How the Doomsday Clock Ticks: Time & Continuity at the Midpoint

Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Brad Anderson’s Doomsday Clock, the shocking sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, has crawled its way through to the halfway point, issue number six out of twelve. Narratively, Doomsday Clock could never hope to achieve some of the amazing things that Moore and Gibbons were able to do back in 1986-87, but Johns and Frank have managed to match the original Watchmen in many ways—in style, depth, and pacing. (If you don’t think it’s been deep so far, you haven’t been paying close enough attention!) Story-wise, not much has actually occurred, but this mirrors the first six issues of the original series. Much of the first six issues of both series spent a significant time with flashbacks detailing the background of new characters and doing considerable world-building. However, one big difference I’ve noticed is Doomsday Clock‘s use of inconsistent specificity in regard to time and continuity.

Doomsday Clock is a continuous and uninterrupted story, meaning its narrative flows from one issue to the next, picking up where each prior issue leaves off. Despite this, Doomsday Clock seems to utilize a deliberately screwy timeline, one that doesn’t make much sense in the normal linear sense of things. I will break down the discrepancies issue by issue and try to explain them—and also try to explain how I am handling them in regard to building a chronological headcanon.

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Doomsday Clock #1: Released November 22, 2017. On Earth-Watchmen, we are told (by the new Rorschach) that it is November 22, 1992 or November 23, 1992 in the very first line. And in this very fist line, Johns begins what will be a recurring theme in this series: Dates are not to be trusted. Supplemental material shows newspapers from a couple weeks earlier, dated November 5, 1992. Thus, the November 22 date appears merely to correlate with the release date of this issue.

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Doomsday Clock #2: Released December 27, 2017. The “dates can’t be trusted” theme continues with a flashback security video sequence in which Marionette says “Happy Monday” and the banker says, “It’s Wednesday.” Marionette replies, “Whatever.” Supplemental material shows internet articles dated December 7, 2017, December 10, 2017, December 11, 2017, and December 20, 2017. This implies that the main action of Doomsday Clock is happening in mid to late December or early January. Despite it being November in the previous issue, we can chalk this inconsistency up to the fact that issue #2 brought us to a new Earth. The December 7, 2017 article in the supplemental material says that Helga Jace’s Supermen Theory first started six months prior, which would mean June 2017. The December 2017 date suggests mere correlation with the release date of the issue.

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Doomsday Clock #3: Released January 24, 2018. The “dates can’t be trusted” theme continues with Batman’s dialogue, “I ran a search for temporal anomalies.” Johnny Thunder then says it’s the first Monday of the month. While the senile fella is far from a reliable timekeeper, we can use this to place us on the calendar. As per the last issue, we have to be either in mid to late December or early January. Thus, if we take Johnny’s line as gospel, then we must be (and must have been) in January this whole time. The January date also correlates with the release date, so take that for what it’s worth.

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Doomsday Clock #4: Released March 28, 2018. The “dates can’t be trusted” theme continues with Mothman’s dialogue: “It’s warm for December. They say the dimensional rift that opened altered our seasonal clock. It’s going to snow in June. Isn’t that funny?” March is not referenced in the issue.

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Doomsday Clock #5: Released May 30, 2018. Clark mentions that it’s “ten years too late” to ask someone else to be Jon’s godfather. This implies that Jon was born roughly ten years ago, placing us in 2017/2018. However, specific mention is made of Johnny Thunder being 102-years-old. Johns’ “The Button” told us specifically Johnny was born in 1917, which would put us in 2019. This seems very deliberate, as if Johns is course correcting, placing us in 2019 where we need to be by story’s end (i.e. when Doomsday Clock will end publication). Supplemental material gives the date May 30, 2019! May 30 correlates with the release date.

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Doomsday Clock #6: Released July 25, 2018. This issue picks up immediately where issue #5 leaves off. Supplemental material places the primary action of issue #6 on Wednesday July 25, correlating exactly with the release date of the comic. No specific year is attached.

CONCLUSION: Clearly, the dates are being deliberately screwy and should not be exactly relied upon. Johns, in late 2017, said in interviews that the story would wind up being one year ahead of other ongoing DC stories. Since we know Doomsday Clock will end in 2019, we must assume that 2019 is when Doomsday Clock is taking place. Most of the dates, especially in supplemental material, are therefore irrelevant, merely referencing the release dates of the issues. Nevertheless, in order to properly read and engage with any story, there must be continuity. Johns is giving us discontinuity, and very specifically so. Despite this, using the dates given in the series thus far, we can try to place things accordingly. For example, there’s clearly about six months from the Supermen Theory going public to the main action of Doomsday Clock #6, but, as to exact dates, I cannot say for sure. Why is Johns doing this (if it is indeed deliberate)? Might it have something to do with the theme or with Dr. Manhattan’s manipulation? Only time will tell (pun intended).

