This article includes major spoilers for Doomsday Clock #1, on sale November 22, and for DC Comics' Rebirth arc.
Following the Doomsday Clock panel at New York Comic Con, DC Comics has released a six-page black and white ashcan preview of the first chapter of the 12-issue miniseries launching in November that will bring to a head the central mysteries of the post-Rebirth universe. Written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank, Doomsday Clock will pit Superman and the heroes of the DC Universe against Doctor Manhattan and other characters from Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore's seminal Watchmen.
And, wow -- Johns and Frank aren't wasting time getting to their first big reveal. Rorschach is back.
Set in 1992, the preview pages catch up with the world after the events of Watchmen, where we discover that Ozymandias' plan to save humanity from itself ultimately failed. Rorschach's journal, exposing the plot, has been published and verified, and Adrian Veidt is now a fugitive from justice. Protests rock the streets of America, and the vice president has assassinated the attorney general. The president -- not named, but presumably either Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush (Nixon was still in office in 1985 in Moore and Gibbons' original) -- is contending with escalating international conflict, including Russia's invasion of Poland and North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
Manhattan has not been seen since the New York disaster.
Nite Owl and Silk Specter are also unaccounted for, and a news report snippet suggests Rorschach, too, has been keeping to the shadows in the wake of his death at the hands of Doctor Manhattan (How he apparently survived remains to be revealed.). But when the trench coat-wearing vigilante stops a prisoner (who happens to be the spitting image of DC Co-publisher Dan DiDio) from breaking out of prison, it's clear Rorschach has not been forgotten.
The opening pages present another strange puzzle: A Rorschach-style journal laments that humanity "had a chance" in the days after Veidt's fake alien detonated in New York, but "they blew it." This sentiment is odd coming from Rorschach, who refused to compromise his black and white view of right and wrong, even to prevent a greater catastrophe. He let Doctor Manhattan kill him rather than keep Ozymandias' secrets, after all.
So what's changed? Perhaps the answer lies in his resurrection.
Doomsday Clock straddles another interesting line in being both a major DC Comics event and a sequel (of sorts) to Watchmen: who is this for? Rebirth storylines so far that have incorporated Manhattan are solidly in the traditional superhero realm, rated PG or PG-13. But Rorschach's journal uses the word "shit." We need not clutch our pearls over language, but it signals an unusual shift for DC's mainstream lineup of comics. And we've only seen six story pages; are there more "mature" elements to come?
There's also the matter of a mysterious x-ray in Ozymandias' abandoned tower. Johns has described this as an X-Ray of a tumor, and here we see Frank's artistic "camera" zooming in on it through three panels before changing scene. We know Veidt enjoyed his genetic experiments; what went on in this lab? Is Veidt the figure shown in the x-ray?
If one were to draw a smiley face over x-ray, the spot would line up nicely with the splotch of blood on the infamous button...
The preview is tantalizing, and reveals a lot about what sort of comic Doomsday Clock will be. Of course, for more answers, including how all of this connects to the DCU, fans will have to wait just a little longer...