Geoff Johns and Gary Frank unpack the philosophy behind Doomsday Clock's "Superman Theory."
A rumor has the capacity to change the world in an instant — whether it’s true or not.Doomsday Clock is no different, seizing on this phenomenon to move away from its source material and become a product of a new time. Inspired by the legacy of Watchmen, in the context of the DC Universe, the fifth issue of the series plays with a dangerous hypothesis: The Superman Theory, which claims costumed metahumans were created by the United States government as superhuman soldiers.
“I think the big cornerstone of misinformation, with a kernel of truth to support it and make it valid, is what the Superman Theory represents,” DC Entertainment's chief creative officer and Doomsday Clock writer Geoff Johns tells Newsweek. “We have a president who can tweet directly whatever he wants to the American people, to the world, with no filter, with no fact, he can say whatever he wants. And maybe he’s right, maybe he's not right, but the fact that he has the power to do that, and the way that it travels, and it’s interpreted however it wants to be interpreted. It’s very powerful.”
Doomsday Clock artist Gary Frank agrees. “Watchmen didn’t happen in the year of fake news. That was not a thing. Even a few years ago, the idea of and the level of misinformation and how easy it would be to sell misinformation, it would have been hard to believe, and yet here we are,” he told Newsweek. “Watchmen was a product of its time and I think Doomsday Clock needs to be that as well if it’s going to work.”
According to The Superman Theory, metahumans are assigned a supervillain or superhero narrative, allowing them to train in plain sight and prepare to be called to action at anytime. If true, this could explain why 97 percent of the world's metahumans identify as American. “Why is that?” Johns posed. “Is there an in-story reason for that? And that's how the conspiracy grew up.”
That’s only the basic premise of The Superman Theory. As the prospect of its truth or inaccuracy unfolds, each issue peels back another thoughtful layer. “People immediately thoughtWatchmen is the really screwed-up universe and DC universe is the good one. Ozymandias makes a real solid case for why the DC universe may have its own problems. And the Superman Theory becomes a personification of how those problems can go terribly wrong,” said Johns.
Everything in big-two comics hinges upon the narrative of the superhero versus supervillain and rarely anything else. Doomsday Clock wants to examine the fabric of that blueprint. “That's really what the Superman Theory has created, this ongoing, unending, superhero and supervillain narrative that has dominated the DC universe,” he said. “Suddenly there are moments and times where it just becomes about yet another confrontation between people in costumes, and to what end?”
“People are mad, that yeah, the Joker is out again,” Johns continued. “There is chaos in Arkham, like another Arkham breakout? It’s just this world that is overrun by people playing dress up. Has Gotham even gotten better since Batman has been around? Because in the comics I read it’s sure as hell not.”
The first four issues paint a picture of unrest in Gotham. Unable to discern false narrative from truth, and not in a position to affect change, the citizens are so angry for answers they call for Batman’s arrest. Issue #5 globalizes the turmoil and overall story, the back pages in particular. By the end of the issue, the United States calls thousands of soldiers home from overseas, Russia prepares a team of metahumans to challenge the United States, countries close their borders and, after breaking international law to save a journalist in Syria, Black Adam offers asylum in Khandaq to all wrongfully treated metahumans across the world.
“I wanted to create something that would have a similar ‘world tipping on the edge of survival’ feeling that the original Watchmen did, but in a DC universe way,” Johns said. “It was important to start to see the shape of the world change, and do something that was looking more inward in terms of the superhero narrative. There are so many stories about giant monsters and they go outward into big parallel universes and they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Gary and I talked a lot about going inward and looking at our own world and how it reacts to these metahumans.”
In the back pages, a map carves out territories and illustrates the daunting reality of the growing metahuman arms race. Russia, France, the U.K., Markovia, Israel, India and China all have superheroes and teams ready to intimidate and incite fear. “You have countries trying to make them. You have countries trying to search and find them. And then you have countries also being more nationalistic, going so far as to close their borders,” Johns explained. “In the next issue, we will hear more about that. Their borders are closed, and the only person that they allow to cross really is Superman.”
But none of this would have been possible without the sensationalism fueling the Superman Theory. Who better to guide us through the media’s role in all this than Lois and Clark? Daily Planet editor Perry White uses the word metahuman to describe Ozymandias in a headline, against Lois’ wishes and despite the fact there is no solid proof.
“Lois calling him out on it and then him saying, ‘Hey, I’m in charge. That's why people will read this.’ I think that's a real thing that happens in the media. It certainly happened here, and continued to spread misinformation, or it continues to get certain items up to the top, it continues to get the conversation going,” Johns said, “There are a lot of buzzwords that get people to stop and read, and clearly newspapers and websites and everything know why people stop and read and they are going to exploit that because, at times, that's the job.”
As the people across the world try to separate fact from fiction, as supervillains and superheroes play tag, Ozymandias points out real problems of the world go ignored. “If we know the truth, will that make everything better? Does the truth really always provide the best answer?” Johns asks. “With Lois and Clark digging into it, what will they decide?”
Doomsday Clock #5 is available to buy at your local comic book shop today.