Since his creation in 1986, Watchmen super-being Doctor Manhattan has remained an enigma. Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy? Or is his existence as a posthuman god too complicated for mere humans to comprehend? Based on his actions in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel, you could make the argument that he’s both antagonist and hero. On the one hand, he struggles with the idea that humanity is worth saving, that humans have a purpose and aren’t just an accident. But he also feels remorse for those he’s hurt. He’s undoubtedly the most tragic character in the book.
Doctor Manhattan is once again at the forefront of the DC Universe, thanks to last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns, which posited that the blue superman was perhaps responsible for some of the changes in the New 52 era. The question remains: did Doctor Manhattan mean the DC Universe harm? Johns and Gary Frank will undoubtedly answer this question in the upcoming Doomsday Clock limited series, which pits Doctor Manhattan versus Superman. Until then, CBR looks back at some of the things that make the Doctor a hero and others that make him a villain!
15. RUTHLESS: DIDN’T SAVE JFK
Doctor Manhattan could very well be the first human to become a god. He was originally Jon Osterman, a physicist with a normal life before he suffered a terrible accident in his lab that seemingly disintegrated his body. But just a short time later, he returned to Earth transformed into Doctor Manhattan, an omniscient being who can see past, present and future at the same time. This ability to see all of time at once causes him to start to withdraw from humanity.
One of the big implications of his growing apathy towards humans is that he chose not to stop the Kennedy assassination, although he totally could have. He foresaw President Kennedy’s death, but felt that it was futile to try and stop it since it had already happened in Doctor Manhattan’s altered perception of time. That’s pretty cold.
14. KIND: DECIDES TO BE SUPERHERO
Think about it: Doctor Manhattan would be impossible to stop had he chosen to use his powers for evil. How do you stop a dude who can completely bend reality to his will, see the future, and disintegrate his enemies with a single blast of energy? Even Batman would have a hard time figuring that out and he’s punched gods in the face. If it really turns out that Doctor Manhattan’s turned evil in Doomsday Clock, Superman’s going to have his work cut out for him.
Luckily, in Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan is generally benevolent (when he cares at all). While he initially abandons Earth to its fate during the escalating nuclear crisis between the U.S. and Russia, he eventually decides to return and help stop the planet from blowing itself up.
13. RUTHLESS: MAY HAVE CREATED NEW 52 TIMELINE
Doctor Manhattan might have gone rogue in between his time in Watchmen and DC Rebirth. Johns’ universe-spanning book strongly hints that Doctor Manhattan is behind the existence of the New 52. You see, after the Flash messed up the timeline in an attempt to save his mother, he tried to go back and fix what he’d done. But in trying to revert back to the normal timeline, he instead created the New 52 universe.
It was revealed in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that Doctor Manhattan was allegedly responsible for the New 52 after erasing 10 years from the timeline. This was unknown to all of the New 52 versions of the characters and has only now come to the forefront. Batman and The Flash are currently on the case to figure out who’s behind all of these time-altering shenanigans. Eventually, it’s all going to lead to Superman vs. Doctor Manhattan.
12. KIND: HIS PRESENCE IN VIETNAM LEADS TO LESS CASUALTIES
In the alternate history of Watchmen, the U.S. easily defeats the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. How did we accomplish this? We introduced our most powerful citizen to the enemy, who showed off his otherworldly might by transforming into a giant and zapping the jungles of Vietnam, leaving destruction in his path. This immortal being didn’t even take any damage. The U.S. had the ultimate weapon.
Doctor Manhattan single-handedly ended the war about three months after he entered the bloody conflict. After witnessing this blue god’s power, many members of the Viet Cong willingly surrendered. Doctor Manhattan’s actions and the swift end of the war undoubtedly prevented countless more casualties. Depending what side you were on during the conflict, democracy was preserved in Vietnam and it was a great victory for the U.S.
11. RUTHLESS: DISTORTS AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM
Of course, the U.S. victory in Vietnam looked very good on Richard Nixon’s resume. After the win, the government repealed the 22nd Amendment and allowed Nixon to run for not only a third term, but a FOURTH as well. During Nixon’s four terms, the U.S. took a more aggressive approach to the Cold War, flaunting Doctor Manhattan as the ultimate weapon. While most of the world cringed, Russia continued to arm itself, and by the time the events of Watchmen begin, the planet is on the brink of war, thanks to Nixon’s constant instigating.
