Doctor Manhattan

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Doctor Manhattan
Doctor Manhattan.jpg
Doctor Manhattan
Art by Neal Adams
Publication information
PublisherDC Comics
Created byAlan Moore
Dave Gibbons
In-story information
Alter egoDr. Jonathan 'Jon' Osterman
Place of originWatchmen's Earth
Team affiliationsThe Crimebusters/Watchmen
United States Department of Defense
PartnershipsSilk Spectre II
Doctor Manhattan

Doctor Manhattan, often stylised as Dr. Manhattan, is a fictional character who appears in American comic books published by DC Comics. He debuted in the graphic novel miniseries Watchmen, published in 1986 and 1987. Doctor Manhattan was created by writer Alan Moore with artist Dave Gibbons.

He was originally Dr. Jonathan Osterman, a nuclear physicist who in 1959 acquired superpowers after surviving being disintegrated in an Intrinsic Field Subtractor and reconstructing himself. Following his reanimation, he was immediately pressed into service by the United States government, who gave him the name Doctor Manhattan, after the Manhattan Project. He is the only character in the story that possesses actual superpowers.

The Watchmen series has been noted for addressing metaphysical issues and questions, Doctor Manhattan being the primary recipient. He is often used as an example of a post-human god. Reception towards the character is positive and he has appeared and has been mentioned in various forms of media. Billy Crudup portrayed Doctor Manhattan in the 2009 film adaptation directed by Zack Snyder. Doctor Manhattan later appeared in the Before Watchmen comic book prequel, with his own individual issue miniseries.

In 2016, as part of DC Comics' Rebirth campaign, Manhattan became a major antagonist, a factor that removed 10 years of history from DC characters following the Flashpoint event, creating The New 52 timeline in the process. His status as the major antagonist is confirmed by Geoff Johns in July 2017.[1] Manhattan was later confirmed as a major character in Doomsday Clock.[2]

Publication history[edit]

Dr. Manhattan's chosen symbol

Doctor Manhattan was partly based on DC Comics' Captain Atom, who in Moore's original proposal was surrounded by the shadow of nuclear threat. However, the writer found he could do more with Manhattan as "a supreme super-hero" than he ever could have with Captain Atom. Moore sought to delve into nuclear physics and quantum physics in constructing the character of Dr. Manhattan. The writer believed that a character living in a quantum universe would not perceive time from a linear perspective, which would influence the character's perception of human affairs. Moore also wanted to avoid creating an emotionless character like Spock from Star Trek, so he sought for Dr. Manhattan to retain "human habits" and to grow away from them and humanity in general. Gibbons had created the blue character Rogue Trooper, and reused the blue skin motif for Doctor Manhattan, as it resembles skin tonally but with a different hue. Moore incorporated the color into the story, and Gibbons noted the rest of the comic's color scheme made Manhattan unique.[3] Moore recalled that he was unsure if DC would allow the creators to depict the character as fully nude, which partially influenced how they portrayed the character.[4] Gibbons wanted to tastefully depict Manhattan's nudity, selecting carefully when full frontal shots would occur and giving him "understated" genitals—like a classical sculpture—so the reader would not initially notice it.[5] Dr. Manhattan's forehead is marked with the atomic structure of hydrogen, which he put on himself, declining a helmet with the atom symbol.

Fictional character biography[edit]


Jonathan Osterman was born in 1929. Jon planned to follow in his father's footsteps as a watchmaker, but when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, his father declared his profession outdated and instead forced him to work toward a career studying nuclear physics. The incident represents the turning point in Jon's potential future from watchmaker to nuclear physicist, and foreshadows Doctor Manhattan's "exterior" perception of time as predetermined and all things within it as so determined, including Manhattan's own reactions and emotions.

