Observation: for all the fear of a Watchmen sequel impacting the integrity of Moore and Gibbons’ original story, Doomsday Clock hasn’t done much to affect Watchmen itself. You can read Watchmen in its original twelve-issue form and not really have any of it impacted by the events of the “sequel.” It’s a closed story–one which opens your imagination with the ending (what happened to Rorschach’s journal?)–but otherwise remains intact. And even then, Doomsday Clock just extrapolates the logical follow-up to the exposure of Rorschach’s notes.
With the exception of Adrian Veidt, Doomsday Clock isn’t changing much with the original, critical characters in Watchmen. The Rorschach in this story is new. Mime and Marionette were never seen before in the Watchmen universe. The Comedian has apparently been plucked from an instant before his death, where he’ll presumably return at the end of this story. Nothing is really changing here, assuming there are no radical departures from the original story.
Doomsday Clock does continue to mirror, at least superficially, the original Watchmen, and it remains a fun exercise to read each issue with its 1985 counterpart to see how they compare. Like Watchmen #4, Doomsday Clock #4 slows the story down to focus on the origin of a character. In Watchmen, it was Doctor Manhattan. Here, it’s Rorschach II. This slowdown isn’t advancing the story much, but it does give a welcome break to get into a character’s head. Moreover, with Doomsday Clock slowing its publishing schedule (the next issue is due in, what, May?), this may give the DC Universe a chance to catch up.
So, on with the story.
The Cover: The “story” version of the cover is a stack of pancakes with the syrup resembling the Rorschach “ink blot” pattern on his mask. For some reason, Rorschach has an obssession with pancakes, which has become a running gag whose deeper meaning isn’t clear. The “action” cover is Rorschach blowing up a building–possibly Arkham?–as Rorschachs often do.
Page One: Pull back to reveal that the pancakes are a double-entendre illusion. “I see what I want to see” refers to the original Rorschach’s observation on life that there is no meaning other than what we project on things. There is no “actual” Rorschach pattern on the pancakes; he just sees one. Likewise, there is no meaning to life except what we project–sort of the bleak version of the atheist’s outlook that the positive meaning is the one we create. But, moreover, the pancakes are fake–Rorschach is in Arkham, and he’s restricted to safe foods for a powderkeg environment.
I’m not sure how many of the Arkham inmates are recognizable here, but two of them appear to be The Ventriloquist and Maxie Zeus. The striped guy is the Zebra Man, a pretty obscure Bat-villain who did at least make it into The Lego Batman Movie. Once again, Rorschach sees a pattern that isn’t really there: a nuclear explosion in his forehead stripe, the ever-present threat in the Watchmen universe.
Page Two: Like with Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen #4, we’re reading about the makings of Rorschach II through flashback sequences. (Also note: even running in parallel with Watchmen #4, this issue makes heavy references to issues #6 and #11-12. Basically, keep your Watchmen TPB handy when reading this.)
To no one’s surprise, Rorschach is revealed as the son of Gloria and Malcom Long, the latter being Walter Kovacs’ court-appointed psychiatrist in Watchmen #6. Reggie Long, their son, is five in this scene, watching film footage of nuclear explosions and hearing news stories about Doctor Manhattan’s deployment in Vietnam and his impact on growing nuclear tensions. Watchmen #4 showed that Manhattan was used in May 1966, meaning Reggie was probably born in 1961. Doomsday Clock began in that universe’s 1992, putting Reggie around 31 years old now.
There’s early evidence here that Dr. Long is caught up in his work, looking to become a “name” psychiatrist. It seems that Reggie is getting traumatized by the growing threat of war at age five. Malcolm is ignoring this–some shrink–being insistent on keeping his family in the city which, unsurprisingly, does not work out for them in the long-term.
Page Three: Gary Frank continues to mimic Dave Gibbons’ style of transitional images which link two scenes across time and pages. This issue starts to get a little crazy, as we flip around Rorschach’s life between college and the present day. Being dropped at college by his parents is apparently not unlike being dropped in Arkham by Batman.
Seen here: Mister Freeze, apparently kept in a cold-storage cell.
Flashing back to college, Reggie sees his dad on TV, going off to meet Walter Kovacs for the first time. This places this scene just before Watchmen #7, somewhere around October 25, 1985.
Note that on this page, Reggie talks about being assaulted as a kid but never fighting back. This mention is probably meant to contrast him with Kovacs who, in his own flashback sequences in Watchmen #6, assaulted a bully by sticking a cigarette in his eye. Reggie has typically been portrayed as a “nicer” Rorschach, although clearly by 1992, something snapped in him to make him more like Kovacs.
