During his spotlight panel today at Comic Con International: San Diego, DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns shed some light on what's coming in Doomsday Clock, the year-long maxiseries from Johns and artist Gary Frank (with colorist Brad Anderson) that pits the heroes of the DC Universe against the violence and cynicism of the Watchmen universe.
"If there's one being out there who can mess with time in such a radical way and challenge hope, Doctor Manhattan is the guy," Johns said of the ending to last year's DC Universe: Rebirth, which revealed the character to have been involved with the post-Flashpoint reboot of the DC Universe, which stripped DC heroes of their history and relationships.
The story is 12 issues long,"and it takes place a year in the future of the DC Universe, so that when the last issue comes out, the DC Universe will catch up," Johns explained. "Everything from Rebirth and Metal and everything else, this will take place after all of that, and by the time issue #12 comes out, the rest of the DC Universe will catch up and be affected. You'll see some changes to characters in this that you'll see unfold and you'll see events happen in the DC line that will then catch up to what we're doing."
Johns said that he, Frank, and Anderson often talk for up to an hour just about one panel; during the spotlight panel, DC publisher Dan DiDio projected several panels from the first issue, and Johns was responding to one in particular -- an image of a car which had been quickly abandoned, with no people in sight.
"It's a completely different story than anything I've ever done," Johns told his audience, explaining that Doomsday Clock's artist is engaged by creating storytelling more than characters. "It's nothing like anything Gary and I have ever done. The process is incredibly detail-oriented, and it has to be because of what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish."
The level of commitment Johns sees from Frank is something that he said the Doomsday Clock creative teams have across the board.
"When Gary and I talk about a panel for an hour, guess what? Brad talks about a panel for an hour, too, and what the colors mean and what they are to people going into it," Johns explained. "My editor, Brian Cunningham, is the same way. This is not a normal comic book for us; this is the chance to do something we've never done before, and we're putting everything we have into it, and it's a story we could only tell right now. And it's a risky story to tell, which I love, and it's a challenge, which I love."
Johns said that he would not want to use the Watchmen characters if he believed Doomsday Clock was just a gimmick, and that after introducing the idea of Doctor Manhattan's impact on the DC Universe in Rebirth, he couldn't let the payoff devolve into a wink-and-a-nod commentary.
The writer hinted at numerous big moments to come, but singled out one particular one: a meeting between Lex Luthor and an as-yet-unnamed character, presumably Watchmen's Ozymandias.
"There's so much great thematic and important stuff about what the DC Universe is, what these heroes mean to us, what the world faces on a daily basis, and what these heroes — DC's in specific — speak to me and hopefully why they speak to you," explained Johns. "That's what the book is about. The book is a celebration of all of it; it's a comic book that encompasses everything from Action Comics #1 in 1938 all the way till today, and it leads the DC Universe into tomorrow with issue # 12 — like, literally tomorrow. There's a lot of things that I'm excited for you guys to see, but one scene in particular that I love: I love seeing the smartest man from one world talking to the smartest man from another — and the smartest man from DC is Lex Luthor — and that's all I'll say."
While the heroes of the DC Universe were front an center in a "Who watches the Watchmen?" promotional image shared at the panel, it should be no surprise that Luthor will play a prominent role. Superman's arch-nemesis has long been one of Johns's favorite characters, and when asked about Superman's role in the story, Johns answered that Superman "is the story."
"It goes beyond Doctor Manhattan for anybody who's wondering because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we're going to go for the best story we can tell, and that's what this story calls for," Johns promised.
As to what that story is, Johns stopped short of offering much in the way of specifics, instead telling fans that they would understand what it's about by the end of the first page of Doomsday Clock #1.
"I was talking to Gary on the way down here this morning," Johns said. "We talked about a layout he's doing right now in issue #2, and I love it, I have to say. He loves it. Every minute I spend on Doomsday Clock…I love comics. That's my heartbeat and my first love forever, and I will never, ever stop loving comics no matter what happens. This has been a joy to work on, a privilege and an honor to work on. I know it's risky and I know it's a challenge and I know there's people out there who think Watchmen shouldn't be touched — but I have a story to tell, I believe in the story and so does Gary. Gary has a story to tell and we're going to tell the best damn story we can."
Doomsday Clock launches this November, with the first issue released to stores the day before Thanksgiving -- something that has emotional significance for Johns, who recalls reading comics on the holiday as a child.