Geoff Johns on the Pressures of Crossing 'Watchmen' With the DC Universe

Watchmen Cover - P 2015
<p>Watchmen Cover - P 2015</p>   |   Courtesy of DC Comics
The 'Doomsday Clock' writer looks back at abandoning the project before deciding to go forward after the the 2016 presidential election: "Suddenly, the whole story just jumped into my head."

The upcoming Doomsday Clock series from DC Entertainment might feature the first-ever crossover between the DC Universe of Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League, and the characters of the 1986 classic comic Watchmen, but for writer Geoff Johns, there's far more to it than watching different eras of superheroes interact.

Johns met with a small group of press Thursday night at San Diego Comic-Con, where after boarding a yacht, attendees were handed drinks — "Dr. Manhattans" — and ushered into a room where Johns spoke about his 12-issue series launching in November. Johns said that the series exists "because [artist] Gary Frank and I have a story to tell." 

"We talked for months about this: what the story was and what we were going to do. There was a day when he came to visit me in London, and we walked around the set of Wonder Woman for an hour plus and just talked about it," Johns said. "Gary's not a fan, he's an artist — he's not like, 'I'm dying to draw Batman, or Doctor Manhattan,' or whatever, he's just dying to do a good story. I'd always told [DC publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio] I wouldn't do the story without Gary Frank, because he's the only one who can draw it — the emotion of the story requires something that, I think, only Gary Frank has — so if we weren't doing it together, it wasn't going to happen."

As it turns out, it almost didn't happen, despite the plot having been set in motion by Johns' 2016 DC Universe: Rebirth Special issue, which ended with Batman finding the bloodstained smiley button from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' critically acclaimed comic book series.

"That day on the set of Wonder Woman, we talked a lot about it, and at the end of the day, we thought, 'You know what? We're not going to do it,'" Johns explained. "And then the election happened. And then other things in the world happened, and it changed. Suddenly, the whole story just jumped into my head, and I called Gary and said, 'I just have to pitch this to you, because I have this story, and the story is bigger than I thought it was, it's different than I thought it was, it's more risky than I thought it was.'"

The risk, he explained, came in multiple forms: not only re-approaching the Watchmen characters for only the second time since the original series (Before Watchmen, a collection of prequel series by a group of different creators, was published in 2012), but also in telling a story that purposefully pushed the boundaries of what Johns and Frank had worked on previously, and defied expectations in doing so.

"We're not trying to replicate and do what [Moore and Gibbons] did, we're doing our own thing," Johns said. "The story we're telling is a very different story, but it's certainly a very personal story. [The DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot] was a very personal story for me, and this is an extremely personal story. It is a story about everything: Cynicism and opportunity and corruption, and lies and truth and love, and the lengths people will go for love, and hope. Optimism. Decay. Are our best days behind us, or ahead of us, you know? What is the truth? Do people give up, is it OK to give up, when do you give up, when don't you give up? … All sorts of things about how I think we're all feeling."

Readers concerned that such weighty themes might mean less possibility of crossover moments that are just plain cool shouldn't be too concerned, however; one of the few spoilers Johns was willing to drop about the project during his Thursday afternoon panel for fans was that the series will let fans watch "the smartest man from one world talking to the smartest man of another." The smartest man in the DC Universe, according to Johns, isn't Batman; it's Lex Luthor. What trouble can he cause when talking to a man who'd fake an alien invasion and kill millions to force world peace …?

"We could shy away from it and not do it, but I believe in it," Johns said about the series. "It feels like the story we need to tell. We need to tell this right now."