WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Doomsday Clock #2, now on sale.
The second installment of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Doomsday Clock epic released this week, closing out 2017 by revealing more clues and opening additional mysteries surrounding Watchmen protagonist Dr. Manhattan's manipulation of the DC Universe during the New 52 and Rebirth eras.
After traversing the dimensional barrier between their world and ours, Ozymandias and the new Rorschach visit the Gotham Library in an effort to learn more about this alternate universe. In addition to musing whether Manhattan may have actually created the DC heroes in the image of fictional adventurers from their own world, Veidt speculates that the former Jon Osterman may have actually become one himself.
A hero who starts over, with a second chance to save the world? That sounds remarkably like the plot of DC's recent The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom miniseries.
A Brief History of Captain Atom
Captain Atom was originally created in 1960 for Charlton Comics by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko. After Charlton was acquired by DC Comics and following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a new version of the character debuted in an ongoing series written by Cary Bates and illustrated by Pat Broderick. The new Captain Atom was a military man like his predecessor, flung forward in time (from 1968 to 1986) by an atomic experiment after being convicted of a crime he did not commit. A government-sponsored superhero who was also under the thumb of unscrupulous General Eiling, Captain Atom often found his loyalties tested and frequently sparred with the heroes as the Justice League, even as he eventually came to lead one of the teams himself.
The tragic, atomic-powered hero has proved enticing to many creators throughout the years, especially during the 1990s. Captain Atom was, famously, the intended villain of the Armageddon 2001 crossover, but rampant spoilers about the world-conquering former hero Monarch's true identity led DC to swerve at the last minute and reveal him to be Hawk, of Hawk & Dove, instead. Captain Atom was also pivotal in Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come, as his detonation at the hands of the Parasite contributed to Magog's reckoning.
But even more famously, perhaps, Captain Atom was the Charlton hero who served as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' template for Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen.
Moore had initially pitched Watchmen using DC's then-recently-acquired stable of Charlton characters, including the Question, Blue Beetle, and so on. When editor Dick Giordano told Moore he'd have to use new characters instead, the Question became Rorschach, Blue Beetle became Nite Owl, and Captain Atom, Dr. Manhattan.
When the New 52 rewrote the rules of the DC universe in 2011, a new Captain Atom premiered -- one who bore striking similarities to Doctor Manhattan. Now, Nathaniel Adam is no longer a victim but a willing volunteer in the nuclear experiments that gave him his powers. Like Jon Osterman, Adam is accidentally vaporized during the course of his work, and returns shortly after as an energy-based being -- a blue energy-based being. And instead of being a trusted hero, the public views Captain Atom with suspicion and fear, deeply worried about the harmful effects of radiation on everyone around him.
In Watchmen, Veidt orchestrated a public fear that Dr. Manhattan had given former partners cancer, driving him into exile.
All of the clues since DC Universe: Rebirth point to Dr. Manhattan as the force that first created the New 52 universe. If a god were going to insert himself into his creation, this seems a pretty straightforward way to do it.