Welcome to “Keeping a Watch on Doomsday Clock,” our column dedicated to annotating the first ever DCU/Watchmen crossover that most of us probably didn’t need but is here nonetheless! Since this 12-issue maxiseries relies so heavily on “Watchmen,” a comic that has a ton to unpack in itself, there are a lot of details and references to look at. After issue seven put the focus on the “Watchmen” characters, we now return to the DCU’s international Supermen Theory conflict.
The cover depicts Adrian Veidt’s new kitten Bubastis, whose important role was revealed in the last issue. The variant cover is also noteworthy, since it foreshadows the events of this issue, but not in the way you might think. The variant shows Superman and Dr Manhattan marionettes operated by Adrian Veidt. The puppets are having a confrontation on a stage that looks like the surface of Mars. Superman and Manhattan fighting on Mars isn’t happening in this issue, though. Dr Manhattan looks like he is blaming Superman, pointing a finger at him. This blame on Superman is the key element in “Doomsday Clock” #8. In the previous issue Veidt came up with a new plan to save not only his own world but also the DC universe, and now he is putting his plan into motion. On the first page we see that he has broken into the White House’s Oval Office and is going through some documents. This issue’s title, ‘Save Humanity,’ is also clearly a reference to Veidt’s motives both here and in “Watchmen.”
At the Daily Planet, Ron Troupe and Cat Grant are reading news about the White House break-in while Lois Lane wonders who has rummaged through the locked drawers on her desk. The locks haven’t been broken and there aren’t any fingerprints, meaning the culprit either has superpowers or is a seasoned thief. Lois notices the letter that was mailed to her in “Doomsday Clock” #7 by someone with bloodstained gloves. In issue seven’s annotations we mused that the blood stains pointed to Rorschach, who had just given the Joker a solid beating-up and was wandering the streets alone, but also mentioned that his gloves are dark and the person who sent the letter seemingly had white or light grey gloves. Lois picking up the letter echoes Seymour David picking up the original Rorschach’s diary from the mail pile on the final page of “Watchmen,” which also points to Rorschach being the mailer.
Lois doesn’t have time to open the letter before Perry White comes in yelling about an escalating conflict in Russia between Firestorm and the People’s Heroes, introduced in issue five. “Doomsday Clock” keeps up the trend of using real life politicians in the story by mentioning Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. A big part of the Supermen Theory conflict has happened in Russia, so now it’s a good time to do a little recap. According to “Doomsday Clock” #5, President Vladimir Putin firmly believes in the Supermen Theory. Hawk and Dove got imprisoned in St Petersburg in issue five. Russia have their own group of metahumans called the People’s Heroes, also introduced in the same issue. Pozhar, a member of the People’s Heroes, has conflicted with Firestorm earlier. Now Russia is putting into action metahuman laws that force every baby to be tested at birth for the metagene. According to the news report infants with the metagene have already been taken into custody, which has ignited protests around the country.
This is the first issue where Superman has a lot of on-panel time despite early interviews with Geoff Johns claiming he gets a lot of focus in the series and despite, you know, the series logo having the Superman symbol on it. A few issues into “Doomsday Clock” it was already clear that Superman would have a more thematic significance than an actual presence in the story, and that he’d only be taking center stage now at the last one-third stretch of the series. Up until now, he has been the only superhero everyone around the world still trusts and symbolized universal goodwill. As Superman takes to the skies, the Daily Planet staff members think “– Superman’s going to clear this all up. And everything will be okay,” highlighting the faith people have in him. In this issue a paradigm shift is about to take place as the conflict in Russia escalates.Continued below
In Moscow, Firestorm’s powers are acting weird. Firestorm accidentally changes some citizens into glass, even though doesn’t usually transform organic matter. Originally, he wasn’t even capable of it without getting extremely painful “feedback” in his body. In later stories it was revealed that he has the ability but chooses not to use it. This is the first hint that outside interference might be at play. This issue is rather scarce with the “Watchmen” references, but Firestorm’s combustive attack on the people is reminiscent of Dr Manhattan in “Watchmen” #3. It’s also notable that Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein profoundly disagree on what Firestorm should do, and this continues throughout the issue.
Superman enters Black Adam’s Kahndaq, where we also see metahumans the Creeper, Giganta and Sandstorm. Sandstorm, who was mentioned in the attached documents of issue six, turns out to be just a little boy. The Creeper’s alter ego Jack Ryder was already seen in issue five, where he was saved by Black Adam. The Assad that Black Adam mentions is Syrian Bashar Hafez al-Assad, yet another real-life president. The conversation between Superman and Black Adam is an interesting one. Superman thinks the Supermen Theory is fake, while Adam believes it since Kahndaq is housing metahumans that supposedly were part of it. Since so many metahumans have found asylum in Kahndaq, Superman supposes Firestorm might be hiding there, but Black Adam denies this. Adam asks if Superman has talked about the theory with the US president, who is the only president appearing in the series who hasn’t been identified. “You shouldn’t believe everything you see in the news. Or read in the papers,” Adam says. Fake news has been touched on earlier in the series too and considering this the backmatter documents of every issue – which often are news articles – should be taken with a grain of salt. That doesn’t mean we still aren’t collecting facts from them to catch every possible clue, since we don’t yet know what’s true and what’s not.
