Doctor Manhattan

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Doctor Manhattan
Doctor Manhattan (portrayed by Billy Crudup/Greg Plitt) with the other Watchmen
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
Created by Alan Moore
Dave Gibbons
In-story information
Alter ego Dr. Jonathan 'Jon' Osterman
Place of origin Earth
Team affiliations The Crimebusters/Watchmen (previously)
United States Department of Defense (previously)
  • Twelfth-level Intelligence
  • Super-human strength
  • Telekinesis
  • Teleportation
  • Full control of matter at sub-atomic level, can create and destroy matter
  • Reactive adaptation/evolution
  • Duplication (Ability to create fully independent copies of himself)
  • Force-field creation
  • Projection of destructive energy
  • Full perception of time (perceiving past, present, future simultaneously)
  • Physiological manipulation
  • Omni-linguism
  • Physical immortality (able to walk on surface of the Sun)
  • Resurrection
  • Healing Factor
  • Ability to reverse entropy
  • Ability to create life/Animation
  • Intangibility/phasing
  • Cross-dimensional awareness
  • Psionic blast
  • Gravity manipulation
  • Dimensional travel
  • Flight
  • Size shifting
  • Precognition
  • Disintegration
  • Density control
  • Mass manipulation
  • Superhuman tracking
  • Ecological empathy
  • Ability to reconstruct himself on the atomic scale
  • No need for air, food or water
Doctor Manhattan
Genre Superhero

Doctor Manhattan is a fictional character who appears in the graphic novel miniseries Watchmen, published by DC Comics 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 was transformed into a blue-skinned, radiated powerful being after initially being disintegrated in an Intrinsic Field Subtractor and later 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 posthuman god and as a primary example of the potential side effects of superintelligence.[1]

Reception towards the character is positive, and he has appeared and has been mentioned in various forms of media. Billy Crudup portrays Doctor Manhattan in the 2009 film adaptation directed by Zack Snyder. Doctor Manhattan later appears in the Before Watchmen comic book prequel, with his own individual issue miniseries.

Publication history[edit]

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 "kind of a quantum 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 with 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 explained he reused the blue skin motif for Doctor Manhattan as it resembles skin tonally, but has a different hue. Moore incorporated the color into the story, and Gibbons noted the rest of the comic's color scheme made Manhattan unique.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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. His father was a watchmaker, and Jon planned to follow in his footsteps. When the US drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Jon is sixteen. His father, confronted with the undeniable facts of the theory of relativity, declares his profession outdated and throws his son's watch-making parts out the windows, urging him to instead pursue 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 Doctor Manhattan's own reactions and emotions.

Jon Osterman attends Princeton University from 1948–58 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 trip to New Jersey in July 1959, Jon and Janey visit an amusement park. Janey's watchband breaks, and the watch is damaged when a fat man steps on it. Jon decides that he can repair the watch, and tells Janey so. That night they sleep together.

One month later, in August, 1959, shortly after his thirtieth birthday, Jon plans to give Janey the repaired watch, only to discover he has left it in his lab coat which is inside the intrinsic field experiment test chamber. While Jon is inside the test chamber retrieving his coat the door closes, automatically locking as a safety feature.

Becoming Doctor Manhattan: Jon's intrinsic field being subtracted

Unable to open the door or override the countdown, Osterman's colleagues - save for Janey, who cannot bear to see the last moment and flees the room - can only watch, horrified, as the countdown for the current experiment shortly reaches zero, and Jon has his 'intrinsic field' removed. Bathed in the radiant light, he is torn to pieces from the force of the generator, instantly vaporized and officially declared dead.

The following months see a series of strange events and apparitions at the research base, leading residents to speculate the area is now haunted. It becomes plain that Jon has been progressively reforming himself during this time. This progression is indicated by a series of partial bodily reappearances: first as a disembodied nervous system, including the brain and eyes; then as a circulatory system (November 10); then a partially muscled skeleton (November 14). Each time, the appearance only lasts for a few seconds. Jon fully reappears on November 22 as a tall, hairless, naked, blue-skinned man.

Before Watchmen[edit]

Jon gradually becomes a pawn of the United States government, though the means by which his loyalty is secured are never revealed; he is given the code name 'Doctor Manhattan', a reference to the Manhattan Project that, it is hoped, will defeat America's enemies. He is also provided with a costume which he grudgingly accepts, though he refuses to accept the icon design which is provided for him (this being a stylized orbital model of the atom). Instead, Jon 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 Jon'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 for mandatory public appearances.

