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[This story contains spoilers for DC’s Doomsday Clock No. 10.]
The history of DC’s comic book universe isn’t what people thought it was. Indeed, as the latest issue of the miniseries Doomsday Clock makes clear, DC’s comic book universe might be far more meta than anyone expected all along.
Doomsday Clock has been bringing characters from the 1980s comic book series Watchmen into the mainstream DC continuity, and the tenth issue — by former DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns and artists Gary Frank and Brad Anderson — mostly sidesteps events from the previous issues of the title in order to reveal what happened when Doctor Manhattan arrived in the DC Universe. In the process, it is redefining the DC Universe itself.
Manhattan, the omnipotent sole-superpowered member of the Watchmen cast, arrives in the DC Universe and discovers three things about it in the course of the issue, which add up to a grand theory of how DC’s comic book universe works — or, at least, how it should work, in Johns’ eyes.
Firstly, the citizens of DC’s universe aren’t “realistic.” Upon his arrival, Manhattan interrupts the assault of an out-of-work actor, Carver Colman. “The first thing I hear is Carver Colman crying out to the man who struck him,” Manhattan narrates. “The first thing I see is Carver Colman checking his pulse. The people on this world are different.” The suggestion, as evidenced elsewhere in the comic, is that the DC Universe is an inherently kinder place than the world of Watchmen, which offered something closer to the complicated morality of the real world.
The reason for that, Johns suggests through Manhattan, is specifically Superman. Manhattan becomes obsessed with Superman, and the impact he has on those around him. “I realize that this universe is much more than it appears,” Manhattan explains, “and it’s all connected to him. Why is he the center of this universe?”
In an unmistakably meta move, Manhattan follows as time is rewritten by “forces such as the Anti-Monitor and Extant” — references to two of the many storylines that have rewritten DC comic book mythology, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour: Crisis in Time — with him commenting that such villains “seem to constantly target the hope he embodies in an effort to redefine him.” Sure enough, both the World War II-era superheroes the Justice Society of America and the 31st century superheroes the Legion of Super-Heroes are shown to be specifically inspired by his example. Superman, the comic implies, makes the world better by his very presence.
Responding to this realization, Manhattan himself attempts to change the comic book history — which he starts to call the “Metaverse,” noting, “it is in a constant state of change” — and the result is the version of Superman that debuted with DC’s 2011 reboot of its comic book line, the so-called “New 52.” This, however, leads to Manhattan’s third realization — that no one person can actually control the Metaverse.
In a scene referencing 2016’s DC Universe: Rebirth comic book — again by Johns and Frank, as well as other artists — Manhattan is confronted by Wally West, who tells him, “Whatever you did, they’ll stop you!” Manhattan’s response is to note, “I realize that the Metaverse is not passive. Like an organism fighting to survive, there are aspects of it I have underestimated. An innate hope that fights back to the surface.”
This could be read as either a reference to Grant Morrison’s theory that the DCU is actually alive, or simply that market forces shape what gets published and what stories get told more than any single creator, and audiences responded very positively to the more optimistic tinge of Rebirth when it appeared; either way, it feels like a rebuke to those who may wish for a more downbeat DC Universe — despite such a thing existing in movies such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The issue ends teasing a future fight between Superman and Doctor Manhattan that will end, the latter believes, in either his death or the destruction of the “Metaverse.” The latter is obviously not the case, as DC isn’t going to stop publishing superhero comics anytime soon, but the former doesn’t seem to be an option either, considering that Superman doesn’t kill. With two issues left before its conclusion, Doomsday Clock has made it text, if not necessarily canon, that DC’s comic book universe is an implicitly more hopeful place than the real world and that Superman is the key to it all. Does this mean a deus ex universum should be expected to avoid Manhattan’s prediction before the story is over?
Doomsday Clock No. 10 is available now.
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