In the alternate versions of Watchmen, when Dr. Manhattan's is forced to choose a symbol, he made one on his forehead representing a hydrogen atom.

Why did he choose this symbol? How does it relate to him?

  • 4
    It sounds like you haven't read Watchmen; you really should go read it. =)
    – jamesdlin
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 22:21
  • @jamesdlin thinking to go for it someday but lack of time for reading.
    – Ankit Sharma
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 5:20
  • I think its because its the first element and most basic so by theorectical extension makes up everything else. like how all brick structures could be icon'd with a brick. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:59

3 Answers 3


He [Dr. Manhattan / Jon] is also provided with a costume which he grudgingly accepts, though he refuses to accept the icon design which is provided for him (this being a stylized orbital model of the atom). Instead, Jon chooses as his emblem a representation of a hydrogen atom, whose simplicity he declares to be something that kindles his respect; accordingly, he painlessly burns the mark into his forehead. This preference for material mechanisms marks the beginning of Jon's declining humanity, which is progressively mirrored by his gradual shedding of the uniform - by the end of the 1970s, he refuses to wear anything at all except for mandatory public appearances.

Source: "Jonathan Osterman (Watchmen)", DC Comics Database Image source: Watchmen, Chapter IV


Out-of-universe, this scene is an influence of or carried over from Charlton Comics' Captain Atom.

Watchmen originated from a story proposal Moore submitted to DC featuring superhero characters that the company had acquired from Charlton Comics. As Moore's proposed story would have left many of the characters unusable for future stories, managing editor Dick Giordano convinced Moore to create original characters instead.

Source: "Watchmen", Wikipedia

Alan Moore: ...So, we started to reshape the concept—using the Charlton characters as the jumping-off point, because those were the ones we submitted to Dick—and that's what the plot involved. We started to mutate the characters, and I began to realize the changes allowed me so much more freedom. The only idea of Captain Atom as a nuclear super-hero—that had the shadow of the atom bomb hung around him—had been part of the original proposal, but with Dr. Manhattan, by making him kind of a quantum super-hero, it took it into a whole new dimension, it wasn't just the shadow of the nuclear threat around him. The things that we could do with Dr. Manhattan's consciousness and the way he saw time wouldn't have been appropriate for Captain Atom...

Comic Book Artist: Just to map this out: The prototype for Rorshach was The Question, right?

Alan Moore: The Question was Rorschach, yep. Dr. Manhattan and Captain Atom were obviously equivalent.

Source: "Alan Moore discusses the Charlton-Watchmen Connection", Comic Book Artist #9

Image source: Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe Vol. 1 #4 as uploaded in DC Comics Database

The Charlton Comics universe is currently known as 'Earth-4' in DC Comics. For comparison, here's the current Earth-4 Captain Atom (whose design is influenced by the Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan).
Image source: The Multiversity - Guidebook: Maps and Legends

  • I think the image from the very recent Multiversity is slightly less relevant than an image of the pre-Crisis Captain Atom and/or additional Charlton characters.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 21:12
  • 2
    @JoshDM I added an image of the pre-Crisis Captain Atom. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 4:58
  • The older Captain Atom actually negates your argument... Dr. Manhattan specifically refuses to wear a hat that has that symbol on it.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 5:04
  • @Catija I'm not arguing that the symbol was directly copied from Charlton Comics' Captain Atom, but just mentioning that out-of-universe, it is most likely influenced by or carried over from it. In-universe, my explanation is the same as the excerpt I quoted from the DC Comics Database, "...a hydrogen atom, whose simplicity he declares to be something that kindles his respect." Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 7:28
  • I guess I just don't see the need for the older image as it doesn't help your argument at all. The newer image is much more similar to the Dr. Manhattan character.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 7:29

From the comic, Dr. Manhattan chooses the Hydrogen atom because he wants a symbol he can "respect":

Dr. Manhattan chooses his symbol

The Wikipedia article for his character simply states:

Instead, Jon chooses as his emblem a representation of a hydrogen atom, whose simplicity he declares to be something that kindles his respect; accordingly, he painlessly burns the mark into his forehead.

I couldn't find much other sure info but, there's a lot of conjecture out there, including relating his name to the fusion bomb, which is a hydrogen bomb and the creation part of the Manhattan Project; and inferring that, as hydrogen is the simplest element, and most abundant, it was appropriate for him.


Great answers from my colleagues, but I think they missed the obvious answer: The Manhattan Project.

The first sentence of the Wiki states:

The Manhattan Project was a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II.

There has been at least one movie about the subject, and I'm sure plenty of books as well.

  • 12
    And the connection to the hydrogen atom would then be...?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 14:01
  • @NapoleonWilson en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon - the first atomic bomb was created with hydrogen
    – jsnfwlr
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 1:52
  • 10
    @phalacee No, the first atomic bombs (1945) were based on the fission of the large atoms uranium or plutonium. Fusion bombs (using hydrogen) were much more complicated and came later (1952). Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 3:25

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