However, Jon's presence still succeeds in tipping the balance of the Cold War in the West's favor, and the United States consequently becomes more aggressive and adventurist during this period. His abilities also radically alter the world economy, as he can, for example, synthesize the massive amounts of lithium required for all motor vehicles to become electric. At President Richard Nixon's request, he brings America victory in the Vietnam war within three months. This victory distorts the American political process, as the 22nd Amendment is repealed and Nixon is then repeatedly reelected (and is still serving as of 1985, the year in which Watchmen is set, having begun his fifth term). Moreover, indications in the story line suggest that, far from solving the problems underlying the international tension, Doctor 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 holocaust.

Since he works for the U.S. government, he is exempt from the provisions of the Keene Act, but spends much of his time doing advanced technology research and development, and physics research. He is single-handedly responsible for the shift to electric-powered vehicles (by synthesizing the needed elements and chemicals himself) 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. After the death of his father in 1969, he does not conceal his birth name and is referenced as "Jon" or "Dr. Osterman".

During the first meeting of the Crimebusters superhero group, Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre, catches his eye. His relationship with Janey Slater ends acrimoniously shortly after, and he begins dating Laurie.

Events of Watchmen[edit]

At the start of Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan is working in the Rockefeller Military Research Center for the U.S. government. He is living with the former Silk Spectre II, Laurie Juspeczyk.

It was there that Rorschach came to warn him and Laurie that the Comedian was dead, and all former costumed adventurers should watch out. Jon dismissed Rorschach by teleporting him out, and allowed Laurie to go out with Dan.

Jon attended the Comedian's funeral and reflected on their association in the Vietnam War. He sensed Moloch's presence but he was not sure that he knew him once.

He appeared in Benny Anger's show where he would be interviewed. Agent Forbes briefed him on the politics of the Cold War that he might be asked upon. However it was not what Manhattan was there for. After Doug Roth's allegations that Manhattan causes cancer to humans, a fray erupted and the journalists came towards him asking for details concerning his relationship to Janey Slater. Forbes attempted to guide Manhattan outside and hold off the journalists. Eventually Manhattan teleported everyone away.

He leaves Earth for Mars when he is accused of causing cancer in his close associates over the years. However, this was a frame arranged by Veidt to induce Osterman to leave, to remove his interference in his scheme to save the world. Eventually, he brings Laurie to Mars to discuss why he should do anything to aid humanity, an argument Laurie inadvertently wins when she goes through her life and realizes to her shock that her father is the Comedian, a man whom she despised for sexually assaulting her mother. From that revelation, Doctor Manhattan is amazed by the improbable chances that occurred to result in the birth of Laurie, which he sees as a stunning "thermodynamic miracle." By extension, this miracle can apply to any living thing on Earth, and so Doctor Manhattan decides to return to Earth to protect humanity rather than disregarding it as insignificant.

Although they return too late to stop Veidt's plan, they teleport to Antarctica to confront him. Veidt hinders Doctor Manhattan with a tachyon generator that interferes with Doctor Manhattan's ability to see the future, and then disintegrates him by subtracting his intrinsic field. To Veidt's surprise, Doctor Manhattan restores himself much more quickly this time (due to the fact that reassembling himself was the first trick he figured out), but when Veidt reveals that his scheme, in which he used the reactors he built to kill a large number of people in a few large cities, appears to have averted the looming nuclear war by frightening the world's governments into cooperation, Doctor Manhattan realizes that to expose the scheme would be too dangerous for all life on Earth. Doctor Manhattan and the other superheroes except for Rorschach agree to keep quiet to preserve Veidt's results. Rorschach leaves on his own. Outside the compound, Jon confronts Rorschach, telling him that he cannot let him reveal the truth. In tears, Rorschach removes his mask, screaming for Jon to do what must be done. He obliges, killing Rorschach. Returning to Karnak, he sees Dan and Laurie together, apparently happy that they have begun a relationship.

At the end of Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan decides to depart Earth again, but he might return one day. Veidt is surprised by his decision, pointing out the apparent contradiction with Doctor Manhattan's renewed interest in human life, to which Doctor Manhattan suggests that he may "create some" life in another galaxy. When Veidt asks if his plan worked out in the end, Jon Osterman smiles and enigmatically replies "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."



Doctor Manhattan's body is humanoid and its composition is similar to that of a normal human, with a build similar to a tall muscular male in great physical shape. His height and relative size vary depending on his needs, but generally remains slightly above that of an average human. He is completely blue (altering his shade and luminosity at will) and has no hair. On his forehead he has etched an image of a hydrogen atom. He did this when he was prepared by the military for unveiling to the general public. They presented him with a hat as a part of his uniform that had a group of crossing ellipses on it, intended to look like an atom (Jon did not see the resemblance). He told them that if he were to have a symbol it should at least be one that he respects. Although he doesn't age in the biological sense, his character has changed over time with gradual detachment from humanity.

