Study Guide

Watchmen Analysis

  • Tone

    Devilish; Playful; Enlightened

    Simple fact: Alan Moore is not an average person. Read or watch his interviews, look at his photos. If you were making a movie and looking to cast a warlock, your job would be super easy. Of course, Moore is deeper than that, and so is Watchmen. The man’s got a powerful look and a powerful voice, which is made up of many, many tones.

    For our purposes, his three main ones are devilish, playful, and enlightened. What proves he’s such a talented writer is that he can incorporate all three tones into one short scene. Curtains open: we’re in Antarctica with Nite Owl and Rorschach, who are riding hoverbikes on the way to Karnak for the showdown with Veidt. Here is their exchange on XI.3.4-6:

    Nite Owl: And anyway, this is Adrian, for God’s sake! We know him. He never killed anybody, ever. Why would he want to destroy the world?

    Rorschach (eating a Sweet Chariot sugar cube): Insanity, perhaps?

    Nite Owl: Ha. Well, that’s a tricky one. I mean, who’s qualified to judge something like that? This is the world’s smartest man we’re talking about here, so how can you tell? How can anyone tell if he’s gone crazy?

    Okay, let’s break it down. With a straight face, these characters are talking about murder and someone actually trying to bring about the destruction of the world. Rorschach makes light of the whole thing, and that’s only half the joke. They’re riding on hoverbikes and he’s eating a “Sweet Chariot” sugar cube, get it? Moore geeks out with the puns, as you know.

    But there’s also philosophy embedded in here, too. Recall the epigraph of the entire book: Who watches the watchmen? How do Nite Owl and Rorschach know if the smartest man is crazy like a fox or just plain crazy? They don’t, they can’t, and neither can we. Some might say that’s nihilistic (believing in nothing), but maybe Moore identifies with Veidt, and is simply more (or, you know, Moore… ) enlightened than the rest of us. Sorry, we couldn’t resist.

    Art Style and Book Design

    Think of reading comics like learning a new language. There’s a visual vocabulary and a grammar, too. Flip to a random page of Watchmen. Chances are it’s a 3 x 3 (three panels to a row, three rows to a column). If not, like, say, the first appearance of Dr. Manhattan on I.20.1, why does Dave Gibbons break form? In this instance, the answer’s simple. The big blue guy is larger than life, and so he stands three rows tall. For another example of freestyling, go to the climax of the book on XI.28. The panels are rapid-fire here, as the characters fade to white. Because the way a graphic novel looks is just as much a tool for story telling as the words included are, breaks in visual patterns are clues to pay close attention. Something important is happening.

    Also, color matters. Let’s look outside Watchmen to wrap our heads around just how much color matters. You know stop lights? You know stop signs? They’re both red. They both tell us to do the same thing, too. Now picture one of those glowing exit signs. What color are they? Yup. Red. And they tell us how to stop our experience of a place, how to leave it. This is just a small example, but we can see that red is sending us similar messages time and again. This sort of communication-through-color happens all over the place, and Watchmen is no exception.

    “Finally,” colorist John Higgins is saying, “somebody’s thinking about me! Enough with the bearded guy already!” Time to break out the color wheel. That cover is blinding yellow, the brightest color to the human eye. To contrast with that, we have tons of purple, too. That’s the royal color, and a favorite of Adrian Veidt. Interestingly enough, yellow and purple sit directly across from each other on the color wheel. Could Higgins be trying to tell us something about the Comedian and Veidt? What do you make of the fact that Dr. Manhattan is blue and Nite Owl is brown?

    Each character belongs somewhere inside a box of Crayola crayons, and that’s well and good. Also of interest, though, is the way color balances and works on the page. Flip to the first page of Chapter II. The panels alternate light/dark as we cut back and forth from Edward Blake’s rainy funeral in New York to Laurie Jupiter paying her mom Sally a visit in sunny SoCal. Color symbolizes mood, power, and personality, and seeping meaning into our brains without us even noticing it.

