There were a lot of returns in this week’s Doomsday Clock #12 - some expected and some more surprising. The Justice Society of America are back. The Legion of Super-Heroes are back. And Superman’s parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, are back.
But as important as those developments are to fans, Doomsday Clock’s most obvious message is the return of hope. And although readers might have seen that coming as well - and in fact, the “return of hope” was billed as one of the series’ purposes before it began - the way that hope endured at the end of the issue was the biggest surprise of all.
In Doomsday Clock’s final issue, series writer Geoff Johns used the character of Superman to inspire Dr. Manhattan, who not only reversed his manipulation of the DCU, but instilled a new hope in the Watchmen universe - through a powerful new child. (And if Johns gets his chance, he told us he’ll revisit the new Clark and the characters of Doomsday Clock.)
The two-years-in-the-making event series, which Johns created with artist Gary Frank, also shared a prophecy that no reboot or crisis will ever really change the DCU - particularly not the elements of hope and legacy that make the DC Universe so unique.
As Johns tells Newsarama, no reboot or crisis will ever be “forever,” because the new rules that creators make for the DCU will just evolve and change again later.
The writer even includes a list of several theoretical events and reboots to come - including, less theoretically, a 2020 “crisis” event that DC has already acknowledged.
But none of them last - not even the upcoming 5G universe, the issue promises - and none of them ever will.
“Celebrate that. Embrace that,” Johns advises his fellow fans and creators in our interview. “I mean, you can try to chain [the DCU] up, but Superman’s going to break those chains at some point.”
Johns should certainly know. The author of DC event series like Infinite Crisis and Flashpoint, Johns has seen countless seemingly “permanent ramifications” of his stories come and go during his more than 20 years writing comic books, mostly at DC.
But now, after both orchestrating 2016’s “Rebirth” initiative and writing Doomsday Clock, Johns has guided writers toward re-forging lost relationships and bringing back missing characters and concepts.
Will it last? Probably not, as the aforementioned promise of a 2020 DC crisis will attest. But will the inspiration of Superman and the hope of the DC last? According to Doomsday Clock, it will.
Johns, whose Mad Ghost Productions studio is involved in several upcoming comic book adaptations like Wonder Woman 1984 and Stargirl, talked to Newsarama earlier this week about the first 11 issues of Doomsday Clock. We discussed the series’ “Metaverse” concept and the book’s contrast between the Watchmen universe and the DCU.
This time, we talk spoilers about this week’s Doomsday Clock #12, from the freedom of the DCU’s “past and future,” the debut of alternate earths like Earth-52 and Earth-1985 (and even Earth-5G), the meaning of all Rorscach’s pancakes - and the status of some of Johns’ film and TV projects.
Newsarama: Geoff, reading the twelfth issue, one of the things that struck me was the idea of a third choice.
Geoff Johns: Yes.
Nrama: That seems very relevant today.
Johns: It is.
Nrama: That’s what the entire story really comes down to, doesn’t it? This entire story builds to this moment for Dr. Manhattan, for Jon Osterman, to choose the third option. All this time, he thought his story had two possible endings — the end of him, or the end of the universe. But he chooses a third way.
Johns: The world today is built on two choices. We’re in this almost unconscious mode to choose one or the other. And that’s led to division and that’s led to a narrow view of the world and reality and each other. You’re programmed to have to pick a side.
I think people need to stop sometimes and say, maybe there’s another option. Another path. Another choice. Instead of letting everyone tell us there are only two ways to think.
Superman would always find another option. He’d find the better option. That’s what Superman’s greatest superpower is. It’s not flight or strength or heat vision. It’s knowing the better option, knowing the choice.
People ask, "How do you challenge a character who has all these abilities?" But it’s not about these abilities at all. It’s about having him make choices and having him go beyond one or the other. He’s a bridge; he’s inspiration personified. And we need that. We always need that. Everyone needs that.
That whole thematic is laced throughout our book.
I don’t want to break down the book for readers, because I think they should do it themselves, if they want to.