Ultimately, this falls on Doctor Manhattan’s shoulders. Sure, he ended a bloody war, but that completely distorted the American political process, which in turn led to a world on the brink of destruction. Surely, Doctor Manhattan knew what the outcome of his participation in the Vietnam War would be. Yet, he did nothing to change things.
10. KIND: RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY SCIENTIFIC ADVANCEMENTS
It’s a shame that Doctor Manhattan’s arrival on Earth didn’t usher in a worldwide technological utopia, and instead plunged the world into a nuclear dystopia. After all, he did help America make several advancements in technology. Chief among his accomplishments was helping the country completely switch to electric-powered vehicles. Since he was able to synthesize the massive amounts of lithium needed to end America’s dependency on oil, the country could now run more efficiently.
In the film adaptation from director Zack Snyder, it’s these same advancements that ultimately make Doctor Manhattan the world’s number one enemy. Ozymandias used the reactors Doctor Manhattan had created as new sources of energy to trigger powerful explosions in the world’s biggest cities. This ultimately unites the U.S. and Russia against a common enemy: Doctor Manhattan.
9. RUTHLESS: LEAVES JANEY FOR SILK SPECTRE
Jon Osterman met Janey Slater, the love of his life, while they were both researchers at a base in fictional Gila Flats, Arizona. They were both working on the Intrinsic Field Subtractor, which is what ultimately disintegrated Jon and transformed him into Doctor Manhattan, when they took a fancy to each other. Even after Jon returns as the an all-powerful blue god, the two remain together for some time.
Until Doctor Manhattan met Laurie’ Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre, at the first Crimebusters meeting. He quickly took a fancy to the younger superheroine and left Janey. This was only the start of Doctor Manhattan’s growing apathy. He later pushed away Laurie, too, and eventually ended up completely alone — which is actually how he seems to prefer things. Doctor Manhattan’s a bit of a heartbreaker.
8. KIND: DECIDES HUMAN LIFE IS WORTH PROTECTING
After Doctor Manhattan leaves Earth, he spends much of the rest of the story ruminating about humanity’s existence. Do humans have a purpose or are they just a complete accident? More importantly, are they even really worth protecting? After all, Doctor Manhattan has seen everything that awaits humanity and feels that it is futile to intervene. It’s already happened as far as he’s concerned, so what’s the point?
It’s only after he transports the Silk Spectre to Mars so that she can try and convince him to go back and help Earth that he realizes perhaps humanity is important after all; that all life matters, and that creation is in fact a miracle. This realization is what propels him to go back and stop Ozymandias before it’s too late.
7. RUTHLESS: ABANDONS EARTH IN ITS TIME OF NEED
Doctor Manhattan abandons Earth at the worst possible moment. Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have reached the boiling point and the planet is on the brink of nuclear destruction. This is all not to mention the fact that someone is killing off Doctor Manhattan’s friends. Instead of trying to help, he decides to exile himself on Mars, far away from the problems of humans.
“I am tired of Earth, these people. I’m tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives,” Doctor Manhattan says in his exile on Mars. Sure, it’s not entirely his fault that he ran away. After all, it was Ozymandias who tricked him into thinking that the radiation emitted from his body had caused cancer in his former colleagues, including Janey. But Doctor Manhattan has great power, which means he has a responsibility to protect those less fortunate than him. At least, that’s what Uncle Ben would say.
6. KIND: DECIDES TO KEEP OZYMANDIAS’ SECRET
Doctor Manhattan eventually comes to the realization that humans are worth protecting and that their lives have meaning. He returns to Earth to stop Ozymandias before he can unleash his master plan. Unfortunately, Doctor Manhattan is too late and millions of people are dead in the blink of an eye after the “villain” transports a biologically-engineered, telepathic creature to New York City and it explodes in a psychic shockwave.
But Ozymandias had an ulterior motive: to save the planet. The purpose of the attack was in fact to bring peace to Earth. Ozymandias knew that if the U.S. and Russia believed the planet was under alien attack, they’d unite against the invaders. When Ozymandias explains all this, Doctor Manhattan and the rest of the former Crimebusters (except Rorschach) agree to keep all of this a secret in order to keep peace on Earth. Whether you believe that to be heroic or not is for you to decide, but it did help save lives (at least immediately, if temporarily).
