Doctor Manhattan, the only true superhuman in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ legendary Watchmen, is famously able to see all points of history simultaneously, making him distant, indifferent, and, well, frustrating to talk to.
But how does the ability to see a whole universe’s timeline work in a universe where the timeline isn’t so simple? What happens when Doctor Manhattan tries to make heads or tails of DC Comics continuity?
It turns out, in Doomsday Clock #10, that he gets just as confused as the rest of us.
[Warning: This piece will contain spoilers for Doomsday Clock #10.]
When last we saw the good Doctor, he was singlehandedly defeating the amassed superheroic might of Earth, and, in the process, discovering the nature of magic and Green Lantern rings. This latest issue of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s exploration of Watchmen characters interacting with the DC Universe takes us back in time to Doctor Manhattan’s first moments in it.
At the end of Watchmen, the omniprescient man said that he would be leaving the story’s galaxy in favor of a less complicated one, and Doomsday Clock #10 shows us what presumably happens next. He takes his first steps from his part of the DC multiverse to the main DC Universe.
This shift left him very confused. For the first time in years, he was unable to see the future. But things became clearer as he discovered that he’s arrived in the main DC universe on the day of Superman’s first public appearance: April 18, 1938. Using his clearing vision, Doctor Manhattan observes the formation of the Justice Society of America, inspired by Superman and with Superman as a member — and then he watches it form without Superman. It’s 1940, and no one has even heard of Superman.
An “outside force” has shifted Superman’s first appearance to 1956. And then it shifts again, to the 1980s, and then again, even further into the future.
Doomsday Clock #10 lets us watch Doctor Manhattan watch the DC Universe reboot itself. Superman, he concludes, is somehow the linchpin around which this entire universe revolves, and much more than that — because this universe is the linchpin around which the rest of the Multiverse, including his original world, revolves.
“I realize,” Doctor Manhattan says in narration, “that this universe is not a part of the multiverse as others believe [...] This universe stands apart from the multiverse. It is the Metaverse.”
As is fitting for his understanding of time, Doctor Manhattan has a metatextual understanding of the DC Universe. And he’s not exactly wrong: From a comics editorial standpoint, every parallel Earth in the DC Multiverse is a reflection of the main universe, either because they were deliberately created that way — or by the simple reality that Superman defined the genre they all exist in.
But Doomsday Clock has always promised to deliver an explanation for a three year old plot twist — the idea that Doctor Manhattan crafted the continuity changes of DC’s 2011 reboot, the New 52 — and its tenth issue peels back another layer. Why did Doctor Manhattan change the DC Universe? Why did he pull ten years out of the timeline, why did he make it darker, more cynical, more isolated?
Basically, he was curious.
By changing when Superman appeared and tweaking when in his life his adoptive parents died, he could cause ripple effects throughout the DC timeline. He realized he enjoyed the power of altering Superman’s backstory to make him more distant from humanity. He felt he better understood this more distant Superman, that he related to him more. So he started changing other things, too, which has put him on an unstoppable collision course with the Man of Steel, with dire implications.
In other words, according to DC editorial, Doctor Manhattan has had full editorial control over the DC Universe since 2011.