But Superman’s role was to see beyond.
Nrama: So you’re saying that theme of “seeing beyond” is laced throughout the book?
Johns: You see what you want to see. And Dr. Manhattan sees beyond what others see the DC Universe as. That thematic of seeing beyond something, and not being able to see something - from Dr. Manhattan not being able to see beyond the black wall of nothingness, to Nathaniel Dusk not being able to see the truth behind the crime he’s trying to solve, to Rorschach not being able to see the reality of who Ozymandias really is and what he’s really doing, to Mime and Marionette not being able to see where their child is.
The theme of blindness is throughout, a mass that obscures your view, shards of broken glass obscuring your vision, from the very moment that Comedian is thrown through that window through the universe shattering apart - that’s all laced within there.
This is something I didn’t want to talk about early on in the book, because you want people to find it and see it. And you want people to get what they want from this title.
Some people might read Doomsday Clock and just want to see the Watchmen characters meet the DC characters. And that’s fine.
They might focus on the “continuity” or the “future” bits planted in there. And some people might see a deeper story where you get inside these characters and inside these themes a little bit more. And everything viewpoint is valid, for whatever reason. You might just read it because you love Gary Frank’s art.
But everyone sees what they want to see. We live in an echo chamber of reality. We need to escape it. And the whole idea is, can you break past that a little bit? Can you see a little bit more? Can you try instead of shouting at the other side and seeing only its destruction as they answer?
That’s where the third choice comes from.
We all need a little help to see beyond what we can’t see. We all need a little help to know that maybe we can make a different choice.
The idea of needing someone like Superman to lead us there is what the series is really all about.
Nrama: Carver Colman, who we talked about in our last interview, gets a new ending as well. He found a third choice.
Johns: Yeah, he got a new ending — the one he deserved.
Nrama: An ending influenced by Dr. Manhattan.
Johns: Well, Superman influences Dr. Manhattan, and then Dr. Manhattan influences Carver Colman. If Superman can reach out and help somebody, they can reach out and help somebody else. That was really important to have that in there. Superman is an olive branch. Reggie talks about how the world has forgotten what that is. I see the intolerance today and wonder where that olive branch is.
Nrama: I suppose that’s why Superman’s at the center of the Metaverse. But I do find it interesting that Adrian knew what Jon needed.
Johns: Yes. He did.
Nrama: He might go about it the wrong way, but he is smart enough to know what Jon needs.
Johns: He is that smart. And he knows that, OK, someone’s got to help him do it. And I can’t.
You know, there are no villains - or at least, I wouldn’t call them villains - in our book. There’s just people. I don’t want Dr. Manhattan and Superman to go fists-to-fists. There’s nothing interesting to me about who’s stronger. It’s all about who they are and what their viewpoint is and how that viewpoint remains, is reaffirmed or changes.
Part of it is seeing beyond what you can see, seeing beyond the next crossover. In the comic book aspect, this book doesn’t look to the next crossover. This book looks to all of DC comics. To the future of what DC is.
Nrama: You make the scope of this book clear in the scene where the Metaverse re-forms around Superman and Jon begins to see the future. He sees the 2020 event, but he also sees 2025, 2026, 2038 - it goes for years and years forward.
Johns: Yeah. As he learns and sees the truth behind what Superman’s going to accomplish.
And by the way, I firmly believe that’s one of the reasons Superman exists.
Nrama: What, to allow us to have hope for the future? Is that where you’re going?
Johns: To inspire us. He does. That “S” symbol is everywhere across the globe.
Nrama: OK, Geoff, I understand what you told me the last time we talked - that this story’s point is bigger than just how it leads into the next crossover. But inside that sort of macro, there are some interesting micro-level changes to the DCU. For example - Ma and Pa Kent. We’ve already noticed hints in the DCU that Jonathan and Martha Kent were going to be alive after this series’ end. So they’re alive again, right?
Johns: Yes. We established really early on, in issue #1, we talked about Ma and Pa Kent’s death. There are specific things we point to that will carry on in other stories.