Jon attends Princeton University and graduates with a Ph.D. in atomic physics. In early 1959, he moves to a research base at Gila Flats, where experiments are being performed concerning the "intrinsic fields" of physical objects which, if tampered with, result in their disintegration. Here he meets Janey Slater, a fellow researcher; they eventually become lovers. During a visit to an amusement park in New Jersey, Janey's wristwatch is broken, which Jon promises to fix. However, one month later, Jon discovers he has left the repaired watch in his labcoat inside a test chamber. While Jon is inside, the door to the chamber closes and locks. The researchers are unable to open the door or override the countdown, and Jon's body is torn to pieces from the force of the generator.

In the following months, a series of strange events and apparitions occur at the research base, leading residents to speculate that the area is now haunted. It becomes apparent that Jon is progressively re-forming himself during this time, as indicated by a series of partial bodily reappearances: first a disembodied nervous system including the brain and eyes; then as a circulatory system; then as a partially muscled skeleton. Each time, the appearance lasts for only a few seconds. Jon eventually fully reappears as a tall, hairless, naked, blue-skinned man, glowing with a "flare of ultraviolet".

Before Watchmen[edit]

Jon gradually becomes a pawn of the United States government, which gives him the code name "Doctor Manhattan"—a reference to the Manhattan Project—and a costume which he grudgingly accepts. Doctor Manhattan chooses as his emblem a representation of a hydrogen atom, whose simplicity he declares to be something that kindles his respect; accordingly, he painlessly burns the mark into his forehead. This preference for material mechanisms marks the beginning of Manhattan's declining humanity, which is progressively mirrored by his gradual shedding of the uniform; by the end of the 1970s, he refuses to wear anything at all except during mandatory public appearances.

However, Manhattan's presence succeeds in tipping the balance of the Cold War in the West's favor, and the U.S. foreign policy becomes more militaristic as a result. At President Richard Nixon's request, he secures an American victory in the Vietnam War within three months, which subsequently allows Nixon to repeal the 22nd Amendment and serve up to five terms. Moreover, far from solving the problems underlying the international tension, Manhattan's presence in fact exacerbates them while stifling their expression, which inevitably builds towards disaster; the entire plot of Watchmen occurs during the countdown to a potential nuclear war.

Since he works for the government, Manhattan is exempt from a federal law outlawing costumed heroes, but spends much of his time conducting research. He is single-handedly responsible for the shift to electric-powered vehicles, and Adrian Veidt credits him with causing a huge leap forward in myriad areas of science and technology. As a result, the technology of the alternative 1985 of the Watchmen universe is far more advanced. During the only meeting of the Crimebusters group, Manhattan becomes attracted to Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre. His relationship with Janey ends acrimoniously shortly after, and he begins dating Laurie.

Events of Watchmen[edit]

At the start of Watchmen, Manhattan works at the Rockefeller Military Research Center, where he lives with Laurie. Rorschach comes to inform the two of the murder of Edward Blake, a.k.a. The Comedian, and warns them that all former costumed adventurers are being targeted by a "mask killer". Manhattan dismisses Rorschach by teleporting him outside, and allows Laurie to go out with Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl. Shortly afterwards, Manhattan attends Blake's funeral with Veidt and Dreiberg, reflects on his association with Blake during the Vietnam War, and senses the presence of the former villain Moloch.

During an appearance on a talk show, a reporter ambushes Manhattan with allegations that he caused cancer in his former associates, including Janey. Seeking solitude, he transports himself to Mars. The Soviet Union exploits his absence by invading Afghanistan and sparking an international crisis. Eventually, Manhattan brings Laurie to Mars to discuss why he should aid humanity, an argument Laurie inadvertently wins when she realizes to her shock that her father is Blake, a man she despised for sexually assaulting her mother. From this revelation, Manhattan is amazed by the improbable chances that occurred to result in the birth of Laurie, which chain of events he sees as a stunning "thermodynamic miracle". Realizing that, by extension, this miracle can apply to any living thing on Earth, Manhattan is persuaded to return to Earth to protect humanity rather than disregarding it as insignificant.

