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Since Chapter XII is literally midnight, and there are more clocks in Watchmen than Geppetto’s workshop in Pinocchio, we’ll break this summary down into hours.
An old superhero named the Comedian is dead. Another masked man, Rorschach, is on the case, and we meet the cast o’ characters. Rorschach tracks down his old pals to warn them a serial killer’s on the loose who has beef with superheroes.
Three other former heroes attend the Comedian’s funeral, and we learn about the dearly departed through flashback. Meanwhile, the two Silk Spectres, Laurie Juspeczyk and her mom Sally Jupiter, reveal an ugly, less funny side to the Comedian. We also learn that America doesn’t love its superheroes any more, unless they’re like Dr. Manhattan, which means big and blue and fighting the USSR.
After being accused of causing cancer, Dr. Manhattan says peace to Earth, and heads to Mars. Without the giant Smurf around (no really…Dr. Manhattan is giant and blue), Russia isn’t afraid to get feisty. Now Rorschach is really convinced he’s right about his superhero killer conspiracy.
The life story of Dr. Manhattan: how does a normal-ish kid from Brooklyn end up looking like Mr. Clean meets Bluperman? (See what we did there?) He fails to stay away from nuclear test sites, obviously.
A mystery villain sets up Rorschach for the murder of Moloch (an elderly, retired supervillain), so Rorschach gets sent to prison. Also, Nite Owl (Dan Dreiberg) hangs out with Laurie (Silk Spectre 2.0), now that his main competition (Dr. Manhattan) is having some alone time on Mars.
Rorschach submits to psychotherapy, and we learn about his violent, grisly past.
Dan and Laurie come out of retirement to rescue some New Yorkers from a burning building, then decide to break Rorschach out of jail.
It’s Halloween, and ish is about to go down. The old Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, is beaten to death by drug-fiending punks, while the younger Nite Owl (Dan) and Silk Spectre (Laurie) free Rorschach from prison. Politically speaking, nuclear war looks inevitable.
Red rover, red rover, if Doc Manhattan stays on Mars, it’s over. So he brings Laurie up to convince him to come back down and save the world. In doing so, Laurie discovers the Comedian is her biological father, even though he previously tried to rape her mom. No time for that now, Dr. Manhattan’s here to stop nuclear war. Sound the trumpets…
Spoiler alert: Adrian Veidt, the smartest man in the world, is the criminal mastermind behind it all. When they find out, Dan (Nite Owl 2.0) and Rorschach fly to Antarctica to stop whatever scheme he has up his sleeve.
From the comfort of Karnak, Veidt’s South Pole retreat, the hero formerly known as Ozymandias reveals all. He’s about to fake an alien invasion, so America and Russia will lay down their arms and join forces rather than blow the planet to bits. Dan and Rorschach confront him, to no avail. Three million innocents die in New York City.
What else is there to say? It’s over, right? Dr. Manhattan shows up with Laurie, but like a Facebook relationship status, it’s complicated. What cost is too high for world peace? Rorschach prefers the truth, so Dr. Manhattan kills him. In the end, we’re left with Seymour, the least heroic character in the book, and an intern at the New Frontiersman newspaper. If he randomly publishes Rorschach’s journal, who knows what might happen next?