Welcome to Keeping a Watch on Doomsday Clock, our brand-new column dedicated to annotating the first ever DCU/Watchmen crossover most of us probably didn’t need but is here nonetheless! Since this 12-issue maxiseries relies so heavily on “Watchmen,” a comic with a ton to unpack in itself, there are a lot of details and references to look at.
We open up with a shot of a sign saying ”The End Is Here,” reminiscent of Walter Kovacs’s famous “The End Is Nigh” sign from “Watchmen.” An angry mob is protesting outside the Veidt Tower, demanding the missing Ozymandias pay for his crimes. You would think the cover would serve as the first panel of the comic, like in “Watchmen,” but actually it just is a picture depicting the same scene as the opening page. It isn’t a close-up the next panels would zoom out of. Instead, the first panel zooms closer to the sign than the cover but, much like “Watchmen,” the nine-panel grid is utilized throughout the issue. During many key moments, like the opening and the appearance of Rorschach, the layout of the page is exactly the same as in the corresponding pages of “Watchmen” #1. However, in what seems like less important scenes, the layout varies.
Yet another aspect of “Watchmen” being utilized is Rorschach’s narration. Rorshcach gives the date of the events as “November 22nd 1992 . . . or maybe it’s the 23rd.” What was going on in the DC universe back then? Superman had just died at the hands of Doomsday in “Superman” #75. November 22nd is also obviously the day “Doomsday Clock” #1 came out in 2017. The year in the story may be 1992, but from the opening page there’s a very 2017 vibe to the narrative. Phrases like “echo chamber” and “Make America ____ Again!” give the story a very modern feeling. Then again, Geoff Johns has said in interviews “Doomsday Clock” is heavily influenced by the current political situation, so this story is not even trying to talk about 1992.
The political situation differs greatly from both 1992 and the modern day, but is influenced by both. The news report on the second page explains what is going on and things do not look good. Russia has amassed its military in Belarus and is threatening to enter Poland. The EU is said to have collapsed, a year before it was formed in the real world. North Korea is said to have nuclear missiles capable of reaching Texas. The current situation between the United States and North Korea concerning nuclear weapons is what has set the real-world Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than it has been since 1953. In the comic, the threat to the US has caused hundreds of people to flee across the border to Mexico. The president isn’t available for comment because he is golfing.
The next pages discuss Adrian Veidt, who is now the most wanted man in the world. The president and his cabinet are being accused of taking part in the fake alien attack on New York, and the world is perhaps even more in chaos than it was before Veidt put his scheme to motion. Veidt’s desk still has the Ozymandias statues on it, as well as a newspaper in the same position, albeit a different one. In “Watchmen” #1, the news headline was about the nuclear Doomsday Clock being five minutes to midnight. Here the headline tells about the “Great Lie” referring to Veidt’s artificially created world peace. Rorschach’s diary is said to have been stolen and the attached documents at the end of the issue give some more information about this. After the recap of the final events of “Watchmen” the voices of the different TV news broadcasts turn into a completely incoherent jumble, reminiscent of the 24/7 news broadcasting of today. The number 52 is mentioned on one of the channels, because this wouldn’t be an important DC comic without that number being squeezed in somewhere even if it doesn’t have any significance, right? Another channel mentions the number 27 in the same panel, which could be a reference to “Detective Comics” #27. The references don’t end there as next up is a reference to Howard Bealy’s angry speech in Network. Later, the TV cuts off as the panels zoom into an x-ray of someone’s head with a brain tumour, later revealed to be Veidt’s own.Continued below
William F. Buckley Jr. announces that Russia has now invaded Poland. Buckley, who died in 2008, was a real-life author commentator who founded the influential conservative “National Review” magazine and hosted the Firing Line public affairs show. Here he is speaking on the behalf of the president on a national news network. The setting changes to a prison, setting up the introduction of the new Rorschach. Rorschach meditates on pancakes, which featured heavily in the series’ promotional material, before introducing us to a new character, Erika Manson, aka the Marionette. Rorschach’s clock doesn’t work properly, and since clocks and time are a big motive in “Watchmen,” “Doomsday Clock,” and DC’s Rebirth, this is something to keep an eye on. Manson’s mute husband, Marcos Maez, aka the Mime, is also held in the same prison. The Marionette and the Mime are analogues for Charlton Comics characters Punch and Jewelee who were puppeteers-turned-supercriminals. Rorschach takes Manson and Maez with him and drives back to midtown New York which is being evacuated because of the nuclear threat caused by the US military having to interfere with Russia invading Poland. Nuclear missile countdown has begun and only the President’s word is needed to complete the launch. For some reason we can see the Gunga diner, which was actually destroyed in the final issue of “Watchmen.” The final issues’ epilogue shows the diner was replaced by an American-Russian restaurant called Burgers’n’Borscht, which is where Seymour David gets lunch from before reading Rorschach’s journal. The new Rorschach has evidently eaten at Burgers’n’Borscht too, because he has a hamburger box from the restaurant in his car. As for the Gunga diner’s current existence, perhaps it was reopened at a different location or Burgers’n’Borscht was closed because of the returned tension between the US and Russia. The “Redford” being mentioned by a fleeing man is Robert Redford, who according to “Watchmen” #12 decided to run for president and apparently has been elected.