    So why are certain moments in particular shades or hues? That’s as fair game for analysis as any one of Moore’s lines of dialogue. Speaking of text, Gibbons has hand-written every word in the book. In comics, you’re allowed, even encouraged, to embolden things for emphasis. As you might’ve noticed, we mostly stick to italics here in Shmoopland though.

    One of the other visual moves that make Watchmen unique happens in mini-Chapters A-K. To make Under the Hood seem real, Gibbons adds a paper clip and a photocopied-look, as if they were actual objects. Same with most of the other included bits, whether they’re letters to Sally Jupiter or notes by Adrian Veidt. They’re all artifacts; you can practically pick them up and feel them. This is an important detail, because this story is about people first, and superheroes second.

  • Genre

    Mystery; Dystopian Literature; Science Fiction; Satire and Parody; Postmodernism

    Mystery

    Watchmen begins with two detectives investigating the murder of Edward Blake. Good cop, bad cop, right? Nothing unusual here. But Moore quickly twists the mystery genre by making the real private eye eyeless— you can’t see Rorschach’s face with his mask on. Look at the rest of his getup, though. That’s a man who to lives to solve capers, see?

    Dystopian Literature

    In an America where Woodward and Bernstein are killed before they blow the lid on Watergate, and where President Nixon guts the Constitution to become a twenty-year dictator, let’s just say there’s trouble in paradise. Sure, Dr. Manhattan makes electric cars and airships a reality, but have you checked the Doomsday Clock lately? It’s practically midnight. Sounds like dystopia to us.

    Science Fiction

    Teleported monster squid with the cloned brain of a psychic? Check. Atomic blue giant who doesn’t wear clothes and heads to Mars when he’s in a bad mood? Check. Just a day in the life, if you’re living in a science fiction story. Think how Dr. Manhattan drives the plot, even if he doesn’t actually do that much, besides killing Rorschach in the end. Likewise, Watchmen has the trappings of sci-fi, but its main concerns lie elsewhere.

    Satire and Parody

    These caped crusaders are anything but cool, and that’s how Moore intends it. Their flaws are our flaws on a much larger, more grandiose scale. Why else would you have retired superheroes living in old folks’ homes or above auto repair shops? Or superheroes who resent their parents, who are nervous around the opposite (or same) sex? The Comedian gets it; sometimes, life is a joke with no punch line.

    Postmodernism

    Flip to Chapter V, pages 14-15. Notice how the right page is a mirror image to the left? Well, the whole chapter matches up like that. To give you a heads up, the title is “Fearful Symmetry.” Page 1 flips page 28, page 2 flips page 27, etc. And here at the exact halfway point, the “V” in Veidt Enterprises splits across pages 14 and 15. Nothing in Watchmen is an accident. Everything is an experiment, a way to deconstruct everything you thought you knew about comics, superheroes, time, and the American dream.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Fooled you! Looks like this album is missing its title track, so click your way over to “What’s Up With the Epigraph?” to find out how Watchmen really got its name.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Seymour, Seymour, Seymour. The world is in your hands, literally. The last line of dialogue in the entire book occurs when Mr. Godfrey, the fascist-friendly editor of the New Frontiersman, tells his assistant to pick out some slush from the crank file. “I leave it entirely in your hands,” he says.

    In that pile is Rorschach’s journal, which provides a nice bookend effect, since Watchmen begins with an excerpt of Splotchy-Face’s ramblings some four hundred pages earlier. Will Seymour grab the journal and bring it to publication? Will Veidt’s new world order topple thanks to the efforts of one shlubby, ketchup-stained intern? We’ll never know. This ending is classically ambiguous, but maybe Seymour will live up to his name and see more, exposing the truth. Tell us, smiley-face, tell us what happens.

  • Setting

    New York City and Much, Much More

    Place = Time (But Don’t Tell Anyone)

    Cities change over time. Some grow and become ultramegalopolises, or whatever the word is. Others shrink until they’re practically ghost towns. Your great-great-great-grandpappy’s NYC was a horse and buggy affair. And in Watchmen’s alt-1985, there are electric taxicabs and airships hovering overhead.

