In 1959, in an accident that was certainly unplanned and just as certainly unrepeatable, a young American man was completely disintegrated, at least in a physical sense. Despite the absence of a body, a form of electromagnetic pattern resembling consciousness survived, and was able, in time, to rebuild an approximation of the body it had lost.
Jon Osterman was born in 1929, the son of a watchmaker. He was pushed into the field of atomic physics by his father after the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at the close of WWII. Osterman started in Princeton in 1948 and finished his PhD in 1958. By May of 1959, he was involved in research at the Gila Flats. During this time he became romantically involved with colleague, Janey Slater. In August of 1959 he went to retrieve a watch he had fixed for her when he accidentally became trapped in an intrinsic field separator. All he could do was watch the countdown until his atoms were smashed, but eventually, and methodically, he reconstructed himself. At first it was thought that the base was haunted as on November 10th a disembodied circulatory system was seen walking through the kitchen, then four days later a partially muscled skeleton screamed at the edge of the perimeter fence for thirty seconds and then vanished. Finally on November 22nd a nude blue skinned man reconstituted itself right in front of Slater, she recognized him immediately.
By February of 1960 he was dubbed Dr. Manhattan by higher ups in Washington for the ominous associations it will raise in America’s enemies. Unveiled to the world in March of the same year he quickly shows himself capable of disassembling a rifle with his mind or melting tank armor with blasts from his hands.
Dr. Manhattan was created by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore for the landmark series, Watchmen. However, his first appearance was technically in DC Spotlight #1, a free preview of upcoming DC projects including Watchmen. Like most of the Watchmen main characters, he is primarily inspired by Charlton Comic's Captain Atom, though there are also clear similarities between him and silver age Superman, Spectre and Martian Manhunter. The character is also said to have been inspired by Spock due to their passive nature.
Major Story Arcs
Within two years the US is benefiting from his ability to produce any element as needed as he agrees to regularly produce lithium for mass-production of polyacetylene batteries for the production of electric automobiles, which become the norm, by 1963.
By May of 1966, he attends what was to be the first meeting of the Crimebusters, but the meeting ends in arguing. However, he does meet and begin an elicit affair with Laurie Juspeczyk - Silk Spectre II - which quickly and bitterly ends his relationship with Janey Slater.
In January of 1971, President Nixon personally asked Osterman to intervene in Vietnam. In March of the same year, he meets Edward Blake, also known as the Comedian, in Saigon. By June, North Vietnam surrenders, and many of the Vietnamese want to surrender personally to Osterman himself out of terror and religious awe. On V.V.N. Day he watches stoically as Blake murders the Vietnamese mother of his unborn child.
On August 3rd 1977, the emergency bill proposed by Senator Keene is passed, making vigilantism illegal as it was before they altered laws to accommodate strategically useful talents - such as Osterman, who is exempt from the bill and the Comedian. Others, such as Laurie, not so lucky. Rorschach alone remains active illegally.
In 1981, Osterman is asked to move into new quarters at Rockefeller Military Research Center in New York. Laurie moves with him at his request, as she is quickly becoming his sole link with humanity.
On October 12th, 1985, Osterman and Juspeczyk were informed of Edward Blake’s murder by their government contact. Rorschach arrives the next day and explains his theories on the subject, believing there is a serial killer on the loose. Juspeczyk reacts badly to not only Rorschach’s presence, but she is apparently quite happy that Blake is dead, citing that he had attempted to rape her mother at one point.
Osterman attends Blake’s funeral a few days later along with Dan Dreiberg (Nite-Owl II) and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias).
Less than a week later, Laurie walks out on him after an argument triggered by Osterman’s obvious loss of understanding of humanity. She quickly ran into the arms of Dan Dreiberg. Later that night he appears on a live interview program in which a reporter for Nova Express accuses Osterman of causing cancer in several of his close associates, including is old enemy Moloch and Janey Slater. In a fit of rage Osterman teleports everyone in the studio to the parking lot and he exiles himself to Mars after finding a photograph of Janey and himself before he changed.
Several days later, he returned to Earth to talk to Laurie, interrupting their escape from the police for helping Rorschach escape from prison. He takes her back to Mars where he explains that the time has come for her to convince him to intervene again in humanity’s affairs. After a long conversation Laurie realizes that Edward Blake is her biological father; seeing her sobbing and broken causes Osterman to re-think his conclusions about turning his back on humanity.
On November 2nd, they returned to Earth in time to see the culmination of Ozymandias’ plot to save the world, half of all the people of New York City dead. Seemingly killed by an alien who had attempted to breach our dimension and sent out a psychic shockwave killing millions in an instant. Osterman was able to trace the tachyons back to Ozymandias’ Antarctic base.
Teleporting there, he confronted Ozymandias who retreated passed a subcontractor atom separator, which when Osterman followed him through it, Ozymandias activated the machine seemingly killing Osterman.
Less than two minutes later Osterman had reformed and was quite angry.
Ozymandias scrambled to his communication/multimedia display to find that he had succeeded. Tensions between the United States and the USSR had ceased in light of the tragedy in New York City.
Quickly realizing that they all had to stay quiet about what had really happened or risk World War III, Osterman, Dreiberg, and Juspeczyk pledged to keep Ozymandias secret that he had manipulated the whole thing over the last ten years, and had faked the alien attack. Rorschach alone does not agree and vows to tell the world. Osterman is forced to disintegrate him.
After this episode, he tells Veidt that he has decided to leave the known universe and contemplates creating human beings of his own--given his renewed appreciation for humanity, giving a final word to Veidt, saying that "nothing ever ends".
Doctor Manhattan was revealed to be the mastermind behind the events of DC Rebirth.
