- Reassembling myself was the first trick I learned. It didn't kill Osterman... did you really think it would kill me? I have walked across the surface of the Sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast they can hardly be said to have occurred at all. But you, Adrian, you're just a man. The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite.
- -- Doctor Manhattan src
Dr. Jonathan Osterman was a lab technician caught in a radioactive particle test, which transformed him into a god-like being. He would later become a member of the superhero group known as the Crimebusters.
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 His father, confronted with the undeniable facts of the theory of relativity, declares his profession outdated and throws his son's watch-making parts out the windows, urging him to instead pursue a career studying nuclear physics.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. 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 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.
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, for what is theoretically 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.
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.
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.
On Mars, Jon explains his belief that life is an overrated phenomena, citing the barren planet as an example of natural, undisturbed beauty as they travel on his floating glass fortress. Laurie tries to convince him otherwise, but he does not believe. Angered at his indifference to Earth's well-being, she demands he land the craft and send her home to die with the others. As she walks away, Jon tells her that, while she always asks him to see things through the human viewpoint, she had never attempted to see things through his eyes. While attempting this, Laurie realizes her father was Edward Blake.
As Laurie wept over this realization, Jon is amazed at it. He explains that he had spent his time trying to find what would be called a miracle, but neglected to see anything of the sort in human coupling. The odds against two people like her mother and the Comedian coming together to create a child like her, he believes, is the same as turning air into gold. With this revelation, his interest in humanity is restored and the two return to Earth to attempt to stop Veidt's plan.
They arrive too late, however, as Manhattan has already been destroyed by the psychic shock-wave from the squid monster that Veidt teleported to the city. Jon's perception of the future is being blocked by tachyon particles but is able to locate the source: Veidt's Antarctic lair. Teleporting there, Jon begins to feel more distorted than before, as he is closer to the tachyon generators' source. He walks inside to confront Veidt who tries to run from him. He tells Veidt that he thanks him for this, as he forgot the joys of not knowing something. Being confronted by Bubastis, he is stalled long enough for Adrian to throw the switch on an intrinsic field disrupter, blowing both apart.
Veidt's victory seems certain, as he even manages to catch a bullet fired point blank at him by Laurie. Jon reappears outside in giant size, however, asking him if he actually expected something that could not kill Jon Osterman could kill Doctor Manhattan. Before he can kill Veidt, however, Adrian turns on the television wall in the room to reveal that all countries in the world have ceased conflict, including the United States and Soviet Union, in order to try and understand the "alien attack" on New York. Seeing that his plan did bring about genuine world peace, Jon agrees with the others (besides Rorschach) that knowledge of Veidt's instigation of the entire plan should be kept secret.
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. He appears before Veidt, informing him that he is leaving for another galaxy. Before he departs, Adrian asks if, in the end, what he did was right. He simply states, "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."
After the events of Flashpoint, when Barry Allen, a superhero known in this world as "the Flash", attempted to revert his universe back to normal, Jon, who was able to somehow oversee these other-worldly events, interfered with this process by erasing ten years from that would-be, reverted universe, creating the Prime Earth as a side-effect. By doing this, Jon caused all the residents of Barry's world to be de-aged ten years, and lose some of their most important relationships with one another.
- Nigh-Omnipotence: Jon's "intrinsic field" has been removed due to an accident that sent his atoms flying leaving him with barely enough control over his DNA structure. Over time he was able to re-evaluate his physiology and become Doctor Manhattan, a quantum being of nearly unlimited power.
- Chronokinesis: Limited only to his perception of time, Jon can clearly see his future and past from a third person perspective. Likewise, he can grant others with the "atemporal" vision.
- Precognition: A product of his Chronokinesis, Jon can see his own future in a theoretical sense. This power has been blocked by theoretical particles called tachyons.
- Molecular Reconstruction: Able to restructure himself after the removal of his intrinsic field, Jon is not limited to use this reconstruction power only on himself. He's taken apart most inanimate objects and even taken apart human beings as well as reconstructing martian sand into large glass structures.
- Energy Projection: Jon doesn't need to touch or hold things in order to change their elemental structure, he doesn't even need to be solely conscious of his projections.
