Watchmen: Who are the Deconstructed Defenders?

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Warning: This article discusses a 30 year old graphic novel and its decade old film adaptation. Spoilers are officially off.

Rorschach:On Friday night, a comedian died in New York. Somebody knows why. Down there, somebody knows…

Watchmen

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is considered the Citizen Kane of comics. It took silly Silver Age superheroes and placed them into a gritty film noir world. The darker tone, fallible characters, and usage of real world events made Watchmen a graphic novel flagship. Poor imitations of Watchmen’s tone and storytelling brought about the 90’s Dark Age of Comics.

Watchmen is a dense story with a lot going on. So whether you’re an old fan looking for a recap or a newcomer who wants a primer before HBO’s Watchmen is released in 2019, let’s get rolling.

Brave New World: Watchmen’s Setting

Doctor Glass:I never said, “The Superman exists, and he’s American.” What I said was,”God exists, and he’s American.”

Watchmen

Watchmen takes place in a different version of the 1980’s. Permit us to set the stage before the players make their debut.

The timelines diverge in 1938, when a vigilante called Hooded Justice starts fighting crime. His actions inspired copycats, causing more people to take to the streets as superheroes. The heroes eventually banded into a team called The Minutemen and became some of America’s biggest celebrities.

Things changed when a new hero appeared. A scientist named Jon Osterman was caught in a lab accident and transformed into an omnipotent being called Doctor Manhattan. The good doctor was able to advance technology by decades and single-handedly won the Vietnam War for America. Unfortunately, he also shattered the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction and warmed up the Cold War.

New heroes appeared in the 1970s. The public hated them and passed the Keene Act, which banned superheroics. Most of the heroes retired, with the exception of a brutal vigilante called Rorschach. Set against a backdrop of looming nuclear war, Rorschach discovers a conspiracy to eliminate the superheroes.

Dramatis Personae: Meet the Watchmen

Rorschach

Nite-Owl: “Rorschach…? Rorschach, wait! Where are you going? This is too big to be hard-assed about! We have to compromise!”
Rorschach:No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.”

Watchmen

Rorschach is the star of Watchmen. Alan Moore based his look on a DC character called The Question and envisioned him as an Objectivist superhero taken to extremes.

Walter Kovacs was the son of an abusive prostitute. As Kovacs grew up, he began showing signs of becoming a psychopath. He became a vigilante, hiding his face behind a mask that resembled a flowing ink blot, hence the name Rorschach. He developed a brutal reputation for his use of torture and willingness to maim opponents.

Rorschach’s life changed when he tried to rescue a kidnapped little girl. He was too late. She was dead, with her bones given to dogs to dispose of them. Rorschach snapped and murdered the kidnapper. The murder and his general violence made Rorschach the poster child for people who opposed the new heroes.

Rorschach begins the story by investigating the murder of Edward Blake, a hero called The Comedian. He discovers a conspiracy targeting the heroes, but soon learns that it endangers the entire world.

Nite Owl

Rorschach: [about Nite-Owl’s lair] “Used to come here often, back when we were partners.
Nite Owl: “Oh. Uh, yeah… yeah, those were great times, Rorschach. Great times. Whatever happened to them?
Rorschach: “You quit.

Watchmen

Watchmen’s secondary protagonist is Nite Owl. Moore based him on the DC character Blue Beetle with shades of Batman mixed in.

Dan Dreiberg was a kid who grew up on stories about Nite Owl, one of the first superheroes. He studied martial arts and science, creating a variety of gadgets to become a hero himself. Dan eventually met the retired hero and gained his blessing to become the new Nite Owl.

Nite Owl was far more idealistic than his contemporaries and unprepared for a grittier world than the one his predecessor faced. He retired after the Keene Act became law and developed a habit of hanging out in his lair, longing for the glory days.

Rorschach recruits Nite Owl to help him investigate the conspiracy. Nite Owl spends most of his time restraining Rorschach impulses. He eventually returned to superheroics.

Silk Spectre

Laurie:I used to be a masked avenger too, remember? I’m used to going out at three in the morning and doing something stupid.”

Watchmen

Silk Spectre is Watchmen’s female lead. She was inspired by the DC characters Black Canary and The Phantom Lady.

Laurie Jupiter is the daughter of Sally Jupiter, a hero called the Silk Specter. Laurie was raised from birth to replace her mother, who lived vicariously through her. Laurie hated feeling trapped in her superhero destiny.

