Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan reshaped the world of that story. With godlike powers, he strode into a world where everyone else was only a man, and forever altered history.
Now, he's apparently the big bad behind the events of DC Universe: Rebirth, and one has to wonder: how do the heroes of the DC Universe handle that?
It's a question I've had parroted back at me a few times by people who know superhero stories only through the movies. When I mentioned at a recent party that they were incorporating elements of Watchmen into DC's next publishing initiative and potentially squaring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman against Dr. Manhattan in the process, I got the same question from different people: how could they beat him?
It's not an unfair question: a being of almost limitless power, Dr. Manhattan can rearrange matter, manipulate his size and density, be in more than one place at one time, and view the whole of history, making him extremely difficult if not impossible to strategize around. He's also been shown -- both in Watchmen and in recent DC Comics -- to use his matter manipulation abilities to simply turn those with whom he disagrees into a bloody smear with the wave of his hand.
Of course, we're talking about comics. There are characters who have plot armor and can't die. There are unexpected wrinkles. And, of course, there's the fact that, ultimately, we know the good guys will win.
So when the bad guy is this powerful, who can stand up to him? Well, we've got some ideas...!
How do you stop somebody whose powers make him basically a god?
Well, Cameron Chase is a good place to start.
The DEO Agent, who played a supporting role in the acclaimed Manhunter from Marc Andreyko and the New 52's Batwoman, has the ability to negate the metahuman abilities of those in her proximity.
Given the fact that she's an ordinary human, it might be hard to get her next to Manhattan to make it happen -- but it would certainly be worth the trouble to create a scenario where Superman is basically just fighting a naked guy with blue skin and no powers.
Again -- how do you fight somebody you can't beat 1-on-1?
Well, using their own power against them is a good answer. And in the DC Universe, one way to do that is Deadman.
Boston Brand is a former circus performer who, upon his death, became Deadman. Among other things, he helps lead people to their final resting realm, and he's got the ability to possess others.
Possessing Doctor Manhattan and forcing him to cooperate may be one of the better ways to take down a threat of that magnitude without huge collateral damage. But just how they could stop a threat like Manhattan for good merely by possessing his body? That would be the trick the writers would have to figure out.
In Watchmen a key part of the way Ozymandias managed to keep Manhattan back on his heels and manipulate him is that he took away Manhattan's ability to see the future, hobbling Manhattan's ability to predict an opponent's next move or even evaluate the circumstances he found himself in with the same nigh-omniscient sense of perspective that he usually has.
Booster Gold doesn't have the ability to do that, per se, but he and Rip Hunter have access to Vanishing Point -- a place outside (and unaffected by) time. It was there that the Linear Men prepared their champions for battle against Parallax during Zero Hour, because even somebody with all of time as his disposal -- as Parallax had -- couldn't see or stop them there.
Of course, as it pertains to time travel there's always the "cheating" method of storytelling, too. If they could find the Earth from which Doctor Manhattan originated, they could travel back to the day of Jon Osterman's accident and prevent Manhattan from ever coming into existence in the first place. Given that the Watchmen timeline isn't the main DC Universe timeline, and that it was so broken it's hard to argue that the seismic changes made to the timeline as a result of removing Doctor Manhattan would make it worse, that's a possibility.
In the world of Watchmen, there aren't any real super-people outside of Doctor Manhattan himself...and he's very solidly science-based.
That means if there's an area where he's likely to be weak, it's in the realm of magic, something with which he's presumably never dealt.
Doctor Fate -- who can inhabit an astral form that Manhattan can't just blast, is one of a handful of DC Universe magic characters who could present a threat to Manhattan. See also The Spectre, who's played a key role in battling threats on the scale of a Doctor Manhattan (the Anti-Monitor, Parallax) more than once in Crisis-level events.
Here's the thing about Dr. Manhattan: he's cold, calculating and, ostensibly, rational.
What led him to side with Ozymandias in Watchmen wasn't any sense that he wanted to control or dominate humanity, but the idea that Ozymandias's murderous plan would create fewer deaths than nuclear war.
That said, he was logicked and reasoned into a corner in Watchmen, when he decided to come help humanity in spite of his better judgment. And before that, he was willing to forgo doing the "right" thing because he had already seen the future, knew what he was going to do, and was fairly set in his ways. If he were to look ahead and see that his defeat it inevitable, and that it was for the better, he might be willing to seethe wisdom of surrender.
Manhattan's personal take on logic doesn't always make sense to me, so it's distinctly possible that he could even be his own worst enemy in some totally unexpected way.