Before They Were ‘Watchmen’: The Charlton Comics Characters Who Became Dr. Manhattan & Ozymandias

Any comic book fan can tell you the live-action “Watchmen” movie hitting theaters this Friday is based on a 1986 DC Comics series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — but did you know the “Watchmen” characters were based on pre-existing heroes, most of whom were in a team called “The Sentinels of Justice,” originally published by Charlton Comics?

After DC bought the rights to the Charlton heroes in the 1980s, Moore intended to write a story titled “Who Killed the Peacemaker?” as their final adventure. However, DC told Moore that they planned to integrate the new characters into their own comic universe. So instead of scrapping the idea, Moore created new heroes loosely based on the Charlton characters, and wrote the story he intended from the start — a story that became “Watchmen.”

Check out Splash Page each day this week leading up to Friday’s release of “Watchmen” as we introduce you to the characters that inspired Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Rorschach and the rest of the heroes featured in Zack Snyder’s much-anticipated adaptation.

FROM “CAPTAIN ATOM” TO “DR. MANHATTAN”: First appearing in 1960, USAF Capt. Allen Adam was accidentally atomized during an experimental rocket launch. Incredibly, his mind survived and he re-assembled his body, atom by atom. As a side-effect, he could now summon atomic powers.

Given a special outfit by President Eisenhower to protect others from his radiation, Adam became Captain Atom, protecting the U.S. from aliens and Communist threats (though he hoped for peace with Russia one day). Later on, he got a new “spray-on” uniform and started working with the hero Nightshade. In his last Pre-DC adventure, he and others formed the Sentinels of Justice.

In 1987, Captain Atom was reintroduced in DC Comics as Capt. Nathaniel Adam, with an altered origin and quantum-based abilities.

FROM “THUNDERBOLT” TO “OZYMANDIAS”: Debuting in 1966, Peter Cannon had a fairly typical old-school origin. After being orphaned, he was taken in by a group of monks in the Himalayas who trained him to be at his physical and mental peak. Believing Peter to be their best student, the monks entrusted him with ancient scrolls that taught him the secrets of “mind over matter,” so that he could unlock portions of the brain normal folks never use. Now, when he focused, he had fantastic strength, agility and speed. He went to America and fought crime in his old training outfit and a mask. People called him Thunderbolt.

When DC re-introduced Cannon, he was left mostly unchanged, though finally given pants. He had a few appearances with the Justice League and then vanished. When his creator died, DC lost the rights, so it’s doubtful we’ll see him again any time soon.

Next up: The characters who inspired Silk Spectre and The Comedian, followed by the characters Nite Owl and Rorschach were based upon!

What do you think of the “Watchmen” characters’ original incarnations — and how Alan Moore reinvented them? Sound off in the comment section!

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