As Doctor Manhattan his costume started out as a sort of 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 would eventually go on to wear nothing at all because he could not comprehend the need for clothing. His original costume was only created because it made 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 seen often wearing a suit, the norm for such a profession.


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."

Powers and Abilities[edit]

Throughout Watchmen, he is shown to be immensely powerful and seemingly invulnerable to all harm; even when his body is disintegrated, he can reconstruct it from atoms (in less than a minute the second time this happened). Jon has complete awareness of and control over atomic and subatomic particles. He can alter his body's size, coloration, density, and strength. He does not need food, water, or air, and is, for all intents and purposes, immortal. He can teleport himself and others over great (even interplanetary and perhaps interstellar) distances.

Jon's near-limitless powers are further amplified in comparison to the apparent lack of any other "super-powered" individuals. Although Veidt is obviously the second-most dangerous person, as Jon himself observes, "...the world's smartest man poses no more of a threat to me than does its smartest termite."

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 (possibly by removing their intrinsic fields, which causes the target to come apart explosively), create force fields, transmute and create matter, move objects without physically touching them (telekinesis), reverse entropy, and, he suggests, create life and walk 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 upwards of 99% of all 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.

Due to his non-linear perception of time, he sees the past, present and future simultaneously, although he doesn't claim omniscience.


Veidt was able to disintegrate him by subtracting Dr. Manhattan's intrinsic field, but even then he was able to reassemble himself in moments.

His only definite technical weakness appears to be tachyons; a large burst of them can 'jam' or slow his ability to see the future to a large extent, as well as temporarily confusing his perception of the "present time", but still his telekinetic powers were unaffected.

Scientific accuracy[edit]

The Watchmen series is generally noted for its realism, even the character of Doctor Manhattan. Characteristics such as his withdrawal from humanity due to his superintelligence have been praised and even his powers have been noted for almost always remaining within the laws of physics, a characteristic that most other superheroes do not have.

Real life: Cherenkov radiation glowing in the Advanced Test Reactor.

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, strong and weak nuclear forces. Kakalios explained that if a being was able to manipulate matter on a subatomic level, such a being would have complete control over these three forces, and hence the 'intrinsic field'. Kakalios also explained while it is unlikely, Doctor Manhattan's teleportation abilities could seemingly be achieved through quantum tunnelling. Should Doctor Manhattan have control over his probability function, he could extend his wave function all the way to Mars if he so wished. However Kakalios also stated that in the real world 'we don't know how to do something like that even for electrons'. Kakalios stated that one of the least realistic aspects of the Doctor Manhattan character is his ability to produce multiple 'copies' of himself. While not strictly correct, Doctor Manhattan could achieve a similar effect through the diffraction of his wave function. Finally, Kakalios used Cherenkov radiation as an explanation of why Doctor Manhattan is blue.[5]

Philosophical implications[edit]

The character of Doctor Manhattan is one that invokes thought on metaphysical philosophy. 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 it means to be human? and do the means justify the end?

The character is primarily cited as the representation of the potential side effects and dangers of a superintelligence. Side effects which include detachment from the rest of humanity and potentially characteristics of apathy.[6]

In other media[edit]


  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode, "Yearbook Madness," Doctor Manhattan is referenced when his signature appears in Starfire's yearbook, writing "Time is Meaningless and So Are You...Have a Great Summer."

Film adaption[edit]

Bill Crudup wearing facial markers to track facial expressions

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 Billy Crudup. At the end of the film, Doctor Manhattan received blame for the destruction of Earth's major cities through Adrian Veidt's machination with exploding energy reactors he helped Doctor Manhattan create under the pretense of providing free energy for the world, allowing the United States and the U.S.S.R. to ally against Manhattan, their "common enemy".

Motion comic[edit]

Doctor Manhattan appears in the 2008 animated short film series Watchmen: Motion Comic where he, along with every other character in the series, is voiced by actor Tom Stechschulte.[7]

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).[8]
  • 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.[9]
  • 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.
  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Is human super-intelligence a bad idea?". io9. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  2. ^ "Watchmen Secrets Revealed -". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  3. ^ "A Portal to Another Dimension". The Comics Journal. July 1987.
  4. ^ Kallies, Christy. "Under the Hood: Dave Gibbons". July 1999. Retrieved on October 12, 2008
  5. ^ "Watchmen: The Science of Dr. Manhattan". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  6. ^ "Is human super-intelligence a bad idea?". io9. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  7. ^ ""Watchmen" (2008) TV Series". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 25, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Husbands and Knives". The Simpsons. Season 19. Episode 407. November 18, 2007. Fox Broadcasting Company. 
  9. ^ Partridge, Harry (5 March 2009). "Saturday Morning Watchmen". Retrieved 10 March 2009.