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. On a surface level this issue might seem like a pretty straightforward smackdown between the DC heroes and Dr Manhattan. Nevertheless, there are some hidden details to point out and interesting themes at play, so join us for a ride to Mars.
The cover for “Doomsday Clock” #9 includes “Watchmen” imagery in two ways. The Legion of Super-Heroes Flight Ring drifting in space is of course a reference to the cover of “Watchmen” #9 where a Nostalgia perfume bottle floats in space. The second reference is that the blood drop is positioned on the Flight Ring the same way the blood smear on the Comedian’s pin is positioned.
A thousand years into the future, Dr Manhattan stands on Mars holding the Legion of Super-Heroes Flight Ring in his hand. The ring has belonged to Ferro Lad aka Andrew Nolan, a young Legion hero who sacrificed himself to save the Sun in “Adventure Comics” #353. As it often is in “Doomsday Clock”, the date of the referenced issue’s publication is included in the story: Dr Manhattan states it is November 27th. Yet again Manhattan is thinking about causing the death of Alan Scott and thus preventing the JSA from existing, which also now prevents the LSH from existing. The tachyon particles Manhattan mentions are a type of hypothetical particle that would move faster than light. In these comics, tachyon particles are not just a hypothetical concept. They were utilized by Ozymandias to track Dr Manhattan earlier in the series and to block his view of the future in “Watchmen.” A few pages later, Manhattan says the detonation seemingly caused by Firestorm in the last issue created a fog of tachyon particles, which obscured the immediate past and future from him. This is final proof that the explosion was orchestrated by Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias.
The title of the issue is ‘Crisis’, referencing of course DC’s various Crisis events. This issue has some elements of a traditional DC Crisis since a huge number of heroes gather together to fight a common enemy. The crisis theme is present in a multitude of subtle and less subtle ways throughout the issue, as we will see later. “Doomsday Clock” #9 also somewhat parallels its “Watchmen” counterpart, not just with the cover, but also the setup of the story. “Watchmen” #9 happens mostly on Mars inside Manhattan’s crystal construct, and this issue has the same setting. Both issues also touch on Manhattan’s perception of time and both include an anomaly that has temporarily prevented him from seeing the future.
While Manhattan is alone on Mars, we see various spaceships travelling towards the red planet, including Blue Beetle’s Bug, Batman’s Batrocket operated by Batgirl and Nightwing and the Justice League’s Javelin. These spaceships house a cavalcade of more than fifty DC heroes who are on their way to confront Dr Manhattan, after tracing the energy source of the Moscow explosion to Mars. There isn’t really any point in listing all the characters making an appearance, since most of them are very well-known. There are a few that not everyone might be familiar with, though, and a few that are otherwise worthy of notice. The woman behind Martian Manhunter is Firehawk aka Lorraine Reilly. She has previously been romantically involved with Firestorm, who is at the center of the Supermen Theory controversy. The big orange guy with a starfish on his head is Robby Reed. Reed is the original owner of the Dial H for Hero dial, an object that turns its user into a different type of superhero every time. Reed’s human starfish form appeared originally in “House of Mystery” #159.
The blue-tinted characters in Justice League Dark’s ship are Blue Devil aka Dan Cassidy and Black Alice aka Lori Zechlin. Black Alice’s superpower is usurping the powers of any magical being. When she uses this power, her appearance also transforms to imitate the being she is usurping powers from. She has previously absorbed the Blue Devil’s powers in “Secret Six” #16, where she had a blue and horned appearance similar to her look in this issue. Doom Patrol’s Rita Farr was referenced in issue three’s backmatter, which linked her family to a Golden Age of Hollywood scandal. The ship housing the Marvel Family and Stargirl is owned by the man piloting it, Alpha Centurion.Continued below
The passengers of the Bug are Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade and The Question, who are all in some form originally Charlton Comics heroes who inspired the characters of “Watchmen”. Blue Beetle and Nightshade were the models for Night Owl and Silk Spectre, neither of which have made an appearance in “Doomsday Clock”. Beetle’s spherical Bug ship was also the model for Night Owl’s Owlship. Captain Atom and the Question were inspirations for Dr Manhattan and Rorschach respectively. Here the Question has jagged speech bubbles like Rorschach had.
Back on Earth, both Superman and Batman are out of commission after the Moscow attack. The protests against metahumans are still escalating and as we saw in the backmatter of the previous issue, public opinion has now turned against Superman. The media frames Superman’s silence as him refusing to respond to the accusations, even though he is actually unconscious in his hospital bed inside the Hall of Justice. The president of the United States, who has only been briefly seen on television in issue one, doesn’t want to take a public stand against Superman. The president, whose identity is left ambiguous, wants to keep Superman as a “deterrent to foreign attack”. His assistant hands him a file about Firestorm. This is likely to be the file Veidt was going through in issue eight when he broke into the White House to pick a superhero to use in his plans. This scene confirms the president is aware of the Supermen Theory machinations and considers them a failure, perhaps because the political situation around metahumans now makes them a problem instead of something that would ensure the safety of the country. Taking his assistant’s advice, the president announces that the country can no longer support Superman.
Near the riots, Rorschach II aka Reggie Long is still sitting in the street, holding a “You see what you want to see” sign. This thought was presented in issue four, which was centered on Reggie’s character. Otherwise the “Watchmen” characters are still mostly absent. Mime and Marionette haven’t been seen in a while and Adrian Veidt appears only in two panels as the background manipulator pulling the strings.
