SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Doomsday Clock #9 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, on sale now.
Over the course of the series, Doomsday Clock has gradually shifted its focus from the world of Watchmen over to the DC Universe. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's ninth issue expands that focus from past and present DC continuity to its future. And when the future of the DC Universe is addressed, it almost always includes a mention of DC's popular 31st century super-team, the Legion of Superheroes.
Seemingly by chance, a bloody Legion flight ring drifting through space is retrieved by Doctor Manhattan in the issue's opening sequence. Not just any Legion flight ring, though. Manhattan determines that this particular ring belonged to none other than Ferro Lad. Ferro Lad, of course, was the first Legionnaire to give his life in battle, saving the world from the Sun-Eater in the classic Adventure Comics #353 by Jim Shooter and Curt Swan.
So we have to ask, of all the Legion rings, is there any special significance that Manhattan comes across Ferro Lad's in particular?
A Rebirth – for Ferro Lad?
Doomsday Clock #9 reveals that Ferro Lad's ring wasn't destroyed in that fatal explosion – it was instead catapulted back in time, apparently to the present day DCU. While the ring is presented like the COmedian's iconic smiley face button, with droplets of blood – presumably Ferro Lad's – its arrival postulates a significant possibility. Namely, if Ferro Lad's ring has remained intact despite Manhattan's machinations, and is displaced in time, it's possible that the hero himself might have somehow survived the Watchman's continuity rewriting as well.
In Rebirth continuity, the Legion has supposedly been erased from existence, a result of Manhattan's meddling in history over a millennium earlier. DC's Rebirth initiative is expected to eventually bring the Legion of Superheroes back into continuity, however, and when that happens, perhaps the long-dead Ferro Lad will see a rebirth of his own, over half a century after his presumed demise. Few notable characters ever seem to stay dead, after all, and if Ferro Lad were to make a return, Rebirth would be a suitable mechanism to make it happen.
With This Ring …
Doomsday Clock #7 revealed that Doctor Manhattan deliberately interfered with the destiny of Alan Scott, fated to be the first Green Lantern. His fatal intervention resultingly prevented the Justice Society of America from ever forming in Rebirth continuity. Issue #9 appears to reveal that alteration also prevented the formation of the Legion, centuries later. This is largely due to reality – either Manhattan's, or all of reality - seemingly coming to an end well before the 31st century, as cryptically foreshadowed by Doc Manhattan himself. Of course, how this all ties into Saturn Girl's role in the series remains to be seen; after all, if the LoSH never formed, how does she know anything about what's going on?
If Manhattan is destroyed, then the Rebirth era (the JSA-less, Legion-less Rebirth era) presumably lives on. But if reality itself is somehow destroyed along with him, then Rebirth might give way to a true rebirth: that of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe (which would side-step the fact that a second Ferro Lad of sorts was introduced after DC's mid-90s reality-altering event, Zero Hour). Free to form as it originally did, without the interference of a god-like being from another reality.
The presence of a Legion ring in present day essentially serves as assurance that the future will come to pass – if Manhattan doesn't interfere. But as such an artifact doesn't exist in the 21st century, a means had to be created to send it back from a time when it does. There would also need to be an explanation of where said ring's owner might be. Ferro Lad's demise provides a workable solution. The explosion that killed him not only separated him from his ring, but also had sufficient energy to apparently somehow send it backwards in time.