Ever since Geoff Johns’ universe-altering one-shot DC Universe: Rebirth, readers have been anticipating the confrontation between the Watchmen universe’s Dr. Manhattan and the heroes of the DCU.
The showdown, which would throw together characters from two beloved universes, would occur in Johns’ Doomsday Clock series, drawn by acclaimed artist and frequent Johns collaborator Gary Frank.
Yet the 12-issue series, which has been unfolding for the last two years, has focused less on the physical clash between Watchmen and DC characters and more on the differences between the two worlds - or more specifically, the two powerful characters who serve as their avatars.
While Dr. Manhattan embodies the cynical nature of the Watchmen universe, his curiosity has pulled him directly toward his hopeful, heroic opposite: Superman.
Framed thematically by The Adjournment, a film noir starring tortured actor Carver Colman, Doomsday Clock’s surprisingly multi-layered plot has given screen time to a slew of DC characters - from under-utilized hero Johnny Thunder to brand new Watchmen villains Mime and Marionette to familiar faces like Lex Luthor and Batman.
But as Doomsday Clock #11 ended, the numerous plot threads had been funneled down to one meeting between Clark Kent and Jon Osterman a.k.a. Dr. Manhattan
It’s a meeting that Manhattan has been expecting for some time. He arrived in the DCU (on the day Superman first appeared in 1938) to discover a universe that had frequently been altered. To his surprise, the DCU functioned as what he called a “Metaverse,” one that evolved and affected other worlds around it.
And it all seemed to center on Superman.
Now that Manhattan stands eye-to-eye with the Man of Steel, he expects one of two things to happen: Either Superman will destroy him, or the universe itself will end.
How has the story led to these possible endings? Why has a movie called The Adjournment played a role? And where could the story go next? On the eve of the twelfth issue’s long-awaited publication, Newsarama talked to Johns to find out.
Newsarama: Geoff, as we’re heading toward the twelfth issue and its conclusion to Doomsday Clock, there’s so much that has happened in the first 11 issues that it’s difficult to choose one thing to discuss. But I think one of the ongoing features that may have surprised readers is the use of The Adjournment film and its star as a “story within a story.” I know there was a Nathaniel Dusk comic book in our world, but the way you’re using the movie seems more inspired by the "Tales of the Black Freighter" story within the original Watchmen. Was that what influenced the use of this movie in the story? Are there allegories in here as well for the main storyline of Doomsday Clock?
Geoff Johns: Yeah, I think issue #12 will make the story of Nathaniel Dusk - and Carver Colman more specifically, the actor that played Nathaniel Dusk - more clear. You’ll see what his tie is to Dr. Manhattan, why Gary and I chose to tell that story within Doomsday Clock’s story, and why it was really important to me.
At the very base of it is, he’s Dr. Manhattan’s anchor to our world, essentially. And so everything that Carver Colman is, and the Nathaniel Dusk films are - the thematics and the story and everything that Doomsday Clock’s about is within that story too.
The ending’s within that story. The journey and the exploration of the world, both DC and Watchmen in our own world, are all within that story.
But it was really important to me, and to Gary, to have a story within Doomsday Clock that illuminates more about the characters, the stories, the themes - and I wanted to tie it a little more concretely to our main character, Dr. Manhattan.
Nrama: We’ve seen a little hint about the way Carver is tied to him, right? The two characters met when Dr. Manhattan arrived in the DCU.
Johns: Right, Issue #10 revealed that Carver Colman, who is kind of down on his luck with a murky history and a troubled past and a kind of dark future, was the first human being on our planet that Dr. Manhattan ever interfaced with.
And when he first arrived here, his powers and his abilities were out of sync because of the journey, and he needed someone to focus on, almost like a tuning fork, to realign himself with our reality.
And that’s what Carver Colman became for him.
Nrama: The story of Carver, and of The Adjournment film, is woven into the structure of the main storyline so intricately - as are all the various puzzle pieces in this story. You must have had, like, a big white board to plan this out, particularly the spots where the Nathaniel Dusk story fit.
Johns: This is the most intricate plotting and storytelling that I’ve ever done in comic books, by far - just from a sheer scope, in terms of size and complexity and number of storylines and the thematics all tying together.
But his story - Nathaniel Dusk and Carver Colman - it was, from day one, from the very moment you see it, it resonates. When people read Doomsday Clock in one sitting again, they’ll see it even more clearly.
It was also really fun and compelling and interesting and intriguing to work on a character like Carver Colman - a human being with a complicated past and a secret.
And these films - you know, I love film, and I love the old film noirs. And I really like the Nathaniel Dusk series that Don McGregor did.
And it was fun to take a step into this world and explore it.
I love that era in Hollywood, and I love those old movies. They’re still classics. And there’s a classic feel to Nathaniel Dusk and Carver Colman’s journey that was new and different for us to do.
Like, some of our favorite scenes and pages to work on were those, because it wasn’t superheroes. It was much more grounded and relatable.