Nrama: Like the return of the Legion and the Justice Society…
Johns: Yes, if you look at what happened and how it changes in this story, it all has to do with the great history of the DC Universe - the great legacy from the Justice Society and Wonder Woman to Superman to the Legion of Super-Heroes to Superboy.
It all is tied together. And it all helps support itself.
It resonates and expands out from Superman, in all directions - the past and the future.
But he’s at the very center of it. And he always will be, forever.
Nrama: Another development you address is that the stories from the past are still there, like Earth-1985 and Earth-52, but then the story also has a real hope for the future. You’ve been playing with that idea throughout the series - the “past and future,” not only with Dr. Manhattan’s jumps through time, but also specifically with Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl. It all part of this tapestry you’re referring to, right?
Johns: Yes. It’s about celebrating everything that’s come before and that is coming in the future.
Look, Earth-2 happened because there was a great era of DC Comics that needs to still exist and be there, because it deserves to be.
And that’s true for the Silver Age. I think the moment that Crisis on Infinite Earths created this new, main Earth - there’s an Earth-1985 out there that exists pre-Crisis and that carried on and evolved. Who knows what that world looks like now? It’s probably a really interesting world to explore.
And the same goes for Earth-52. You know?
And by the way, moving forward too. The DCU will change. It will continue to change, because that’s the nature of what it is.
And the Multiverse was built on - first created for - the preservation and existence of the first era, of the Golden Age. That’s what it was originally created to do, and it expanded from there. And it still does that.
So any era we’ve ever had, you can still revisit it. It still goes on. It still carries on.
Nrama: You named a character “Nostalgia,” which I think ties into that.
Johns: It does.
Nrama: I feel like I want more stories about her too. Don’t you?
Johns: Well, I hope to tell that story at some point, with Mime and Marionette and their family. And if it feels like readers and people want to hear that story, and see that story, then maybe Gary and I will tell it.
Nrama: I want to just briefly touch upon one more conclusion that you had in this issue which. The story had a lot of references to puppets, which seems to contrast the concept of “control” and “freedom” - even the Supermen Theory seemed to be a part of that, with its emphasis on characters being controlled.
Nrama: So we talked earlier about how this issue says “the past and the future are free,” and how that frees up stories. But is this all tied together?
Johns: Well, the idea of the past and future being unleashed and free, to me, was personified in Johnny and Imra, two characters I love. The idea is that you shouldn’t try to control and put too many rules on this stuff and say this is forever, because it’s going to - and should - evolve and change.
Celebrate that. Embrace that.
Don’t put rules on this stuff. And I don’t mean rules like … I mean, you can try to chain it up, but Superman’s going to break those chains at some point.
Nrama: And the theme of puppets is linked to that?
Johns: Yes. I mean, again, people try to control things like puppets, and these characters are beyond being puppets. Jon thought he was a puppet. He learned there are no strings.
But there’s more in there too - there are so many thematics in here. I don’t want to spell every little detail out.
And people will see what they want to see. People can see a crossover book that’s beautifully drawn by Gary Frank, with Watchmen and DC characters.
They can see another kind of story. It’s really up to everybody.
But like the book suggests, you can also see what’s beyond.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the end of issue #12. The boy, Clark. We talked about how Superman was the turning point - the inspiration for Jon finding the third choice. But there was also a seed planted early on, with this child, when Jon first noticed him in Marionette’s womb. I feel like there’s something you’re saying about Jon now finding a hope for the future, pouring himself into this child, both literally and figuratively.
Johns: Well, it’s kind of passing on the legacy to somebody else who will - and he says as much - who will get the love that a child needs so that they can return that love.
He never really got that in his life.
And of course, Superman did.
So hopefully, Jon’s created the hero, the human being, that can do what he couldn’t.
And hope is in children. That is our future. Children aren’t the ones choosing sides. They’re taught to do that. I think children have such unpolluted viewpoints. They’re so honest. And then they learn what to do by others.
