Friday night at New York Comic Con, DC Comics hosted a special Doomsday Clock panel on the AT&T Main Stage. The event, hosted by The Magicians author Lev Grossman, features Geoff Johns detailing the secrets and ideas behind his 12 issue maxi-series, described by DC co-publisher Jim Lee yesterday as a “sequel to Watchmen,” the seminal 1980s series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
The night kicked off as Grossman took the stage, detailing Geoff’s extensive bio. The two authors reminsced about the first time Johns read Watchmen at age 12. He didn’t read the series in order, either– he first picked up the “Rorschach issue”– a likely reference to the issue where Kovacs is imprisoned and says the famous line “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me.”
Grossman said that when he first read Watchmen, he thought it existed into a universe unto itself. Johns said that he thought the same until relatively recently, when he looked at the DC lineup and saw that some fundamental element of hope had been “ripped away.” He then thought about what could have taken that away within the context of the DCU and why they would have done so– he landed on Dr. Manhattan being the culprit.
Johns said Doomsday Clock artist Gary Frank took a hard line when Johns told Frank he wanted him to draw Doomsday Clock. Frank said he’d only do it if he felt like it was a story that he had to tell, so Johns took some time after he seeded the story in last year’s Rebirth #1 until the right idea germinated in his mind. Once it did though, he pitched Frank and the rest is history.
When Johns thought about working with Watchmen, he said the task felt “daunting.” Not just because of outside pressure calling the idea “sacrilegious,” but because he felt pressure as a writer to tell a good and “different” story with the character that he hopes makes readers happy.
Grossman very pointedly asked Johns how the 2016 presidential elections affected the story of Doomsday Clock. Johns said that during the filming of Wonder Woman in summer 2016, he flew Gary Frank out. They walked around the set for an hour and at the time, Johns said he felt like he “didn’t have to” write Doomsday Clock, so Frank said he didn’t feel like he needed to draw it. Then, right after the election, Johns called Frank right away and said “Gary, I have the story.”
Speaking of treating the property with care, the word of the day when Johns talked about his collaborative process was “intent.” Johns brought up an example where he and Frank argued over the placement of a single balloon in a panel for half an hour. According to Johns, he and Frank talk all the time.
According to Johns, Doomsday Clock is a “very character driven book.” It was important to him that the world feel like “it’s been lived in.” He and Frank talked a lot about pacing, which is especially important because of the nine-panel grid format Doomsday Clock ports over from Watchmen. He took time to reread Watchmen from the perspective of someone who was going to tell a new story with some of these characters and realized it changed his perspective on the book.
The panelists then showcased the first page of Doomsday Clock #1, which kicks things off in 1992. A mob is assembling in front of a building as a narrator tells us about how the world has gone to hell. How God has disappeared. Then, it’s revealed the building is Adrian Veidt’s aka Ozymandias’ building.
The second page showcases a variety of news channels detailing the chaotic state of the world after Rorschach’s journal is published, revealing Adrian’s deception. The third page zooms into Veidt’s headquarters as a newspaper screams “The Great Lie.”
Page four shows soldiers moving into Adrian’s Antarctic secondary base, where the climax of Watchmen occurred. They’re on the hunt for him. We see a close up of an x-ray showing a brain tumor.
Page five cuts to a prison, where a fight breaks out. An unseen figure picks up keys off a guard. A prisoner asks to be let out.
The crowd screamed at the return of Rorschach, who seemingly died at the end of Watchmen.
Grossman asked Johns a question about the tone of the series. Johns described Doomsday Clock as humorous. He said that he wrote the book with that playful tone “with a dash of hope” because he and many others felt like people took the wrong lesson from Watchmen— that superheroes had to be gritty and dark. Johns said that he thinks “levity” and “hope” are parts of life and that they deserve to be showcased, especially by this group of “quirky” characters.
Grossman turned towards viewing Watchmen through the lens of the story acting as a critique of the superhero genre. Johns agreed with the general assessment that Rorschach makes a solid Batman analogue and Dr. Manhattan a good Superman analogue and said that to some extent, Watchmen forced the medium to move forward a little bit thanks to the way future creators took its lessons to heart.
Johns said that being able to put Dr. Manhattan and Superman felt “kind of magical.” He hopes that they have an interaction “that’s worthy” of having them in the same frame and that he hopes, just as Watchmen said something important to superheroes, Doomsday Clock will be able to say something to Watchmen.
Johns described Rorschach as “the most fun character I’ve written in my entire life.”
Johns, Gary, and editor Brian Cunningham had a long conversation on how much big blue dick to show when they showcased Dr. Manhattan. Johns said that there are periods of Watchmen’s history in the text where he does and doesn’t wear clothes. He cryptically concluded “we gotta follow the rules.” If we’re judging by the way Manhattan’s character evolves over Watchmen, I’d say the rules call for lots of schlong.
Johns said that Doomsday Clock isn’t necessarily a political book, but it is a book “about extremes.” He thinks people are being forced to pick strong sides, but Rorschach being an “apolitical” figure, refuses to pick a side.
The first audience question was about what lessons Johns learned from Before Watchmen, which was not critically well received, and whether they talked to Alan Moore about Doomsday Clock. Johns quipped that he “wasn’t sure” Alan Moore “even has a phone.” He then said that he didn’t work on Before Watchmen, but believes that when approaching the Watchmen property, he put together a rule book on how to do so. He said that Before Watchmen “did something different’ and that Doomsday Clock will try to “do something different” still.
Another audience member asked whether DC would ever publish a Doomsday Clock “black and white version,” also known as Noir editions. Johns said that it was likely, though it wasn’t really up to him.
Johns then teased an interaction between two guys who “both think they’re the smartest man alive.” Batman meeting Ozymandias?
Another audience member asked how a writer like Johns updates the core of a character like Dr. Manhattan without going in the direction of something like Secret Empire. “Well Superman’s not going to be a nazi or something like that,” Johns said.
There’s a big time jump between the DC Universe, which is set in modern times, and the Watchmen Universe, which starts in 1992 during Doomsday Clock. Johns said they would absolutely explain the time gap when the characters move between worlds. “1992 is an important year for DC, too,” Johns teased.
Johns has developed a reputation for “fixing characters,” but Johns says that he doesn’t go into any series with the intent of fixing a character. He says he gravitates towards characters who are “underappreciated” because “they’re cool” and he wants other people to know it.
This concludes our coverage of the Doomsday Clock panel. Ready to read the full ashcan?
Alex is the Managing Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at Papercutz. He is your go-to fella for creator interviews, conversations about comic book structure, and general DC Comics nerding. Currently geeking out over movies, too.