While we thought that DC's Rebirth would return its Golden Age heroes to their familiar historical role, we were a little surprised to see the hints of that return in the Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock (written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank). Bringing back the Justice Society's generation would both restore a longstanding element of DC's shared superhero universe and highlight a fundamental difference between it and the world Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons crafted.
The Golden Agers have been absent from DC's main timeline since September 2011's line-wide New 52 reboot. This distinguished the New 52 both from the preceding DC timeline (1985-2011) and from that of 1986-87's Watchmen, since both had masked crimefighters during the 1930s and '40s. Today we'll look at the divergent effects of the two Golden Ages and what they might mean for Doomsday Clock's ultimate resolution.
No Respect For Your Elders
The two sets of Golden Agers could hardly be more different, and that is by design. Watchmen challenged a number of cherished superhero tropes, especially the notion that superheroes of any era would simply be "normalized" into everyday life. For Moore and Gibbons, superheroes were not normal, either on a personal or societal level. Although inspired by Golden Age comic books, Watchmen's first generation of costumed crusaders were each driven to fight crime by their own quirks and foibles; and each was reliant mostly on his or her brains and brawn. Except for Mothman's glider wings, there wasn't anything approaching a super-power or high-tech gadget to be found.
Banding together as the Minutemen, they fought crime for some ten years, until a combination of scandal, tragedy and personality conflicts led to their 1949 disbanding. Remembered largely as a fad, their only major effect on society (for a while) seemed to be the premature death of superhero comics, years before any kind of Silver Age could get going. When genuine superhuman Doctor Manhattan came along in 1959, a couple of Minutemen came out of retirement (although the Comedian had been working for the government) and a second generation of adventurers joined them. Although they never officially formed a team, this group really changed the course of history, and not always for the better. Because the difference was Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias now sees DC-Earth (in Doomsday Clock issue #2) as overflowing with "the Doctor Manhattan problem."
Indeed, from Watchmen's perspective the vast mosaic of DC's Golden Age super-people might look especially preposterous. Again, because DC's Golden Age was based around relatively inconsequential superhero stories published from the mid-1930s to the early 1950s, there was virtually no chance that its history or society would be affected in any meaningful way. In fact, the origin of the Justice Society (related decades later by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton, in August-September 1977's DC Special Series issue #29) explained specifically why the superheroes didn't just march into Europe and win World War II. The JSA's 1951 retirement was also explained in more practical terms, as the team disbanded to avoid an overzealous anti-Communist Congressional investigation (November-December 1979's Adventure Comics issue #466, also by Levitz and Staton). Aside from that, though, DC's Golden Agers were just part of the landscape, and would eventually become inspirations to future generations.