    So we’ve got a year (1985), but we can be more specific than that. The front story begins on October 12th with Rorschach’s Journal, and ends on Christmas Day. So, fall in New York, a beautiful time of year thanks to all the leaves changing color. Just perfect for teleporting a dead, giant, psychic squid into downtown and killing three million people. Yeesh, this is awkward.

    Time-wise, we spend as much or more of it in the past, in characters’ memories of 1940 (Minutemen era) and 1966 (Crimebusters period), as well as other years before and after. The farthest back we go is 1916, the year Hollis Mason is born. If all this seems as confusing as quantum physics, that’s okay, because as Dr. Manhattan knows, time is relative. You could spend ten hours reading Watchmen, or ten years, it’s up to you. And now it’s relatively time to move on. We’ve handled the when, so let’s head to the where.

    The Biggest Apple

    This is the place where almost everything happens. Whether the space is public (the newsstand, Gunga Diner, Rafael’s, Madison Square Garden) or private (think of all the apartments we go to: Edward Blake’s, Hollis Mason’s, Dan Dreiberg’s, Moloch’s, Jon Osterman’s childhood one), Moore has chosen Manhattan (with a little dash of Brooklyn) as the epicenter to his story.

    New York is still the capital of the Western world, as it was in 1986 when the English Moore finished writing Watchmen. For the same reasons it becomes Ground Zero during 9/11, NYC represents modern America. And it’s no stretch to say that for the last 70 years, America has been the most powerful country in the world. With that power, comes conflict. And where there’s conflict, the most dramatic stories are found.

    Plus, New York wears more hats than most cities. It’s the great melting pot, the home of Wall Street, Ellis Island, and is the City that Never Sleeps. Sort of like if you read too much Watchmen in one day, you’ll turn into the student who never sleeps, thanks to all the nightmares. Hey, we’re just speaking from experience.

    Going Up or Going Down?

    Let’s stack things up:
    Mars (Heaven)
    New York (Earth)
    Karnak (Hell)

    By now you understand Alan Moore leaves little to chance. Really, he’s the kind of writer who puts the author in authority. It could help to think of Watchmen as a world Alan Moore has created, not in the biblical seven days, but in twelve chapters at his own pace.

    For Moore, the real universe is a messy, chaotic place, but not Watchmen. New York is where the human characters live, breathe, and die (except Rorschach who gets whacked in Karnak). Even Sing-Sing, an actual prison—the one where Rorschach gets sent—is just upriver from the City.

    If we head down to Hades we end up at Karnak, Adrian Veidt’s Antarctic retreat. He’s the bad guy, and he lives among twisted, devilish creatures (Bubastis? The Giant Squid?). You can’t get more south than Antarctica, right? This theory has holes, you may be thinking. Isn’t Hell supposed to be red, whereas the South Pole is white? Good point, which we’ll counter with a quick jaunt to Mars.

    Dr. Manhattan zooms up to the Red Planet to get some alone time. If there’s a God figure in this book, it’s him. Eventually, he teleports Laurie up to convince him to save mankind. Like Heaven, Mars is high-altitude and out of reach for regular folks. In terms of color, Heaven and Hell are perfectly reversed. As you probably know, Mars is iron-rust red. But while important events do sometimes happen in Karnak and on Mars, New York is where the real action is. It’s no Garden of Eden, but it’s all we’ve got.

    Extra! Extra! Read All About It

    There are a couple more locales that don’t quite fit elsewhere. Remember Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic within the comic? In it, we have the marooned sailor on his island, his corpse raft, and en route to Davidstown. All of that exists for a reason, as it plays off the main story.

    Returning to Heaven-Earth-Hell for a moment, there’s one last location that sounds a lot like Limbo: the Nepenthe Gardens Rest Resort, where Sally Jupiter lives. Set off in carefree, sunny Southern California, far away from the action, Nepenthe is another pun from el maestro Alan Moore. Nepenthe comes from Ancient Greek, meaning the drug of forgetfulness. For Sally, her past is like a narcotic. She lives inside her memories. And now we’ve gone full circle.