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Doomsday Clock (along with “The Button”) is also story about literal missing time, years stolen off the calendar by a cosmic power. This not only fits Johns’ theme, it acts as a meta-commentary on how reboots affect canon as well. Yet, because Doomsday Clock is being published so shortly after a reboot itself, much of what it’s referencing hasn’t been mentioned in-continuity before now—certainly not in the Rebirth Era or in the New 52, anyway. For example, Johns—in issues #5 and #6 alone (including the supplemental end parts)—re-canonizes old continuity pertaining to Firestorm, the Creeper, Global Guardians, Ultramarine Corps, Outsiders, Aruna Shende, Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run, Black Adam, added Bloodlines material, Justice League Europe, Batman: Hong Kong, Kirby’s Super Powers, The Zhuguan, added Great Ten material, parts of his own Modern Age Teen Titans run, 52 (which he also co-wrote), Mr. Freeze’s Animated Series origins, early Gardner Fox Silver Age JLofA stories, Nocturna, Umbaluru, the Injustice Gang, The LAW, added Killing Joke details, JLA Classified, added Infinite Crisis details, some Modern Age Hal Jordan stories, Checkmate, Judomaster, and Naiad. None of this (at least, to my knowledge) had been canon since prior to 2011’s Flashpoint!—and some of it, like Super Powers, was never even canon to begin with.

One could simply chalk the myriad references up to Easter Egging on Johns’ part. After all, it is the current style of writing that’s in vogue in comic book world—to simply throw in “Who’s Who?”-style references left-and-right with reckless abandon now that anything can be Googled on Wiki-whatever. BUT, as is the case with everything else so far with Doomsday Clock, Johns looks to be including things for a reason. With issues #5 and #6, he just happens to include A TON (especially in the back material magazine sections). Grant Morrison always said that everything ever written was always canon (or, rather, could be canonized). Johns has taken this to the next level. But remember, we aren’t supposed to take things at surface value. Things in Doomsday Clock are not what they seem, especially when it comes to time and continuity.

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I was initially surprised at how much material from 1987-88 that Johns referenced (in both the main narrative and supplemental portion of Doomsday Clock #5-6)—a lot of Outsiders stuff and Ostrander narratives from Suicide Squad and Firestorm of that era. However, if you look closer, it’s not a coincidence that much of it comes specifically from a period of time immediately after the publication of the original Watchmen series. And a lot of Johns’ references are to stories featuring “alternate versions” of Dr Manhattan. There’s Captain Atom, Firestorm, Firehawk, Pozhar, Metamorpho, Element Girl, etc. They all have similar power sets (able to manipulate matter) and similar origins as nuclear-powered government agents.

We’ll see what the final issues bring. If we can compare to Watchmen, then there will be big revelations and a momentous change to the pacing of the narrative. We could literally see time change before our very eyes. With Doctor Manhattan lurking, and possibly already having appeared (hidden in plain view), anything could happen. And with so many matter manipulators running about the globe as the “metahuman arms race” heats up, time could easily be messed-with. Both matter and energy exist within time. As per Einstein’s general theory of relativity, time is “a measure of the continuity of space and everything that exists within space, itself existing as a 4th dimension.” For our storytelling and chronology-building purposes, time is literally also narrative. It gives the story purpose and meaning. It gives the reader answers. If the real life Doomsday Clock were to reach the end of its countdown, that would spell destruction, chaos, and change for the entire planet. Just like the real clock, Doomsday Clock the series is ticking—and when it reaches its end, it will also signal destruction, chaos, and change for our narrative—and possibly for the entire DCU. Six issues to go. Tick tock.

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About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher, the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY, is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book historian that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has lectured at various universities, libraries, and book fairs. Collin has also served on the jury for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
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4 Responses to How the Doomsday Clock Ticks: Time & Continuity at the Midpoint

  1. In an unrelated-to-time-inconsistencies note, I told you “big revelations and momentous changes to the pacing of the narrative” would occur. And they certainly have with Doomsday Clock #7! The greater Dr. Manhattan mystery has begun to unravel. Doomsday Clock #7 tells us that Dr. Manhattan caused the death of Alan Scott in 1940, which ensured that he never became a superhero, thus further ensuring that the JSA never formed. The supplemental material from Doomsday Clock #3 tells us that Carver Colman was acquaintances with Frank Farr (Rita Farr’s father), John Law, Sgt. Frank Rock, Jackie Johnson, Randy Booth, Ted Grant, Libby Lawrence, and others, all of whom were originally either members of the JSA or connected to the JSA. Thus, if killing Alan Scott in 1940 ensured the erasure of the Golden Age of superheroes, the 1954 murder of Colman seems to have been a lynchpin in regard to ensuring the erasure of the Silver Age of superheroes.

    Another way of looking at it in terms of the New 52/New Age narrative: Dr. Manhattan eliminates an entire generation of superheroes via his actions in 1940, and then eliminates a next generation of superheroes via his actions in 1954.

