Geoff Johns Is Right On Time with Doomsday Clock

July 25, 2020 Jeff Goldsmith

For your reading pleasure, in honor of comic-con – please enjoy this interview excerpt celebrating the release of the Watchmen graphic novel Doomsday Clock with writer Geoff Johns from the upcoming issue of Backstory.
If you enjoy what you’ve read in the excerpt – we hope you’ll join us to read the rest of the article by by subscribing to Backstory Magazine where it can be found in Issue 41!
Note: While this article is currently available in Issue 41, it’s actually a part of the upcoming (currently unpublished) issue 42 and will be moved into 42 once it goes live.
Issue 42
Ink Tales
Doomsday Clock
By Danny Munso
For decades, Watchmen was deemed untouchable. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 12-issue masterpiece stood alone as a singular work, often thought of as the best and most impor­tant comic book ever created. Its characters were never again featured in other comic storylines—a rarity for the medium keeping the worlds of film and television away. That all changed in 2009 with director Zack Snyder’s uneven eponymous film adaptation. Then DC Comics jumped back into the universe in 2012 with the mediocre prequel series Before Watchmen. While reviews were mixed by both casual and die-hard fans, the past two years has seen a reinvigoration of the brand thanks to Damon Lindelof’s brilliant HBO sequel of sorts and now DC’s 12-issue super­hero miniseries Doomsday Clock from Geoff Johns, the brainchild of one of the most significant comic voices in the decades.
Johns had penned some of the company’s best titles since the turn of the century and was named DC chief creative officer in 2010, overseeing a rehaul of its comics division with the bold New 52 releases, which wiped out most of the continuity from DC’s history. Elevated to president and CCO in 2016, he stepped down after only two years to start Mad Ghost Productions, which creates film and TV projects for DC properties. But before changing titles, Johns and longtime collaborator artist Gary Frank conceived a comic series that would meld the worlds of classic DC figures Superman and Batman with the characters from Watchmen. “No one at DC came to me and pitched the idea or said, ‘Can you do something with the Watchmen characters,’” Johns recalls. “It was just an idea we came up with on our own. I told DC we had the germ of an idea but nothing concrete yet. The more Gary and I talked about it, we weren’t sure. I could feel I had a piece of a story I really wanted to tell, but it just didn’t come into focus at the time.”
Like a lot of people, Johns felt his world-view changed after the 2016 U.S. election. He found himself visiting with Frank at the artist’s home in the UK, where the topic of Doomsday Clock concept resurfaced. “After the election, there was a lot of stuff going on in the world that seemed unthinkable at the time,” he says. “And now if you told me back then that [2020] is what would happen, I don’t think I could have pictured it. Because of those events, I knew this was a story we had to tell—a story of choosing sides, a story of black and white, a story of so many things using the DC universe and the Watchmen universe.” The thematic key to the tale is a philosophical—and possibly physical—confrontation between Superman and the most powerful being in the Watchmen universe, Dr. Manhattan. “I knew Superman was going to be key. It’s about how Superman can be the olive branch that doesn’t exist in the world. We desperately need that olive branch and he makes Dr. Manhattan see that. That was the story on a macro level we set out to tell, the moment that I felt we had to tell this story.”
To hear Johns tell it, Doomsday Clock is a straightforward 12-issue story. And yet it is so much more than that, as it’s easily the most complicated of the writer’s prolific career and one whose complexity rivals Moore’s original Watchmen text. The story spans multiple timelines—even multiple universes—and features various sets of characters: Watchmen icons Dr. Manhattan, the Comedian and Ozymandias; DC legends Superman, Batman, Joker and Wonder Woman; lesser known DC superheroes Firestorm and Black Adam; and an entire set of new characters, such as Mime and Marionette, a pair of villains inhabiting the Watchmen world. There are so many players an entire Wikipedia page has been created to document them all.
Johns’ writing process for this jigsaw puzzle began where it does for whatever project he’s on—a simple notebook. After penning story and character ideas, he moves to a whiteboard to flesh out those thoughts. Then he prints out photocopied pages with nine blank panels to sketch how each page will look. He’s doesn’t do this to suggest to Frank how to draw certain images; rather, he uses the panels to help visualize the flow of the story for himself. “I don’t give those to anybody,” Johns says. “They’re just for me. It helps me see where the page turns are or where I should go big or go tight. When I draw the story out, it helps me to be patient. In comics, the biggest commodity is space. You only have so many pages. You need to be efficient.”
Dig what you’ve read? We hope you’ll read the rest of this article to learn more about Johns’ writing process and opinions on some of Doomsday Clock‘s biggest moments.
Now more than ever, your support is crucial so please consider subscribing to Backstory!
You can also use coupon code: SAVE5 to take $5 off your subscription!
In other news – we’re going to publish a new issue (#42) during these uncertain times & your support will contribute to that endeavor as well.
For the moment, we’re continuing to update Issue 41 (yes, our Oscar Issue) with new content – including new articles featuring showrunner Alex Garland on finishing up the first season of Devs on Hulu, Greg Daniels on launching his new Amazon sci-fi/romance (yes you heard that right) Upload and Nathaniel Halpern on creating Amazon’s Tales From The Loop – and more!
Thanks for your support and stay safe & healthy!
For more info about all the other amazing articles in issue 41, view our Table of Contents.