Art by Neal Adams
|First appearance||Watchmen #1 (September 1986)|
|Created by||Alan Moore|
|Alter ego||Jon Osterman|
|Place of origin||Earth|
United States Department of Defense
|Partnerships||Silk Spectre II|
Doctor Manhattan, often stylised as Dr Manhattan, is a fictional character who appears in comics published by DC Comics. He debuted in the graphic novel limited series Watchmen, published in 1986 and 1987. Doctor Manhattan was created by writer Alan Moore with artist Dave Gibbons.
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. Doctor Manhattan will also be part of the main cast of the upcoming television series Watchmen on HBO.
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. Manhattan was later confirmed as a major character in Doomsday Clock.
- 1 Publication history
- 2 Fictional character biography
- 3 Characterization
- 4 In other media
- 5 References in other works
- 6 See also
- 7 References
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. 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. 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. 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
Jonathan Osterman was born in 1929 to a German-American family. 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".
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
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, a 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 desires to find a galaxy "less complicated than this one." When Veidt asks if his plan worked out in the end, Manhattan replies, "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends".
"The New 52" and "DC Rebirth"
After departing from the Watchmen universe, Manhattan was aware of the DC Universe being filled with hope inside humanity, and traveled there to find a place among those people and start a new life. But at some point, his visions showed him an arms race among metahumans that caused an incoming "World War III", leading Manhattan to have a confrontation with Superman, and then he saw "nothing". Whether he was driven by the curiosity of knowing the result of the outcome, or by the possible attempt at preventing this catastrophe under his own terms, Manhattan decided to modify the DC Universe's mainstream timeline in his favor.
During the events of Flashpoint, Manhattan misled Pandora into convincing Barry Allen to merge three separate timelines (the DC Universe, the Wildstorm Universe and select Vertigo titles) in order to create Prime Earth. 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. However, the Convergence caused by Brainiac and Telos restored the Multiverse, bringing back the pre-Flashpoint timeline.
In the post-Flashpoint timeline, Manhattan stops the last wizard of the Council of Eternity from revealing to Pandora how to open the skull shaped box, and kills Owlman and Metron after the former tries to access the secrets of the universe. He later causes Wally West to be removed from history by having Abra Kadabra trap 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. Barry and Batman investigate the unknown force behind these changes, learning from Lilith Clay that "Manhattan" was a prominent thought in Kadabra's mind when he claimed responsibility for removing Wally from history.
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. Just before his death; he claims to have seen "God.” 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 boosted 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 his dialogue with Laurie.
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, 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. 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.
Events of Doomsday Clock
During the events of Doomsday Clock, seven years after the events set in the Watchmen universe, Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) is determined to find Doctor Manhattan in order to restore the world from chaos after his previous plan for world peace was exposed by Rorschach's journal. Veidt narrates that he is able to track Doctor Manhattan, because Doctor Manhattan leaks electrons as his intrinsic field was stripped during his initial accident and an event caused by Veidt. Using the Owlship to quantum tunnel, accompanied by Rorschach II, Marionette, and Mime, Veidt follows the electron trail left behind by Doctor Manhattan to the DC Universe where they land in Gotham City. Later, it is revealed that Doctor Manhattan is responsible for preventing the Comedian's death by teleporting him to the DC Universe.
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. At a fun house in the present time, Bubastis II begins glowing, so Ozymandias moves him closer to the lantern to let him feed on Doctor Manhattan's temporal energies left on the lantern and thereby force Doctor Manhattan to their current location. Doctor Manhattan immediately proceeds to transport himself and the Watchmen group away, separating them from Batman and Joker. He tells Ozymandias that he isn't returning to their world as he's in the middle of something. He reveals that he didn't kill Marionette in the robbery years back because he saw what her child would do and that she is pregnant again. He also reveals that Ozymandias lied to Rorschach about having cancer, so Ozymandias admits to Rorschach that he deceived him and used him for his help. Doctor Manhattan then tells everyone that he came to the DC Universe looking for a place among them, but that he saw a vision of "the most hopeful among them. Heading toward [him]. Now hopeless." and then nothing in the future thereafter. Doctor Manhattan returns the team to the fun house. He himself returns to Mars, reflecting on a vision set one month in his future: a confrontation with Superman that may result in Superman destroying Doctor Manhattan or Doctor Manhattan destroying everything.
