Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #9 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, on sale now.
The DC Universe might be filled with hundreds of super-powered heroes and villains, but Doctor Manhattan seems unusually preoccupied with one set of costumed crime-fighters: the Green Lanterns.
The ultra-powerful Watchmen character rewrote decades of DC history by keeping Alan Scott from finding the magic lantern that transformed him into the first Green Lantern. This, of course, has had massive consequences across DC's past, present and far future.
Even though most of DC's characters were oblivious to his actions, Manhattan left one of the only tangible pieces of evidence of his actions in the Book of Oa, the Green Lantern Corps' ultimate chronicle of knowledge, as revealed in Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp's The Green Lantern #1.
In Doomsday Clock #9, Doctor Manhattan finally comes face-to-face with several of Earth's Green Lanterns, and it's likely not what anyone was expecting. For starters, when most of Earth's heroes confront Manhattan on Mars, the always-boisterous Green Lantern Guy Gardner seemingly breaks Manhattan's neck with one punch, a development that has to be a callback to a classic Guy moment from the '80s.
When Guy and Batman were serving together on the Justice League, the Dark Knight famously knocked the Green Lantern unconscious with one punch. This moment almost reads like a serious inversion of that comedic scene, but it's cut short when Manhattan's body disappears. Seconds later, Manhattan reconstitutes himself, fully healed, and pries Gardner's Green Lantern ring from his finger in order to try and understand its inner workings.
Due to the vast nature of his powers, Manhattan understands matter on a sub-atomic level. Moments after taking Guy's ring, he's even able to figure out how magic works in the DC Universe and use that knowledge against DC's strongest mystic heroes. But despite all of that, he's genuinely puzzled by how Guy Gardner's Green Lantern ring essentially turns emotion into powerful energy.
With a slightly strained, curious face, Manhattan says he finds it "difficult to affect" the ring's emotion-based powers. That's almost certainly because he doesn't understand the ring on a fundamental level.
Before he became Doctor Manhattan, Dr. Jonathan Osterman was a scientist. After he was transformed into a functionally omnipotent being, his logical, science-driven mind evolved to make Manhattan a cold, distant figure who sees everything as part of an endless cycle of cause-and-effect.
In the narration that begins this issue, Manhattan explicitly discusses the effects of his actions on the DC Universe while handling a Legion of Super-Heroes flight ring, a relic of a future that he erased. He even goes as far as wondering if could be some sort of ultimate destroyer.
Manhattan performed a similar act of deconstruction when he entered the DC Universe in Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Ivan Reis' epilogue to DC Universe: Rebirth #1. There, he disassembled, repaired and reassembled a wristwatch with an engineer's understanding of how its pieces logically fit together to make the watch work.
It makes sense, really. If Manhattan operates in a world guided by cold logic, the emotion-powered Green Lanterns are his antithesis, on a metaphorical level.
To paraphrase The Green Lantern writer Grant Morrison, the rings are "magical wishing rings" that can create anything if their owner wants it enough. While modern Green Lantern rings are usually described in terms of fantastic alien science and impossible technology, they're still deeply illogical weapons that are rooted in fantasy and therefore defy rational explanation.
Where Manhattan wonders if his cosmic-scale experiments make him an ultimate destroyer, the Green Lantern rings are the ultimate engines of creation, able to build whatever their bearers can dream up. In that way, the Green Lanterns represent a kind of hope Manhattan simply doesn't understand.
Since Manhattan experiences every point in time simultaneously, he may have stopped Alan Scott from becoming the Green Lantern to snuff out the hope that his later namesakes represent. But even without Alan Scott and DC's other first generation heroes, that hope still survived in other figures like Superman and the Green Lantern Corps. As a result, those heroes represent the greatest threat to Manhattan and his plans.
When Manhattan looked into the future at the start of this issue, he saw that his actions caused "nothing but darkness." Appropriately, all of the Green Lanterns have already taken a vow to fight evil "in blackest night," and they'll probably light the way to a better future that lasts long after Doomsday Clock completes its final countdown.
The fallout from Doctor Manhattan's encounter with DC's heroes will continue in Doomsday Clock #10, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, is set to be released on April 10.