Originally published in 1984, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen remains one of the most influential comic books of all time. The series imagined what superheroes might be like in a realistic world that mirrored our own, and as a result it changed everyone’s conception of what superheroes meant. These heroes were violent, sadistic, sad, horny, spiteful, confused, and dangerous, and other than the near-omnipotent Dr. Manhattan, they mostly lacked fantastic powers. Hope and inspiration was mostly missing from the labyrinthine story; these heroes operated in a Cold War world beaten-down by the constant threat of nuclear apocalypse. One of the main characters, Rorschach, had a nihilistic worldview and often meted out violent punishments to criminals. By the end of Watchmen, the main characters didn’t even beat the story’s ostensible supervillain, their brilliant one-time comrade Ozymandias; instead, they helped cover up his involvement in destroying New York City by faking an alien invasion, believing that by doing so they were averting the launch of nuclear bombs.
But now the bomb is back, and the doomsday clock is ticking again. Watchmen‘s influence on comics and pop culture, long-simmering underneath everything, is now out in the open, ready to be confronted head-on. Damon Lindelof is producing a TV series adaptation for HBO and, next month, DC launches a 12-issue comic series, Doomsday Clock, that finally brings the Watchmen characters face-to-face with their counterparts in the traditional DC pantheon. This series will be written by DC superstar Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank. Johns unveiled the first six pages at New York Comic Con on Friday, and EW can exclusively publish them now.
“Watchmen had such a massive impact on people like myself and Damon, so we’re just interested in it. I also think we’re in a time where the world is at a strange, kind of insane place,” Johns tells EW. “Things are happening that I never imagined I’d see in my life. Revisiting these Watchmen characters in a new way, in the context of the DC universe, and with what the world’s going through, I just thought it was time. Gary and I thought it was time. We know some people will think these characters should never be touched, but we’re hoping the work we put into this and the first issue itself will give people pause and let them know that we have a story to tell and it’s a story worth telling.”
Johns and DC have been teasing Doomsday Clock since last spring, when the DC Rebirth one-shot ended with Batman finding the iconic Watchmen bloody smiley-face button in the Bat-Cave. Since then, there have been hints that Dr. Manhattan has been active in the background of the DC Universe, manipulating events and characters to some mysterious purpose. No worries you haven’t been following that trail of bread crumbs, though; unlike many big comic events, Johns promises that Doomsday Clock does not require a ton of backstory to understand. The series will be relatively self-contained (no major tie-ins or crossovers have been announced) and should be easy for any fan of Watchmen or Superman to pick up.
The beginning of the story, after all, should be familiar to anyone who’s read Watchmen. Picking up in 1992 (eight years after the original series), Doomsday Clock opens with a variation of the nine-panel grid that begins Watchmen, and the first few pages peek in on familiar Watchmen locales. Things have changed since we last saw these characters and places; as hinted on the final page of Watchmen, Rorschach’s journal has been published by the media, revealing to the public the extent of Ozymandias’ deception. They’re not happy about it, to say the least. Whereas Watchmen famously featured Rorschach (in civilian guise) carrying a sign saying “The End Is Nigh,” Doomsday Clock opens with a sign declaring that “The End Is Here” — and there are a lot more people carrying them this time. In some ways, everyone has become Rorschach.
“We go through the famous locations: The New York streets, Ozymandias’ business, his northern fortress, and the prison where Rorschach was once kept,” Johns says. “It’s all very deliberate because you want a tour of all these places we’ve been before, but now you see a different side to all of them. Clearly, there’s a lot going on here we weren’t aware of, and there are things that are gonna happen in the prison that is all new. We think it’s important if you deal with Watchmen characters, that the book feels and looks somewhat like what they established because that’s what you want. That said, we’re going to do some very different things than they did, and we hope we’re telling a story that’s going to stand on its own. The pressure is on for us to deliver a story that’s worthy of using these characters. That’s all we’re trying to do. We believe in our story and we think it will deserve their time and readers’ time.”
These six pages end with a major revelation: The return of Rorschach himself. Though apparently killed by Dr. Manhattan at the end of Watchmen, the iconic violent anti-hero is back in all his black-and-white mask glory. The secret of his return will play a big role in Doomsday Clock.
“That’s where we end the six pages, but you really get a sense of the time, the state of the world, and we introduce you to one of our main players in the series,” Johns says. “Rorschach really is front and center for the entire series. He’s a very important character in the book, and his role in the book will, I think, surprise people.”
Check out the first six pages below, and stay tuned to EW for more Doomsday Clock coverage as the first issue approaches in November.