Doctor Jonathan Osterman (born August 14, 1929), a.k.a. Doctor Manhattan is a main character in Watchmen.
Due to an accident involving a nuclear physics experiment, Dr. Osterman was taken outside the physical realm and returned with god-like powers, including telekinetic control over matter down to a subatomic level, the ability to teleport himself or others over planetary, and interplanetary distances, and superhuman physical prowess that he can consciously augment further, to the point of gaining superhuman strength and invulnerability. Furthermore, he possesses a near total clairvoyance, allowing him to perceive the past, present and future as happening simultaneously, but at least believes that he cannot act on that knowledge since his own actions and reactions to chronological events are apparently predetermined.
While his military backers market him as a superhero, he grows increasingly disinterested 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). Like most characters in Watchmen, Manhattan appears to have a personality disorder, in his case, Schizoid personality disorder which is characterized by reclusiveness and voluntary withdrawal from socializing to the detriment of personal relationships, though this can be countered by the fact that he's basically a god and, therefore, the way he experiences and reacts to the human environment and even reality itself cannot, in any way, be compared or encased inside the human condition and psychology.
Doctor Manhattan was born Jonathan Osterman in 1929 in Germany. His father was a watchmaker, and Jon planned to follow in his footsteps. One of his first memories was when he was 9 years old and his father gave him a complicated clock as a birthday present in order to teach him that time has weight and power.
In 1939 his family decided to secretly leave Germany before they apprehended his Jewish mother. Jon was hidden inside a box for market goods, but before their wagon reached the border, they were stopped by Nazis. Jon's mother ran away in order to distract the soldiers from searching the wagon, giving ample time for his father to kill both of them, but she was killed in the process. They reached New York and Josef worked for a watchmaker.
When the US drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Jon is sixteen and lives with his father in Brooklyn. The summer morning after the event he was studying the pocket watch belonging to his father in their kitchen, presumably in training to take his profession. His father, confronted with the undeniable facts of the theory of relativity and the advance of military science, declares his profession outdated and throws the clocks out the windows, urging him to instead pursue a career studying atomic science. The incident represents the turning point in Jon's potential future 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 where he watched Albert Einstein in a lecture. Always fascinated with clocks, he had the reputation among his fellow students that he was too stuffy and narrow and casually ignored him in their activities. Nonetheless an attractive girl was interested in him and once she attempted to invite him to hike down the lake with the others, hoping to offer him a chance to be surprised by life. Jon however preferred to finish his job.
He graduated with a Ph.D. in atomic physics and in early 1959, moves to a research base at Gila Flats, where experiments were being performed concerning the 'intrinsic fields' of physical objects which, if tampered with, result in their disintegration. Here he befriended Wally Weaver and met Janey Slater, a fellow researcher, who buys him a beer; they eventually become lovers.
During a trip to New Jersey to see his friends in July 1959, Janey accompanies him to see her mother. She doesn't answer the phone so they spent time in the Palisades Amusement Park. Thinking they are a couple, a photographer calls them over and takes a souvenir picture. Near the shooting gallery Janey's watchband breaks, and the watch is damaged when a fat man steps on it. That night Janey's mother still doesn't answer so they spend the evening in Jon's hotel. They sit in the bed examining the broken watch promising he can fix it. Then they make love.
One month later, on August 20, 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 in preparation to disintegrate test block 15. 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.
Soon after the accident, Dr. Milton Glass attempted to reverse the intrinsic field generators in an attempt to recreate him but this failed. He then announced the news to his father. A token funeral is made in his honor and Janey put their photo behind the glass of the Bestiary.
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's consciousness has survived as an electromagnetic pattern and learned to control the particles and used them to reform himself as if he reassembled a watch. This 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 screaming partially muscled skeleton (November 14). Each time, the appearance only lasts for a few seconds.
Jon fully reappears on November 22, 1959 in the Gila Flats cafeteria; a whistling sound is heard, cutlery is sparkling and he appears as a tall, hairless, naked, blue-skinned figure in an ultroviolet light that caused sunburn to those present.
His relationship with Janey proceeded although she felt that everything changed around them. On next Christmas she bought him a golden ring and Jon admired its molecular structure. Janey expressed her concerns and that she was scared. Jon quieted her promising that he will always love her, although he knew it would change.
The next year the government entered the process in making him a Costumed adventurer and prepared a suit and hat for him as well as a name reminiscent of the Manhattan Project for their enemies. Dr. Manhattan didn't like the association with the atomic symbol and rather chose to mark his forehead with the symbol of the hydrogen atom.
Effect on the Cold WarEdit
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.
