would require not just a poignant story, but a talented artist capable of rendering it. For Johns, longtime collaborator Gary Frank was not only the best artist for the job, he was the ONLY artist for the job. “I told [everybody at DC]… if Gary doesn’t draw it, I can’t write it. Because all I see is Gary,” Johns said.

“The storytelling he does…[Frank] has got this slight echo of [WATCHMEN artist] Dave Gibbons to him. He loves Gibbons’ work, he’s heavily influenced by him. [His style is] emotional, it’s really, really emotional.. and he’s all about the story. Everything we’ve done on Batman, on Superman, and on Shazaam… out of everything I’ve done with him I think that [DOOMSDAY CLOCK] is some of the best stuff I’ve ever been a part of. I knew that the way [Gary and I] work together is the only way I can try and do [DOOMSDAY CLOCK].”

Before DOOMSDAY CLOCK

Frank, in fact, was an essential part of Johns’ decision to write DOOMSDAY CLOCK. Johns approached Frank with the idea when they were on the set of WONDER WOMAN (which Johns co-wrote), during the Summer of 2016, but the idea had not quite gelled yet. “I said I’m not sure. I know there’s something there, but I don’t feel like I have to do it yet. Gary said, ‘well if you don’t have to do it, then I don’t have to do it.’ But it kept sticking in my head,” Johns said. “Then the election happened in November, and a few things followed it… And then the whole story just went in my head. I called Gary and I said ‘I have the story.’”

Comic Book Artist & Writer Dave Gibbons Talks Dark Horse and DC Comics at New York Comic Con NYCC 2017

For Johns and Frank, the process of creating a sequel meant sticking to the rulebook that Moore and Gibbons developed in 1986. That created certain key challenges in both writing and artwork. This meant Johns had to approach WATCHMEN from a new angle. “It’s a very different book when you’re like ‘Okay, now I’m gonna use some of these characters and write a story.’ You read the book differently as a writer and as an artist,” Johns revealed.

“When you open [DOOMSDAY CLOCK] I want people to say ‘that has an echo that reminds me of WATCHMEN.’ The storytelling is based on a 9-panel grid [as in WATCHMEN]. The pacing of [WATCHMEN and DOOMSDAY CLOCK] is very particular, it’s a very character driven book. There’s moments in it that are about character, it’s not about plot. Then the dialogue — and how it works or doesn’t work with the art, is very important. And the thematics and the subtexts and the lived-in feel… and so all of that is in the [WATCHMEN] rule book.”

First Pages Revealed

But the proof is in the pudding — or in this case, the panels. The biggest surprise of the night was Johns presenting the first six pages of DOOMSDAY CLOCK. The comic book panels were broadcast on two screens for the entire audience to see. The pages were sans color and dialogue, but Johns provided those himself, narrating off his script.

DC's DOOMSDAY CLOCK

The pages offered several exciting clues for where the story of DOOMSDAY CLOCK is headed. Taking place in 1992, the story is set years after the conclusion of WATCHMEN, where Ozymandias murdered 3 million people in an atomic explosion in order to keep the rest of the world from killing each other in an even bigger nuclear holocaust. In the opening of DOOMSDAY CLOCK, it’s clear that Ozymandais’ secret has been revealed.

Ozy is now the most wanted man in America, and Russian agents are seen hunting him down in his corporate office. All they find is an empty lab, and the x-ray scan of a skull with a cancerous tumor located. This would appear to indicate that Ozymandias is dying from cancer — a fitting end, given that he deliberately gave countless people cancer in order to implicate Dr. Manhattan and his natural atomic energy.

Dr. Manhattan himself is missing in these pages. As Johns put it, “the world is now without its God.” Manhattan’s disappearance, along with the revelation of Ozy’s plot, has led to humanity returning to the brink of nuclear destruction. With humanity’s obliteration imminent, someone needs to find the big blue God before its too late. Who? As it turns out, Johns has someone in mind…

DC's DOOMSDAY CLOCK

The Return of Rorschach

The final page of the comic reveals none other than Rorschach. Seen in a maximum security prison, toying with an inmate who was trying to escape, Rorschach is revealed to be the narrator of the story — just like in WATCHMEN. Here Rorschach appears to be undertaking his latest investigation: exactly what happened to Dr. Manhattan. Where did he go, and how can he be found? This is where the DC Universe is set to crossover with the Watchmen.

Rorschach’s return is welcome, and his revelation was greeted by thunderous applause from the audience. It does raise several questions, however. Firstly, how did he survive being atomized by Dr. Manhattan? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, why bring Rorschach back, other than for fan service? His death in WATCHMEN was definitive, and an important statement for the conclusion of that story. It remains to be seen how Johns can begin to justify undoing such an important and memorable demise in comic book history.

For his part, Johns remained coy about Rorschach, but did admit that “he is the most fun character I have ever written in my entire life.” That alone could go a long way to explaining why Johns wants to bring him back — in addition to the massive fan support, as demonstrated by the theater’s enormous seal of approval. Johns was grateful for the response, stating, “I’m glad you guys cheered when Rorschach came up. We’ve had these pages for like nine months.”