It is revealed that Veidt framed Manhattan as part of his overall plot to avert World War III by attacking New York with an engineered monster, killing half of the city in the process. Although Manhattan and Laurie return too late to stop Veidt, they teleport to his base in Antarctica to confront him. Veidt tries to disintegrate Manhattan, only for Manhattan to restore himself more quickly than Veidt anticipated. However, upon seeing that Veidt's plan has averted war, Manhattan realizes that to expose him would be too dangerous for life on Earth, and agrees to stay silent. Rorschach leaves with the intention of revealing the truth, causing Manhattan to vaporize him. Manhattan decides to depart Earth again, suggesting that he may create life in another galaxy. When Veidt asks if his plan worked out in the end, Manhattan replies, "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends".

New 52 and DC Rebirth[edit]

After departing from the Watchmen universe, Manhattan was aware of the DC Universe being filled with hope, and travelled there to find a place among its people. But at some point, his visions showed him a "metahuman arms race" causing a new world war, leading to Manhattan having a confrontation with Superman, and then he saw "nothing". Driven by his curiosity to know the result of the outcome, Manhattan decided to change the timestream.[6]

During the events of Flashpoint, Manhattan uses a misguided Pandora to convince Barry Allen to merge three separate timelines (the DC Universe, the Wildstorm Universe and select Vertigo titles) in order to create Prime Earth.[7] The merger enables him to erase ten years from the reverted universe, which not only reverses the age of its inhabitants by ten years but also causes the multiple resurrections of several deceased characters.[8] He stops the last wizard of the Council of Eternity from revealing to Pandora how to open the skull shaped box,[9] and kills Owlman and Metron after the former tries to access the secrets of the universe.[10]

Manhattan causes Wally West to be removed from history by having Abra Kadabra stick him within the Speed Force, only for West to be saved by Barry, therefore initiating the events of DC Rebirth. He also kills Pandora after she finally realizes that he was the one responsible for all of the sins for which she has been blamed.[8] Barry and Batman investigate the unknown force behind these changes,[11] learning from Lilith Clay that "Manhattan" was a prominent thought in Kadabra's mind when he claimed responsibility for removing Wally from history.[12]

Eobard Thawne attacks Batman as he is studying a blood-stained smiley face button left embedded within the wall of the Batcave. When Thawne picks up the button, he is briefly teleported away, returning with the left half of his body charred to the bone; he claims to have seen "God" before he dies.[13] Using the cosmic treadmill to chase after the radiation emitted from the button among the timestream, Batman and Barry discover Thawne as he was trying to reach "God". Upon reaching the unseen figure, Thawne boasted his ability to exist as a paradox before he was vaporized by Manhattan, leaving only the button behind. Sometime later, Manhattan picks up the button as he recalls dialogue with Laurie.[14]

Manhattan puts Bruce Wayne in contact with the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, who tells his son to not become Batman before his "death" and the destruction of the last of the Flashpoint timeline[15], prompting Bruce to not respond to the Bat-Signal the following night. Manhattan also saves Jor-El from the destruction of Krypton, before conditioning him to see only the very worst of humanity.[16] Jor-El assumes the identity of Mister Oz and tries to convince his son Kal-El, or Superman, to abandon Earth. However, when Jor-El begins to realize that he has been pushing against his son too far, he is pulled away. Superman acknowledges Jor-El's warnings even as he rejects his misanthropy.[17]

Events of Doomsday Clock[edit]

During the events of Doomsday Clock, seven years after the events set in the Watchmen universe, Veidt is determined to find Manhattan in order to restore the world from chaos, after his previous plan for world peace was exposed by Rorschach's journal.[18] Using a machine on the Owlship which was borrowed from Dan's hideout, Veidt, alongside Rorschach II, Marionette, and Mime follow the electron particles of Manhattan to the DC Universe, where they land in Gotham City.[19] It is revealed that Manhattan is responsible for preventing the Comedian's death by teleporting him to the DC Universe.[20]

