Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #9 by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson and Rob Leigh, on sale now.
DC's Doomsday Clock is certainly proving to be one of the publisher's most impactful events to date. While the last few issues took some time to pick up pace, Issue #9 is as intense as it gets, with Doctor Manhattan finally unleashing his might on the Justice League, Green Lanterns and just about any hero who dares to confront the godlike entity on Mars.
But imbued with near-omnipotent abilities, Manhattan's biggest moment comes when he takes Firestorm on a trip down memory lane seven years prior to this brawl. What ensues in their brief time travel sojourn is a retcon that's as sinister as gets, not just with respect to Ronnie Raymond's past, but the entire DC Universe as it blows the lid wider open on the Supermen Theory.
As Manhattan battles the League with ease, he knows Firestorm will be a problem, so his endgame needs to be more mental than physical when it comes to Ronnie. When they go back in time, Ronnie is looking at Dr. Martin Stein mere moments before the Hudson Nuclear Power Plant explosion that would fuse them together. In the past, this was attributed to a terrorist attack by the Coalition to Resist Atomic Power setting a bomb off on the premises. This resulted in physics professor Stein and Ronnie, a student, merging via the Firestorm matrix, as detailed in March 1978's Firestorm #1 and July 1986's Secret Origins #2.
Sadly, this fusion has now changed for the worse as Manhattan allows Ronnie to spy on Stein as he takes a call with a mysterious entity. As Ronnie listens in, he finds out the explosion wasn't any terrorist attack. It's all a setup by Stein so he and Ronnie could fuse in order for the professor to truly understand the mind of a metahuman. It's a big betrayal, indeed, but also a massive discovery for a couple reasons.
Firstly, we see Stein also looking at data with Metamorpho and talking about other subjects, so it turns out the conspiracy that metahumans were being manufactured on American soil (aka the Supermen Theory) now involves Stein's ambitions to create a Firestorm. We don't know if he's working for the U.S. government as the conspiracy has hinted, but it is confirmed that Stein played Ronnie and framed the Coalition so the explosion could go off as planned minutes later. Also, we don't know which other metahumans Stein helped create, but it's clear the secrecy of the program, as well as who's involved, runs deeper than first fathomed.
It's even more shocking how Stein cased and manipulated Ronnie based on his tragic childhood to make the teen more susceptible. It remains to be seen how Ronnie will address this in the present day, because Manhattan brought Ronnie back alone, leaving Stein on Mars. There's sure to be repercussions for this because Ronnie's heartbroken over being an experiment who turned into a weapon by the man he trusts like a father. We saw them separate and bond so many times, they then died together in Infinity Crisis and were reborn during Brightest Day. But now, it's all been based on a nasty lie.
As for the science behind it, it seems this retcon will undo the old lore where the Firestorm matrix was part of some fire elemental, with this new direction possibly reverting to pure calculated science. After all, Stein wouldn't participate in something and risk his own life if he didn't run the numbers and was absolutely sure.
Ultimately, while Manhattan may have had altruistic intentions to show Ronnie the true nature of mankind, he may have just converted Firestorm from a nuclear deterrent into a weapon ready to be unleashed. We've already seen the accidental mass destruction caused between Firestorm and Superman in the Russian PR crisis, and with this new revelation, let's hope Ronnie can maintain his composure when he reunites with the man who took his life away.