Given the very nature of its premise, setup and standing within the wider DC Universe, the Watchmen spinoff title Doomsday Clock has been setting readers into furtive spins trying to figure out what exactly is happening in its story. This, of course, has only been exacerbated by its incredibly delayed release schedule, creating a uniquely ideal ecosystem for readers to fill in the gaps between the gaps with their own ideas. Thus, wild and wonderful fan theories have begun cropping up about seemingly every corner of DC's latest event miniseries.
One of the latest, and admittedly most buckwild theories to come out recently focuses on, if not Doomsday Clock's "main" character, then certainly its Prime Motivator: Doctor Manhattan. This theory, however, focuses less on what he might be doing, and more on who he actually is. In short, it posits that Doctor Manhattan is actually Lex Luthor! But how? Why? And... wait, what? Perhaps surprisingly, there is some compelling evidence behind this one, but there are a lot of moving parts to examine.
Lex Manhattan: Hidden Signs and Secret Files
Much like Watchmen before it, Doomsday Clock makes excellent use of its imagery, and it does so in aid of this ostensibly crazy theory. Even beginning at its first issue, we see a connection between the two characters, if only an implied one. Lex Luthor first appears in Doomsday Clock #1, leaving some secret LexCorp experiment that has clearly ended in failure. As he removes his gloves, an atomic energy symbol can be seen on a sign, just behind his hands in the background. Innocuous, perhaps, but hints like this become more prominent and overt when taken into account with the series' latest issue.
In one scene at the end of Doomsday Clock #11, Superman and Doctor Manhattan finally face off. In the background of the first panel on the last page, there is a street sign in the shape of an arrow that reads "Luthor." Where is this street sign pointing? Directly at Doctor Manhattan, who uncharacteristically wears a menacing, or perhaps bemused smile.
Now, this could immediately be excused as a coincidence, but there are traditionally very few coincidences in Watchmen. Of course, readers could just as soon dismiss this as the product of a completely different creative team. However, both Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are, despite how anyone feels about the book, attempting to emulate the vision and tricks of the original. This would presumably include its visual hints, which certainly don't stop here... though one character literally pointing to another is a pretty good start.
The final page of Doomsday Clock #11 becomes more interesting thanks to the issue's back matter. In it, we see a LexCorp dossier detailing the investigation of the photos "Jon" (his name also set within quotes later in the story, implying either unfamiliarity or ambiguity) has left in his trip through the DC time stream. In the notes section that follows, Lex Luthor writes:
"I believe our universe is ever-evolving, that I have lived past lives--alongside Superman--and am locked in an endless battle with him that I might never win, nor will he. My goal is simple: find 'Jon' and learn what I can about this endless loop between Superman and myself, and close it."
This passage adds something extra on a second reading of the final page in the issue. Doctor Manhattan -- who, let's not forget, we only know here, in this moment, is a bald, blue, nuclear-powered man obsessed with Superman -- describes the situation of finally meeting the Kryptonian by saying, "It is Superman. It is me. It is us."
The last line is punctuated by a tight shot on the "endless loop" discussed in Luthor's notes, reflected here in the very design that adorns Manhattan's forehead: two points, one concentrically orbiting the other in a perfect circle. What more fitting way to describe the conflict between Superman and Lex Luthor, in the latter's own words.
Of course, we can't forget Lex Luthor's ultimate weapon in his endless war against Superman. No, not kryptonite or magic: we're talking about other people. Now, this is Luthor, so not only do we mean exploiting Superman's loved ones as a weakness, we also literally mean using the powers and abilities of other individuals to bring down the Man of Steel. Interestingly, in the DC Universe -- and at the heart of certain points in Doomsday Clock -- there is something that facilitates using physical beings as a weapon, and it has a lot in common with Doctor Manhattan.