Page Four: This is kind of an odd page, and I have no idea what’s going on here. We see an insect getting killed by a bug zapper outside the cell of a “W. Jones,” ostensibly Waylon “Killer Croc” Jones–who should be on the Suicide Squad at the moment. The moment is witnessed by an uncertain male figure in the opposite cell. What’s this all about? I’m not sure this parallels much, except that Watchmen #4 did focus on Doctor Manhattan dropping a photograph of himself and his first girlfriend to the ground on Mars. The incineration of the insect may be meant to recall Doctor Manhattan’s tendency to fry people in a flash of blue light. Could this guy in the cell be Manhattan in hiding? To date, we still don’t know where in the DC Universe Doctor Manhattan is, although it’s been hinted he’s hiding on Mars.
Page Five: Reggie, from college, has hints that his parents’ marriage is breaking up while student protesters parade behind him. The protests are clearly doing nothing, since the world literally does “go to shit” thanks to forces much larger than those kids. Likewise, Reggie’s ability to affect his parents is well beyond him. One theme in Watchmen was that movers and shakers influence the world far beyond the abilities of the ordinary person on the street. We’re seeing that in minature here.
Turns out Reggie’s parents are experiencing the events of Watchmen #7, page 13, which Frank has recreated from a different angle here. Rorschach is getting under Dr. Long’s skin, and it’s impacting his ability to relate to his wife. The threat of war isn’t helping things.
By the way, if you go back to Watchmen #6, you can see that Malcom Long is drinking from a mug that says “Dad.” Sonofagun, we all speculated that Long was Reggie’s father, but there wasn’t much hard evidence that the Longs had children. Except it was right there. Kudos to Johns and Frank from picking up on tiny little details in the original story.
“Kovacs would have saved my dad’s career”–maybe. But it also drove the Longs’ marriage apart. By Watchmen #11, chose people over his family–what a tough choice!–and then ended up getting killed by the squid bomb anyway.
Page Six: Reggie arrives in New York just before the Squid explosion, putting the climax of this page at 11:25 p.m., November 2, 1985. Frank very briefly shows the Longs dying in the same manner they did in Watchmen #11, although the extended explosion sequence across the middle of the page also reflects the psychic backlash hitting Reggie. Did he feel his parents die? The proximity of the panels suggests so.
Pages Seven-Eight: Reggie, obviously, has now taken the original Rorschach’s symbolic place and is now being interviewed as his father did to Kovacs. “Matthew Mason” appears to be a new character, although his name evokes characters like Matthew Hagen (Clayface) and Rex Mason (Metamorpho). I wouldn’t be too worried about the eyeball appearing on his forehead–that appears to be a hallucenation of the Watchmen squid.
It’s now apparent that Reggie was driven mad by the secondary effects of the squid’s psychic backlash when it died. This was glossed over in the dialogue of Watchmen #12. We’re seeing the full effects of it here. Reggie, over the coming weeks and months, goes through a routine of madness and violence. It’s notable that Kovacs was never this mad. Violent, yes, but always with a purpose of seeking justice and order. Reggie is just in pain.
Pages Nine-Eleven: Reggie appears driven to suicide, when up on the roof, he meets another inmate at his asylum: Byron Lewis, the Mothman, one of the original Minutemen from Watchmen. Lewis was never really developed in the original series, though various hints in the book indicated he was losing his sanity after retirement.
A few other notes of interest. Lewis says they’re committed to “Fitzgerald.” We later learn in the appendix pages that this is the “Fitzgerald Mental Home” in Maine, which was alluded to in Watchmen #7’s appendix. This is a stretch, but it may also be a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” a short story about a recovering alcoholic who suffers relapses. Also, Lewis mentions that the seasons have been affected by the Squid’s appearance. This seems speculative on everyone’s part, but it could explain why the Watchmen universe was having warm wather in November in Doomsday Clock #1.
I wonder if Reggie and Lewis’ relationship in this issue is intended to evoke Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which ended with a joke about two asylum escapees who were tying to cross a gap by a beam of light? Given the previous issue’s references to that story, it’s possible that there’s another reference wrapped up in here, Moore’s joke given literal form.
Page Twelve: Reggie is taking Lewis’ advice seriously: “I see what I want to see” in the inkblot patterns, turning his trauma into a focus point. Surprisingly, this isn’t far off from Walter Kovacs’ philosopy of creating his own ordered patterns out of the chaos of life.
Page 13: Not much to note here, except that we see continued progress in the post-squid world which weren’t really shown, only alluded to, in the final pages of Watchmen.
Page Fourteen: This will become clearer further down the issue, but that’s Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who has been locked up in Arkham since DC Rebirth back in the summer of 2016. Why she’s here still isn’t apparent, but it apparently relates to the whole Watchmen conspiracy.