Doctor Manhattan recalls various events in which he indirectly killed Alan Scott and thus brought about changes in the timeline. On July 16th of 1940, Alan Scott was riding on a train over a collapsing bridge, but he survived by grabbing onto a green lantern. He continues his life, eventually "sitting at a round table wearing a mask" and later testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee but refusing to implicate anyone in his employ. On July 16th of 1940 again, Doctor Manhattan moves the green lantern six inches out of his reach so that Alan Scott dies in the train accident and leaves no family behind, as the green lantern is passed through different locations. Bubastis II begins glowing and moving him closer to the Lantern. Ozymandias uses the energy to summon Doctor Manhattan to the funhouse. He proceeds to separate the Watchmen group from Batman and Joker, telling Ozymandias that he isn’t returning to their world since he’s in the middle of an experiment with this one. It is revealed that Ozymandias was going to bring Silk Spectre I with him but she refused, leading Ozymandias to take Marionette and Mime instead. Marionette herself wasn’t killed in the robbery years back because of what her child would become (plus she’s pregnant again). But the biggest revelation is that Ozymandias lied to Rorschach about having cancer only to get his help. Doctor Manhattan then tells everyone how he came to the DC Universe looking for a place among them. As he peered into the future, he saw nothing. Doctor Manhattan returns the team to Batman and Joker in the funhouse. Doctor Manhattan returns to Mars, reflecting on a vision set one month in the future: a confrontation with Superman that may result in the end of everything, including Doctor Manhattan himself.[21] When Superman and Firestorm get caught in a conflict with the Russian military, Batman detects that the energy spike nearby to be similar to that of Doctor Manhattan and figures that he is the real culprit behind the people turning to glass.[22]



Doctor Manhattan's body is humanoid, with the build of a tall muscular male. His height and relative size vary depending on his needs, but generally remains above 6 feet tall. He is completely blue (altering his shade and luminosity at will) and has no hair. On his forehead he has etched a stylized image of a hydrogen atom. He did this during preparations by the military for his unveiling to the general public. They presented him with a hat as a part of his uniform that had a group of crossed ellipses on it, intended to look like an atom but Jon did not see the resemblance. He replaced it with a symbol of his own, saying that if he were to have a symbol it should at least be one that he respects.

As Doctor Manhattan, his costume started out as a black leotard, which presumably he created. As time progressed the costume shrank progressively to a pair of shorts, then a speedo, then a thong; he eventually went on to wear nothing at all, since he could not comprehend the need for clothing. The only purpose his original costume served was to make those around him (including the general public) more comfortable.

Before the experiment Jon Osterman is human, of average height. He has brown hair and brown eyes. He is a professional physicist and is often seen wearing a suit.


Dr. Manhattan, though supremely powerful, suffers from a decreasing ability to relate to normal humans. Perhaps due to his perception of time and realisation of the deterministic universe, he begins to show symptoms of apathy. From his radically altered perspective, almost all human concerns appear pointless and without obvious merit.

He describes Laurie as his 'only remaining link to humanity'. This is demonstrated when the relationship ends, and Doctor Manhattan leaves Earth. This is also due to evidence coming to light that a number of those who were once close to him, including his former girlfriend Janey Slater, have come down with terminal cancer. Manhattan feels that he poses a threat to others, and he exiles himself to Mars, stating "I am tired of Earth, these people. I'm tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives." His interest in humanity is revived after he witnesses Laurie's epiphany that she is the daughter of the Comedian. It causes him to reflect on the sheer chance that life should come to be in any form, but after the Watchmen fail to prevent Ozymandias's destruction of New York, he departs Earth, commenting that he may explore new life in other parts of the galaxy.

In DC Rebirth #1, Pandora accuses her killer — currently thought to be Doctor Manhattan — of believing in skepticism, doubt and corruption, proclaiming that he cannot understand the hope personified in the heroes of the DC Universe, and that they will "prove [him] wrong".

In the last Watchmen issue, Manhattan claimed that "nothing ends" despite Ozymandias succeeding in his plan for world peace. But on Doomsday Clock, Manhattan withdrew from what he previously said, now affirming that "everything ends".