During the events of Flashpoint, when Barry Allen and Pandora attempted to revert the corrupted Flashpoint universe, back to how it originally was, Manhattan overseen the two trying to fix the timeline, and interfered with this process by removing ten years from the should have been time-line, thus creating the New 52 Universe as a result, where everyone was now ten years younger than they should have been.
The only person who knows of Manhattan's actions is Wally West, who was trapped in the Speed Force at the time, allowing him to see everything Doctor Manhattan had done.
In this story arc, Dr. Manhattan doesn’t appear, but he does play a crucial role, albeit a minor one. Jay Garrick a.k.a. the original Flash shows up and tries to start a conversation with Barry Allen. However, he’s suddenly disintegrated by Dr. Manhattan.
Furthermore, Eobard Thawne finds “the button” and seeks the man who's behind the bigger picture. Thawne can’t believe what he’s seeing and asks for forgiveness, but it’s all in vain as he’s disintegrated by Manhattan as well.
It is revealed that Dr. Manhattan moved the lantern out of Alan Scott's reach, therefore there he never became the original Green Lantern, but more importantly, he died due to the bridge that collapsed.
Ozymandias cloned Bubastis (Clone) from the remains of the original Bubastis, who had been disintegrated with Jon Osterman. On the Lantern, there are temporal fingerprints of Doctor Manhattan. Bubastis feeds on the Lantern, by doing this, Jon should feel a strong pull to Bubastis, thus appearing eventually. Ultimately, Ozymandias succeeds as Dr. Manhattan suddenly appears.
Ozymandias tells him that he's the only one that can save their world, therefore he should come back with him. Dr. Manhattan responds Adrian has come all this way for nothing, as he's still things to do on this world. Furthermore, Dr. Manhattan tells Rorschach (Long) that Adrian doesn't have cancer at all.
Dr. Manhattan is suspected of killing Superman and is immediately confronted by almost every superhero in the Universe, they confront him on Mars. Martian Manhunter questions him and telepathically reads his mind, the answers he found were not pleasing to Guy Gardner. He is then attacked by Guy Gardner and other magicians on the scene but to avail. Dr. Manhattan quickly neutralises them while fighting off a plethora of other heroes. He is then blasted away by Captain Atom and is reduced to body tissue, but he quickly reforms himself and neutralises every superhero on the planet before asking them a question; "what are you hoping to accomplish".
Dr. Manhattan seems to have some mastery over the manipulation of matter and energies around him, as well as an understanding of their make-up on the most fundamental level. This control extends to possibly a complete control of his physical person, which came about after the removal of his intrinsic field. It was after this accident that he was able to piece himself back together over a period of time, and was shown to have these abilities.
Manhattan also has a unique perception of time, seemingly perceiving all events that occur in his life simultaneously. This is with exception, for certain events blur or distort his perception of certain sections of time until he becomes closer chronologically to those events. Despite his perception of time he finds himself a slave to predetermination, understanding the sequence of events that will occur as well as his own involvement in them but unable to alter the events in the past or future that he will be a part of. It should be noted that this ability has been impeded before through the use of tachyons.
It is also worth mentioning that because of his unique perception of time, energy, and matter Dr. Manhattan does not view life or humanity in the same way that normal sentient beings would. Manhattan may also be incapable of normal human emotions, as he exhibits none of the emotional traits of a normal human.
It has been noted that "in well supported theoretical terms", that Manhattan could destroy "large areas" of Soviet territory instantly (no notes to quantify "large"), and that he could deflect or disarm at least 60% of incoming missiles from Soviet bases in the USSR and Europe before reaching their intended targets, if they were to launch a full scale nuclear assault.
While the true extent and nature of Manhattan's power is not known, here is a list of some of the powers, abilities, and traits that he has exhibited:
Teleportation of himself or other individuals over incredible distances
Matter Manipulation/Atomic Structure Control – limits unknown. Has been shown to be able to do things like: create crystalline structures on Mars, create a small amount of water, melt a portion of a tank. It was also stated he possibly could have turned a gun to steam, bullets to mercury, and a bottle to snowflakes by an angry Blake, though he is never actually shown doing these things.
Can create copies of himself which act independently of each other, but operate in an intelligent collective fashion.
Atemporal (in terms of his perception of time).
Does not appear to age.
Does not seem to require food, water, or air.
Creation of Environmental Fields – as seen when he creates a field around Laurie, allowing her to survive on Mars.
Can read atoms and sense tachyons
Able to restructure himself after the removal of his intrinsic field.
Disintegration/Intrinsic Field removal – It is unclear whether he is disintegrating his targets or removing their intrinsic field. It should be noted that he does seem to need to aim his hand at the intended target.
In the DC Universe, Manhattan was still considered a powerful force, to the point that even Mr.Mxyzptlk admitted that he wouldn't want to deal to him. In addition, Manhattan showed the ability to harness magic, which he described as "scraps of creation".
John's body is humanoid and its composition is similar to that of a normal human, with a build similar to a tall muscular male in great physical shape. His height and relative size vary depending on his needs, but generally remain that of an average human. He is completely blue and has no hair. On his forehead he has etched a nucleus and an electron orbiting around it. He did this when he was prepared by the military for unveiling to the general public. They presented him with a hat as a part of his uniform when had a group of crossing ellipses which they intended to look like an atom (John did not see the resemblance). He told them that if he were to have a symbol it should at least be one that he respects.
As Dr. Manhattan his costume started out as a sort of black leotard, which presumably he created. As time progressed the costume shrank progressively to a pair of shorts, then a speedo, to a thong and finally to nothing. He would eventually go on to wear nothing because he could not comprehend the need for clothing. His original costume was only created because it made those around him (including the general public) more comfortable.