Spoiler Alert: This Article has major spoilers for Doomsday Clock #2, presently on sale.
The second issue of the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock legend came out this week, wrapping up the year by disclosing further clues and unveiling more mysteries around Watchmen’s lead character Dr. Manhattan corrupting the DC Universe during the New 52 and Rebirth days.
After crossing the dimensions separating their world and ours, Ozymandias and the new Rorschach reached the Gotham Library to find out more about the alternate universe. Besides exploring if Manhattan had really created the DC superheroes as fictional adventurers from their homeworld, Veidt guesses that Jon Osterman might be a superhero himself.
Is that a hero, who makes a fresh start with another shot at saving the world? That feels a great deal similar to the recent DC miniseries The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom.
A Short Introduction of Captain Atom
Captain Atom was created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics, back in 1960. After DC Comics purchased Charlton and after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a new adaptation of the character was featured in an ongoing series from writer Cary Bates and illustrator Pat Broderick. The revamped Captain Atom was an army man like his former self, who had traveled in time (from 1968 to 1986) due to an atomic test after being convicted for a crime he had nothing to do with. Captain Atom went on to become a government-backed superhero who was controlled by General Eiling, and his loyalties were repeatedly tested. He routinely fought with the Justice League members, even when he ultimately became the leader of one of the teams himself.
This atomically powered hero has appealed to several makers over the years, more so in the 1990s. Captain Atom was the preferred villain for the Armageddon 2001 crossover, but, the flurry of spoilers related to the world-beating ex-hero Monarch’s real identity compelled DC to deviate at the eleventh hour and show him to be Hawk from Hawk & Dove, instead. Captain Atom also played a key role in the Mark Waid/Alex Ross work Kingdom Come, when Parasite detonated him leading to the reckoning of Magog.
He is probably even more famous as the Charlton hero who became the base for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ creation Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen.
Initially, Moore pitched Watchmen by utilizing the Charlton characters which DC had just acquired at that time. Those included The Question, Blue Beetle, and others. However, Editor Dick Giordano told Moore to use new characters, and The Question became Rorschach, Blue Beetle turned into Nite Owl, and Captain Atom was now Dr. Manhattan.
Time Jump: New 52
In 2011, New 52 redefined the DC Universe, featuring a new Captain Atom, greatly similar to Doctor Manhattan. Nathaniel Adam was no longer a forced victim, but, a willing participant in the atomic experiments which provided him his powers. Similar to Jon Osterman, Adam was accidentally vaporized during the experiments, and soon came back as a creature made up of energy, a blue energy being. Rather than being a faithful hero, the public considers Captain Atom to be a suspicious and frightening being, afraid of the terrible radiation effects on those around him.
Watchmen showed Veidt create fear among the public about Dr. Manhattan causing cancer to his former partners, pushing him into exile.
All the hints since DC Universe: Rebirth suggest Dr. Manhattan to be the force which established the New 52 universe. If a God became a part of his creation, then this was the very obvious way to do it.
Captain Atom, DC Rebirth and the ‘Superman Theory’
Time Jump: Rebirth
DC started 2017 by launching The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom miniseries, which pretty much re-established the characters after Crisis, pre-Flashpoint origin, with a few new twists. However, when seen from the viewpoint of a universe reshaped by the desire of an almighty, the story gains even more significance.
Carey Bates and Greg Weisman wrote the Will Conrad designed, Fall and Rise witnesses the New 52 adaptation of the character’s powers go out of control in 2012 and then he travels back in time to 1997, where he sets up a normal life and starts a family. However, destiny finds him, and Nathaniel Adams is thrown into 2017, and he finds that his wife had died and his son hated the father that he never met. His powers now give a purple hue, letting Nathaniel pose as the all-new Captain Atom, which is a good thing because the former blue-colored nuclear man who apparently died in 2012 whom the world still considers to be an untrustworthy story.
The Superman Theory and Other Hypotheses
Dr. Manhattan’s existence as Captain Atom in DC Universe, would directly link him with the original and consolidate the change of the original into the highly complex hero he inspired, and would also serve some of the themes and meta-stories related to Rebirth and Doomsday Clock.
The first of them, the “Superman Theory” narrated in Doomsday Clock #2’s text backmatter. We feel as if there is some conspiracy theory around the fact that most of the global superheroes are based in the U.S. – with a lot of people accusing the U.S. government of creating those heroes. For many of them such as Captain Atom, that is actually the truth. If we assume that Manhattan/Atom masterminded the establishment of the DCU as it is presently existent, from his viewpoint coming from a world where the only super being was created by the government, might mean that there is more credence to this theory.
It might also lead to the fact that Captain Atom is headed to become bad. A U-turn is not obvious for an atomically powered hero. However, it has been the way things have been since at least Armageddon 2001. He deceived destiny back then. However, an alternate version was seen as Monarch in the Extreme Justice series (better not even mentioned) and the original Nathaniel Adam found himself in the Monarch armor during the days of Countdown. If we further expand Manhattan’s interference and suggest that he has been Captain Atom after Watchmen ended, then it would mean that all the Captain Atom stories in DCU are Manhattan’s stories. That would mean that Manhattan’s remorse about events in his world might have been recreated, repeatedly, in the new universe, and every time he pressed reset, history repeated itself.
No matter what he aspires to be, he is a villain.