* HUGE spoilers for DC Universe: Rebirth issue one *
Even since DC Universe: Rebirth kicked off at the beginning of the month the entire multiverse has been sent spiraling into a tail spin. A Flashpoint-like event has taken place, but this time it wasn't caused by Barry Allen/Flash. Something else is manipulating the fabric of time — something powerful and unknown hiding just outside of reach.
10 years of memories, experiences, events and continuity have been mysteriously removed from the baseline universe and only Wally West — trapped within the Speedforce — knows that such an event has even occurred. Issue 1 shows Wally desperately trying to warn the heroes of the DC Universe, but none of them even remember that he existed.
There's a lot going on in this issue — from the tragic upending of Green Arrow and Black Canary's relationship (which wasn't in the New 52 either so, hey ho) to baby Darkseid — but by far the biggest revelation was that the mysterious force manipulating the event of Rebirth is in fact, Doctor Manhattan.
If you didn't know before you'll probably know by now, Doctor Manhattan was the quasi-antagonist from living-beard-and-living-legend Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel Watchmen, which was published by DC between 1986–87.
The DC Multiverse's Earth-4 draws heavily from Watchmen, which — like the DC comics — is set in an alternate universe from our own, in the year 1985. But it was never confirmed until now that the events of the famous graphic novel were in any way connected to that of the DC Multiverse.
In case this doesn't seem like a big deal, it's worth noting that Watchmen is vastly different to anything we've seen in the multiverse before, and outside of the comic universe it's continuously listed as one of the most influential novels of the 20th Century. That's not just including comic books, that's across all literature.
The question of whether or not the Rebirth writers should've dragged this incredibly iconic and superhero-parodying novel into the DC Universe is a whole other issue. Perhaps more pertinent right now is the matter of why.
Who Is Doctor Manhattan?
In Watchmen Doctor Manhattan is the only being who can actually be referred to as a superhuman. The rest — The Comedian, Nite Owl (II), Silk Spectre (II), Ozymandias and Rorschach — all operate on Batman logic: using gadgets, intelligence, training or any combination of the above to operate as hero and antihero vigilantes.
It would take the whole article to list all of Doctor Manhattan's powers, the influence he's had on popular culture and the issues of the superhero archetype his character raises, so if you haven't read the graphic novel just take it from us — he's basically a god.
One of his most interesting — and in this case, pertinent — powers is the ability to see through time. Well, that's a simplified way of putting it. Doctor Manhattan exists as a being without the constraints of space and time, and rather than experiencing time as linear as your average joe superhero does, he experiences all time at the same time.
We see this multiple times in Watchmen, perhaps most notably when he stands upon the surface of Mars and reminisces about the breaking apart of his relationship with his ex-wife. Except, he's not simply remembering events of the past, but experiencing them simultaneously as he recalls them.
The imagery of the individual pieces of a watch is used here through the telling of Doctor Manhattan's origin story, as a symbol of his existence outside space and time. And it's used again throughout DC Universe: Rebirth, except this time the watch belongs to Wally West, who is then lost outside of time.
So Why The DC Universe?
At the conclusion of Watchmen — after Ozymandias's plan has been set in action — Doctor Manhattan leaves Earth behind in order to seek a galaxy "less complicated," musing that his renewed interest in humanity may drive him to attempt to create some new life on a new world elsewhere.
Then you have the prequel series Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan, which further establishes that he has the power to change aspects of the universe, leading to the splintering of time and events and the creation of new timelines. He explores the different timelines, and speculates that time as a concept is broken. At the conclusion of Before Watchmen he's seen to be creating a new universe, as he told Ozymandias he would do.
This begs the question: Has Doctor Manhattan always been in the background of the DC Universe, creating new worlds? The multiverse is limitless, all we know is the various Earths we've already seen, but anything can happen at anytime on any Earth within that framework.
Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis and Flashpoint have been the most significant DC arcs dealing with the multiverse, each with different causes and different outcomes for the wider multiverse — case in point, Flashpoint is what sparked the creation of the New 52. Whatever Doctor Manhattan has been up to, that is what has created the Rebirth universe. The question is, why?
The speech boxes we see in the final pages of DC Universe: Rebirth are taken directly from Doctor Manhattan's final conversation with Ozymandias in Watchmen, as he speaks the famously cryptic line: "Nothing ever ends."
Just as Ozymandias was left to wonder the meaning of those words, so are we as readers, and it's fitting when looking at it in relation to superhero characters and their endless worlds.
What's Doctor Manhattan Up To?
From the looks of things he's back on Mars again, the place where he created his own kingdom in Watchmen. But the questions remain: Did Doctor Manhattan come from an Earth already existing in the multiverse, or did he have a hand in creating the multiverse to begin with? Or did he break through to the DC multiverse from his own separate reality? Either theory would work. But why did he take the 10 years of time — to weaken the DC heroes, or for some other purpose?
Manhattan isn't the first incredibly overpowered all-seeing character in the DC Universe, but he's one who likely originated from it. Does this mean we're going to see the creation of an entirely new multiverse? Will this be a clash of two universes event akin to the major DC/Marvel crossover JLA/Avengers, which saw Marvel's Grandmaster challenging DC's Krona? And how is this all connected to Bruce Wayne/Batman's late father, and the letter he left behind?
The Doctor Manhattan of the Rebirth universe is already clearly different from the one we saw in Watchmen 30 years ago, removed from his universe and the human grounding of Silk Spectre. Does this mean that he's become an outright villain, rather than the red herring he was in Watchmen? And why did he straight up murder Pandora, who accuses him of being a "lonely, cruel, monster"?
Thus far, Rebirth has been very well received, but as Batman and the other DC heroes begin unravelling the thread of the Doctor Manhattan mystery, one has to ask: Could this be the end of the multiverse as we know it?
Time, and Rebirth, will tell.