Silk Spectre met Doctor Manhattan during a mission and the two hit it off. It looked like a fairy tale romance from the outside. In reality, Laurie was one of the only things tethering Manhattan to his humanity while the government tried influencing him through her.

Their romance is short-lived. Laurie begins dating Nite Owl after Manhattan disappears. While helping investigate the conspiracy, Laurie learns that The Comedian was her father.

The Comedian

The Comedian: “Listen… once you figure out what a joke everything is, being The Comedian’s the only thing that makes sense.”
Doctor Manhattan: “The charred villages, the boys with necklaces of human ears… these are part of the joke?
The Comedian: “Hey… I never said it was a good joke! I’m just playing along with the gag…

Watchmen

The Comedian is the first victim in the Watchmen’s story. He was inspired by a hero called The Peacemaker with a dash of The Joker mixed in.

Edward Blake was a nihilistic soldier who decided to become a superhero. He began using a court jester theme, but switched to Kevlar decorated with an American flag motif as time passed although he kept The Comedian name after switching costumes.

The Comedian is an amoral psychopath. He became a government agent and fought in the Vietnam War. It’s heavily implied that he assassinated JFK, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein among others. The Comedian also tried to rape the first Silk Spectre, but was stopped by Hooded Justice.

The Comedian is murdered after discovering the main villain’s plot. His backstory is only shown through clues the heroes discover and in the occasional flashback.

Doctor Manhattan

Laurie: “Is that what you are? The most powerful thing in the universe and you’re just a puppet following a script?
Doctor Manhattan: “We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.

Watchmen

Doctor Manhattan is the only superhuman in Watchmen. He was inspired by the DC hero Captain Atom.

Jon Osterman was an aspiring watchmaker whose father forced him to study nuclear science. While performing an experiment with tachyons, Jon was trapped in the test chamber and disintegrated. He willed himself back together over time, emerging as a blue-skinned being with the power to warp reality.

Jon was given the name Doctor Manhattan to strike fear in America’s enemies. We’ve already discussed how he threw a wrench into global politics. As time passes, Doctor Manhattan loses his humanity and becomes apathetic about the annoying humans he deals with.

When the story starts, Doctor Manhattan finally hits his breaking point and teleports to Mars for solitude. That conveniently leaves him out of the story so he can’t end it with a thought. He eventually contacts Laurie, who manages to restore his faith in humanity just in time for the climax.

Ozymandias

Ozymandias: “‘Do it’? Dan, I’m not a Republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I’d explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.”

Watchmen

Ozymandias is the final main character of Watchmen. He is the villain and was inspired by Charlton Comics’ Peter Cannon… Thunderbolt!

Adrian Veidt was a child prodigy and orphan. He spent his formative years traveling the world and training a la Batman, resulting in a physically perfect body, combat skills, and so much knowledge that he was later declared the smartest man in the world.

Adrian returned to the U.S. and became the hero Ozymandias. Concerned about nuclear war, he hatched a scheme to create a fictional alien invasion that would unite humanity. To make it more effective, Ozymandias designed the fake alien so that anyone looking at it would be driven mad.

The heroes try to stop Ozymandias, but it’s revealed that the alien has already been unleashed in New York City. His plan stops World War 3, so most of the heroes agree to keep it a secret. Rorschach is conflicted and commits suicide by cop to stop himself from revealing the truth.

Doomsday Clock: Watchmen’s Legacy

Adrian Veidt: “I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.”
Dr. Manhattan: “‘In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”

Watchmen

Alan Moore intended for Watchmen to be a one-and-done story. Unfortunately for him, Watchmen has since become a franchise.

Hollywood tried making a Watchmen movie in 1989 with stars like Robin Williams, Gary Busey, and Jamie Lee Curtis attached, but it was never filmed. We’ve got the low down here.

Director Zack Snyder helmed a 2009 Watchmen movie that was a shot-for-shot adaptation. Check out Mrs. Norman Maine’s review here.

DC released a prequel series called Before Watchmen in 2012. Years later, they revealed that Doctor Manhattan was present in the DC Universe and is manipulating events. This has since built up to the crossover event Doomsday Clock, which features the cast of Watchmen arriving in the DC Universe and finding it on the brink of World War 3.

Didya get all that?

The equivalent of a superhero story by Harry Turtledove.

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