Superman vs Super Man: The Role of Doctor Manhattan in the DC Universe

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Super Smiley

"The superman exists, and he is an American."

With those words, the world of WATCHMEN learned of the existence of Doctor Manhattan, formerly Dr. Jon Osterman, after he survived a quantum experiment at the Rockefeller Military Research Center. Gifted with inconceivably godlike powers, Doctor Manhattan found himself further and further removed from humanity as the years went past. Of particular interest was his view of time -- not as a line, not as a waveform of potentials, but as a multi-faceted but immutable solid that could not be changed. Everything was predestination, even his own actions (according to himself).

In the DC Comics universe, Superman is the world's foremost superhero, but not the only super-powered one. He's a first among equals, born an alien but encompassing the best of humanity despite his many trials and his ultimate other-ness. And when it comes to time, he knows there are multiple potential futures -- a bright, optimistic one where the Legion of Super-Heroes saves the day, and the dystopian apocalyptic world of the Great Disaster where Kamandi is the last boy on Earth. Time is fluid.

Those two visions of time collide with DC's latest event series, REBIRTH. Beginning with REBIRTH #1, where Batman and The Flash find the bloodstained smiley face button of The Comedian embedded into the stone walls of the Batcave, continuing (albeit very tangentially) through other titles, and then most recently picking up a head of steam with the four-part Batman/The Flash crossover, "The Button," the idea that the WATCHMEN universe is intruding upon and influencing the DC Universe has had fans talking since the storyline began. Among the many talking points is this: Why would they come to the DC Universe?

This idea presupposes that the two worlds are not only separate, but that they are also coexistent -- like two parallel Earths.

But what if they're not? What if the events of WATCHMEN precede the DC Universe?

Allow me to state my case, beginning at the end -- the end of WATCHMEN, that is.

"I think perhaps I'll create some." Now there's a loaded word balloon! The clear indication is that Doctor Manhattan is not only removing himself from the affairs of humanity, but retains his interest in human life (as though they are different things altogether). He's so interested in it that he's going to fully accept the godhood that has been his fate and perform his own fiat lux. His exit even has him entering a model that is not totally dissimilar from the orrery of worlds seen in Grant Morrison's MULTIVERSITY.

But what human life did he try to create?

Let the record show, the giant celestial hand is pale blue.

Could it be that Doctor Manhattan is the architect of the DC Universe? Given how often Manhattan's "mistakes" involved human relationships, it wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility that he would get several things wrong. And, being Doctor Manhattan, if you get something wrong -- you simply start over with a different direction. This would explain not only the hand at the creation of the universe, but the many times that universe / multiverse has been restarted...something that will continue to occur until he gets it right.

And in this universe, Superman is a pivotal character. In fact, in every universe that we've seen as part of the DC Multiverse, Superman is always the fulcrum upon which the levers of reality focus.

Why? If Doctor Manhattan is the guiding hand behind events, why would he have a Superman in the universe?

Perhaps because Superman is the idealized vision of himself? He's big. He wears blue. He's apart from us -- but he has managed to blend with us, and empathise with humans, something Doctor Manhattan has aspired at and failed.

And just to put his brand upon Superman, take a look at that chest insignia -- the one that we are told is the symbol for hope. Doctor Manhattan could be drawing upon his own origins in the development of that specific iconography. As evidence, witness the image below for the Rockefeller Military Research Center, where Doctor Manhattan's origins began:

Sure, we're supposed to see a military badge with a stack of aircraft types. But reverse the perceptions of what is foreground and what is background, and you have the Superman "S" perfectly rendered.

This is all supposition, naturally. And we won't learn anything for certain until Geoff Johns reveals it all in this Novembers DOOMSDAY CLOCK. But as theories go, it's just as valid as any other floating around out there until the facts are in.