Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Dr. Manhattan freaks me out. I know Watchmen is designed to be disturbing and all, but seriously, could we get a few more gratuitous shots of this guy's naked, superpowered--erm--manhood in here? Besides the strange campy name and the needless nudity, Alan Moore's answer to what it would be like to have actual superpowers dovetails nicely with the brutal realism that he depicts his superheroes with.

So what's the only guy with superpowers like? Well, appropriately inhuman. He doesn't think the same way anymore. He doesn't act the same way. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that Dr. Manhattan has become a god walking among ants.

So...is this guy a hero?

Hhmm. Maybe he is...of a certain sort.

It isn't Dr. Manhattan's struggles again supervillains (which he would promptly annihilate) or tough decisions that seem to make this character. In fact, he doesn't seem to wrestle with MOST decisions at all. He's perfectly calm. Detached. Contemplative yes, but it's like a man walking along the beach and staring into the ocean, wondering about the meaning of things. Even if that beach is, in actuality, the world crumbling around him.

Here's what's interesting (and so strikingly inhuman) about Dr. Manhattan: his perspective is completely unbiased.

See, the contrast with the other characters drives home how much bias plays a role in perspective. The very fact that you ARE human and have had the life that you've had leads you to think a certain way and believe certain things. And as Rorschach might tell you, that's not something that can easily be changed. Dr. Manhattan doesn't seem weighed down by any particular philosophy or agenda. Whatever happens, he weighs, carefully--almost scientifically--and decides whether to involve himself.

In a way, this makes him the free-est of the characters in Watchmen. He might just be the only guy who actually HAS free will. He's had to entirely shed his humanity to reach that point, but Dr. Manhattan might decide to help destroy society. Or he might decide to help save it, depending on the circumstances.

It seems to me that Manhattan is in touch with the complexity of everyone else's perspective. He considers EVERYTHING-- the big picture--the entire forest, instead of every individual tree. The end result, of course, is that he actually comes across as really unsympathetic and entirely removed from everything going on around him. His wife being upset and leaving him is just an event. Someone getting killed in front of him is a strange phenomenon to observe and learn from. And ultimately he ends up miscalculating people's reactions because that's just how out there he's gotten over the years.

But Manhattan might also be the only character in the story who isn't just reacting. That's his real superpower if you ask me: omnipotent perspective. Enough so to make him terrifying by some standards. He is really considering every aspect of human experience when he thinks about anything and when he makes a decision. Of course, it's debatable whether or not this is such a great thing. For me, Moore isn't passing judgment on any of the characters. Just kind of saying: this is the way things are. You can either be human and live with your own perspective and bias or understand everyone else's perspective to such a point that you actually become detached and less human. It's the great human dillemna and all of the characters fall in different aspects of this spectrum.

But maybe Manhattan is the only guy who could, in theory, make a decision for himself instead of being predisposed to his decisions being made for him by his upbringing, his experiences, etc. The results might not always be pretty. It's scary to think about someone with so much power being so...untethered by any human concerns. BUT...in as much as free will is an inherent dilemma in Watchmen, I think you're welcome to view Manhattan as quite gifted, maybe even heroic, as compared to some. Take a while a think about that and see if it doesn't make you shiver.