    See? Time can be a place.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the watchmen?) – Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347, Quoted as the epigraph of the Tower Commission Report, 1987

    Consider Alan Moore a punny, punny man. He must keep a dictionary of references in his beard, because Watchmen is full of them. First off, Chapter I gets its title from “All Along the Watchtower,” the Bob Dylan song that Jimi Hendrix made famous. Moore isn’t just being clever here, though, he’s setting us up for a more meaningful read. Check out the song’s lyrics and see if you don’t agree with us.

    Then you have all the repeated watch faces, the most notable being the Doomsday Clock that keeps ticking towards midnight. On IV.28.6 there’s a quote by Einstein about watchmakers, which is the same profession Jon (Dr. Manhattan) sets out to learn from his father, until one day, America drops the A-bomb on Hiroshima and everything changes.

    Arguably, Veidt transforms the world the most, and it is he who quotes lines from the speech JFK would have given had he not been assassinated in 1963 (XI.18.9). Here they are: “We in this country, in this generation, are by destiny, rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”

    But what about the epigraph, you ask? Well, just like here, last, but far from least, the epigraph appears at the end: Who Watches the Watchmen? That very line appears throughout the book in graffiti gracing the walls of New York. It’s a tough question. If superheroes (and/or the government) exist to protect us and keep evildoers at bay, how do we know for sure they’re following the same rules themselves?

    We’ll let that simmer for a while. Moving on, the epigraph’s original source is the Roman poet Juvenal, who was anything but juvenile. The title Satires is appropriate, too. Juvenal’s work calls out society but isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, kind of like Watchmen. As far as the Tower Commission Report, that has to do with a scandal during the Reagan years called the Iran-Contra.

    All in all, this epigraph is typical Moore: ancient yet modern, clear and political yet murky and obscure. He’s asking big questions in Watchmen and, by choosing an epigraph that references not only the time period he’s specifically writing in and about (the 20th century) but also invokes ancient Rome, he just might be arguing that these questions have less to do with specific moments in time and more to do with human nature.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    It all boils down to Alan Moore’s beard and his dragon-skull rings. Does this man look capable of writing light, breezy, summery stuff?

    Watchmen is a far cry from the funny pages, no disrespect to Peanuts and the late, great Charles M. Schulz. Instead, imagine twelve separate comic books ripped up and reassembled by one mad genius cryptographer. Good luck.

  • Clocks and Watches

    These days, watches are passé. Either you’ve got a smart phone or you live in the wilderness and use the path of the sun to tell time (insert Ron Swanson reference here). But in alt-1985, everyone wears a watch, even wackos like Walter J. Kovacs (I.4.8). It doesn’t take a genius to realize Rorschach likes his canned beans cold, and that a book called Watchmen about the world’s 11th hour is going to have a lot of clocks in it. Check out “What’s Up With the Epigraph?” for more on that.

    Between every chapter, there’s a white clock on a black page, ticking closer and closer to midnight.

    Chapter IV is called “Watchmaker,” which is the former profession of Dr. Manhattan’s dad. Indeed, Papa Osterman wonders, “If time is not true, then what purpose have watchmakers, hein?” (IV.3.6).

    A few pages later, Janey Slater’s watch breaks, and Jon promises to fix it, leading to their first make out session.

    Shortly after, Jon forgets that same watch inside the Gila Flat Test Chamber. Right before he’s incinerated, Jon looks down at it and says it looks as “good as new” (IV.8.2).

    Toward the end of that chapter, we see an old cover of Time Magazine, where a pocket watch has frozen at the exact moment the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima.

    Flip to the beginning of Chapter XII, where the Doomsday Clock has reached midnight, and the body count is in the millions.

