Dr. Manhattan clearly had some control over his appearance. The hydrogen atom on his forehead was by choice, and he adjusted his blueness for the cameras when he was told it was too bright.

Wikipedia claims without citation that Cherenkov radiation was the reason for his skin color. But he had seemingly very powerful control over matter. Could he have appeared any color he chose, including like a regular human? His super-powerful appearance was a useful part of his public persona, but it seems like when he was in private (especially with Laurie) he would want to look as human as possible.

Did he not have this ability, or did he choose not to use it?

  • 12
    He might have not cared, or have forgotten it mattered to people. Remember, he absent-mindedly forgot that humans need oxygen on Mars. May 18, 2012 at 15:57
  • 12
    Dude, he'd had a hard life. You'd be blue, too. Feb 22, 2016 at 19:11
  • Jon Osterman is blue-ish, although he might not look blue-ish. There's three related questions here: 1) Why was he blue in the first place; 2) was he necessarily blue? and 3) does he have the power to not be blue, or could he try, you know, not being blue around his relatives? Not sure the answer... Just sayin'.
    – Ber
    Apr 6, 2016 at 5:40

4 Answers 4


From the interview and quotes from Comic Con's “The Physics of Watchmen — or Why So Blue Dr. Manhattan.” by University of Minnesota physics professor Jim Kakalios who teaches a class called “Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Comic Books.” (He also wrote “The Physics of Superheroes”), he speculates:

Could be because of an electromagnetic shock front which gives off energy in the ultraviolet or the blue portion of the spectrum. He has to reassemble himself on the removal of his intrinsic field. He is constantly generating, pulling up stray electrons out of the ground to keep his atomic balance right. Some of these electrons are leaking off creating drain off radiation. By adjusting how fast they’re going he can adjust the hue and intensity of his glow.

This coming from a comic book geek AND Physics college professor, I'll take it as close to authoritative as it can get :)

  • 1
    I think what he's trying to say is that the 'intrinsic field' is trying to cause Dr Manhattan to explode at every instant in time, sending particles off with enough energy to travel faster than light. Because they can't do that, they give off Cherenkov Radiation, even though he holds it together.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Dec 15, 2012 at 21:42
  • 2
    You could link to this interview in which Kakalios mentions he was specifically talking about a phenomenon called cherenkov radiation (or cerenkov radiation in the interview), which is in fact blue in real life: '"I talked to the special effect people about why Dr. Manhattan might be blue, because there's a physics reason for it," he said. "There's a phenomena called Cerenkov radiation. And if he's leaking high-energy electrons, he would create a blue glow around him."'
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 22, 2016 at 19:38

Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons said in a Q&A that he wanted Manhattan's blue skin to represent a sort of barely-contained "electrical energy or atomic energy" in the reader's perception.

Dave Gibbons: Actually, Dr. Manhattan is not the only blue character that I’ve created the look of. I co-created a character called “Rogue Trooper,” who appeared in the British weekly comic 2000 AD, and he had blue skin. Rather reptilian skin.

I like blue because it kind of reads the same kind of tone as skin, or as Jon Osterman’s skin would’ve read. But it’s obviously not real human skin. Green makes you think of bug-eyed monsters like aliens, yellow is too strong a color, red looks artificial. A light blue kind of looks like skin tonally, but looks completely different from it in its hue. I think it also relates to the way you might visualize electrical energy or atomic energy. That it’s a kind of blue, pure energy. A cold energy, unlike fire or flame, which is what a red color would make you think of.

That was really why I chose blue. I think I just came up with the color and Alan incorporated it in the story. It didn’t make a lot of difference in the story which color he was, but I think visually, that blue was the right color for him. And it worked very well with the colors of the costumes of the other characters, and also the fact that John Higgins and his color palette didn’t use a lot of blue as a background color. So I think for that reason, it worked.

Watchmen Secrets Revealed

That the blue glow was caused by a form of Cherenkov radiation was (to some extent) confirmed by Gibbons in a round-table discussion on NPR.

Dr. KAKALIOS: Well, yeah. Actually, I - see, I lost a bet. I thought that you had chosen blue for the color of Dr. Manhattan because whenever you see images of nuclear reactor piles underwater, you see them emitting a blue glow, and…

Mr. GIBBONS: Yeah.

Dr. KAKALIOS: …blue light is from the fact that they're emitting high-energy electrons which create an electromagnetic sonic boom called Cerenkov radiation, which is in the blue, ultraviolet portion of the spectrum.

If Dr. Manhattan were blue because he was emitting these high-energy electrons all the time because he had reconstructed himself atom by atom, well, he probably would be giving people cancers.

Mr. GIBBONS: Right.

Does 'Watchmen' Hold Hidden Physics Lessons?


I think it might be traced to this: As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of Hindu scripture ran through the mind of Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. Hindu Gods are often depicted as Blue-skinned.

  • 3
    Is there any evidence for this? 1. That Robert Oppenheimer had a piece of "hindu scripture" run through his mind and 2. That it caused Dr. Manhattan to become blue?
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:38
  • Robert Oppenheimer from an interview in the documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965) "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."
    – ench
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:49
  • Thanks @ench, but that doesn't mean it's the reason for the Dr's blueness
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:57
  • I never said it was. I'm just answering a small piece of your question.
    – ench
    Sep 6, 2017 at 21:04

For a more aesthetic reason, Blue is considered in many cultures, particularly western ones, to be a colour of innocence and peace.

If you were going to pick a primary colour for your skin and you wanted as few negative connotations as possible, blue is culturally your best shot, particularly in America.

  • 1
    Are you basing this on anything other than your own opinion?
    – Valorum
    Jan 4, 2018 at 12:02
  • Examples include the flags of the European Union and United Nations, they chose blue because of its connotations of Harmony. In nature, it's the colour of the sky and water and according to surveys in the US, blue is most strongly associated with thoughtful intelligence, with strong overtones of sadness. Lets face it, that pretty much describes Dr Manhattan to a tee :P In chinese culture, blue is strongly associated with ghosts and death. (in traditional theatre in particular) Dr Manhattan is arguably both, so that's a neat synchronicity too. Jan 5, 2018 at 15:47
  • @Valorum How is that any better than the current top answer, which is just a link to some other guy's opinion?
    – Brady Gilg
    Apr 3, 2020 at 1:11
  • @BradyGilg - To be frank, it's not, which is why I've gone and had a look at what the creator had to say about it, then posted that as an answer
    – Valorum
    Apr 3, 2020 at 8:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.