And I think, ultimately, when people see the story - the film he was in, The Adjournment, his final film, Carver Colman’s story, his journey - it’s all very, very relevant, and it’s not only important, but vital to Doomsday Clock. The story would not unfold the same way without it. You can dig into the script pages, even, that I wrote of the screenplay - everything … every single thing that we set out to do and tell since Day One, Gary and I. It’s all a vital part of the story.
Nrama: OK, you said “since Day 1.” So as we reach the final issue this week, despite the delays and the changes in the DCU since you began, are you saying that Doomsday Clock #12 is the conclusion you meant to tell from Day 1 as DC's then-Chief Creative Officer?
Johns: Yes, it’s the ending we always set out to tell. We’re really happy with this last issue. And I hope people enjoy it.
You know, Doomsday Clock was not something that DC came to us with. This is something that Gary and I went to DC with.
When I started having this idea, Gary and I wanted to make sure that we were going to have a story that we really, obviously, had to believe in and had to be worthy of using these characters and the DC Universe together and had a point to it.
Ultimately, when we finished issue #12 and looked at the whole, we’re very happy. And we hope people enjoy the last issue. And for those who haven’t read it yet, that they enjoy all 12 issues.
Nrama: Another element that recently came up in the series was the “Metaverse.” It was explained that the main DC Universe is the Metaverse - a universe that every other universe is derived from. Can you explain the idea of the Metaverse, and why it’s important to this story and, in particular, to Dr. Manhattan’s revelations?
Johns: Dr. Manhattan sees the Metaverse for what it is. The Metaverse is in a constant state of change, but it’s also continuously revolving around these ideals. The Metaverse is just the reality of what the DC Universe really is. It’s alive. It’s living and breathing.
Ultimately, this story is Dr. Manhattan came to this universe and saw Superman and saw the Metaverse and wanted to see how he could affect it, because other things and beings and forces have. And when he reached into it to do that, the Metaverse - as he says - turned its greatest antibody against him.
Suddenly, he found himself - when he tampered with it, like so many others before - suddenly, he became a target. He became a villain in the eyes of the Metaverse.
So what his vision is - the result of his tampering - is that he did something and now he’s on a collision course with Superman that he sees ends only one way, with complete darkness.
He’s wondering, which path is it going to go down? Is it going to be Superman destroys him? Or is it going to be Dr. Manhattan destroys everything?
Why does he see nothing? Is it because he no longer exists? Or is it because the Metaverse no longer exists?
I think the concept of the Metaverse is just literally the reality of what the DC Universe is. And it also affects the Multiverse. And the fact that, you know, Multiverses exist in a lot of fictions, and DC’s Multiverse is very important to its mythology and continuity. But the Metaverse itself is what affects the Multiverse. Characters change and evolve with the times because, in some sense, they’re so timeless and iconic, and every generation redefines them in their own way.
Every time there’s changes to the Metaverse, it has a reverberation through the entire Multiverse. Anytime there’s a change to our Metaverse, there’s a change to our Multiverse. They’re connected.
That also will be more explored in issue #12.
So the Metaverse is a concept. But it’s not necessarily what the series is about, in a clinical way. There’s a much more emotional tapestry to it that we get into in issue #12.
Nrama: Doomsday Clock and the lead-up to the series, particularly DC Universe: Rebirth, has also implied that the “grittiness” and darkness and - as you said when you were first interviewed about this series - the “cynicism” that’s present in the last few decades of DC superhero comic books is connected to the era of Watchmen.
In Doomsday Clock we’ve even seen Easter eggs from Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come. Is this series also a commentary on the effect Watchmen had on the Metaverse?
Johns: Absolutely. It’s not only other stories - it’s life, it’s reality. Our society, our climate, and what we deal with affects everything the writers and artists pour into their comics. Sometimes more stories than not, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes consciously.
Not only do other comics affect the DC Universe, but life affects the DC Universe. Reality affects the DCU. The writers’ and artists’ lives - their own personal lives in the world and what’s going on in the world - all of that affects the DC Universe.
A lot of people point to Watchmen or other books that have darker tones - no, I don’t necessarily think it’s a darker tone. There’s a sophistication to it. There’s maybe an ugliness to it. Cynicism leaks into it.
That’s really where I find the interesting ecosystem of comic books is that all these ideas - and particularly, at DC - they co-exist and bounce off one another.
Nrama: Then to finish up, before issue #12 comes out, is there anything you want to tell readers about this final issue, or about the series as a whole?
Johns: People have said, how does this affect the DC Universe? But I want to say that issue #12 affects DC period. It leads right into everything else, but it leads into it in a much bigger way than, “What’s the next crossover? What’s the next big regurgitated greatest hits crisis?” It’s very different. It’s about much more than that.
It leads beyond 2020 and ’21. And when people read issue #12, they’ll see it. But it’s not just meant to lead into or connect into another event storyline. It’s actually made and designed to lead into the entire future of DC Comics from here on out.