When a scientific experiment goes awry, physicist Jon Osterman is transformed into a blue-skinned enigma with unfathomable control over every cell, atom, and particle in the known universe (the accident also takes his hair, a common DC trope). The newly Bald Jon is immediately contracted by the United States government and given the name Doctor Manhattan. He proceeds to carry out any and every order given to him by his Haired superiors, including wiping out indigenous Vietnamese soldiers with a mere point of his quantum-powered finger. But his social life suffers the same fate: Jon’s radically-altered perception of life is impossible for his friends and lovers to relate to. Try as he might, his great abilities are unable to prevent every relationship he ever cherished from falling apart as a result of his “unexpected change”.
Many of us can relate.
Dr. Manhattan’s story in “Watchmen” centers around his increasing isolation and gradual withdrawal from the rest of human society as he comes to realize more and more how irrevocably different he is from everyone around him. Whether it was Moore’s intention or not, the tale of Dr. Manhattan is an obvious parable for the Bald Experience in America in the ’80’s.
It was in the ’80’s that anti-Bald technology blossomed and led to the creation of a lucrative industry. Surgeon William Rassman pioneered the use of micrograft hair transplants, and founded the hate group New Hair Institute. Entreprenuer Sy Sperling introduced his even more successful Hair Club For Men to the world, with its famous slogan “I’m not just the president, I’m also a client,” featuring photos documenting Sperling’s own transformation from undesirable Bald to eligible Haired ladykiller. Hundreds more companies sprung up in their wake. With some 35 million Bald or balding men in America alone, there was clearly a fortune to be made.
The only problem: in order to sell their many hair restoration products, companies like Hair Club For Men and NHI would have to convince the populace at large that being Bald was bad. Awful, in fact. A disease that needed to be cured.
Consumed by ’80’s era greed, they embarked on a remorseless marketing campaign that would forever affect the Bald community’s standing in the social structure, with hate-filled ads like this one:
The result: their products flew off the shelves. Entreprenuers like Sperling became millionaires overnight. And a generation of Bald men became walking pariahs, wasting the best years of their lives pouring their hard earned money into a variety of different snake oils, or trading their dignity for a lousy toupee (It’s no mistake that Moore’s Dr. Manhattan is depicted as flaccid and unable to please women sexually).
With such power and influence at their fingertips, these newly crowned titans of the Hair Restoration industry could shut down anybody who tried to challenge the Anti-Bald narrative they so efficiently concocted and weaved through 1980’s culture. That Moore was able to hide such a damning indictment of them in the pages of the bestselling graphic novel of all time is just another testament to his unmatched brilliance… and another layer to examine in his most unforgettable and tragic creation, Dr. Manhattan — the God who wasn’t Haired.