Lex Luthor: The Nuclear Man
An evil genius and confirmed sociopath, Lex Luthor often combines his essence with other heroes, villains and primal forces in his pursuit of ultimate power and, thereby, universal significance. That very thing has happened throughout various stories and media. He famously did it in the Justice League Unlimited animated series, when he cut a deal with Brainiac for more power. Luthor also absorbed the power of Darkseid, becoming the God of Apokolips during "The Darkseid War." Even more recently, during the events of "Year of the Villain," Lex merged with Martian Manhunter to achieve his final form. But how would he do it in Doomsday Clock?
A DC character who received quite a lot of attention, particularly at the beginning and middle of Doomsday Clock, is Firestorm. As most readers know, Firestorm, while not the character Doctor Manhattan is based on (that would be Captain Atom, albeit loosely), has a lot in common with the nuclear blue powerhouse. But more importantly for someone like Lex Luthor, it is that which gives Firestorm his powers that is enticing, and interesting to this theory: the Firestorm Matrix.
This unique combination of a nuclear blast and two active consciousnesses is what fused Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein together in the first place. Certainly someone of Luthor's acumen could recreate that experiment and fuse with someone who was, himself, a nuclear reactor.
It is important to note here too, that, within the story, Lex has received the "Copley Medal for his work in Metahuman biology," as seen in the back matter of Doomsday Clock #2. Could Luthor, given his experience in studying (and presumably manipulating and/or dissecting) metahuman biology, have, at some point, made a play for taking control of, or creating his own Firestorm Matrix? Could that be what Lex was doing in the failed experiment at LexCorp at the beginning of the story?
Ronnie and Stein are split in more ways than one in Doomsday Clock, not least thanks to the Professor's true colors being shown as a government stooge. At the same time, Firestorm has been painted as an international criminal and superhuman liability thanks to his powers going haywire at the hands of Ozymandias. That is certainly a fertile garden for Lex Luthor to plant the seeds for a nuclear power grab. If he did merge with Doctor Manhattan at some point -- perhaps even at the point where he and Superman finally meet -- it may explain why he can't see beyond their confrontation. That being is no longer Doctor Manhattan, but Lex Luthor in control of his body.
Still, the one dangling thread inherent in the question "Is Doctor Manhattan Actually Lex Luthor?" is Why? What is Luthor's endgame here, and how does it affect not just Doomsday Clock, but the greater DC Universe, as the story purports to do?
DC Rebirth According to Lex Luthor
In a word, Lex Luthor would do all of this for power. In two words: obsession and power. Don't forget that Lex was the first person to witness the DC Rebirth, sneaking around the place where Wally West finally burst through from the Pre-52 Universe into the New-52 one. Lex even admitted to Lois Lane that he had been studying the chronal energies there for years. But Lex Luthor doesn't just study things to "understand" them, he does so to control them.
If he saw an opening to control time itself, what's the first thing Lex Luthor would do? Destroy superman. Perhaps that explains why Doctor Manhattan erased the Justice Society and generally mucked about with the rest of DC continuity, especially focusing on Superman. After all, who else would be so obsessed with Superman that he would seek to manipulate every facet of his past, and then tweak it for his own gain?
Now, Lex Luthor has, so far, had mostly a supporting role in Doomsday Clock, but that is not the case elsewhere in the DCU. In Scott Snyder's Justice League, he is at the heart of rewriting the very fabric of the multiverse, acting as the herald of DC's most powerful entity to date, Perpetua. Could the seeds of that story have been planted in his brush with godhood with Doctor Manhattan here? Scott Snyder has said that Doomsday Clock does inform his Justice League story; surely, having access to power where he could see and control space, time and the multiverse -- via Doctor Manhattan -- would be a great setup for Luthor's even bigger power grab.
It still remains to be seen whether this or any other theory around Doomsday Clock will hold any water, or even if they will be answered by the title's highly-anticipated final issue. Still, one thing is almost assured: a very powerful bald man will vex and confound the Man of Steel before the dust clears. If it ever does.
No release date has been announced for Doomsday Clock #12.