Meanwhile in Metropolis, Lois now has time to open the mysterious letter. She finds inside a USB drive containing what seems to be a news reel from 1941, despite being narrated more like the beginning of a tv series. It’s produced by Gotham Broadcasting Company and tells about the Justice Society of America, which has never existed in current the contuinity thanks to Dr Manhattan killing Green Lantern Alan Scott. The video shows JSA founding members Green Lantern, Hawkman, Dr Destiny, Spectre, Hourman, Sandman and the Flash. The image is a reference to the cover of “All-Star Comics” #4, where the heroes are drawn in the same formation. The difference is that in this panel one of the founding members is cropped out of the picture: the original Atom aka Al Pratt. The small sliver of grey in the lower-right corner of the panel could be Atom’s leg, meaning he is probably there despite not being in the picture. He is worth mentioning because he is associated with atoms just like Dr Manhattan, despite not having any atomic powers. The cover of “All-Star Comics” #4 says it’s the March-April issue of 1941, which is clearly where the date of the video comes from. Lois seems to react the video with disbelief and almost disinterest. She doesn’t even seem to recognize Dr Fate or Hawkman, even though both are a part of current contuinity. The biggest mystery is where this footage came from, since it depicts a team that currently never existed.
Superman finds Firestorm at a Russian nuclear plant. Firestorm, also called the Nuclear Man, is of course another DC character besides Atom to be associated with atoms. In hindsight it’s clear that this was the reason Firestorm was chosen to be a central character in the Supermen Theory conflict. Ronnie is screaming for Professor Stein to show him how to turn one of the glass people back to normal, but the professor seems to have an opposing view again. “I can trust Superman, professor! Because everyone can!” Ronnie yells, again highlighting the positive attitudes towards Superman that are soon to change. Since he exclaims this so forcefully, Stein might have argued that Firestorm should not trust Superman. Ronnie says his powers have never let him transmute anything organic, which is a return to early “Firestorm” stories, since in later stories it was more a choice than an impossibility to transmute living things. Superman ponders this could be an accident, caused by stress, or Firestorm’s powers could be evolving. However, at the end of the issue we see it was probably not caused by Firestorm himself. Superman says ‘privet,’ which is Russian for ‘hello.’ On these pages, Superman suddenly has the yellow symbol on his cape, despite not sporting it earlier in the issue. This is most likely just an artistic error.Continued below
At the Red Square we see the People’s Heroes and President Putin, who has earlier appeared on television but not in person. Putin says the United States have been amassing an army of metahumans for over a decade, meaning the first major superheroes started appearing a little over ten years ago in current contuinity. The Firestorm incident has escalated the conflict onto the brink of war between the “super-nuclear states” as the Russian president calls them, continuing with the atomic power theme. Superman feels the need to step in and explain Firestorm’s outburst was an accident. Putin welcomes him with open arms, reminding Pozhar (who also has nuclear powers) that Superman speaks not only for America, but all the people in the world. This is the third time in the issue the international trust in Superman has been emphasized before it now gets shattered. Batman is flying towards Moscow and warns Superman not to pick a side, but Superman goes on with his speech to stop the demonization of American metahumans. When Firestorm arrives with the child he managed to turn back from glass, the Russian military opens fire and hits some of the glass-frozen people, making Firestorm counterattack them. The People’s Heroes join the fight and Putin is escorted away. The tanks start destroying the glass people too, causing Superman to attack the tanks. Images of Superman attacking the Russian military get broadcasted live.
In the midst of this catastrophic conflict, Ronnie and Professor Stein are at conflict again and something is badly wrong with Firestorm. For the first time in the series, Batman is on track of what is happening instead of getting fooled and beaten up. “Superman, listen to me! The energy readings are spiking! It’s not Firestorm!” he yells. His realization still comes too late, though, as a huge explosion shakes the Red Square. The flash is blue, like Dr Manhattan’s powers. Adrian Veidt watches the events with a satisfied grin. Just like Veidt’s original “Watchmen” plan, this plot to save humanity seems to include a framed mass killing and an explosion. Has Veidt found a way to manipulate Dr Manhattan? Did Batman’s line mean the person thought to be Firestorm wasn’t really him, or just that the energy spike didn’t come from him? We’ll have to wait and see.
The ending quote is from controversial journalist and satiric H.L. Mencken’s book Minority Report. The quote is a slight alteration from the original, which reads “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.” This somewhat fits Adrian Veidt, who comes up with megalomaniacal plans to save humankind. The attached documents are the front pages of four Metropolis newspapers. The first is dated Wednesday 5th of June 2019, and the next ones a day or two after that. If the issue takes place in June, it doesn’t really make sense for Putin to be wearing the fur-hooded winter jacket he was wearing in this issue, since Moscow is quite warm in June. One of the magazines is The Daily Star, the newspaper Clark Kent originally worked at in “Action Comics” #1 until it was later changed to the Daily Planet. All the newspapers except for the Daily Planet seem to be against Superman. Superman is no more the one superhero who is accepted by everyone. He is blamed for taking the wrong side and even accused of creating the explosion with a solar flare and being the first to attack the Russian army. The solar flare mentioned was a power introduced for the New 52 Superman. The Daily Planet article by Perry White and Ron Troupe takes a more critical point of view. The article mentions Ray Palmer aka the Atom, yet another atom-associated hero. This issue featured, mentioned or hinted at Firestorm, Pozhar, two Atoms and Dr Manhattan, all of whom are related to atomic power. So far there has been no mention of Captain Atom, the DC character who Dr Manhattan was based on.
The “Watchmen” characters were mostly absent this time around, but thematically this issue took a lot from “Watchmen” with the superpower states on the brink of war and Superman being subjected to a worldview where superheroes aren’t as accepted by the public as they have traditionally been in the DCU. Yet again we have been left with more questions than answers as the plot thickens. Come back in February for the annotations of “Doomsday Clock” #9!