Batman wakes up after the Moscow explosion and starts to suspect the Justice League is being tricked to go to Mars. Throughout “Doomsday Clock” Batman has been fooled and beaten up, but since the last issue he has gotten himself back on track by acknowledging the possibility that there is a third party outside Firestorm and Dr Manhattan behind the attack. The two people who make up Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond nad Martin Stein also wake up in the Justice League’s ship. This is the first time in the series we see Ronnie and Professor Stein separated into their human forms. Stein is not happy with being taken to Mars against his will and wants to turn himself and Ronnie in to the authorities for the Moscow explosion.
Having arrived on Mars, the Green Lanterns find the checkerboard floor piece from Joker’s lair that Dr Manhattan used to take the “Watchmen” characters on a ride across space and time in issue seven. They also find the picture of Jon Osterman and Janey Slater. The great evils shown or mentioned by Guy Gardner a few pages later are Darkseid, Anti-Monitor, Sinestro, the Dark Nights Metal Batmen, Doomsday, Brainiac, Superboy-Prime and Despero. Anti-Monitor, Darkseid and Superboy-Prime are Crisis event villains, having starred ”A Crisis on Infinite Earths,” “Final Crisis” and “Infinite Crisis.” The others have appeared in large events too, even if not in ones that are considered Crisis events. There are other remnants of a Crisis in this issue too. The stakes are nothing smaller than the entire existence of the DC universe. We are on the red planet Mars and the skies are red-tinted too in some panels, in Crisis-fashion. Here Johns and Frank are playing with traditional DC imagery but opposing it with Dr Manhattan, who plays a very different role than that of a classic villain. Throughout the entire fight there is a feeling that the DC characters and Dr Manhattan are operating on completely different levels, not only on power-levels but also metatextual levels, as the familiar lore of the DC universe meets the alien.Continued below
Guy Gardner thinking that he killed Dr Manhattan with one punch is a reference to the famous scene where Batman takes out Gardner with one punch in “Justice League: International” #5. Gardner also references Blue Man Group, a performance art group where the performers sport blue and bald heads like Manhattan. Meanwhile on Earth, Lex Luthor arrives at the Hall of Justice and reveals to Lois Lane it was him who sent the USB drive containing the JSA video material. Many readers suspected the mailer could’ve been Rorschach based on the gloves and the positioning of the panels, but there was always the question of the gloves’ colour not matching. It is still unclear how Luthor could’ve had access to videos of events and people that currently do not exist. He is also aware of the threat facing the entire universe and the effects of the DCU losing ten years from its timeline. Using Wally West as his example, Luthor proves to have even more important information that other DC characters don’t have. The “missing ten years” motive was the big mystery at the start of Rebirth that has barely been mentioned in “Doomsday Clock” despite this series being the one to most prominently talk about Dr Manhattan’s effect on the DCU.
In the previous issue, Professor Stein’s disagreements with Ronnie seemed quite shady, like he had an ulterior motive of his own. Now the suspicions seem to be justified. Dr Manhattan gives Ronnie some insight into the creation of Firestorm. This “return to the past” reveals that Professor Stein orchestrated the accident which lead to him and Ronnie Raymond fusing into Firestorm. According to this scene, Stein was also behind turning Metamorpho aka Rex Mason, Man-Bat aka Kirk Langstrom and the others into metahumans. It was hinted earlier in the series that the mastermind behind the creation of the metahumans would be a Justice League member, and Stein fits the description. Ronnie refuses to believe what he sees. It’s noticeable that Manhattan knows a lot about Firestorm and his power levels, but apparently not about most of the other heroes, since he didn’t know about Lantern Power Rings or how magic works. On Earth, Wonder Woman is back from Themyscira and trying to bring peace to the metahuman arms race. She is interrupted by Black Adam, the Creeper and Giganta, who were all seen in Kahndaq in the previous issue.
After many futile attempts from the DC side of the fight, Captain Atom manages to create a blast which seemingly destroys Dr Manhattan. Captain Atom draws his powers from the Quantum Field, which he can use to access technically infinite amounts of energy, limited only by his own willpower. After the destructive attack, Manhattan constructs himself first as a floating nervous system the same way he first appeared after having his human body destroyed in “Watchmen” #4. It’s quite telling of the situation that it’s the DC character Manhattan was modelled after who manages to effectively attack him, but that Manhattan overcomes his DC counterpart quickly. He gets tired of the DC folk and zaps them out, leaving him standing alone staring at a light that might be the Sun or an approaching space vehicle. For now, Manhattan seems to have proved his point that “Even hope decays”. He was stronger than his DC version and was only strengthened by his battle against the more hopeful heroes that he defeated.
The ending quote, which makes a call back to the crisis theme of the issue, is from Seneca. He was a famous Roman statesman and stoic philosopher who lived approximately 4 BCE – 64 CE. The backmatter of this issue is very brief, just a cover and one page of text. It is the Firestorm file from The Department of Metahuman Affairs that the president was holding earlier in the issue. The file offers even more proof that Professor Stein created the metahumans linked to the Supermen Theory.
That’s all for this time. We’re now three quarters through the series and there are still many loose threads to connect. One of the most mysterious questions is the connection between Golden Age Hollywood actor Carver Colman and Dr Manhattan. According to the solicitation and cover for “Doomsday Clock” #10, that mystery might be unravelled in the next issue. Come back in May to see what we’ve discovered by then!