Spoilers ahead for this week's Doomsday Clock #10.
When Dr. Manhattan visited various DCU timelines in Doomsday Clock #10, his focus was Superman.
Not only was Manhattan “drawn” to Superman’s world, but according to him, Superman is the “center” of the Metaverse.
DC has often played with the idea of the DCU being a “Metaverse,” as Manhattan calls it. After all, Booster Gold visits other timelines created by changes to the main DC Universe, and various timelines crossed into each other during the Convergence event.
But Manhattan’s dialogue specifically stated that Superman serves as a sort of focal point for this Metaverse. And small changes to his history in particular ripple throughout the DC Multiverse.
“Dark directions seem to constantly target the hope he embodies in an effort to redefine him,” Manhattan’s dialogue says, taking an apparent thinly veiled jab at DC’s past editorial attempts to make Superman more edgy.
This narration by Manhattan is accompanied by several scenes that walk readers through all the big changes DC made to Superman over the years.
As Manhattan witnesses all the different versions of Superman’s origin story, artist Gary Frank depicts each one by duplicating parts of the comic books that introduced the new origin stories.
So what are all the origin stories that Manhattan witnessed?
As a companion to Doomsday Clock #10, here’s a list of the Superman origin stories that Manhattan witnessed.
The first Superman event that Manhattan witnesses occurs on page 15 of Doomsday Clock #10. It’s April 18, 1938, and a crowd has gathered around a car that crashed into a rock. The police officer asks, “A man did this?” and a bystander says, “He was wearing a wrestling outfit and a cape.” Later panels shows Manhattan witnessing Superman himself lifting the car.
The scene is a reference to the cover of Action Comics #1, the issue by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster where Superman made his debut on April 18, 1938. On the cover, Superman was depicted lifting a car over his head and crashing the front of it into a rock. Although the scene didn’t actually occur within the interior story, it’s the most iconic image of Golden Age Superman.
The next Superman scene Manhattan visits is set in 1956, where an elderly Ma and Pa Kent find baby Kal-El’s rocket, which has just crashed on their farm in Smallville. A later scene shows Pa and Ma Kent dying both dying in their old age, and another depicts a young version of Superman meeting teenagers from the future.
The year 1956 is credited as the beginning of the Silver Age of comic books, when most Golden Age characters were rebooted with new origin stories. Those reboots included Superman, whose history now included new adventures of Superboy in his hometown of Smallville. In Superman and Superboy stories of the Silver Age, both Ma and Pa Kent die before Clark becomes an adult, and Superboy meets the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of teens from the 31st Century, in 1958’s Adventure Comics #247.
Man of Steel
Manhattan visits October 1986, and the scene shows a young Clark Kent seeing the Kryptonian rocket for the first time. Manhattan says Superman’s “arrival on Earth has shifted forward again.” Another panel later in the story shows a scene from 1986 when Clark and Pa Kent came up with the design for his Superman symbol.
The scene is taken from Man of Steel #1, the comic book that retold Superman’s origin after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DCU. The 1986 limited series by John Byrne revamped Superman’s origin and retold many of his most iconic moments to fit into the more modern version of the DCU. This era included the scene with Clark and Pa’s Superman symbol and the later death of Jonathan Kent.
In the next panel, Manhattan says Superman’s arrival on Earth “changes again.” All that readers see is the Kryptonian rocket ship flying over a wheat field as Manhattan looks at it from below.
The key to recognizing this scene is the glowing round ball at the front of the rocket ship, making it clear that Manhattan is witnessing an event from the 2003-2004 limited series Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu. This retelling of Superman’s origin story tweaked the character’s history, but did not fully reboot the DCU.
Superman: Secret Origin
The next few panels show another version of young Clark Kent discovering his rocket ship for the first time. Manhattan’s narration says Superman’s origin changed “again,” and the dialogue indicates that Clark is hearing the voice of his father, Jor-El, speaking from the rocket.
This panel from Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank is actually taken from a Superman origin story that was also created by Johns and Frank: Superman: Secret Origins. Released in September 2009, Secret Origins again made changes to the character’s back-story without completely rebooting the universe around him.
Finally, Manhattan causes the death of Alan Scott before he became Green Lantern, and that change of events somehow creates another timeline.
In several scenes, Manhattan sees that Superman’s origin now includes the death of Martha and Jon Kent in a car crash, and the debut of Superman wearing an all-blue costume with a high collar.
These images depict the "New 52" era of Superman, which launched in 2011. The new Jim Lee-designed uniform for the "New 52" era included the high collar, and Action Comics #17 by Grant Morrison depicted the death of Clark’s parents in a car accident.
This final origin story lasted until the “Rebirth” era, when the “Superman Reborn” event revamped Superman’s origin yet again, although this turn of events is not depicted in Doomsday Clock.