This article contains spoilers for Justice League of America #15, by Steve Orlando, Ivan Reis and Julio Feareira, on sale now, as well as DC Comics’ greater Rebirth storyline.
The Justice League of America has finally found Ray Palmer deep within the infinite landscape of the Microverse, but the the size-changing physicist reveals that the threat that has been ravaging the fabric of reality on a quantum level is not a natural event but deliberately orchestrated by an immensely powerful being.
With Doomsday Clock ticking and the mysteries of DC Comics' Rebirth coming to a head, the mystery figure can only be Doctor Manhattan.
Justice League of America, the series starring Batman's hand-picked lineup of eclectic heroes seeking redemption, social justice, or other resolution for personal causes, has not been billed as a major Rebirth tie-in. Nevertheless, these heroes' role in the next cosmic Crisis began to take shape in issue #13, where Ryan Choi, the Atom, led a task force into the subatomic Microverse to rescue his mentor and predecessor as the Atom, Ray Palmer. Upon arriving, though, the League discovered that the Microverse itself was in peril, as quantum storms ripped through the skies of a million worlds, rewriting reality in their wake. As the heroes, joined by mysterious natives of the Microverse Preon and Doctor Aut -- both estranged colleagues of Palmer -- sought Ignition Point, “the theoretical epicenter of the destruction,” it became increasingly likely that Doctor Manhattan, the Watchmen figure behind so much universal reconfiguration in the New 52 and Rebirth, had to be involved.
JLA #15 doesn't quite confirm this theory, but it comes damn close.
Last issue saw Ryan Choi, Killer Frost, Lobo,= and Batman finally catch up with Ray Palmer at Ignition Point. But alas! Palmer panics at the sight of Doctor Aut, crying that Choi has doomed them all by bringing Aut to the heart of destruction. Readers knew from issue #13 that either Aut or Preon had deceived the League as to their relationship with Palmer, and #14's cliffhanger would suggest that Aut was indeed the heel.
It's apparently not that urgent, though, as Palmer has time to bring everybody up to speed on his adventures in the Microverse, without apparent imminent danger.
The elder Atom recounts how he first made contact with Aut, how the two of them then recruited Preon to guide them through the realm, how they all failed to commune with planetary intellect Moz-Ga. Eventually, Palmer and Preon fall in love, and when the group are besieged on an alien world, he activates a failsafe in her atomic belt to send her away and save her life. Finally, the Atom and Aut ride a couple particles of light into "a quantum realm of an already quantum universe" -- so they're really, really, really tiny -- and ultimately arrive at their destination, Ignition Point.
Here, Palmer discovers that the fissures in the fabric of reality are "not a natural disaster" but "a bullet through a pane of glass." Who held the gun, you may ask?
Well, we don't see him. But we know he has godlike powers, and it sure looks like he's bathing Palmer and Aut in blue light.
Again, this deep into the Rebirth arc, any storyline that deals with reality-beating foes has to be tied in to Dr. Manhattan's plans. And with that in mind, it seems obvious that this issue confirms Justice League of America as a key title in the Rebirth/Doomsday Clock plot.
Though we didn't see Aut's falling out with the Atom, and why his very presence represents a danger to the universe, we know he attacked Preon immediately upon seeing her in JLA #13, without giving her a chance to speak.They had no conflict in Palmer's accounting of events, so either the Atom was unaware they distrusted each other or, more likely, whatever Aut learned from Manhattan sent him on a new course, one he had to pre-emptively stop Preon from disrupting.
Aut choosing to aid Manhattan would explain some, but not all, of his actions during this arc, and Palmer's reaction to seeing his former colleague. If it were merely a matter of Aut aligning with Manhattan, it might not matter that much that the League helped return him to Ignition Point; really, couldn't the blue deity simply find Aut wherever he was, whenever he was needed? Instead, it seems likely the clue is in the name: something about Aut will ignite the destructive power Palmer has been fighting to keep in check.
But there's also the Atom's concluding statement that "the problem changed the rules." Is this merely a way of saying that Palmer had thought he was dealing with a natural phenomenon, but now knew he was confronting a living entity? Or does their encounter with Manhattan actually change the playing field -- does he alter his plans based on their interference?
If we know that simply observing a phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon, then the Justice League may have fundamentally shifted the Rebirth narrative.