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Superhero Origins: Dr. Manhattan

VO: Mike Petel
This scientist was involved in a horrifying accident that turned him into a blue demi-god. A man who was torn apart molecule by molecule, he returned from the dead with the intention of helping humanity. However, while he is invincible, all powerful and can see the future, he increasingly drifts away from his former humanity. This in turn makes the character of central importance to the tale of an alternate 1980s timeline and the global scheme that is afoot. Join as we explore the comic book origin of Dr. Jonathan Osterman, otherwise known as Dr. Manhattan.

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Superhero Origins: Dr. Manhattan

This god-like being has transcended past the need for pants. Welcome to and today we will explore the comic book origin of Dr. Jonathan Osterman, otherwise known as Dr. Manhattan.

As with most comic book characters, there are often re-imaginations and different versions to a character’s past. We have chosen to primarily follow the storyline, which unfolded in 1986’s 12 Issue Watchmen series.

Though he appeared in full God-like blue form from starting in issue one, his origin story was only explained in issue #4. This was when the blue demigod, who was already shown to have to power to manipulate time and space, placed himself in self imposed exhile on Mars after being led to believe that he was causing cancer to those around him.

It was there that he explained that when he was thirty years old, he was hired as a research assistant to help with work conducting Intrinsic Field Experiments. These were explained to be tests to see if matter was held together by anything other than gravity and the basic laws of physics.

While working on the project, he began a romantic relationship with a coworker, during which time he was saddened by his inability to fix her watch.

Then one fateful day, when he went back into a test chamber to retrieve his coat, the door slammed shut and the machine activated. With the test chamber activated, his fellow coworkers, girlfriend included, could only helplessly watch in horror as Jon took a moment to look down at his watch before the machine tore him apart at the molecular level.

Months after Jon’s funeral, he began to re-materialize periodically, albeit in half composed forms, before finally reappearing in his new, omnipotent blue form.

While he was reunited with his girlfriend, his newfound immortality and profound scientific enlightenment caused friction in their relationship. As she aged, Jon stayed ever the same.

During this time, he was recruited by the government to help in their military interests. He then branded himself with the hydrogen atom symbol, and chose the name Dr. Manhattan in reverence to the infamous project that spawned the atomic bomb.

In the years that followed, Manhattan met and worked with other costumed superheroes. By 1961, he admitted to not only knowing that Kennedy would get shot, but knowing how everything would play out. He helped the United States win the Vietnam War, where he met and worked with Edward Blake, also known as the Comedian.

His former coworker and girlfriend now significantly older, their relationship finally fell apart when Manhattan began a relationship a young lady named Laurie Juspeczyk, who also happened to be the young costumed superhero, Silk Specter.

As before, Manhattan continued to slowly lose all ties to his humanity. Taking only an abstract interest in human concerns, he found himself increasingly unable to make an emotional connection with his new girlfriend. His boundless physical powers alienated him from her as it had his previous partner, and Laurie eventually left him as well.

Manhattan then appeared on a television interview for his first ever Q&A period with the public.
It was there that he was led to believe that had given his former friends and loved ones cancer.

Emotionally shattered and bombarded with questions, Dr. Manhattan literally teleported everyone out of the room, then made a few quick stops on earth before teleporting himself to Mars. There he build himself a strange and abstract castle of crystal clocks, and contemplated his origins and the nature of humanity. He realized that the cold war was intensifying, and that Earth would soon be leveled in nuclear winter but remained indifferent to the events unfolding.

After teleporting Laurie to Mars, he was convinced by her to regain some of his humanity and return to earth to help in the unfolding conflict there. However, upon their return, they were too late, as the terrible plot to destroy New York had already taken place. When he and Laurie attempted to intervene and bring the culprit to Justice, Jon was led into a trap and seemingly vaporized. This, of course, did not work and he rematerialized as close to angry as he could get. He, along with the rest of the heroes on site, were then convinced of the plan’s true purpose, to end the cold war and unite the world under and falsely perceived common enemy.
In the movie, the blame of the common enemy is placed on Manhattan himself, where as in the comics, it’s blamed on an giant hoax about an alien invasion (no joke).

Either way, realizing that this newfound peace, based on a lie, would be best for humanity, Manhattan agreed to not reveal the secret. He was however forced to kill his former friend Rorschach, whose incorruptible moral code dictated that the truth must be told.

Manhattan the said that though he had regained interest in human life, he was leaving the galaxy for one he considered less complicated. He then mused that he might create life there himself, and then vanished from earth forever.

Are you a fan of the hands-off and pantless immortal of the WatchMen series? For more thrilling comic book origins, be sure to subscribe to

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