On Mars, looking at a Legion Ring that once belonged to Ferro Lad, Doctor Manhattan contemplates on the events in which Ferro Lad sacrificed his life to save Earth's sun and thereby caused his ring to careen through time, the events in which he himself moved Alan Scott's lantern and thereby caused the ring to never have existed, as well as his confrontation with Superman set one week from now. On Earth, Batman and Superman are recovering from a massive explosion, which has produced a fog of tachyon particles that obscures the immediate past and future to Doctor Manhattan. Meanwhile, after tracing the energy signature of the explosion to Mars, many of Earth's superheroes travel in several spaceships to Mars for a confrontation with the suspected perpetrator. However, Batman believes that they are being "played" as he is not sure if they have the right person. With the heroes surrounding Doctor Manhattan, Martian Manhunter telepathically broadcasts Doctor Manhattan's final vision of Superman to everyone. The heroes believe that Doctor Manhattan is trying to destroy Superman and all of them before Superman destroys him. As Doctor Manhattan easily deals with the attacks by the heroes, he curiously examines and discloses the nature of the emotional spectrum by dissecting Guy Gardner's power ring and stating that the magic used by the Justice League Dark is from the "scraps of Creation." To prove the point that even hope decays, he shows Ronnie Raymond that Professor Martin Stein purposefully caused the circumstances where Raymond and Stein merged into Firestorm in order to learn more about metahumans from the inside. Back on Mars, refusing to believe the events of the past that was shown, Firestorm angrily attacks and harms Doctor Manhattan upon which the heroes realize that Doctor Manhattan is not invulnerable and destroy him. However, the superheroes watch in shock as Doctor Manhattan reconstitutes himself before he attacks and incapacitates the heroes.
As he incapacitates the remaining heroes, Doctor Manhattan recounts the first time he arrived in the DC Universe on April 18th 1938. He is met by Carver Coleman and as they talk in a diner, Doctor Manhattan sees all moments of Carver's future until his death prior to April 19th 1955. Overhearing news of a mysterious man who lifted a car over his head, Doctor Manhattan leaves and witnesses the first appearance of the Golden Age Superman. From there, he witnesses the beginnings of Alan Scott/Green Lantern, Jay Garrick/The Flash, Carter Hall/Hawkman, Al Pratt/The Atom, Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate, Wesley Dodds/Sandman, Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, and Rex Tyler/Hourman, and the formation of the Justice Society of America. Doctor Manhattan then sees a different timeline where Superman was never a member of the JSA and first appeared in 1956 instead (Silver Age/Earth-1). Doctor Manhattan witnesses several variations of the death of Superman's foster parents: Jonathan and Martha Kent, the origins of Superman, and also when a young Superboy met the Legion of Superheroes. In order to appease his curiosity, Doctor Manhattan takes the Green Lantern away from Alan Scott, preventing the creation of the Green Lantern and the formation of the JSA, in order to see how the changes affect Superman. In the process of doing this, Doctor Manhattan realises that this universe is not part of the Multiverse and it is the Metaverse, with the Multiverse reacting to the changes within this universe (hence why there have been endless parallel worlds, none at all, 52 universes, and a Dark Multiverse). Having changed history in the Metaverse, Doctor Manhattan created the New 52 Universe and as he witnesses the first appearance of the New 52 Superman, he is confronted by Wally West of the Pre-Flashpoint Universe, who briefly escapes the Speed Force to warn him that he knows what Doctor Manhattan did and that the heroes of the DC Universe will stop him, before being dragged back in. Doctor Manhattan likens Wally's appearance to the Metaverse fighting back at the changes done to it, an innate hope that fights back to the surface. He returns to Carver Colman on June 8th 1954, 10 seconds before he is killed by his mother, and he thinks upon the future he sees where Superman attacks him, believing that he will either die by Superman's hands or destroy the Metaverse. Back to present day, Doctor Manhattan returns to Earth and ponders on the fact that he is a being of inaction on a collision course with a man of action (Superman), and to this universe of hope, he has become the villain.
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".
His meddling with the DC Universe to satisfy his own curiosity shows extreme apathy. He's altered the timeline so much, that several events and people were altered or wiped out. However, thanks to the Convergence, Wally West and Superman, much of the damage was undone; though Manhattan wasn't deterred from continuing his experiment.
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 after witnessing the DC Universe's citizens losing their own faith on their heroes, now affirming that "everything ends".
By the time Manhattan was confronted by most of Earth's heroes, he didn't fight in full power and mocked them and their abilities.
Powers and abilities
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.
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 him. Such power makes him one of the most powerful beings in the DC Multiverse.
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.
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.
In other media
- In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Yearbook Madness", Doctor Manhattan's is one of many DC superhero signatures in Starfire's yearbook.
- Doctor Manhattan will appear in Watchmen.
- Doctor Manhattan appears in Watchmen, portrayed by Billy Crudup, with Jaryd Heidrick playing the young Jon Osterman in flashbacks. In the film Ozymandias uses Doctor Manhattan's energy research to destroy several large cities. This persuades the world powers to unite against an apparently malevolent Doctor Manhattan, rather than a transdimensional alien as in the books.
- Doctor Manhattan appears in Watchmen: Motion Comic, where he, along with every other character in the series, is voiced by Tom Stechschulte.
References in other works
- 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.
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