Dr. Manhattan first appeared in DC Comics’ graphic novel, ‘Watchmen,’ as an atomic physicist, gaining the ability to observe and manipulate matter. He became a god-like figure with questionable morals and powers like teleportation, energy projection, molecular manipulation, and near-omniscience.
Across different versions of his stories on screen and in comics, the character’s moral position remained undefined, standing between the lines of conventional evil and good.
Dr. Manhattan undertook actions to help humanity in various cases. For example, he ended the Vietnam War and intervened in nuclear threats during the Cold War by destroying missiles directed at America’s enemies. But some of his other choices countered these deeds through the years.
The character showed a lack of compassion and empathy towards the human race by often referring to them as ‘ants,’ despite occasionally having relationships with humans. He also ran away to Mars in the original ‘Watchmen’ after getting angry with some reporters’ words, despite knowing he was needed for the balance between the US and the Soviet Union.
With these, the stories written for Dr. Manhattan left his stance on goodness and evilness a matter of interpretation for the audience and readers. So, bringing up the question on Reddit, some fans discussed the topic in the past years, with one user commenting:
“Dr. Manhattan is the personification of the nuclear bomb: neither a hero nor a villain, but a force. The label of being a hero or a villain is totally subjective to the perspective of the use of Dr. Manhattan (nukes). To an ethnocentric view from the United States bombing other countries, a hero. Other countries being bombed by the United States, villain. Likewise, the United States being nuked (such as by Russia)… suddenly now villain even though previously hero.”
Another person mentioned:
“That’s the whole point of Watchman, isn’t it? Completely grey morality. Completely the opposite of the typical superhero story. It’s a deconstruction.”
You can check out some of the other Reddit comments about Dr. Manhattan’s moral code here.