    Why all these clocks and watches? We’ve shmooped out a few theories of our own. Time = modernity. Think about it. Before the clock (and electricity), people woke up when the sun did, did their farming, and went to sleep way early. Once time gets regimented into hours, minutes, and seconds, then people’s lives can be measured and controlled, whether they work the 9-5 or the graveyard shift. Without recording time the way we do, we’d go back to living in the dark ages. Okay, not the dark ages exactly, but an era when darkness ran the show more than evenly spaced ticks. And yet, Moore doesn’t seem to have much faith in the atomic clock, which as you might know, is the most accurate way to tell time. For more, check out “Time” in the “Themes” section.

  • Happy Faces (Smileys)

    ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺
    ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

    Now that that’s out of our system, we can get back to work. From the yellow front cover to the Comedian’s pin to Seymour’s ketchup-stained sweatshirt, smiley-faces are everywhere in Watchmen. Even on Mars (IX.27.1-2).

    More often than not, there’s a stain of blood (or ketchup) at the eleven o’clock spot. Even though the blood is the Comedian’s, he’d still find the gag funny… if he were alive that is. As for the location, could that have something to do with the 11th hour mentioned earlier in the Clocks and Watches section?

    Veidt does end up killing three million people in “history’s greatest practical joke” (XI.24.4). Maybe all the smiley-faces add up to one giant spoonful of irony. To put it in theatrical terms, have you ever seen one of those Janus masks? One face laughs, the other cries. Tragedy and comedy require each other. They make each other special. In Watchmen, tragedy is everywhere, but there is comedy too—usually of the darker variety--and the smiley-faces help remind us of this.

    Whether you look at it as a running joke (who else could smile in the face of nuclear war?) or a leitmotif (a fancy word for a repeated theme or image), you can’t read Watchmen without running into ☺ ☺ ☺.

  • Music

    It’s no stretch to say Alan Moore is a big fan of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and John Cale. He pulls chapter titles directly from their song lyrics. But he includes fictional and real musicians all over Watchmen, too.

    For example, Laurie seems to like Devo. Gotta love the '80s. Dan Dreiberg, however, digs old-time jazz singers like “Billie Holiday, Nellie Lutcher, [and] Louis Jordan” (VII.10.2-3). This musical preference hints at Dreiberg’s nostalgia for the past, whereas Laurie is into the latest fad (a.k.a. the present). Compare that to Adrian Veidt who, during his interview with Doug Roth, reveals he’s obsessed with “avant-garde” as well as new Jamaican music that’s “a hybrid between electronic music and reggae” (Chapter K.4). The guy’s got his mind set on the future.

    These characters’ musical tastes round them out, sure, making the superheroes (and villains) seem more human and relatable. But is there more to it than that? Music doesn’t only reflect popular culture. Music has the power to change it, for better or for worse.

    Some of the fictional bands in Watchmen are Pale Horse (whose frontman is Red D’Eath) and Krystallnacht. Both of these hardcore groups are unlucky enough to headline a concert at Madison Square Garden on the same night Veidt destroys New York. And both of them are popular with knot-tops, in the same way that Juggalos are fans of Insane Clown Posse today. But that’s a clannish, narrow way to look at the power of music.

    Music is universal, and can bring people together across divides. That’s why Chapter XII ends with the following John Cale lyric: “It would be a stronger world, a stronger loving world to die in.” Just like atomic power, music is a tool, and just like literature, music is a language. The main difference is that almost everyone can speak and understand it.

  • Advertising

    In Alternate 1985, Veidt Enterprises pretty much has a monopoly over the ad-world. New York City is wallpapered with billboards and signs for his perfumes (Nostalgia and Millennium), action figures, and plans for self-improvement.

    Take a page like X.5.4. In the foreground, Nite Owl is talking to Rorschach, but in the background, there are ads for the sold-out Pale Horse concert at Madison Square Garden as well as the Ozymandias Charity Show. Not only that, but there’s a political poster for Richard Nixon’s fifth reelection campaign. That can’t be legal, can it? All of these ads remind us that Watchmen’s America is a lot like our own… that whole fifth-term-for-Nixon bit aside.