In 1960 he offered Indian president Rajendra Prasad to fix the famine problem in his country by altering the nitrogen content of India's topsoil, resulting in a more fertile land, but he couldn't understand. Instead, Dr. Manhattan attended a fundraising event with other former costumed adventurers. There he met aging Hollis Mason (aka Nite Owl) and Ozymandias, the smartest person on earth, the only person he found interesting enough.
Accompanied by Milton Glass, he met President John F. Kennedy in '61, who asked him how it is like to be a super-hero. Jon jokingly answered that JFK should know already. JFK had problems with Cuba but didn't ask his help.
The next year he attended a banquet in honor of Hollis Mason who decide to retire from being Nite Owl. In a private dialogue, he share with Jon his plans to become a car technician. From that he got the idea to synthesize the massive amounts of lithium required for polyacetylene batteries, allowing all motor vehicles to become electric. His actions radically altered the world economy and technology and his presence tips the balance of the Cold War in the West's favor, and the United States consequently becomes more aggressive and adventurist during this period..
He predicts but "fails" to prevent the murder of John F. Kennedy. Around that time his relationship with Slater becomes strained and they begin arguing. While arguing he predicts that they will make love; moments later she receives the golden earrings Jon made for her, shaped like a hydrogen atom, quieting her anger.
Dr. Manhattan was summoned by Captain Metropolis for the first meeting of the Crimebusters superhero group and Slater came with him. Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre, catches his eye, something that was noticed by Janey. Metropolis pulled lots to assign them to pairs, which further enraged Janey, blaming him for altering the result to team-up with her, although Jon claimed that in this quantum reality he was always to be paired with her. This didn't stop him from patroling with her and soon they came close. Learning this, Janey left him bitterly.
At President Richard Nixon's request, he brings America victory in the Vietnam war within three months. There he meets the Comedian. Many Viet Cong surrendered personally to him in superstitious awe. On the victory celebrations and the day Nixon arrives to Vietnam, he witnesses how the Comedian kills a Vietnamese woman he had impregnated. The Comedian noted that the Dr. is losing touch with humanity.
This victory shapes the American political process, as the 22nd Amendment is repealed and Nixon is then repeatedly reelected (by 1985, he serves his fifth term). Critics however 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, as Milton Glass wrote in Dr. Manhattan: Super-powers and the Super-powers.
During the 1970's there are riots against the Costumed adventurers, Manhattan with Laurie attempt to quiet the unrest in Washington. Laurie attempted to hold ringleaders from the crowd outside the White House. This seemed to go on too long and Manhattan teleported everyone to their homes; 2 of them died of a heart attack, although Manhattan believed that more would die during the riots. Eventually an emergency bill passed outlawing the superheroes, but as the country's defense rested in Manhattan's hands, he continued working for the government.
In 1981 he moved to Rockefeller Military Research Center where he performed research and construction of new technology. Laurie was assigned with him, who (in her mother's words) "has to get the H-bomb laid every once in a while".
In summer of 1985, he and Laurie walked to Grand Central Station and bought a Time issue celebrating Hiroshima week; the cover had a frozen wristwatch, whose arms had stopped at the same position as Janey's when her own was broken.
During the execution of Adrian Veidt's plot to save the world, he fabricates evidence to make Manhattan wrongly accused of giving cancer to those exposed to him over long periods of time.
At an unknown point prior to 1985, he intervened at a government bank being robbed by Marco Maez and Erika Manson, the costumed criminals Mime and Marionette. Mime defied Manhattan in a wordless stand-off, but before Manhattan could eviscerate him, Marionette stepped in the way, declaring he'd have to kill her first. Seeing the future of Marionette's second child, who would not be conceived for another 7 years, Manhattan quietly dropped his hand and withdrew, allowing the two to be captured by the authorities.
Events of Watchmen Edit
When the Comedian was killed, Dr. Manhattan was informed by the CIA. Rorschach came to warn him and Laurie that the Comedian was dead, and all former costumed adventurers should watch out. His attitude disturbed Laurie and Jon dismissed Rorschach by teleporting him out. As he was busy locating a gluino, he allowed Laurie to go out with Dan.
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. The magazine Nova Express made an investigation about whether Dr. Manhattan cause cancer to his associates, and Doug Roth (who had previously interviewed Janey Slater) made these allegations in public; a fray erupted and the journalists came towards him asking for details concerning his relationship to Slater. Forbes attempted to guide Manhattan outside and hold off the journalists. Eventually Manhattan teleported everyone away.
However, this was a frame arranged by Veidt to induce Osterman to leave, to remove his interference in his scheme to save the world. During his absence, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, bringing the world closer to a nuclear war than ever.
