WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for the first six issues of Doomsday Clock, as well as possible spoilery speculation.
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s 12-issue Doomsday Clock is many things. First, it’s a sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal 12-issue miniseries Watchmen, so it has to deal with all that attendant baggage and controversy. Second, it’s a Big Event which promises (not surprisingly) to reshape DC’s shared superhero universe for the foreseeable future. Third, it’s the culmination of Johns’ own work in reshaping said universe, from 2011's Flashpoint miniseries – which changed DC's cosmos pretty radically – through 2016's restorative DC Universe: Rebirth special.
Accordingly, the expectation is that the DC Universe at the end of Doomsday Clock will look a lot like it did before Flashpoint. Most notably, the Justice Society of America and its Golden Age colleagues will be restored collectively to their familiar place in DC’s timeline, and the whole thing will have a glossy, reader-friendly sheen.
Before that happens, though, there’s still the matter of a story which needs to be told. Although Johns has promised that issue #7 will change things significantly, right now we’re not quite sure what Doomsday Clock’s story really is. Therefore, today we’re sussing out where D-Clock has been and where it might go.
What's The Question?
Perhaps the most critical difference between D-Clock and its inspiration is that Watchmen stood alone. In fact, Watchmen took pains to separate itself from the rest of DC’s newly-restructured superhero titles. By contrast, Doomsday Clock is all about the fate of the DC Universe itself. Doctor Manhattan’s involvement with the DC timeline has been teased for the past two years, starting with 2016's Rebirth special and continuing in series like Justice League, Titans, Detective Comics and Action Comics. The Batman-Flash crossover “The Button” also dealt directly with the Comedian’s infamous accessory, brought into the Batcave in the Rebirth special. Indeed, the Rebirth special assumed that its readers were well-versed in both Watchmen and the state of DC superheroes before and during the New 52 period.
While all this cosmic tinkering raises the stakes for Doomsday Clock, it sure doesn’t help the narrative. Watchmen started with a simple question – who killed the Comedian? – and used that to build a complex world. Regardless, knowing who killed the Comedian remained central to the story even as it grew. D-Clock has gone the other way, starting with the sprawling DC Universe but not quite getting to the central question.
Consider this quick summary of D-Clock’s first six issues:
– Ozymandias, Rorschach II and Mime & Marionette escape from their home universe literally as a nuclear missile explodes behind them. Looking for Doctor Manhattan, they track him to DC-Earth, where Ozymandias goes to visit Lex Luthor, Rorschach breaks into Wayne Manor and Mime & Marionette cause trouble in the Gotham City underworld.
– The Comedian, plucked from Watchmen's timeline just before his death, shoots Luthor and throws Ozymandias out a window. After Rorschach gives Batman his predecessor’s journal, Batman tricks Rorschach into an Arkham Asylum cell.
– Saturn Girl, lost in time from the 31st Century, helps Rorschach escape Arkham. The two head for Pittsburgh, where they meet the elderly Johnny Thunder, himself escaped from an old-age home. All three are looking for the Golden Age Green Lantern’s power battery.
– After confronting Ozymandias, Batman is captured and beaten by an angry mob. He ends up a captive of the Joker, who drags him to a meeting of supervillains. The Comedian breaks up the meeting, but is captured himself after he tracks down Mime & Marionette.
– Percolating in the background is the social unrest caused by the "Supermen Theory," a faux conspiracy designed to whip up resentment against (and within) the United States for its outsized population of super-people.
Compare that to the first six issues of Watchmen, which follow two basic tracks: Rorschach's investigation of the Comedian's murder, and Doctor Manhattan's geopolitical role as a nuclear deterrent. The murder mystery soon involves a vast conspiracy targeting ex-superheroes – for example, issue #5's attempted assassination of Ozymandias. By the end of issue #5, Rorschach is in police custody. Meanwhile, suggestions that Doctor Manhattan killed his loved ones through radiation poisoning drive the superhuman off Earth entirely. This sends the United States and Soviet Union careening towards nuclear war.
Now, clearly the above paragraph doesn't do justice to Watchmen's staggering amount of detail, nuance, and character- and world-building. Still, on a basic level we see that it's headed somewhere: Find out who killed the Comedian, and thereby save the world. The notion that everything's connected not only feeds the conspiratorial tone and enhances the murder-mystery aspects, it unifies the plotting.
At first Doomsday Clock presents a similar quest: Find Doctor Manhattan, and thereby save the world. However, by sending Ozymandias' little band to the screwed-up DC-Earth, D-Clock soon finds itself sidetracked by DC-Earth's problems. Before too long the group of four Watchmen-world characters has encountered Luthor, Batman, the Joker, Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl – each representing particular aspects not just of the story, but of DC's own voluminous history.