How Doomsday Clock Explains the History of the DC Universe

Superman is key to the very fabric of the DC Universe, and Doomsday Clock is using Watchmen concepts to explore this.

Doomsday Clock - Superman, Dr. Manhattan, DC Universe

This article contains massive Doomsday Clock spoilers.

Since its launch, Doomsday Clock has promised to answer all our questions about the post-Rebirth DC Universe, and in the process solve some problems left over from New 52 continuity. With the release of Doomsday Clock #10, a great many of those issues start to get resolved.

Doomsday Clock is the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank comic that is integrating the iconic characters from Watchmen into the DC universe proper. It attempts to be as complicated and geopolitically relevant as its predecessor, turning the original’s nuclear panic to a metahuman arms race and placing Firestorm, Russia, Black Adam and Khandaq, and Superman at the center of a rapidly escalating global conflict that, at the end of Doomsday Clock #8, had very nearly broken out in a metahuman shooting war. In issue 9, the world’s heroes believe they’ve traced the source of the explosion that nearly triggered the apocalypse to Mars, where Dr. Manhattan waits to kick the living hell out of the entire assemblage of superheroes as Superman lies in a coma, recovering from an explosion he protected Firestorm from.

read more: Explaining the Twist in Batman Last Knight on Earth #1

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Doomsday Clock #10 sets up Dr. Manhattan’s arrival in the DC multiverse by showing us the last day of Carver Colman’s life. Colman is an actor on 1954’s Earth-1, wrapping up the last picture on an award winning noir series before his mother, an enormous dirtbag, blackmails him and ruins his career. Carver, it turns out, was the first person Dr. Manhattan met on Earth-1 and his first clue that he was on a different world. Manhattan arrives just after Carver starts getting a beating from a cop, and Carver’s first response to the burst of energy and light that accompanies his multidimensional guest is to check the pulse of the cop who was just beating him. This is intended to be read as a symbol that the DC universe is kinder and more hopeful than the one Manhattan is from.

From there, we jump into a new history of the multiverse, and according to Dr. Manhattan, it’s all about Superman.

The day Dr. Manhattan arrives is April 18, 1938. If that date looks vaguely familiar to you, it’s because it’s the day that Action Comics #1 was first published (in our world). We see later that the events of Action Comics #1 happened elsewhere on that earth as Dr. Manhattan and Carver were at a Hollywood diner. Superman’s arrival on the scene then triggers a burst of new superhero activity, culminating in the formation of the Justice Society of America.

But something judders in the timestream, and Superman’s arrival is pushed back to 1956. And again to 1986. And again to 2009. And every time Superman’s origin moved, so too did the entire rest of the multiverse, flowing around that key moment and carving a new path for DC history.

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Each of these judders is explained by something or someone meddling with DC continuity. It’s not clear who moved what around, but it’s later implied that Extant (from Zero Hour) and the Anti-Monitor (from Crisis on Infinite Earths) played a role, as did Dr. Manhattan himself, who upon realizing how Superman’s arrival impacted the multiverse, started fiddling with it to see what would happen. And each slight modification corresponds to a different Superman origin story: in 1938, it’s his Action Comics #1 origin. In 1956, it’s his Silver Age one. In 1986, the scene is lifted almost directly from John Byrne’s The Man of Steel. We see a ship travelling to Earth from Krypton that is pretty clearly from Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s Superman: Birthright. The 2009 origin is from Johns and Frank’s Superman: Secret Origin, which ties into Superman’s history with the Legion of Superheroes.

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Then we see an origin that is a LOT darker: the New 52 origin, where Ma and Pa Kent are killed in a car accident on Clark’s prom night. Dr. Manhattan points out that not having his parents or the Legion puts more distance between Clark and the humanity he’s desperately trying to protect. And at that point, the “metaverse” starts to fight back.

read more: DC’s Heroes in Crisis Ending isn’t About Superheroics

This lack of hope coming from its core character is what caused Wally West to come hurtling out of the Speed Force at Dr. Manhattan. This echoes the message coming out of DC around the time of Rebirth: the DC universe used to be a hopeful place, but it lost that, and the hope needs to come back because it’s a core component of what makes DC comics fun places to spend time.

This is pretty harsh on New 52 Superman, but…it’s tough to argue with. Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics aside, there wasn’t a whole lot to be hopeful about with that character. It’s a big part of why they dumped him in favor of his married dad counterpart shortly after Convergence. Married dad Superman is for the most part a more inspirational figure than the New 52 version who, at his best, was a powered up Conner Kent.

And how much of this sticks remains an open question. Doomsday Clock #10 wraps up its multiverse explainer with Dr. Manhattan seeing the metaverse actively attack him in the future in the form of a red-eyed, pissed off Superman coming to kill him. Obviously Superman isn’t going to kill Dr. Manhattan, but it’s still an interesting place to leave an otherwise pretty clear thesis statement for an entire universe of characters.