Our greatest hope is the younger generation to always make things better.
And that’s really, ultimately, the point of this too - moving on and changing and allowing change.
As much as, like you mention, nostalgia is within this, it’s also very forward-looking.
Nrama: I feel like we’re only going to be able to briefly touch the surface of meaning in this interview.
Johns: There’s a lot of things in here that people will find. Today and tomorrow.
It was a very important story for me. It’s a very personal story for me. It’s a very informed story. And it’s one that Gary and I could only tell now with these characters, and only in this way.
And we’re really proud of the book because it’s exactly what we set out to do. There were no changes made or rewrites. There were no edicts that we were told we had to do. We did the story that we pitched, that we wanted to tell, in our way.
We’re really proud of the book. Hopefully people will enjoy it.
Nrama: It’s interesting that you’re saying there were no edicts or change, because you did have a lot of delays on this. Can you address the delays?
Johns: I know there were delays on the book as we worked on it. It wasn’t for lack of working on it. It wasn’t for lack of making this important or anything. This book took a lot of work. For me, I didn’t want to rush through the scripts - I couldn’t. I would have loved if we had started the book - we had talked about launching in April, but they wanted November. I would have loved if we had launched in April.
But ultimately, I need to focus on the quality of the book and getting that book out rather than rushing it or having anyone else but Gary draw.
It was also a really busy year for me running Stargirl and finishing up Wonder Woman 1984. With everything I was working on, I wanted to make sure it was as perfect as I could make it.
So for all the readers who were frustrated by the delays, I understand and I apologize. But I wanted to make sure it was the best I could deliver.
Nrama: Can you explain the meaning behind the pancakes?
Johns: Well, sometimes a pancake is just a pancake. [Laughs.]
Nrama: [Laughs.] With all this meaning, all these themes, they’re just pancakes…?
Johns: Sometimes simple things in life are enjoyable, and we should enjoy them.
It’s a good moment.
It’s great that pancakes exist.
That’s what the pancakes are about.
Nrama: The issue begins with “nothing lasts forever.” And it ends with this hope that something will.
Johns: Yes. I think … well, I don’t want to over-explain it.
Nrama: But it’s hope, isn’t it?
Johns: The book says it better than I can.
Nrama: Who came up with the cover concepts? You and Gary together?
Johns: Yes, Gary and I. The ones that are based on the panels are from the panels, and then the other ones, we talked with DC's Brian Cunningham and Amedeo Turturro.
By the way, let me say that Gary Frank, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh, Amie Brockway-Metcalf, Brian Cunningham, Amedeo - I worked with the best team in comics. To pull something like this off, to work on something this labor-intensive. This was not an easy feat for any of the people involved. It was so much more dense and complicated and challenging than any other book we’ve all worked on.
And everybody on it - everyone - wanted to make this worthy of the legacy it’s picking up, and really give it everything we had.
Gary Frank is the only artist that could have pulled this off - emotionally, his detail, his storytelling. I mean, there’s just no one else that could have done this.
It’s a beautiful, beautiful book, and not once did we compromise the art. Not once.
Brian and Amedeo knew we were taking longer than they wanted, but they supported the quality of the book. It was really important for us to do that, and I had the best team. For example, Amie came in and did all this back-matter stuff and we were all blown away, like, how she designed it and laid it out. It’s wonderful, wonderful stuff.
Nrama: Then to finish up, do you want to tell people what you’re working on? Any new comics on the horizon? And of course, you mentioned your TV and movie projects earlier that you’re doing at Mad Ghost Productions - some exciting things coming up for you.
Johns: It’s a really exciting year to have Doomsday Clock finished up. I’m doing more comics. Stargirl trailer’s out. Wonder Woman’s on its way. And a lot of work with Green Lantern outside comics that hopefully you’ll hear about soon.
I feel very, very lucky I work on the characters I do with the people I do. I couldn’t be more fortunate, and it’s been a time-intensive and challenging year, but a good one.