Henry Creel Has Dr. Manhattan Parallels (& Stranger Things Wants You To Know)

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 4, volume 1.

The Stranger Things villain Vecna - aka Henry Creel - has uncanny parallels to Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Netflix's biggest TV show, Stranger Things has always been quite open about its tendency to draw inspiration from superhero comics. The very first episode saw Will and Dustin race for a copy of Uncanny X-Men #134, while Eleven (or "Jane") is conceptually very similar to the X-Men's Jean Grey.

Vecna, the villain of Stranger Things season 4, doesn't really have a direct parallel. But attentive viewers noticed a curious detail that seemed to point to another superhero franchise - Alan Moore's Watchmen. Vecna's visions often include a haunting image of a grandfather clock, and he seems strangely - and, as yet, inexplicably - obsessed with the passage of time. In Watchmen, the ticking of a clock is strongly associated with Dr. Manhattan, the most godlike of all Moore's superheroes. This is tied to Doctor Manhattan's origin story, when he accidentally left his wristwatch behind in an intrinsic field laboratory, and was trapped in the experiment when he went to retrieve it.

Related: Why Eleven Doesn't Have Her Powers In Stranger Things Season 4

But the nods to Doctor Manhattan aren't just Easter eggs in Stranger Things season 4 volume 1. On close examination, they play an important role in the story, with the show deliberately striking parallels between the character and Vecna. These references may well serve to hint at Vecna's arc when Strange Things season 4, volume 2 releases.

Vecna's backstory is revealed in Stranger Things season 4, episode 7, which features an extended sequence in which Vecna tells Nancy his origin story even as Eleven gains her repressed memories. Venca is actually Henry Creel, born with apparently natural psychic powers of telepathy, telekinesis, and illusion-casting. He became Dr. Brenner's "Number One," with the U.S. government's MK Ultra program working to replicate Creel's powers when they realized he could not be relied upon. Number One's powers were inhibited for some years, until Eleven unwittingly freed him. He went on a bloody rampage through Hawkins Lab, slaughtering the other children until he and Eleven faced off against one another in a telekinetic duel that she eventually won. This conflict tore apart the fabric of reality itself, and Number One was blasted into the Upside Down, his body ravaged by the multiversal energies he was exposed to.

The revelations are chilling, setting Vecna up to be a classic mirror-image villain of Eleven. Curiously, though, the scenes deliberately parallel Doctor Manhattan's flashback origin story in Zack Snyder's 2009 adaptation of Watchmen. The two sequences are even set to the same music, underlining the fact this is intentional and not accidental. Both characters are introduced in the year 1959 - that's the year Creel and his family move to Hawkins, and it's the same year Doctor Manhattan gains his powers. Doctor Manhattan decorates his forehead with the symbol for hydrogen, which has an atomic mass of one. And both flashbacks end with their central characters exposed to flares of lightning that physically transform them.

The explicit parallels between Doctor Manhattan and Vecna serve as signposts to understanding the latter's character. Both consider themselves more than human, and both are drawn to simplicity - that's the reason Doctor Manhattan chooses hydrogen as his symbol, because he respects its simplicity. The key difference, however, is that Doctor Manhattan simply longs to bring about peace on Earth, whereas Vecna views human nature itself as a corruption of the natural world. In Vecna's view, the human desire for order imposes itself on the world, and he points particularly to the passage of time - explaining the symbolism of Vecna's grandfather clock.

Related: Vecna's Powers May Explain Stranger Things' Two Kali Plot Holes

Both Vecna and Doctor Manhattan are essentially outcasts from society, who perceive reality in a different way to any other human being. Doctor Manhattan considers himself a prisoner of time, because he can perceive everything but cannot change it. "I'm tired of Earth, I'm tired of people, I'm tired of being caught in the tangles of their lives," he observes at one point. In contrast, Vecna appears to be trapped in the Upside Down, restrained in a realm where time is out of sync and reality is frozen in 1983. He learns to use his mind to probe the real world, and uses the same "tangles" to twist and break the minds of teenagers living in Hawkins, ultimately murdering them and using their suffering to open gates. Vecna is best seen as the dark mirror of Doctor Manhattan.

In Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan had an unwittingly transformative effect upon the world when he united the United States and the U.S.S.R. against him. It's interesting to note that Stranger Things season 4 has continued to develop its own Cold War setting, with a Russian subplot that currently feels rather disconnected in relation to the main story. This could actually be quite deliberate on the Duffer brothers' part, increasing the show's scale so Vecna forces a similar alliance.

These parallels are unlikely to go too far, however. The different philosophies and powers of Vecna and Doctor Manhattan mean their stories will inevitably head in very different directions, with Vecna potentially setting up the Upside Down's invasion of Hawkins - as he attempts to tear down the human society he considers to be so destructive. Fortunately, unlike Watchmen, the heroes of Stranger Things volume 4 have a weapon that can be used against Vecna; Eleven, whose powers have presumably been restored by Dr. Brenner's Nina Project. The most probable outcome is that Vecna will be defeated by Eleven, while the U.S. and U.S.S.R. work together to try to contain the threat of the Upside Down and preserve human society. Again, this would mean Stranger Things serves as a twisted mirror image of Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan. It will be interesting to see whether the Duffer brothers choose to opt for world peace in the Stranger Things reality, which - until now - has tried to avoid any major world-changing events, so viewers feel as though it could potentially be set in the real world.

More: Stranger Things Season 4 Cast & Character Guide

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Stranger Things season 4, volume 2 releases on Netflix on July 1.

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