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A Look Back on Doomsday Clock: When Light Broke into the World of Watchmen

Spoilers for Watchmen and Doomsday Clock follow. You have been warned.

It has been one year since the DC mini-series, and sequel to Watchmen, Doomsday Clock released its final issue.  Because Watchmen is held to such a high standard by many comic readers, and with a well received HBO continuation last year, it could be easy to dismiss Doomsday Clock, either as unnecessary, inferior to the HBO version, or even disrespectful to the original ending.

But I would like to propose that not only is Doomsday Clock a good sequel, but also a worthy continuation to the Watchmen narrative, as it uses its world of the DC Multiverse to tell a redemptive story truly like that of the Bible itself.  One where salvation comes not from the people within the world, but of a being of great power and great mercy, breaking into the hopeless world, and bringing a new reality with him.

A Broken World, Filled with Superheroes

While redemptive stories are common and fiction, and indeed, many comic books, paint a narrative where someone within the world possesses or is given the power to save the world.  In Doomsday Clock, we are returned to the world of Watchmen where the heroes have proven incapable of being their world’s saviors.  As previously discussed by fellow LTN writer Joey Thurmond, in the Watchmen universe, superheroes approach finding justice through finite, human means. Rorschach by force, Ozymandias by intellect.  The sole superpowered being, Doctor Manhattan, becomes disinterested and disconnected from humanity, only engaging in the final act at the pleas of his former girlfriend, Laurie Jupiter.  

And by then it is too late.  

Watchmen shows what can happen when it falls only to humans to solve our problems. As broken and flawed people look for answers, and rely on their own strength and intellect.  Ozymandias concludes the best answer is sacrificing millions, if it means the rest live.  Rorscach too must die to not reveal the truth and risk the fake peace. Morality takes a backseat to survival. And the final panel of the comic, where Rorscach’s journal is in the slush pile of a right-wing newspaper, leaves the lingering fear it was all for nothing. In short, the story is a human tragedy, told through the lens of superheroes.

DC Superheroes: Light Breaking into Darkness

When DC Comics first announced Doomsday Clock, a sequel mini-series to the beloved comic Watchmen, I had initial doubts about returning to the Watchmen world, let alone mixing with DC’s heroes like Superman and Batman.  That all changed when I read an interview with writer Geoff Johns, saying,  “I love the idea that Watchmen influenced DC, but what would that look like in reverse?”

In Isaiah 9:2, a prophecy is delivered to the people of Israel, that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Verse 6 continues, pointing to the identity of this light.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Humanity’s salvation would come not from a human of earth, but from Jesus, born into the world, but bringing the heavenly kingdom with him.  The heavenly kingdom ruled by God’s love and mercy, would overwrite the earthly kingdom governed by Satan and human sin.  In short, the savior comes not from within, but from without.  A light breaking into darkness.

DC Superheroes, in general, follow a pattern like this, filled with superheroes from other planets, far off lands, or otherworldly powers.  In the case of Superman, he carries a biblical parallel more than most.  Fashioned as a science fiction version of Moses, with rocket instead of a basket, he is the literal being from another world, carrying great powers beyond that of any human.  From the moment in 1938 when Superman hoisted a car over his head to stop a band of criminals, his Earth was never the same.  From that moment on, his Earth became a world of hope and light.  Those were the rules it would play by.  And in Doomsday Clock, we find, like the Bible, the meeting of the worlds where one set of rules breaks into another’s. 

The Meeting of Manhattan and Superman

Doomsday Clock builds to the encounter between Superman and Doctor Manhattan.  As Johns describes, “there’s a being who has lost his humanity, and distanced himself from it [Manhattan], and an alien who embodies humanity more than most humans [Superman].”

We learn Manhattan has been manipulating the DC Universe, trying to understand how it’s evolving timeline works, and how it seems to always revolve around Superman.  Manipulating events to see how things can change, including killing Superman’s adoptive parents, he creates a path where Superman will deliver a punch to him and everything will turn black.  Will Superman will kill Manhattan, or Manhattan will destroy everything?  Manhattan desires to know the answer, and it guides every action he has taken in the story.  

But when the moment finally arrives, Manhattan is shocked to his core, as Superman’s fist goes over Manhattan’s shoulder to punch an enemy attacking him from behind.  Manhattan is now confused.  After all he did to his life, why does Superman save him?  And why is the end still coming?

Whereas Doctor Manhattan was still playing by the rules of Watchmen, where things must end in death and sacrifice, Superman presents the way of self-sacrifice and mercy.  In this moment, we finally see the rules of the Watchmen universe re-written, as Doctor Manhattan becomes the hands of change, but Superman the source of change. Both through his action to still save the man who had caused him pain throughout his altered life, but also present him with a new choice. Superman appeals to Manhattan’s humanity, showing clear evidence it is still there in the forms of photos of his first love left everywhere he goes, unbeknownst to Manhattan until now. And then Superman offers Manhattan a new option to how things will end.  One straight from the playbook of DC.  What if Manhattan gives his life to save this world, and his.

“I see tomorrow,” Manhattan says to himself.  “The man of tomorrow. And for the first time… I am inspired.”

Doctor Manhattan is metaphorically reborn as Jon Osterman, and decides to act, no longer resigning himself or humanity as puppets on strings, but instead takes in the light that Superman represents, and willingly gives his life to save both the DC Universe and his home universe.  In his own world, the nuclear missiles vanish.  The scars of a destroyed city start to heal.  And as we see on a clock on a wall, Watchmen’s famous “doomsday clock” image has finally moved past midnight. 

To Us, a Son is Given

When we last saw the world of Watchmen, it lacked a means to save itself.  But a strange visitor from another planet, from another parallel-universe, shows up, what once ended as tragedy, now ends as triumph.  Superman often solves the issues with his strength and power, but here, he uses words.  Words of hope and love that carry real weight.  In this moment, like Jesus, he brings life to the world with his words rather than his fists.  And the outcome changes the entire narrative of the Watchmen world.  What was once a world headed for the doom, now has a new day. 

As the story of Doomsday Clock comes to its end, and Manhattan begins to fade away, he takes steps to ensure his world will not fall back to its old ways, but carry on the lessons shown by Superman.  Passing on the last of his powers to a young boy, he takes this boy to his two closest friends, so they can raise him in a loving family, just as Superman was on his earth, so that this powerful boy can learn how to love others.  

At the door of Sally Jupiter and Dan Dreiberg, the boy introduces himself as “Clark.”  Watchmen ended with the feeling all would be for nothing.  In Doomsday Clock, it ends with finding it’s Superman at last!

Software Engineer by day, aspiring novelist by night, Steven has been a nerd since the age of 3 when he discovered the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and hasn't looked back since. His weeks are filled with superhero and epic-hero fiction, in the shows and movies he watches, the video games he gets lost in, the novels he reads, and the comics on his weekly pull list. A lover of story and the power it has, he currently resides in San Francisco and is a member of the NorCal branch of Jesus Otaku.

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