DC's DOOMSDAY CLOCK

The Politics of DOOMSDAY CLOCK

“Gary and I have been so reluctant to show anything,” Johns continued. “Because we want people to experience [DOOMSDAY CLOCK] reading it and we’re nervous about it because we’re putting so much hard work into it and we want people to enjoy it. We want people to read it and have fun with it and think about it. And so I have to say, [it was DC editor] Dan Didio who was like ‘show pages, stop hogging it.’ So we thought we’d show these first six pages, and we hope you guys liked them.”

Rorschach’s return provides one very important service, which is that it enables a detective story through-line for the book. Rorschach was crucial as both narrator and investigator of WATCHMEN, and appears set to play the same role in DOOMSDAY CLOCK. Johns noted that Rorschach’s perspective is always a-political, and that provides an important device in dispelling the otherwise overt political nature of the WATCHMEN universe.

“I’d say Rorschach really helps [with the politics] because his viewpoint is so a-political in a fascinating way,” Johns stated. “[DOOMSDAY CLOCK] definitely does have political overtones. I don’t think you can do a story without it if you’re doing WATCHMEN. You need [the politics], that’s kind of what the story is built around. At the same time, I think it’s gonna be really interesting when you see the viewpoints of the characters on certain things going on in the world.”

DOOMSDAY CLOCK Video with DC Comics’ Geoff Johns

A Story of Extremes

Johns admitted that the story of DOOMSDAY CLOCK was shaped in part by the 2016 election, so it’s inevitable that the book will feature some commentary on today’s world — much like how WATCHMEN offered sharp criticism of the Cold War and nuclear deterrence. Grossman suggested that WATCHMEN was about power. He noted how WATCHMEN asked questions about power — how you can trust the people in power, what power does to people who wield it, and wonders whether ultimately somebody has to wield it — for better or worse. Johns agreed, and stated that if WATCHMEN was about power, DOOMSDAY CLOCK was about extremes.

“This story, if you wanna boil it down… this story is about extremes. I think the world has become an extreme world. You either really love something or really hate something. I think that everyone is moving to extremes for a lot of reasons. We’re so bombarded by things that you have to kind of pick a side. Rorschach is somebody who refuses to do that, which is why I love the character so much.”

The mention of Rorschach, again, drew thunderous applause.

DC's DOOMSDAY CLOCK

The Legacy of WATCHMEN

Before the event wrapped up, Grossman asked perhaps the most important question of all — one that has been lingering since Johns first announced DOOMSDAY CLOCK — can the new book really add anything of value to the legacy of WATCHMEN?

Grossman mentioned that, when WATCHMEN appeared on the scene in 1986, it was in part a critique of the DC Universe. Dr. Manhattan himself was a critique of Superman, while Rorschach could easily be seen as a critique of Batman. In his view, the publishing of WATCHMEN forced comic books to evolve.

Johns agreed in part, though cautioned that some of this evolution may have been incidental to WATCHMEN’s publication. “In some ways, WATCHMEN did [push the comic book medium to evolve], in some ways I think the creators took it on board, and I think audiences did too. It definitely influenced everything. I don’t think it forced everybody [to evolve] but it certainly had such a huge impact and influence that it could look like it did,” Johns said. “I do agree with your assessment that Manhattan could be a Superman stand-in and Rorschach a Batman stand-in… because those characters are so iconic. And the two pivotal characters in WATCHMEN clearly are Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach.”

DC's DOOMSDAY CLOCK

The DOOMSDAY CLOCK is Ticking

Although there was a more important point Grossman had to make: that the characters of WATCHMEN are meta characters who are now going to be in contact with characters that they are based on. The central question for Johns was whether Superman had evolved to a place where he can stand in the same frame as Dr. Manhattan and feel every bit as believable as Dr. Manhattan.

At first, Johns coyly answered the question with a dodge: “I’ll only answer with this — you’re gonna find out.”

Luckily, Johns was prepared to give a little more, and his answer should help to quell any lingering doubts. “I think that comic books and the storytelling has evolved over the last 30-plus years,” Johns observed. “The characters and stories have gotten very sophisticated, both in ways that were influenced by WATCHMEN and ways that were influenced by other things. I wouldn’t tell this story if I didn’t think that Superman and Dr. Manhattan could be in the same panel — which feels kind of magical to me — and have an interaction that wasn’t worthy of it.”

The Stigma of Comics

Still unsatisfied, Grossman pushed his point one final time, but laid it out in the simplest of terms: “WATCHMEN had so much to say to DC. Does the DC Universe have something that it has to say back to WATCHMEN?”

Johns’ response was simple, too. “That’s exactly why I’m telling this story.”

The audience roared in approval.

We’ll find out what happens when Superman meets Dr. Manhattan in DOOMSDAY CLOCK. The first issue will be released on November 22nd, 2017. Until then, the clock is ticking…

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