Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's acclaimed Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock has not only integrated the landmark Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' characters into the DC Universe but used its omnipotent protagonist Doctor Manhattan to explore the very nature of the DCU's constant revisions to its history and continuity.
As the Man of Tomorrow prepares for his long-anticipated final showdown with Manhattan, the all-powerful Watchmen star has examined the multiple timelines of the character, making Superman's 80+ years of revised and rewritten canon all suddenly relevant at once as Manhattan observed the evolving state of continuity across the DCU linked to the character. Before the end of the series hits stores, we're taking a quick look back at Doctor Manhattan's revelations about the multiple histories of Superman and how each timeline differs across the DC Metaverse.
On April 18, 1938, Superman makes his debut just as he had in the pages of Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. The comic book's iconic cover is heavily referenced as a man seen in Metropolis, New York that easily hoisted a car above his head and crashed it into a rock; the first of the costumed superheroes seen in that era.
This classic incarnation of Superman would leap away rather than fly and go on to become an honorary founding member of the Justice Society of America as the United States prepared for its eventual entry into the Second World War. However, as reality is revised, the JSA is seen never knowing who Superman is at their initial formation, with Manhattan unable to locate the Golden Age Man of Steel.
As Manhattan moves through the ever-changing reality of the DCU, he discovers that the first sighting of Superman was actually in Metropolis in 1956, with his rocket having crashed in Smallville approximately 25 years earlier. As a boy, Clark Kent learns that he directly inspired the Legion of Super-Heroes a millennium into the future in a recreation of 1958's Adventure Comics #247 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
As Manhattan explores the Silver Age further, he discovers that Clark's adoptive parents died of natural causes in 1949, with Clark revisiting their graves in Smallville as an adult in 1956 shortly after making his debut as Superman for this new era.
Man of Steel
Manhattan jumps ahead in time again, this time to October 1986 at the start of John Byrne's miniseries The Man of Steel, updating Superman's origins for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DCU. This retelling of Superman's origins has both Jonathan and Martha Kent alive and well to watched their adopted son become a man and the greatest superhero the universe has ever known.
In addition to witnessing the modern age Kryptonian rocket crash in Smallville, Manhattan also observes Martha assisting Clark develop the familiar "S" logo as the young man creates his superhero alter ego after Jonathan shows Clark the hidden rocket stored under the Kent's barn.
Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu had revised the origins of Superman for the 21st century in their 2003 maxi-series Superman: Birthright. In this modern update, the Kents were considerably younger when they found the crashed rocket containing the infant Kal-El than previous iterations.
Of all the various Superman timelines and origins seen throughout Doomsday Clock, the Birthright timeline is glimpsed the briefest, with only a single panel showing the story's version of Kal-El's Kryptonian rocket beginning to descend in Kansas.
Before Doomsday Clock, Johns and Frank previously worked together for a fan-favorite run on Action Comics and the 2009 miniseries Superman: Secret Origin. The duo's previous stories are heavily referenced, with an emotional moment between Clark and Jonathan in the family cornfield after Clark learning of his extraterrestrial nature in Secret Origin restaged.
Johns and Frank's collaborative run on Action Comics had come to an end with Superman: Brainiac as Jonathan tragically died in the company of Martha and Clark after suffering a fatal heart attack on the farm. As Manhattan continues to be confused by the changing nature of DCU continuity, he witnesses Jonathan's death from the earlier story.
The most recent timeline is the result of Manhattan's tampering, referencing the t-shirt wearing Superman during Grant Morrison and Rags Morales' New 52 relaunch of Action Comics. Manhattan observes this Superman is more isolated due to the death of parents in a tragic car accident and lack of Legion of Super-Heroes in an effort to make him more relatable.
Superman's blue armor during the era is similarly seen as is the increased vulnerability of Superman before the Metaverse itself becomes aware of Manhattan's tampering through a returned Wally West.