    Advertising makes up the background noise to our lives. Billboards are everywhere, commercials have almost as much airtime as TV shows, and popup ads litter the internet. You can certainly make a case for this being a bad thing, how nothing is sacred anymore except the mantra buy buy buy. But advertisers might counter that criticism by saying they just give us what we want and what we need. But is this kind of like when doctors used to advertise cigarettes as being good for you?

    Just because there’s a sucker born every minute doesn’t let us off the hook. We have to be smart consumers and smart readers, so we can profit off what writers like Alan Moore are selling us.

  • Mirrors and Shadows

    Movies and comic books love to use mirrors. Why? They’re both visual art forms, and mirrors are one of the slickest ways to reveal secret sides to characters. We see things in their reflections they may not even know about themselves. During the intense scene where the Comedian tries to rape Silk Spectre, our vision is warped through Moloch’s Solar Mirror Weapon (II.7.5). We used to think of the Comedian as a hero, but now we see him in a more villainous light.

    Mirrors also show the world in reverse. Right is left, left is right. Alt-1985 is the mirror image to our own real 1985. The entire Chapter V is a mirror: it’s clearly symmetrical. For the best example of that, check out V.14-15. For more on that scene, shmoop yourself over to the “Genre” section, and click on the postmodern component.

    There’s a reason we’ve combined Mirrors and Shadows. They’re kind of similar, right? What we’d like to add to the equation is Watchmen’s repeated use of shadow lovers. It’s hard to make this point convincing with more blah blah blah, so pretend you’re from Missouri (the show-me state), and see the shadows for yourself: V.11.4, VI.16.6, VI.27.3, VII.15.3, XII.22.7.

  • Locks and Knots

    After Rorschach breaks into Dreiberg’s apartment, Dan hires the Gordian Knot Lock Company to install an upgrade (III.8.1). That minor scene turns into one of the book’s running jokes, as Rorschach stops by later to tell him, “by the way, you need a stronger lock. That new one broke after one shove” (III.24.7). In a mystery like Watchmen (see the “Genre” section), the plot is all gnarled up, and it’s the detective’s job to pick it or slice it open.

    That means it’s the villain’s job to set traps, to tie things up so the hero[es] can’t escape. But in Watchmen, the big baddy, Adrian Veidt, wants to have it both ways. His numero uno quest as a youngster? To one-up Alexander the Great. He tells an old story about the original Gordian Knot, which no one could ever untie until Emperor Alex rolled by and sliced it with his sword. In that same way, Veidt seeks to cut through the Cold War stalemate by changing the rules of the game.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Objective) with short bursts of First Person and Third Person (Limited)

    In simple comics, all you need is dialogue (speech balloons) and action (characters moving from one panel to the next). So it’s no surprise that the baseline point of view in Watchmen is third-person (omniscient). That Watchmen is far from simple adds to the need for a narrator who knows what’s up and can untangle all the little story threads as they twist and turn. But that’s just the bare bones. If that’s all we had, the characters would come off like robots, not people.

    While Moore doesn’t stick with one overarching narrator, there are many examples of characters recording snippets of their lives in the first-person. To give you a quick rundown, we have: Rorschach’s journal (in yellow), the marooned sailor in Tales from the Black Freighter (in tan), Dr. Manhattan’s inner thoughts (in blue), and Dr. Malcolm Long’s notes (in white). By way of example, let’s start from the beginning: “Rorschach’s journal. […] This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face” (I.1.1).

    And that’s just Chapters I—XII. If you add in the eleven mini-Chapters A-K, then we have many, many voices in either first-person or third-person (limited). From Hollis Mason in Under the Hood, to interviews with Doug Roth and editorials by Mr. Godfrey, there are plenty of “I” narrators in Watchmen. Beyond that, we have articles by Professor Glass, Dan Dreiberg, and others, which don’t use “I” but still showcase a single character’s limited point of view.