    • Upon another look, we haven’t yet been told the full details of the Carver Colman murder. All we know is that Dr. Manhattan was present. We don’t know if he was a fly on the wall watching, if he caused the murder, or committed the murder himself. Thus, we cannot say for certain, as I did above, that Carver Colman’s death was something that Dr. Manhattan wanted and, therefore, was a lynchpin for erasing the Silver generation of heroes.

  2. Doomsday Clock #7: Released September 26, 2018. Cover date November 2018. This issue picks up immediately where issue #6 leaves off. We get a myriad of date references as Dr. Manhattan scans through his memories, viewing time as occurring all at once, but none of the dates are important to the continuity of present-day narrative, so there are no problems or contradictions. Likewise, the supplemental material isn’t about ongoing narrative, so it doesn’t contain any continuity problems or contradictions either. While the “dates can’t be trusted” theme seems to be formally abandoned within the narrative here (i.e. no errors), we still get a very blunt message to “not believe what you perceive to be true.” While there might not be any continuity errors in Doomsday Clock #7, the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan speaks about time extensively and talks about how he can no longer see the future. He has a blind spot in regard to time. Johns even ends Doomsday Clock #7 with an R Buckminster Fuller quote: “Seeing-is-believing is a blind spot in man’s vision.”

    • Doomsday Clock #8: Original solicitation date November 2018. Released December 5, 2018. (Release schedule begins to slip behind and will only worsen for the rest of the series.) Cover date February 2019. This issue picks up three weeks after issue #7 leaves off. There aren’t really any time references, although the scenes in Moscow look like it is Autumn or Winter—there are no leaves on trees and everyone is wearing cold-weather gear. Before this, I’m not entirely certain there had been any true indicator of season. If it is indeed meant to be Fall or Winter, this is contradicted by the supplemental material of Doomsday Clock #8, which features several newspaper articles responding to the narrative action of this very issue. The articles place the narrative action on June 5, 2019.

      Doomsday Clock #9: Original solicitation date January 2019. Released March 6, 2019. Cover date May 2019. This issue, which occurs a mere five days after Doomsday Clock #8, shows Washington DC with leafless trees, hinting at wintertime (just as the Russia scenes implied in the previous issue)! So, maybe we are in winter? This issue also is chock-full of time references and callbacks to Dr. Manhattan’s cosmic ability to view all time at once (although his vision is blocked by tachyons, just like it was in the original Watchmen). The issue starts with Manhattan talking about random future dates in quick succession. Even the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan is blind to the “truth” of this inconsistent timeline.

      Doomsday Clock #10: Original solicitation date March 2019. Released May 29, 2019. No cover date. Hooo-daisy, this one’s the kicker! Doc Manhattan recalls all the previous DC continuities and reboots in the same way we (the readers) have perceived them over the years, realizing that the multiverse is actually a “metaverse”—an über-narrative that has changed throughout history, with each change coinciding with a publication release date for a continuity-altering comic book issue. Did Manhattan have a direct hand in affecting previous continuities? Or, would current continuity have originally resembled the Golden Age, Silver Age, and several other continuities if not for Manhattan’s meddling? The only chronologies we know 100% for certain that he messed with are the New 52 and Rebirth Era timelines (which are more or less the same for the purposes of this story). While I’m not quite sure about anything that happens in this issue, I am sure that the “dates can’t be trusted” theme has exploded all over every page. Doomsday Clock #10 is about how time is constantly literally being rewritten in the DCU—and how it has been rebooted numerous times in the past eighty years. Beyond this conceit, there are a bunch of glaring chronal inconsistencies (even within the internal narrative of this issue) worth pointing out. First, while technically not an error per se, I’m personally quite miffed that Doc Manhattan’s vision of the Silver Age Superman’s debut is set in 1956, which means that it doesn’t take into account Sliding-Time. Cmon! Sliding-Time moved Superman’s debut to 1966! But I get it, I get it. Manhattan also tells us that Carver Colman left Philly on December 25, 1928 and arrived in Hollywood on December 31. However, on January 19, 1929, Manhattan tells us that Colman has been already been working at Paramount for eight months—an impossibility based upon the timeline he himself gives. There are also a few contradictions regarding the release dates of the Nathaniel Dusk films within this issue. Furthermore, we are shown Colman holding his Best Actor Oscar trophy on April 18, 1952, but Doomsday Clock #3 tells us specifically that he won the award on March 18, 1953, which is nearly a year later. There are also some Los Angeles historical inaccuracies in Doomsday Clock #10, but we can chalk those up to the DCU’s LA being different than our real world LA. Last but not least, Manhattan makes reference to the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 as happening “one year ago,” but they actually happened two years ago. Maybe we can chalk this up to the extreme publication delays? Curiously, in our next issue, Lex Luthor will hint at DC Universe: Rebirth #1 as happening the correct two years ago!

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