5. RUTHLESS: TRAUMATIZES SILK SPECTRE
Doctor Manhattan is a seriously crappy boyfriend. Not only did he neglect Laurie, he abandoned her to blow up with the rest of the humans and then proceeded to traumatize her by helping her realize who her real father was. Laurie’s father is none other than Eddie Blake (aka The Comedian), the man who tried to rape her mother, the first Silk Spectre, years prior to the events of Watchmen. This realization completely tears Laurie up inside.
It’s actually the unlikelihood of Laurie’s creation by two people who seemingly hated each other that moves Doctor Manhattan to help the humans in the end. Somehow, this made him realize the miracle of life. So I guess you could say that traumatizing Laurie with the truth served a bigger purpose? We mean, Doctor Manhattan didn’t actually stop the atrocity in New York City from happening, so maybe not…
4. KIND: GIVES BLESSING TO SILK SPECTRE AND NITE OWL
By the time we first meet Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, he and Laurie are already on the outs. There are clear signs that Doctor Manhattan’s growing apathy towards humans is causing a lot of strain on his relationship with Laurie, who is very obviously unhappy with the way he’s been drifting away from her. One of the most depressing moments in their relationship is when Doctor Manhattan replicates himself to please Laurie sexually while he also works in the lab.
It’s no wonder Laurie eventually bounces and shacks up with Nite Owl, who’s always been secretly in love with her. While Doctor Manhattan is in self-imposed exile on Mars, Laurie and Nite Owl fall in love and start a relationship. Upon his return, Doctor Manhattan accepts that Laurie’s moved on. He could’ve easily zapped Nite Owl in a jealous rage, but he didn’t. That’s definitely progress… right?
3. RUTHLESS: DOESN’T STOP COMEDIAN FROM KILLING PREGNANT WOMAN
Vietnam was a playground for anti-heroes like the Comedian, who celebrated the U.S. victory a bit too much in his final days in the country. Comedian got a local woman pregnant and planned to skip town before she gave birth so that he didn’t have to take responsibility for the child. But she found him at a bar before he could leave and left a mark on his face so that he could never forget her or the baby he abandoned. The Comedian then turns around and guns her down.
Doctor Manhattan witnesses all of this and does nothing. He could have easily dismantled the Comedian’s gun by simply thinking it, but instead he stood there and watched. Worst of all, since he can see past, present, and future, Doctor Manhattan knew this was going to happen and still didn’t act. That’s complete apathy.
2. KIND: DECIDES TO CREATE LIFE
Things seem to come full circle for Doctor Manhattan by the end of the story. God creates man, man creates Doctor Manhattan, and Doctor Manhattan heads out to create new life somewhere else in the galaxy. He learns that he has a bigger purpose and responsibility as a god, and that all life is precious. It’s unclear if Doctor Manhattan ever did create new lifeforms, but perhaps we’ll learn more about that during Doomsday Clock.
Doctor Manhattan might be the character who goes through the most change in Watchmen, from apathetic super-being to kind god. He’s basically lost all of those he cares about and is even forced to kill one of his former partners, but he still manages to see a new beginning. As he says to Ozymandias at the end of the story, “”In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”
1. RUTHLESS: KILLED A BUNCH OF PEOPLE
While he mostly keeps to himself in Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan has still managed to amass a heck of a body count. His final victim is Rorschach, when it becomes clear that the vigilante isn’t going to be able to live with the secret of what the ex-Crimebusters have collectively agreed to do in order to save the world. Doctor Manhattan is forced to vaporize Rorschach in order to stop him from revealing the truth to the world.
It’s even more difficult to justify the rest of the people he’s killed. In DC Universe: Rebirth #1, it’s implied that Doctor Manhattan has murdered a few other characters, including Pandora, Owlman, and Metron. He also (presumably) doomed Wally West to an eternity trapped and forgotten in the Speed Force, which is its own kind of death. Of course, it remains to be seen if Doctor Manhattan actually committed these atrocities. As is always the case with the character, time will tell.
What do you think? Is Dr. Manhattan generally good or evil? Let us know in the comments!
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