With DC's Rebirth-branded comic book relaunch so closely mirroring many of the company's movie and TV properties, and characters from Watchmen seemingly at the heart of the Rebirth reshuffling, it's been fairly common to ask: will Doctor Manhattan and company show up in the DC Extended Universe?
We'll get into a little bit of speculation about that, but before we do, a little refresher on the basics:
First off, the "DC Extended Universe" refers to the DC films currently considered canon in the shared universe currently in production. In 2017, the three current films (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad) will be joined by Justice League and Wonder Woman.
Watchmen was a 2009 feature film based on a 1986-87 comic book miniseries. The film was directed by Zack Snyder, who would later go on to make Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League. The comic book was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons.
The story centered on a group of characters who were created as stand-ins for a number of DC-owned superheroes previously published by the defunct Charlton Comics. Bleak, violent, and sexually-charged, Watchmen imagined a world where Nixon was still present in 1985 and the advent of an all-powerful American superhero had destabilized international politics. Russia, forced to be quiet and submissive, was looking for the opportunity to strike and plunge the world into nuclear war.
The geopolitical intrigue of Watchmen was set against a murder mystery: one of the masked avengers who had served alongside the immensely-powerful Doctor Manhattan had been murdered. It later turned out that Manhattan and another of the costumed heroes (Ozymandias, the self-proclaimed "smartest man in the world") had teamed up to stop global war and had discovered their old comrade-in-arms was planning on getting in their way. Ultimately the pair got away with that murder and about a million others when they staged an attack on New York City. Designed to look like aliens, the attack and others like it in numerous major cities around the world gave Earth's governments a common, terrifying enemy (extra-terrestrials), and coerced them into banding together in the best interests of humanity as a result.
At its core, Watchmen is a pretty self-contained piece, and that is one of a number of reasons that some comic book fans question the wisdom of revisiting its world, as DC has done in prequel miniseries like 2012's Before Watchmen as well as in Rebirth. Still, DC seems to believe that the benefit -- either creatively or commercially -- outweighs the criticisms, and Before Watchmen seemed to bear that out, becoming a commercial success for the publisher even as they were getting regularly taken behind the woodshed by critics.
So would Snyder dare try to carry the characters over into the DC movies?
There are a couple of things at play here. First of all, there's zero chance the Watchmen characters exist in the DC Extended Universe as it currently exists. Watchmen is a period piece that's entrenched in the Cold War, and in the world of the story, Doctor Manhattan changed the face of the world forever when he appeared. To assume Amanda Waller would say virtually identical things about Superman in Suicide Squad and make no comparison to Manhattan guarantees that Manhattan did not exist in the world of Suicide Squad.
Second is, that being the case, how could they bring the Watchmen characters into the DCEU if Rebirth were such a massive hit that they decided they really wanted to?
It would probably be Justice League 3.
Following the battle with Darkseid, which is generally assumed to be taking place in the second Justice League film, the heroes of the DC Universe will be tempered in fire. A third movie would require the writers to somehow one-up Darkseid, which is...difficult, to say the least.
Of course, in 2020 there will be a Green Lantern Corps movie, and that could set the stage for bringing the alternate universe in which the Watchmen characters exist into movies.
In the comics, Krona -- an ancestor to the Guardians of the Universe -- introduced entropy into the universe when he tried to peer back in time and see the creation of the universe. When antimatter energy spilled into the universe as a result, reality fractured, creating an infinite multiverse of possibilities.
Green Lantern Corps, then, could introduce the concept of a multiverse, opening the door for alternate realities to play into the DC Universe in a way that would currently not make a lot of sense. That's where you get into things like potential crossvers with the DC TV universes, the introduction of the Watchmen characters, and more.
Is it likely? Oh, hell no. If fans were ever to see Superman and Doctor Manhattan in the same movie it will almost certainly be in an animated movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Still, if they were bound and determined to make it happen, there is potentially a roadmap in place.
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Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2, 2017, followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017, Aquaman on July 27, 2018, The Flash on March 16, 2018, an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018, Shazam on April 5, 2019, Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019, an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019, Cyborg on April 3, 2020, and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.