Eventually, he briefly returns one hour before November 1 to bring 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. Discussing why he should do anything to aid humanity, Laurie inadvertently wins the argument 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 Karnak, 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, in which he used his alien monster to kill half of New York City, 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 and is murdered 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 [human life]" in another galaxy. When Veidt asks if his plan worked out in the end, Jon Osterman smiles and enigmatically replies that "nothing ever ends."
Playing God of the DC Universe Edit
Flashpoint: Prologue Edit
While the characters of DC Comics existed as fiction in the Watchmen universe, the DC Universe itself was indeed real, as an alternate dimension. Jon eventually found and made his way into the DC Multiverse. However, as he observed it's history, he became intrigued, feeling he had a place among them.
By 2010, he oversaw Barry Allen aka the Flash had traveling back in time to prevent his mother's murder at the hands of his time travelling nemesis Professor Zoom. However, in doing so, he caused temporal distortions that caused the origins of Earth's greatest heroes to change. By example, the infant Kal-El's rocket made impact directly in Metropolis, destroying a city block and killing 120 people, leading to him being taken captive by the US government and raised in a facility away from public. A young Bruce Wayne was instead shot dead by a mugger, the trauma leading his father and mother to becoming Batman and the Joker respectively.
New 52 Edit
Following Jon's altering of the timeline, the Justice Society had never existed, nor had any other hero groups, notably the Justice League or the Teen Titans. However, the League and the Titans would reform eventually.
Doomsday Clock Edit
Doctor Manhattan ultimately left the universe, his final words proving to be prophetic, as Veidt's plan fell apart seven years later. By 1992, Veidt's attack on New York was made public by Rorschach's journal having been published, leaving America in disastrous discord and anarchy, with Robert Redfield now elected president and starting his campaign by ordering a manhunt for Veidt, who'd gone into hiding.
It is revealed he teleported the Comedian to the DC Universe to prevent his death.
While a superpowered being, it is ironic that Osterman/Manhattan's life was directed by others; his career was forced on him by his father, his relationship with Slater began with her initiative, his actions were mostly obeying the government and the Pentagon, as if Dr. Manhattan didn't care about what he was doing. As he saw past-present-future simultaneously, he did things just because they should be.
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. 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. 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.
Powers and abilitiesEdit
- Telekinesis: Jon could mentally control objects with his mind.
- Molecular Combustion: Jon was able to blast Walter Kovacs into bits with his mind.
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, which is the very first "trick" he learned. Jon has complete awareness of and control over atomic and subatomic particles and can see even neutrinos. 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, an ability which Dreiberg had nicknamed Manhattan Transfer. Due to his perception of time, he sees the past, present and future simultaneously. Jon can see events so tiny and so fast, that they can be said to have never occurred at all.
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, alter his size, project destructive energy, disintegrate people, create force fields, transmute, create and destroy matter, move objects without physically touching them (telekinesis), reverse entropy, and, he suggests, create life and has 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 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.
""We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings."
—Jon to Laurie
Jon's limitation appears to be apathy. In some sense, unlimited power has come at the cost of the total absence of responsibility, and his phenomenal omnipotence is juxtaposed with his growing detachment. Although he doesn't age in the biological sense, his character has changed over time with gradual detachment from humanity.
He subscribes to a deterministic view of events and exerts an effort of choice; 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. From his radically altered perspective, almost all human concerns appear pointless and without obvious merit. For instance, he does nothing to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (even though he could see the future) or the murder of the Vietnamese woman, even though she was present.
Veidt correctly assumed tachyons; a large burst of them can slow his ability to see the future to a moderate extent, but still his telekinetic powers were unaffected. (Note: tachyons exist only in theoretical physics)
Although it was not seen in practice, Dr. Manhattan surmised that an EM pulse would cause such "static" that obscures the future, hinting at another possible weakness.
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.
The choice of the name Osterman for a crime fighter may be a deliberate joke, as Osterman is the original name of the Prince of Gangsters, "Monk" Eastman, a notorious Jewish gang leader from the Lower East Side.
In Watchmen: The Film Companion, Dr. Manhattan is described as an American patriot who willingly enters the service of his country to protect it. However the narrative of the comic and the film doesn't mention anything about his motives or beliefs concerning politics or the nation.
In other mediaEdit
- 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."
- In Watchmen videos, Andrew Sheroke portrays Manhattan.
Billy Crudup portrays the character in the film. He provided motion capture and plays Osterman as a human in the flashback scenes. Keanu Reeves was at one point rumored for the role, but backed out over contractual issues. When the project involved producer Joel Silver, Silver wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the part .
In the film, his father was more supportive of him rather than opposing when working with watches.
- 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)