- Energy Construct Creation: It is unknown whether some of the creations he makes is the manipulation of matter, molecules or entirely creative quantum energy constructs. He's stated he wishes to create his own life after manipulating matter on Mars as a sort of test.
- Flight: Only seen as levitation, judging by Jon's slow and methodical process it can be termed that he could achieve must faster and dramatic appearances of flight but merely limits himself to hovering.
- Immortality: Never seeming to age, Jon has never appeared any older both physically and mentally after his accident. He's stated that the world grows older around him.
- Superhuman Strength: While in microscopic size, superhuman heights or in a seemingly normal form he has displayed great physical strength such as hurling tanks about, lifting planetary structures and heaving delicate technological equipment about.
- Superhuman Durability: Jon possesses incredible durability, as he was able to walk across the sun, unharmed.
- Telekinesis: Telekinetic in his fabrication of lifting objects he focuses on with his mind, Jon is either limited or limits himself to only use his mental abilities to multitask as he takes apart or reassembles objects living and nonliving. He could also make a person's head forcefully explode.
- Intangibility: Bullets and blows travel through Jon, as such he can allow all objects to pass through him without so much as a reaction. He can extend this ability to others and other objects.
- Teleportation: Able to remove and reassemble the particles and molecules of any object from one location to another with a single thought. Jon has teleported huge and small objects, people and animals alike.
- Bio-Fission: Able to split and replicate his being, this ability has only been shown on himself. He's become many different completely sentient versions of himself that at first seem to be different entities, but are each a divided consciousness of Doctor Manhattan.
- Bio-Fusion: Likewise with his Bio-Fission ability, Jon can bring his sentient copies back into his body without any adverse side effects. It is unknown what would happen if someone were actually able to kill one of the clones, but more than likely nothing would happen to the original.
- Size Alteration: Able to grow or shrink incredibly fast without a seeming limit. He displays great abilities and focus while at these sizes without a loss of control in any fashion.
- Radiation Production: Jon's body emits some level of ultraviolet radiation.
- Reality Alteration: After the events of the Flashpoint, when Barry Allen attempted to revert his universe back to normal, Jon interfered with this process by erasing ten years from that would-be, reverted universe, creating the Prime Earth as a side-effect.
- Cosmic Awareness: Jon possess understanding of the workings of the universe on a cosmic scale, and has the ability to oversee other universes as he wishes.
- Chronokinesis: Limited only to his perception of time, Jon can clearly see his future and past from a third person perspective. Likewise, he can grant others with the "atemporal" vision.
- Mental Illness: Without being able to truly feel or embrace things in a virgin perception, Doctor Manhattan had begun to lose his sight of humanity and his sense of humor. He grew bored of the Earth and its inhabitants multiple times. He finally chose to leave Earth after he stated he understood humanity again; signifying his final departure from humanity.
- Doctor Manhattan was based upon Charlton 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.
- 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.
- In Sam Hamm's unproduced 1989 screenplay for the movie, Adrian Veidt had studied alternate timelines using tachyons, and noted that the human race survived in some of them because Dr. Manhattan never existed (as his creation was a flashpoint in history). And so, he plotted to assassinate Jon in the past before he got killed by the intrinsic field disruptor. To do this, he creates a tachyon bubble showing the day of the experiment, then gets ready to shoot a rifle at Jon through a small opening of the bubble. However, Dr. Manhattan arrives in time to thwart the plot and kill Veidt. Manhattan then decides to enter the past and save his past self from the experiment instead. He enlarges the opening of the tachyon bubble and steps through, then fuses with Jon and becomes a protective husk surrounding him. The experiment destroys Manhattan, and Jon leaves the chamber intact, returning Janey's repaired watch to her. With Dr. Manhattan no longer in existance, the present transforms into a reality closer to ours, with Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre existing as anamolies.
- Allen Adam, the "Quantum Superman" of Earth-4, is in part based on Doctor Manhattan.
- 24 Appearances of Jonathan Osterman (Watchmen)
- 15 Images featuring Jonathan Osterman (Watchmen)
- 7 Quotations by or about Jonathan Osterman (Watchmen)
- Character Gallery: Jonathan Osterman (Watchmen)
- Doctor Manhattan at dccomics.com
- Doctor Manhattan at Wikipedia.org
- Doctor Manhattan at the Watchmen Wiki
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This is an in-universe article with out-of-universe material.