The Tragedy of Doctor Manhattan

Davis McCondichie Davis McCondichie
July 31st, 2017

I am a student at the University of Missouri, who is studying documentary film. In my free time, I enjoy watching movies of all kinds and reading the latest comics.

The Tragedy of Doctor Manhattan

Doctor Manhattan, the superhero who forced himself back together after being vaporized, has become the most overlooked character in Alan Moore's Watchmen. ComiConverse contributor Davis McCondichie has this appreciation of a sometimes hidden part of his character.

The Tragedy of Doctor Manhattan

Watchmen readers assume they have Dr. Jon Osterman figured out early on in the graphic novel. However, these assumptions do not delve deep into the tragedy that lies within his storyline. Doctor Manhattan is perhaps the most tragic character in the entire series.


Credit: DC Comics

To understand the tragedy, one must first understand the character. Doctor Manhattan was once Jon Osterman; a young boy determined to follow in his father's footsteps. Osterman worked to become a watchmaker until his father threw his watch pieces out the window and insisted his son study nuclear physics. Osterman obeyed, and this decision lead him to Gila Flats, where he conducted research until his accident. Just before his accident, he met Janey Slater and the two become lovers. It is his love for Janey that sparks the accident. Osterman was headed back into the test chamber to retrieve a watch he repaired for Slater when the test activates, and he is trapped inside.


Osterman becomes Doctor Manhattan in that moment, and this past is what many readers account for as his tragic moment. There is much more to the tragedy though. Doctor Manhattan's life after the accident is perhaps the most realistic take on how the world would react to a superhuman.


Credit: DC Comics

The U.S. government immediately militarizes Osterman. Generals give him the name Doctor Manhattan. Osterman never even asks to be named. The military gives Doctor Manhattan a costume and a symbol to wear on his head. However, Osterman declines their symbol and instead chooses to burn the atomic structure for hydrogen on his forehead. This moment appears to be the first decision Jon Osterman ever makes for himself.

Here in lies the true tragedy of Doctor Manhattan. He sees time as no one else can, yet he falls into it obediently. The man with the most power in the world must be indifferent to its flow. Osterman never tries to deny his place in the universe. He never attempts to change the future. Instead, Doctor Manhattan walks plain-faced, with certainty. The tragic moment of Doctor Manhattan's story is the fact he faces every pain in life head on without real power to change it.

The man who can bend atoms to his will and teleport on a whim cannot change his destiny. What is even worse is the people surrounding him treat him with jealousy because of his powers. Readers assume that Doctor Manhattan is indifferent to the world, but it is the world that is indifferent to him. After he reanimates himself, he is immediately seen as an object by the world. A tool to be used as political leverage. Can the audience blame him for becoming indifferent?


Credit: DC Comics

Almost every character in the comic treats Doctor Manhattan as an emotionless pseudo-god. Despite this, the audience sees in the final chapters of the story that he is capable of emotion. He still feels. Doctor Manhattan is still human. Doctor Manhattan says it himself when he remarks that he is a puppet who can see the strings. His perception does not negate the fact that he is a puppet. He walks to the future knowing full well he is going to have his heart broken. Doctor Manhattan has to feel the pain of the people he has lost every moment of his life. He distances himself from humanity because he can no longer feel the pain of being treated as a monotoned weapon. Doctor Manhattan becomes indifferent to humanity because it hurts him to care about people when people do not care for him.

The tragedy of Doctor Manhattan is that no man can understand his struggles. He walks to a predetermined future with no one to help carry his burden. He is a superhero amongst citizens who do not care about his existence. Even Superman would have left a world that did not try to understand him.

Story continues below

Davis McCondichie is a Contributor for ComiConverse. Find him on Twitter: @McMccondichie

(Visited 149 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Yes No