Watchmen at 30, pt. 4: Watchmaker

"The Superman exists 
and he's American."

"I never said 'The superman exists and he's American.' What I said was 'God exists and he's American.' If that statement starts to chill you after a couple of moments' consideration, then don't be alarmed. A feeling of intense and crushing religious terror at the concept indicates only that you are still sane." 

The quote directly above is from the supplemental material at the end of Watchmen #4 ("Dr. Manhattan: Super-powers and the Superpowers" by Professor Milton Glass). A few pages of prose was nothing new for a comic book, but was Watchmen the first to include its own tie-in material? If not the first, certainly the most high-profile.

Anyway, if you only read the comic book part of the story and skipped the prose in the backpages, you'd understandably have assumed the "Superman exists and he's American" line was the creation of this news reporter: 

No mention is made of his quoting anyone; it's just presented as if the line is part of the broadcast. It adds even more to the considerable verisimilitude already accumulated to see a fictional misquote "corrected" like this in the appendix. (Just having an appendix adds to the verisimilitude.) 

Let's put aside for a moment the "crushing religious terror" Professor Glass mentions and stick with the original "Superman/ American" quote. Prior to Watchmen, there was at least one precedent to this sort of storytelling:

By Moore and Leach/Davis. Not a perfect one-to-one comparison, but it was certainly something Moore was eagerly exploring in the 80s.

But in 1986, this was not the well-combed terrain it would be in years to come. Consider the various comics that have come out in the thirty years since that explore this real-world-implications-of-the-Superman conceit: Marvels, Marvel Ultimates, Red Son, Kick Ass, The Authority et al. Just to name a few. My point is not that it's become an over-used plot trope or anything like that, only that we can add it to Watchmen's growing list of soon-to-be-widely-copied innovations. 

On to "Watchmaker." The issue is structured around Doc Manhattan reflecting on the events of his life as well as the nature of time while walking around the surface of Mars.

Along the way, more of the backstory - most of which we've seen from others' points of view - is filled in.

We get our first glimpse of Ozymandias' Antarctica retreat, as well as our first indication that he and Doc Manhattan knew each other outside the one abortive meeting of the Crimebusters we saw in issue #2.

The good Doctor's woolgathering is primarily concerned with two things: the nature of time, and his failed relationship with Janey Slater.

aka "The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one." - Einstein 

Did any comic ever tackle the nature of spacetime before Watchmen? I assume the answer is yes, though specific examples escape me. Whether anyone did it as eloquently as Moore, Gibbons, and Higgins did in "Watchmaker" is another story. I don't mean to overmake or become redundant on this wow-Watchmen-was-so-influential topic, but I try to point it out where appropriate. This really knocked me on my adolescent butt.

Here's more from "Dr. Manhattan: Super-powers and the Superpowers":

"Science, traditional enemy of mysticism and religion, has taken on a growing understanding that the model of the universe suggested by quantum physics differs very little from the universe that Taoists and other mystics have existed in for centuries."

I think this sort of Tao of Physics / Quantum Psychology understanding has been increasingly challenged in the three decades since Watchmen. This means something, undoubtedly, in the world of actual physics but not so much in the realm of fiction, particularly the realm of Watchmen, which, being a two-dimensional "sub-string reality", is under no obligation to conform to the physical and quantum laws of our own other-dimensional reality. 

It makes little difference, in other words, if contemporaneous notions about the equivalency of "Eastern mysticism" and quantum physics have been proven true or false over the past thirty years. The metaphor as it pertains to Doctor Manhattan - a Christ figure at this crossroads between Shiva, Zen, and Einstein - is unaffected.

"I don't think there is a God, Janey. 
If there is, I'm not him."

aka "Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love." - Einstein 

For the first time, we meet Jon Ostermann, the man who became Doctor Manhattan after re-assembling himself from a scattered intrinsic field. 

As he reflects on the loss of his humanity and how the accident dislodged his view of time, his mind swirls around memories of Janey Slater (the ex-girlfriend whose death he was confronted with in the TV studio last issue) particularly one associated with the photo he plucked from "the Bestiary" at Gila Flats

A nod to The Right Stuff. (The Bestiary, I mean, not these screencaps specifically)

The fragmented-way Doctor Manhattan experiences time (closer to how it actually is vs. our falsely-chronological perception of it) informs the way he swims through the relationship wreckage in his wake.

Great stuff. Reading this again in 2016 I was struck by how this is Doctor Manhattan's 8 1/2 moment. (Sort of. A more precise match would be his Slipstream moment, but 8 1/2 is accurate enough - and cooler.) Having relived his experience with Janey through Laurie and learned little, he's determined to re-order ("simply a matter of re-assembling the parts in their proper sequence") events into a narrative that makes more sense to him. And he does it unsparingly. 

It's a very sad story. Like Johnny in The Dead Zone, the accident that gives Jon his powers deprives him of the ability to live out a normal life with the woman he lives. Now he begins to wonder - is it just his relationship? Or his humanity altogether? 

We won't learn the answer to that for a few issues yet. 

"At play amidst the strangeness and charm" indeed.
See you next time.



  1. Good overview of one of the most esoteric chapters in the comic.

    From what I've seen and read there's not been a challenge to the the whole Quantum Mysticism aspects of physics and the like.

    Instead, it seems more like post-modernism has taken such a hold that for some, most stuff is able to not be taken so seriously. Whether that's good or bad is something others will have to make up their mind about.

    Still, this does raise a few interesting issues. for instance, Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs has stepped forward to declare Newton an alchemist:


    Meanwhile, Neil Kamil claims in "Fortress of the Soul" that the real Manhattan was once a hotbed for this kind of thought at, about, or just before the American Revolution.

    If this proves anything, it's that the official history of human thought is way more out there than people give it credit for.


    1. I think with physics and mysticism, it's always anyone's best guess. Physicists hate to hear such things, but the standard model - which I would assume is the most widely accepted model in 2016 - still leaves several crucial questions unanswered. Who's to say those answers, once discovered, might not alter the standard model still further? That's why I say best guess - not to question the experimental data, just to keep it in context of an evolving understanding.

      The occult history of the world is, in my mind, a beautiful metaphor for the actual evolution of species on this planet. Ditto for so much Eastern mythos and ethos and quantum reality. I'm no expert on either, but so it seems to me.

  2. To this day, I can remember how blown away I was by reading this for the first time. I encountered "Watchmen" as a graphic novel (circa the turn of the millennium) first, so I didn't have the single-issue experience, but this chapter really knocked me on my butt. And it still does, too. The page where you see Doctor Manhattan floating in the air on Mars while his fortress builds itself (by means of changes to each panel) in front of him...? Perfection.

    But from what I remember, everything here is perfection.

    1. The only other thing I read that actually triggered a new conception of spacetime for me besides Watchmen #4 was / is Slaughterhouse Five.

      Not bad company!