Powers and abilities[edit]

Jon is the only character in Watchmen to possess superpowers. Throughout Watchmen, he is shown to be absolutely powerful and invulnerable to all harm; even when his body is disintegrated, he can reconstruct it in a matter of seconds and remains unharmed. He is capable of altering his size depending on his needs, for example, reconstructing himself in a much bigger form. He can hurl huge objects effortlessly with his hands. He is also unable to exhaust himself. Jon has complete awareness of and control over atomic and subatomic particles. He is also an omnikinetic. He does not need air, water, food or sleep, and is immortal. He can teleport himself and others over limitless distances. He is also capable of true flight, although he uses only levitation in most of his appearances. Due to his perception of time, he sees his past, present and future simultaneously.

In addition to these powers, Jon is able to phase any part of his body through solid objects without damaging them, produce multiple copies of himself which function independently of each other, project destructive energy, disintegrate people, create force fields, transmute, create and destroy matter, move objects without physically touching them (telekinesis), reverse entropy, repair anything no matter how severe the damage is, and, he suggests, create life. He also claims to have walked on the surface of the sun. At one point it is stated that, in the event of a nuclear war, he would be capable of destroying Soviet nuclear missiles while at the same time 'destroying' large areas of Russia. As a result of these capabilities, Jon becomes central to the United States' Cold War strategy of deterrence.

He effortlessly overpowered and disintegrated Pandora, who in turn overpowered the Seven Deadly Sins with ease, with each Sin being capable of destroying a multiverse the size of DC Comics several times over.[23]

He is also capable of manipulating reality as he sees fit, as seen when he erased ten years from the DC Universe, when Barry Allen tried to bring his original universe back to normal. The intervention of Jon caused The New 52 timeline to be formed, within which most superheroes are younger and less experienced, and most of them lose their most important relationships before they even begin. Even Mister Mxyzptlk himself acknowledges Jon to be far more powerful than he. Such power makes him one of the most powerful beings in the DC Multiverse.

Scientific accuracy[edit]

In the 2009 film adaptation Watchmen, physics professor James Kakalios of the University of Minnesota was used as a scientific consultant, and shed light on the potential scientific explanations of Doctor Manhattan's powers both in the film and the comic.

Kakalios explained that the intrinsic field has basis in reality in that it is a representation of a collection of the electromagnetic, and strong and weak nuclear forces. Kakalios explained that if a being were able to manipulate matter, such a being would have complete control over these three forces; hence, the "intrinsic field" would exist. Kakalios also explained that while it is unlikely, Doctor Manhattan's teleportation abilities could seemingly be achieved through quantum tunnelling, should Doctor Manhattan have control over his probability wave functions.

Philosophical implications[edit]

The character of Doctor Manhattan is one that invokes thought on the philosophy of metaphysics. There are various themes addressed throughout the Watchmen series from philosophy of time and eternalism, to determinism and its relationship to ethics, to addressing questions such as "What does it mean to be human?" and "Do the ends justify the means?"

The character is primarily cited as the representation of the potential side effects and dangers of a superintelligence, which include detachment from the rest of humanity and potentially characteristics of apathy.[24]

In other media[edit]



Bill Crudup wearing facial markers to track facial expressions
Doctor Manhattan (portrayed by Billy Crudup/Greg Plitt) in the 2009 film adaptation
  • In 2009, a film adaptation titled Watchmen was released, starring Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan and directed by Zack Snyder. The movie received a polarized reaction from both audiences and critics. Some critics gave it overwhelmingly positive reviews for the dark and unique style on the superhero genre, the cast and the visual effects; while others derided it for the same reasons, as well as the R-rating (for "strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language"), the running time, and the much-publicized fidelity to the graphic novel. In the film, Doctor Manhattan is a CGI character modeled after Greg Plitt with voice, motion capture, and facial performance provided by Crudup. At the end of the film, Doctor Manhattan receives blame for the destruction of Earth's major cities when Adrian Veidt causes the explosions of energy reactors that he had helped Doctor Manhattan create under the pretense of providing free energy for the world. This spurred the United States and the U.S.S.R. to unite against a perceived "common enemy", Manhattan. In the film, unlike his comic book counterpart, he establishes that he is not omnipresent.