    So, the ultimo question is why. To answer that we’ll have to put on our non-prescription Shmoop glasses, so we look all smart when we drop the following: polyvocality. It means many voices, and Watchmen is a perfect illustration of polyvocality in action. The result is this chorus effect that makes a more interesting sound than any soloist (character) on his/her own.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      We could have gone down another road and called Watchmen a comedy, but we’ll stick with the quest for now.

      The Call

      To Rorschach, NYC is and always will be a cesspool, but if he can bring the Comedian’s murderer to justice, he will be able to justify his own existence as a masked vigilante. His talents and skills are strength, resourcefulness, and a never-say-die attitude. Not much of a sense of humor, though.

      The Journey

      Along the way, Rorschach pulls Nite Owl back into the hero game, who in turn pulls Silk Spectre, who in turn pulls Dr. Manhattan. When Rorschach is falsely accused of murder and sent to jail, he has to relive his most painful memories. Prison + childhood trauma = journey through the underworld.

      Arrival and Frustration

      Flying in Archie, Rorschach and Nite Owl travel to Antarctica where they confront Veidt for his evil deeds (which include killing the Comedian). Only then do they learn Veidt isn’t trying to start World War III, he’s trying to prevent it. This muddies the once-clean waters of Rorschach’s revenge. And believe us when we say the guy could use a bath.

      The Final Ordeals

      Part of what makes Watchmen so compelling is that the heroes don’t triumph in some neat, tidy way. We’re not sure any of them truly are heroes. No matter what, Rorschach won’t quit from the Quest, so Dr. Manhattan has to kill him, spontaneous-combustion style.

      The Goal

      You might think that with Rorschach dead he can no longer reach his “Goal.” Remember, though, the New Frontiersman might publish his journal. If so, then the world will learn the truth about Veidt, whatever the cost.

    • Plot Analysis

      Initial Situation

      The Comedian Dies in New York

      Throw an old superhero out of a high-rise to his death, and you’ll have the reader’s attention. It’s early, so we don’t even know what we don’t know yet. Lucky for us (or not), we have Rorschach as a guide.

      Rising Action

      God Has Left the Building, But You Might Find Him on Mars

      Watchmen isn’t Dr. Manhattan’s story more than it is anyone else’s, but as the most powerful guy on the planet, he’s a big mover and shaker when it comes to the plot. When he leaves the scene, the Russians go buck wild. That makes it necessary for Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, and Rorschach to team up.

      Climax

      V is for Villain

      Or is is it for Vendetta?

      No, that’s a different graphic novel by Alan Moore, one that also blurs the line between hero and villain. In Watchmen, the turning point comes when Nite Owl and Rorschach discover Veidt is the evil man with an evil plan. The climax? Three million dead in NYC.

      Falling Action

      After the Aftermath

      Well, the “good guys” could blow the whistle on Veidt, but that would guarantee World War III. So, on second thought, better let him do his thing.

      Resolution

      All We Want for Christmas is Truth Youth

      Thanks to their new identities, Dan and Laurie live happily ever after, and even patch things up with mom (Sally Jupiter). But what about the truth? It’s all in Seymour’s hands, now. Will the New Frontiersman run Rorschach’s journal, or will it blot out the truth forever?

    • Three-Act Plot Analysis

      Act I (Chapters I - III)

      Rorschach lives on canned beans and vengeance, so he’s hungry to solve the Comedian’s murder. No can do, as long as he works solo. Even after Dr. Manhattan ditches Earth for Mars, Rorschach can’t convince Nite Owl to come out of retirement.

      Act II (Chapters IV —IX)

      An assassin tries and fails to kill Veidt, who’s got the reflexes of an over-caffeinated squirrel. Rorshach is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and gets sent upriver to Sing-Sing (prison). This leads to Nite Owl and Silk Spectre breaking him out. After the dust settles, Silk Spectre brings Dr. Manhattan back down to Earth.

      Act III (Chapters X —XII)

      Nite Owl and Rorschach discover Veidt is Dr. Evil. New York City is blown to bits. Before leaving the galaxy, Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach to preserve world peace. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre get married. Thanks to an ambiguous ending, the future is totally unknown.