Reggie’s “see what I want to see” approach may become an important theme in the future. Watchmen had the recurring theme of the human tendency to impose patterns on the familiar–not just through rorschach ink blots, but also through the repeat appearances of the blood-stained smiley face which resembled a clock approaching midnight. None of those things have to be a smiley face or a clock, but we choose to see them that way because they’re familiar. Here, Reggie suggests that we should choose to see something else.
Page Fifteen: Lewis has the “Minutemen” photograph which we saw way back in Watchmen #2 in the original Silk Spectre’s retirement home. The photo is cracked, reminding us that it’s not as pleasant a memory as Lewis might like. The Comedian attempted to rape the Spectre moments after the photo was taken.
On one of his jaunts, Lewis brings back Dr. Long’s notes on Rorschach, which might account for how Reggie became obsessed with Kovacs. Reggie is reading from the exact notes seen on the first page of Watchmen #6.
Page Sixteen: Reggie and Lewis are putting a puzzle together with a missing piece that’s Ozymandias’ face. That’s not symbolic at all, I’m sure.
But where did Dr. Long’s notes go? That’s a mystery raised here.
Page Seventeen: Curious that the orderly, Jason, is such a bully in the peaceful post-squid world–but then, this probably ties back to the earlier themes of both Reggie and even Kovacs being subjected to bullying. Lewis trains Reggie to be a “one-man Minutemen,” but as Reggie discovers, the combined capabilities of the Minutemen aren’t enough. This may say something about Watchmen being such a dark universe and the simplicity of a lighthearted team of Golden Age heroes just isn’t enough.
Page Nineteen: While it’s unclear how much time has passed, it’s apparent that it’s closer to 1992 than it is to 1985. Suspicions are rising about Adrian Veidt, and Lewis is concerned that Veidt is having people rounded up who might know something about him and, ostensibly, his role in the squid attack.
Also, this page notes that Sally Jupiter died, and Veidt was less-than-charitable at her funeral. Why? Jupiter’s death is curious, raising questions about whether Veidt had her killed, although by 1992 she should have been 72 years old.
The rorschach blot seen here is the one Malcom Long put in front of Walter Kovacs at the beginning of Watchmen #6.
Page Twenty: We’re now at October 11, 1992, which is less than a month prior to Doomsday Clock #1. Reggie, along with many people, are now convinced that Veidt was behind the squid attack. Lewis is cautiously questioning that maybe Veidt didn’t, which sort of reflects his Golden Age naïveté, and anyway, we readers know he’s wrong. This scene does suggest that Rorschach’s lost journal was less influential in exposing Veidt than we thought it would be.
Pages Twenty-One – Twenty-Two: Why does Byron Lewis run back into the fire? The notion of a moth being drawn to a flame is a little too on point. This may be something that has to be resolved later.
Page Twenty-Two: There’s some literary fun on this page: “Byron” and “Percy Bysshe” are nineteenth century British poets, and taking a boat to the arctic (Veidt) is evocative of Frankenstein, written by Percy Shelley’s wife, Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley. Although in this case, one could argue that Reggie is the monster, and Veidt is his creator. Maybe this is extrapolating a bit much, but the boat name is curious.
Page Twenty-Seven: Veidt is referring to himself as a “monster” here, so maybe this is on point.
Page Twenty-Eight: Confirmed that this is Saturn Girl. We’re still not clear who the other person was in the Arkham Cell a few pages back. Don’t be confused by the moth-person image here: that’s a photograph of Mothman from his Minutemen days in the Watchmen universe.
Page Twenty-Nine: Ah-ha! Turns out that “Matthew Mason” was actually the Batman himself, trying to get a feel for who Rorschach really is. The initials “MM” should have been a clue, given that one of Batman’s alternate identities is criminal Matches Malone.
Page Thirty: We get one last look at what appears to be the mystery cell, and the door is now open–and look carefully, there’s a photograph of Jon Osterman and his girlfriend Janey Slater from prior to his transformation into Doctor Manhattan. The bug’s incineraton leaves a circular puff of smoke reminiscent of the ring on Manhattan’s forehead. So, apparently, Manhattan was hiding in Arkham all along, and it’ll be interesting if he was visible in any prior DC Rebirth issues before this series.
Appendix Pages: The first page doesn’t offer much, just an expansion of Byron Lewis’ backstory as having a sister and family from whom he is estranged. His 1974 letter makes references to Captain Metropolis being killed and Dan Dreiberg visiting him in the hospital.
The letters from 1985 indicate that at least, in a moment of guilt, Lewis’ sister Betty sent him flowers following the squid’s attack on New York. The December 5, 1985 letter gives us a date for when Lewis met Reggie earlier in this issue. The final letter, along with the obituary (previously seen in Doomsday Clock #1), indicate that Lewis knew his final fate was coming.