Video games[edit]

Motion comic[edit]

References in other works[edit]

Doctor Manhattan has also been referenced or parodied in other forms of media, including:

  • In The Simpsons episode 407 "Husbands and Knives" broadcast in 2007, infant versions of Doctor Manhattan along with Ozymandias, Rorschach, and Nite Owl II are shown riding a surfboard on the cover of a DVD of the fictional film Watchmen Babies in V for Vacation (a parody of Alan Moore's graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta).[27]
  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode Yearbook Madness, Doctor Manhattan's is one of many DC superhero signatures in Starfire's yearbook.
  • Doctor Manhattan, along with the other main characters of the graphic novel, are shown in Saturday Morning Watchmen, a 2009 Newgrounds and YouTube viral video which parodies the Watchmen series.[28]
  • In Countdown: Arena #4, a white-skinned lookalike of Doctor Manhattan was one of the alternate versions of Monarch summoned to the multiverse arena. Like all the others, this version was killed and his power added to Monarch's.
  • In Final Crisis #2, the exiled Monitor Nix Uotan sketches a character resembling Doctor Manhattan. Grant Morrison stated in an interview that the Final Crisis two-part series Superman: Beyond will feature "Captain Atom from Earth 4, which is kind of a weird amalgam of the original Charlton universe and this kind of Watchmen parallel world." This character is named 'Captain Adam', and appears in Superman Beyond #1. He is blue-skinned and has the hydrogen atom mark of Doctor Manhattan, and is addicted to drugs which keep his "quantum senses" in check. When he is off the drugs, he becomes very similar to Doctor Manhattan in demeanor and powers, duplicating himself hundreds of times over to repair the Bleed Starship and allow the various Supermen to pilot the Thought-Robot Armor, which itself is confirmed to grant one powers capable of beating Captain Adam. However, even when he is using his full potential without the aid of drugs, Captain Adam has difficulty controlling his powers, something Doctor Manhattan never had a problem with.
  • In 2000 AD #1594 Nikolai Dante meets an American resistance movement whose look is strongly based on the Watchmen characters; one strongly resembles Doctor Manhattan.
  • Seth, a humanoid creature from Street Fighter IV, heavily resembles Dr. Manhattan in both appearance and personality.
  • In Megaton Rainfall, the player character has a similar appearance and powers to Doctor Manhattan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Watchmen Secrets Revealed –". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  4. ^ "A Portal to Another Dimension". The Comics Journal. July 1987.
  5. ^ Kallies, Christy. "Under the Hood: Dave Gibbons". July 1999. Retrieved on October 12, 2008
  6. ^ DC Nation #6 (September 2018). DC Comics.
  7. ^ Flashpoint #5 (August 2011)
  8. ^ a b DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot (May 2016)
  9. ^ Justice League Vol. 2 #0
  10. ^ Justice League vol. 2 #50 (May 2016)
  11. ^ The Flash: Rebirth one-shot (June 2016)
  12. ^ Titans vol. 3, #5 (November 2016)
  13. ^ Batman vol. 3 #21 (April 2017)
  14. ^ The Flash vol. 5 #22 (May 2017)
  15. ^ Batman vol. 3 #22 (May 2017)
  16. ^ Action Comics #988
  17. ^ Action Comics #991
  18. ^ Doomsday Clock #1 (November 2017). DC Comics.
  19. ^ Doomsday Clock #2 (December 2017). DC Comics.
  20. ^ Doomsday Clock #3 (January 2018). DC Comics.
  21. ^ Doomsday Clock #7 (September 2018). DC Comics.
  22. ^ Doomsday Clock #8 (December 2018). DC Comics.
  23. ^ DC Universe Rebirth Issue #1
  24. ^ "Is human super-intelligence a bad idea?". io9. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  25. ^
  26. ^ ""Watchmen" (2008) TV Series". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  27. ^ "Husbands and Knives". The Simpsons. Season 19. Episode 407. November 18, 2007. Fox Broadcasting Company.
  28. ^ Partridge, Harry (5 March 2009). "Saturday Morning Watchmen". Retrieved 10 March 2009.