The original 1986 release of Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, resulted in unparalleled praise and a legacy as the greatest comic book series of all time. But a Watchmen sequel seemed like a longshot until very recently. Partly, this was due to the sheer ambition that such a follow-up would require. Another reason for the delay was the cantankerous Moore himself, who vehemently argued against a sequel and eventually publicly divorced himself from the mainstream comic book industry entirely. With the sales success of the Before Watchmen prequel series in 2012, DC Comics decided the time was finally right to revisit the world of Rorschach and Nite Owl. They began to set the stage for Doomsday Clock, which made its debut in late 2017.
To have Doomsday Clock explained in simple terms is rather difficult. The project, which was entrusted to veteran creators Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, builds on both the entire history of Watchmen and several decades worth of DC continuity. The result is a rich and rewarding storyline for long-time readers, but not everyone is satisfied with the results. The original creators are not connected with Doomsday Clock in any fashion, and Moore has specifically denounced everything related to Watchmen aside from the initial series, including Doomsday Clock, Before Watchmen, and the 2009 film adaptation.
DC Comics took three decades to publish a sequel to Watchmen, the seminal comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that concluded in 1987. Although readers’ desire for a follow-up remained strong throughout the years, the delay meant that DC could take their time with the ambitious project and ensure it was done right.
Legendary creators Geoff Johns and Gary Frank were brought on board to shape the storyline that became Doomsday Clock. Although the first issue was released in November 2017, Johns and Frank began laying the groundwork for it long before then with the universe-readjusting one-shot DC Universe: Rebirth in 2016. That comic featured an internet-shattering cliffhanger in which Batman discovered The Comedian’s iconic button hidden in the Batcave, a thread that was continued in a Batman/Flash crossover fittingly titled “The Button.”
The action in Doomsday Clock #1 picks up seven years after the events of Watchmen—1992 in that universe. The original limited series ends with Ozymandias revealing his world-saving scheme: faking an alien attack and killing millions to force the nations of Earth to unite against a common foe instead of engaging in nuclear war. The remaining heroes swear secrecy, not wanting to undo the peace won by Ozymandias’ horrific act, but Rorschach refuses, and is vaporized by Doctor Manhattan as a result.
However, a memorable last cliffhanger shows a young assistant at the New Frontiersman paper discovered Rorschach’s journal, which reveals the truth behind Ozymandias’s actions and details the real story behind Watchmen. Although it takes time for the world to accept the vigilante’s account, by the time Doomsday Clock begins the jig is up—Ozymandias is a fugitive, wanted for the murder of millions, and the Americans and Soviets are once again on the brink of mutually assured destruction.
Adrian Veidt ends Watchmen as a complex antihero, secure in the knowledge that he’s saved the world. He begins Doomsday Clock in a much different place: as a fugitive on the run from murder charges numbering in the millions. To make matters worse, the revelation of Ozymandias’s crime has the unintended effect of undoing the Cold War peace his actions had won. Ozymandias is also stricken with brain cancer, and “the smartest man in the world” is rapidly approaching death.
Although Watchmen ends with the death of Walter Kovacs, the opening of Doomsday Clock reveals that a new vigilante has taken up the Rorschach mantle. Subsequent issues reveal that Rorschach II is actually Reggie Long, the son of Dr. Malcolm Long, the psychiatrist assigned to the original Rorschach while in prison.
Malcolm, along with his wife Gloria, die in Ozymandias’ false flag alien attack, but their son survives, albeit in a traumatized state. While in an asylum recovering from the incident, Reggie receives his father’s notes on Walter Kovacs’s mind, and becomes obsessed with the late antihero.
Later, the worldwide exposure of Adrian Veidt’s crimes inspires Reggie to break free from the asylum, adopt the identity of Rorschach, and vengefully hunt down Ozymandias. However, upon discovering the fugitive, Reggie has a change of heart, and agrees to help Ozymandias try to save the world—again.