There’s been one giant, burning question born from the sparking connection between Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic series and Damon Lindelof’s HBO sequel Watchmen: What’s up with Doctor Manhattan and Mars?
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for HBO’s Watchmen TV series through the sixth episode.]
In the first episode of the Watchmen TV series, viewers catch a glimpse of a TV news screen showing satellite footage of Doctor Manhattan puttering around Mars making things out of sand. In the sixth episode, we find out he’s been secretly living as Angela Abar’s husband Calvin. The secret runs so deep, Calvin doesn’t even realize the truth. To wake him up, Angela takes a hammer to her husband’s face to rip out a strange metallic atom symbol. We don’t actually see Doctor Manhattan’s blue face, other a slight glow, but his identity is clear.
But why was he on Mars in the first place? Is it just the color contrast, or is there something else? Let’s flip back through the pages of the original comic.
Doctor Manhattan just likes Mars, OK?
Dr. Jon Osterman/Manhattan’s connection to Mars goes back to the original 1986 graphic novel, in which he spends much of the book wandering alone on the red planet in self-imposed exile.
The physical removal mirrors his emotional state. After the accident that made him functionally precognitive, and gave him the ability to alter any matter at the atomic level, Manhattan unsurprisingly found himself growing further and further detached from his own humanity. Just before he left for Mars, the last flimsy chain tethering him to mankind snapped.
In a rare television appearance on a talk show, a reporter grilled Manhattan over evidence that several of his prior acquaintances, including an old girlfriend, have terminal cancer — implying that he has been accidentally irradiating the innocent people around him for years. A few hours before that, his current partner, Laurie Juspeczyk, stormed out of their shared government quarters, furious with him for keeping her at a distance.
Laurie had left him, and trying to get her back seemed like it would only bring her harm.
So he yeet himself to Mars
Well, first he goes to Arizona — which can look a lot like Mars — to visit the location in which he got his powers and retrieves a photograph of himself and Janey Slater, the woman he was seeing at the time.
Then he teleports to Mars.
But why Mars?
After a study of the Watchmen graphic novel, we’re going to say ... convenience. As he muses (memetically), he’s tired of the world, of people, and of “being caught in the tangle of their lives.” There are no people on Mars — it’s a planet entirely devoid of the presence of life, shaped only by the utterly predictable and awesome majesty of inert particles.
Mars is also one of the closest planetary bodies to Earth. The Moon is obviously closer, but also has a bunch of NASA stuff on it (so, people). Venus is nearby, but the planet’s super-dense atmosphere would interfere with one of the activities that Doctor Manhattan seems to enjoy doing while on the light atmosphere of Mars: Looking at the stars.
But why is he on Mars in the TV show?
We have no idea, because it directly contradicts the ending of the Watchmen comic.
The last we see of Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, he tells Ozymandias that he plans to leave the entire galaxy for “one less complicated.” And he’s got a fun plan for when he gets there.
Why isn’t Doctor Manhattan still in that far-off galaxy, creating human life? Having already dabbled in flashbacks (and Damon Lindelof being a fan since Lost), it’s possible what we’ve seen is old footage and more Manhattan backstory could present itself. Judging by the trailers, Manhattan is showing up to HBO’s Watchmen one way or another.