When DC Comics' Rebirth initiative kicked off in May 2016, Co-Publisher Dan DiDio mentioned that the Watchmen quasi-crossover would play out over the next two years. We know now that the 12-issue Doomsday Clock miniseries will run from November 2017 through at least October 2018, which is a few months longer but arguably still in the ballpark. On balance Rebirth's combination of apology and audacity has proved successful for DC, and certainly more well-received than the New 52's wholesale changes. Doomsday Clock must both sustain Rebirth's momentum and bring some closure to its changes.
Even so, we're starting to wonder what DC will do once the dust settles. If nothing else, Doomsday Clock will establish just how the world of Watchmen relates to DC's superhero cosmology. In turn, that relationship will likely determine how DC uses the Watchmen characters going forward. Thus, Doomsday Clock can either aggravate or put to rest a controversy that has raged among comics readers for years: whether DC will continue to exploit Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' perennial bestseller, or once again set it apart. Today we'll look at previous DC epics to see how they might inform this decision.
The Crisis That Never Was?
When DC got the rights to use Charlton Comics' superhero characters (Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question, Nightshade, Peacemaker and Peter Cannon), it wanted Moore and Gibbons to feature them in their own miniseries. Naturally, DC planned to integrate these characters fully into its superhero line with 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths, and so Blue Beetle and Captain Atom were given prominent roles. Because Watchmen would change all of the Charlton properties significantly, Moore and Gibbons crafted new characters to replace them (even if readers could still see their inspirations).
Appropriately enough for a story about time, a series of dates separates Watchmen from the rest of DC's superhero books. Although Crisis' 12 issues spanned calendar year 1985, much of its in-story action took place in July 1985. Whether by coincidence or design, Watchmen's main plot happened mostly in October and November 1985, and it was published from May 1986 to August 1987. We've discussed these dates previously with regard to both their real-world and in-story ramifications, but for now we'll just remind you that even if Watchmen's May 1986 debut wasn't enough to place it squarely post-Crisis, the in-story October 1985 time frame certainly would have. Having just eliminated its Silver Age multiverse, there was no way DC could justify either putting Watchmen on its own Earth or claiming that its events were an "untold story" from the pre-Crisis days. Moore and Gibbons were working outside the main superhero line, period.
If that sounds a little tenuous, a more practical aspect of Crisis has a clear implication for Doomsday Clock: The former was designed specifically to be forgotten. Except for memories of the red skies, fighting the Anti-Monitor and mourning colleagues like Barry Allen, nobody on the rebooted DC-Earth was supposed to know anything about the "Crisis" as chronicled in DC's superhero books. Accordingly, we hope Doomsday Clock writer Geoff Johns is keeping Crisis' self-immolating legacy in mind. Just as the post-Crisis DC titles didn't need to refer back to the cosmic twists and turns that helped make them possible, so the post-Doomsday Clock DC Universe shouldn't have a big blue naked milestone sitting in the middle of its newly revised timeline.
Put more simply, Doomsday Clock should help DC's superhero line maximize its potential while at the same time writing itself out of future storylines. The original Crisis involved DC's existing super-people in order to help readers bridge the gap between the old and new timelines. Flashpoint and Rebirth each did something similar, including Barry Allen helping to "create" the New 52 and the New 52 Superman dying to make room for his predecessor. Neither example should be taken as precedent for keeping the Watchmen characters around after Doomsday Clock, because we're talking about the Flash and Superman, two pillars of any DC shared universe. The main superhero line got along for over 30 years without a Watchmen crossover, and there's no reason to think it can't survive indefinitely without Moore and Gibbons' creations.