It’s April 18 1938, the day of Superman’s first public appearance in Metropolis. It’s also the day Carver Colman, a young drifter in Los Angeles, meets Dr Manhattan.
The superbeing once known as Jon Osterman has abandoned his own reality to explore new ones. In this one, though, he’s no longer able to control his ability to travel through time.
The fixed point to which he always returns is Carver who, as the years pass, becomes the star of the Nathaniel Dusk movie series. He’s not able to relax and enjoy his success, though, as his estranged mother constantly threatens to expose her gay son to the press, ending his career.
Dr Manhattan asks Carver to call him ‘Jon’, and they become friends, with Jon giving him snippets about his future. One day Carver intrigues Jon with his answer to a question.
Why doesn’t he know of Superman?
As the years come and go, Dr Manhattan realises something.
Superman’s arrival on Earth moves forward in time, at first in 30-year increments, then at shorter intervals. And he realises something else.
Whew! That’s a lot to take in. This issue of Doomsday Clock, a series which has come in for negative criticism by some people for its relaxed pace, explodes DC history. We knew Dr Manhattan had tampered with the DC Universe, here we find out why – scientific curiosity. Why is Superman the lynchpin of his universe? And he sees the bigger picture – Superman’s Earth is the lynchpin of the multiverse, it’s the seed from which all other origin stories, from Krona to the Forger of Worlds, sprout. It is… the Metaverse.
As a reader, I’m left with so many questions. Delicious questions. The shifting forward of Superman’s origins in time on this prime world seems to wipe away the concept of Earth One, Earth Two and so on… it’s all the prime Earth. Or does it? Do the machinations of the likes of the Anti-Monitor and Extant hurt continuity or enrich it? They change the prime Earth, the multiverse reacts and creates a separate Earth to reflect that, one that continues when the prime Earth inevitably shifts once more?
Have I got that? Very possibly not, but I don’t mind if I’m wrong. Just thinking about these things gives me huge pleasure, and in the week of the horror that is the Heroes in Crisis finale, I’m thrilled to see the DC Universe: Rebirth special, in which Wally West realised his world had been changed, brought in… there’s hope that Hope will return to the DC Multiverse. Not the depressing version offered by HiC, but the shining, life-enhancing concept embodied in the original Legion of Super-Heroes whom we see here.
The Rebirth Special also teased important roles for the Legion’s Saturn Girl and the Justice Society of America’s Johnny Thunder, and both cameo here as they have in precious issues. How they’ll link to the story’s conclusion in a couple of months I can’t guess – Johnny has a magical thunderbolt genie, Imra gave birth to a son with mental lightning, Wally gained his powers from a lightning bolt hitting chemicals and looked to a lightning storm as he realised someone was manipulating reality…
Speaking of the JSA, they get a couple of fascinating pages as we see the effect Dr Manhattan had on the history we know, as he plays with lives that seem no more real to him than do folk in a Nathaniel Dusk screenplay. And there’s a development with Carver at the end that either hints at him having something special that drew Jon to him, or that he’s been changed by Jon.
I don’t know and again, I like that I haven’t worked things out. Johns looks to have full control over his material, evidenced by the way in which intricate story elements are beginning to bounce off one another. Like Alan Moore in Watchmen, Johns has to be writing this with charts by his side, but where Watchmen felt like an experiment in storytelling, Doomsday Clock feels more human. Differently brilliant, is all – as Watchmen wouldn’t work without the comics that came before it, Doomsday Clock needs Watchmen. The series complement one another – Johns is so at ease with Moore’s creations that he’s created two new characters, Mime and Marionette, who could have stepped straight out of Watchmen.
And as artist Dave Gibbons was a vital partner in Watchmen, Gary Frank makes Doomsday Clock sing visually. He finds a sweet spot between the DC feel and Gibbons’ vision that perfectly suits Johns’s script so that even when we’re on the gritty backstreets of LA, there’s real wonder. And he does a fine job of keeping Carver recognisable as he ages up and down the timeline. It’s also a treat to see him revisit the Superman: Secret Origin series he created with Johns. Colourist Brad Anderson and letterer Rob Leigh also show why they’re so well-respected at DC, matching the colour palette of Watchmen’s John Higgins and the letters of renaissance Man Gibbons.
As well as the comic strip, we get backmatter: an illuminating letter from Carver’s mom and an excerpt from a Nathaniel Dusk film script. I’m not sure why Johns used the downtrodden detective in this series, but as a fan of DC’s two Eighties Dusk mini-series by legends Don McGregor – who gets a shout-out in the main strip this time – and Gene Colan, I’m thrilled to see the character incorporated into continuity in a sideways manner. It’s a nicely designed bonus feature by Amie Brockway-Metcalf.
I’ve enjoyed Doomsday Clock all the way through, and haven’t been overly perturbed by the delays – a comic of this quality rewards patience. Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and friends have produced, in the words of my mate Anj, ‘a love letter to the DC Universe’. And I’m so glad I got to steam it open.