Doctor Manhattan

Doctor Manhattan


caption=Doctor Manhattan, art by Dave Gibbons.
character_name=Doctor Manhattan
real_name=Jonathan Osterman
publisher=DC Comics
debut="Watchmen" #1 (1986)
creators=Alan Moore (story), Dave Gibbons (art), based on Captain Atom created by Steve Ditko
status=Exploring the universe
alliances=formerly United States government
aliases=Jonathan Osterman (human identity)
relatives=Father (deceased)
powers=Control over space and time,
Energy and matter manipulation,
Superhuman strength, speed and durability,
Superhuman growth|

Doctor Manhattan (Dr. Jonathan Osterman) is a fictional character featured in the DC Comics series "Watchmen."

Accidentally locked inside a test chamber during a nuclear physics experiment, Jon Osterman was completely disintegrated; rather than dying, Osterman gained godlike powers, the first use of which involved re-constituting his own body. Manhattan's powers include superhuman strength, the ability to teleport himself or others, the manipulation of matter at a subatomic level, and near total clairvoyance.

While his military backers market him as a superhero, he grows increasingly uninterested in human affairs, despite his importance in the Cold War, and is unable to connect with others, especially his love interest Laurie, the second Silk Spectre.

Dr. Manhattan was created by "Watchmen" writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons but, like many main characters of the series, he is a modified version of a Charlton Comics character, in this case Captain Atom, created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko.

Fictional character history

Early life

Doctor Manhattan was born as Jonathan Osterman 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 His father, confronted with the undeniable facts of the theory of relativity, declares his profession outdated and throws his son's watch-making parts out the windows, urging him to instead pursue a career studying nuclear physics.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. 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 reforming himself during this time, the progression being 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.

After his transformation, Jon begins to experience time in a non-linear, "quantum" fashion, and it is implied that he is aware of and experiencing all the moments of his life simultaneously. Jon is not omniscient; he remains reliant on his intellect and sensory experience to reach conclusions, but his range of sensory data has been abruptly extended, in proportion to the lessening of his emotional capacities. This often leads him to arrive at conclusions greatly different from those available to normal humans. His already weak will (marked by his apparent submission to his father's career plans, whatever they might be) becomes sublimated further during this time. He increasingly has difficulty acting in what those around him consider the present moment, leading to many accusations and even the public perception that he is emotionless and uninterested in human affairs. For instance, he does nothing to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, even though he is aware it is going to happen as he meets the President. However, during the course of "Watchmen" he displays powerful emotion several times. His apparent lack of sentiment is more a matter of radically altered priorities, owing to a colossal, unbridgeable gap of perception between Jon and the rest of humanity.

He subscribes to a deterministic view of events (at one point remarking "We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings."). Throughout most of "Watchmen", Doctor Manhattan appears to exert an effort of choice, and his actions often seemed governed by a rigidly utilitarian code of ethics in which the correct course of action must be the one that benefits the most. In some sense, unlimited power has come at the cost of the total absence of responsibility, and his growing detachment, if not apathy, is juxtaposed with his apparent ability to "do anything". During the period in which Doctor Manhattan is a crime-fighter (at the behest of the government), he states that the morality of such activities escapes him. From his radically altered perspective, almost all human concerns appear pointless and without obvious merit.

Effect on the Cold War

Jon gradually becomes a pawn of the United States government, his loyalty, and eventually his very connection with humanity, being secured partially through his romantic links, first with Janey Slater and later with Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre ; he is given the code name 'Doctor Manhattan', a reference to the Manhattan Project that, it is hoped, will instill fear in 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 yet already outdated and incorrect 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, for what is theoretically his fifth term). Moreover, indications in the storyline 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 doomsday.

Exile and departure

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

In the present, after Laurie and Jon suffer a short argument, Laurie leaves Manhattan. Shortly after, during the execution of Adrian Veidt's plot to save the world, Manhattan is accused of giving cancer to those exposed to him over long periods of time. It emerges that this is untrue, for it is rather a careful fabrication of Veidt's, but this revelation is not quick enough to prevent Manhattan from exiling himself to Mars, where he spends much of the action of "Watchmen". Eventually, he brings Laurie (who, in the meantime, has taken Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II as a new lover) to Mars, where they argue over the fate of the human race.

Events of "Watchmen"

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 Silk Spectre, Laurie Juspeczyk.

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 this wonder called life.

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, but when Veidt reveals that his scheme appears to have averted a looming nuclear war, 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 and is killed by Doctor Manhattan to prevent him from ever telling the truth. Manhattan does so reluctantly, at Rorschach's own insistence, who asserts that his death is the only thing that will ensure his silence. Doctor Manhattan does not mention Rorschach's death when talking to Veidt not long after, instead telling Veidt he "does not think Rorschach will reach civilization."

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" in another galaxy. When Veidt asks if his plan worked out in the end, Jon Osterman smiles and enigmatically replies that "nothing ever ends." He then teleports from Earth, leaving behind a vapor trail that ominously resembles a mushroom cloud.

Powers and abilities

Jon is the only character in the "Watchmen" series to explicitly possess superhuman abilities (although the details of the plot presuppose the existence of genuine human psychics). Throughout "Watchmen", he is shown to be immensely powerful and seemingly invulnerable to all harm; a clear limit to his powers is never explicitly shown. 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 appear to age, need food (although he is shown to eat regardless of this), water, or air, and is, for all intents and purposes, immortal at thirty years old. In addition, he is even able to reconstruct his body if completely disintegrated. He can teleport himself and others over great (even interplanetary) distances, but the exact limit to the number of people other than himself he can teleport at one time or the distance he can teleport them is unknown. As an example of his teleportational ability, he dealt with a crowd of protesters by teleporting every single one of them back to their individual homes simultaneously.

Due to his non-linear perception of time, he can also see the future (and the past), although he is apparently unable to change it, regardless of the outcome. His only 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". 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, generate force fields, transmute chemical elements, 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 in the "Watchmen" story-line it is stated that, in the event of a nuclear war, he would be capable of destroying at least 60% 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.


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In other media

*In "" #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.
*In "2000AD" #1594 Nikolai Dante Meets an American resistance movement whose look is strongly based on the Watchmen characters; one strongly resembles Doctor Manhattan.


* "The Art of Brian Bolland" (326 pages, Image Comics, November 2006, ISBN 1582406030)
* "David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview" #65, 1988, interview with Moore and Gibbons (by Chris Sharrett)

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