The new Rorschach is revealed to be a person of colour, which narrows down the speculation on his identity considering there are very few established characters of colour in this universe. (That is if the new Rorschach actually is an established character and not someone created only for this series, which might very well be the case.) He speaks in a manner very similar to the original Rorschach, which would imply he either knew the original or has read his diary. Out of these the latter option seems much more likely, since the original Rorschach did not have much of a social life. The most notable black characters in “Watchmen” are Rorschach’s psychologist Dr Malcolm Long and Bernard, the little boy reading “Tales of the Black Freighter” next to the newsstand. As pointed out in Multiversity’s Doomsday Clock #1 review on this issue, at this point Dr Long would be very old and his body type doesn’t resemble Rorschach, but on the other hand he knows Rorschach’s speech pattern. Discussing this we also have to remember that both Dr Long and Bernard (at least seemingly) died in the attack on New York. The creative team doesn’t give much clues about Rorschach’s identity yet. This new Rorschach seems to be bad at remembering things such as dates, numbers and directions and has some views that are quite different from the original one, but these traits don’t help with identifying him at this point.
Rorschach takes the Marionette and the Mime into the sewers. Left up on the street next to the sewer is a folder including papers that have writing and one paper that seems to be a Rorschach test. The three characters arrive in Nite Owl’s old lair when suddenly Adrian Veidt appears, carrying a little red lynx cub to replace the deceased Bubastis. Veidt states the mission he and Rorschach are on and the Mime is being recruited to: finding Dr Manhattan and getting him to fix the morbid situation of the world. It’s a big question why Veidt thinks Dr Manhattan would be interested in saving the world he already once left to its own devices.
The very last pages are when we actually see anything from the DC universe. “We need to find Jon. Wherever he’s retreated to,” Veidt says and the setting changes to Metropolis. Superman is sleeping seemingly peacefully next to Lois Lane, but then we see that he is having a nightmare about the death of his parents. The book on his bedside table is B.F. Skinner’s utopian novel Walden Two. This is a very curious reading choice for Superman since the novel essentially poses the idea that humans don’t have free will, but the questions of creating a utopia “artificially” definitely fit the themes of what Adrian Veidt was trying to achieve. When does this scene take place? Surely not at the same time as the rest of the issue, since Superman was dead at that time. I wonder if we will see Dr. Manhattan aka Jon Osterman’s namesake Jon Kent during this series, since he’s a pretty integral part of Superman comics nowadays. Here the layout first returns to the nine-panel grid, then deviates it from again with the four panels per row and then returns again. This inconsistency would make more sense if the main part of the issue was entirely designed according to the nine-panel grid and the Superman part would differ from it, but such is not the case.Continued below
Like every issue of “Watchmen,” the final panel includes a quotation and the image of a clock with a part of the quotation being the title of the issue. In “Doomsday Clock” #1 the quote in question is from Horace Smith’s poem “Ozymandias.” The ending quote of the eleventh “Watchmen” issue is also from an “Ozymandias” poem, but actually not the same one: it is from the poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Smith and Shelley were friends and wrote the poems in competition, Shelley’s becoming the better known one and being quoted in the better known one of the two comics being discussed here.
“Watchmen” #11’s ending quote “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” fits the immediate situation of Veidt’s plan reaching its destructive grande finale. Meanwhile “Doomsday Clock” #1’s ending quote “He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess / What powerful but unrecorded race / Once dwelt in that annihilated place.” fits the feeling of this being the aftermath of previous events, and also is reminiscent of the only real superhuman’s disappearance from Earth. The clock in the panel is twelve minutes to midnight, unlike in the official logo for the series, where the hand of the clock is in between 11:55 and 12:00. It is most likely exactly at two and a half minutes to midnight, since that is where the real Doomsday Clock is set right now.
While Johns and Frank don’t reach the meticulously crafted symbolism of Moore and Gibbons, the imagery does have interconnectedness. Adrian Veidt’s brain tumour is placed in the same spot in the circle-shape of his skull as the hand of the Doomsday Clock and the blood smear on the Comedian’s pin. Clocks and time are strongly present but not in the way of the precise clockwork of “Watchmen.” Time has passed, Rorschach’s watch doesn’t work properly and he can’t remember what the date is. Without going into discussion of either work’s quality, it’s like Johns and Frank have first decided to play by Moore and Gibbons’s rules and then break them straight away with things such as the relation of the cover and the first panel and the breaking of the nine-panel grid.
The end of the issue also includes attached documents like “Watchmen” did. The documents here are a mishmash of news articles, adverts and a Morning Joe’s menu. Among the news articles is the obituary of Byron Lewis aka Mothman, who has now passed away. One of the most interesting documents is a news article called “The Strange Case of Roger Jackson.” It tells that the newspaper which published parts Rorschach’s journal, The New Frontiersman, has now gone defunct. Seymour David, the employee who decided to publish the parts of the journal, was found beaten to death, which lead to the arrest of a thief named Roger Jackson who actually might be innocent. There is no picture of this Roger Jackson and it is unclear how he is related to Rorschach. The article is from 1987, not the time when the issue happens, so it could be possible that the arrested Jackson is the new Rorschach himself.
There we have the first issue analysed. Not much has been revealed yet and the part that had anything to do with the DC universe was very short, but there was plenty to talk about and references to spot. Especially the beginning of the issue offered new information about the state of the world years after the fake alien attack and had many references to the real world, but the latter half really only raises new questions and all the details don’t seem to quite match. Come back after the second issue is out to delve deeper into “Doomsday Clock” again and see if the baffling parts get any explanations!