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The Watchmen 101 Movie Guide

By Chad Derdowski     February 23, 2009
Source: Mania

© Mania

So you’ve been seeing a lot of commercials for this 'Watchmen' movie lately, but you don’t know what it’s all about. Entertainment Weekly put it at number 13 on their list of the 50 best novels of the past 25 years. It was the only graphic novel to appear on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. To help the uninitiated, Mania presents to you this Watchmen primer:


The World of WATCHMEN

The world in which the Watchmen live is pretty much the same world we live in with one exception: sometime in the 1940’s, people started dressing up in funny costumes and fighting crime. None of these costumed adventurers had any powers until the arrival of Dr. Manhattan in the early 1960’s. We’ll get more in-depth with his story later.

Thanks to Manhattan, the world has been dramatically altered: the United States won the Vietnam War, we’ve got electric cars and radically advanced technology. With a guy like Manhattan on our side, the US isn’t just a super power, it’s the super power. I guess there isn’t a whole lot you can threaten us with when we’ve got the superman on our side. Even though the presence of Dr. Manhattan has given the US the strategic advantage, it’s still 1986 and the specter of nuclear holocaust looms in the world of the Watchmen just as it did in the real world.

At some point in the 1970’s, the Keene Act was passed, outlawing costumed vigilantes. All but three have disappeared: The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, who act as government operatives, and Rorschach, who still prowls the streets enacting his deadly brand of justice on the criminal fraternity.


The Comedian

The Comedian

Real Name: Edward Blake
Charlton Analogue: Peacemaker
Quote: "Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense."

Picture G. Gordon Liddy in a riot suit and a gimp mask you’ve pretty much got the Comedian. He’s violent, cynical and nihilistic, but despite being generally unlikable and as Dr. Manhattan says, “deliberately amoral”, The Comedian has actually got some pretty deep insights into the world around him. As his quote suggests, he is a man who sees the big picture, and as Jim Morrison (supposedly) said, he’s “ gonna get my kicks before the whole s**t house blows up!” But Edward Blake is about as far from Jim Morrison as you can get and his “kicks” generally involve hurting people. He looks a lot like Burt Reynolds, only he’s way more of a jerk and trained in army fighting tactics.

Being a younger man when he began adventuring, Edward Blake is the guy who bridges the gap between the Minutemen of the 1940’s and the more modern heroes of the 1970’s. After the Keene Act was passed, he became a government sanctioned “superhero”. It is his brutal murder at the hands of an unidentified assailant which opens the book and sets into motion the events that unfold throughout the rest of the story.





Dr. Manhattan

Dr. Manhattan

Real Name: Jonathan Osterman
Charlton Analogue: Captain Atom
Quote: "A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernable difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?"

Scientist Jon Osterman was the son of a watchmaker who pushed him into studying physics. After being caught in an “intrinsic field subtractor” in 1959, he subsequently restructured his body from the ground up. Possessing a quantum consciousness, Dr. Manhattan doesn’t view time in a linear fashion and he is the only character in the series with any sort of superpowers. And it isn’t just that he can fly or see through walls; Manhattan can see time, space and matter on a subatomic level. For him, all time is simultaneous, an intricately structured jewel that humans insist on seeing one edge at a time, when in reality, the whole design is visible in every facet. Or to boil it down to layman’s terms: he can pretty much do anything. He’s kind of like a god, or like a cross between Mr. Spock and Neo from the Matrix, only he’s blue and he walks around naked all the time.

Along with the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan is a government operative and a major player in the game of human chess that is the Cold War. Obviously, he is the deciding factor that gives the United States its edge over the Soviets. Dr. Manhattan is also involved romantically with Laurie Juspeczyk, aka, the second Silk Spectre.





Silk Spectre

Silk Spectre

Real Name: Laurie Juspeczyk
Charlton Analogue: Nightshade is cited in various places as the basis for Silk Spectre, but Alan Moore points to non-Charlton characters Black Canary and Phantom Lady as greater influences.
Quote: "You know, when I think back… why did we do it? Why did we dress up like that? The Keene Act was the best thing to ever happened to us."

Laurie Juspeczyk’s mother was the original Silk Spectre back in the ‘40s and she pushed her daughter into following in her footsteps, though Laurie’s heart was never fully into it. Sally Jupiter (Laurie’s mom) was the only costumed adventurer with the good sense to hire an agent and largely used her career as a promotional tool. It was during her ten-year tenure as a hero that Laurie met and fell in love with Dr. Manhattan.

Following the passing of the Keene Act, Laurie is begrudgingly kept on retainer by the United States government, presumably as a means of keeping their ultimate weapon calm, cool and collected. Dr. Manhattan, unlike the traditional nuclear bomb, has to get laid once in a while. As the story opens, Jon’s increasing detachment with humanity is taking a toll on Laurie and she begins to become closer to Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl.





Nite Owl II

Nite Owl

Real Name: Daniel Dreiberg
Charlton Analogue: Blue Beetle
Quote: (regarding the arsenal and costumes in his basement) "I don’t know why I hang onto this stuff. I mean, I know the romance is over… I guess I just don’t have the heart to throw out all the engagement presents."

Inspired by Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl of the 1940’s, Dan Dreiberg turned his love of ornithology and his technical savvy into a costumed identity and fights crime using a variety of owl-themed gadgets including a hoverbike and night vision goggles. While he is ostensibly based on the Blue Beetle, Nite Owl also bears a fair resemblance to Batman in terms of his modus operandi. All three are high-tech heroes with underground lairs. Nite Owl is the only one with a beer gut (not counting the Giffen/Dematteis Bwa-ha-ha era of the JLA which featured a rather robust Blue Beetle – perhaps inspired by Nite Owl?)

Nite Owl and Rorschach teamed together successfully in the 1970’s, until the Keene Act forced Dan into retirement. Having been out of the hero business for some time, Dan has become soft, chubby and directionless. He remains close friends with his mentor, Hollis Mason and the two quite often get together to toss back a few beers and reminisce about old times. It isn’t until he begins to take stock in Rorschach’s “mask killer theory” that Dan finds purpose once again and resumes the mantle of Nite Owl.







Real Name: Adrian Veidt
Charlton Analogue: Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt
Quote: "I guess I’ve just reached a point where I’ve started to wonder whether all the grandstanding and fighting individual evils does much good for the world as a whole. Those evils are just symptoms of an overall sickness of the human spirit and I don’t believe you can cure a disease by suppressing its symptoms."

Ozymandias is allegedly the smartest man in the world. He draws his inspiration from Alexander the Great and, seeing the writing on the wall, retired from active superheroing several years before the passage of the Keene Act outlawed costumed vigilantism. Veidt then started his own company, aggressively marketing his image as a hero for a line of toys and a Saturday morning cartoon. As a result, Veidt possesses enormous wealth which he uses towards the betterment of mankind. He’s got an Antarctic retreat and a genetically altered lynx and is one of the most famous men in the world. Adrian Veidt is looked upon with respect, admiration and awe by most, though some, such as Rorschach, view him as little more than a prostitute and a sell-out for his shameless self-promotion.







Real Name: ?
Charlton Analogue: The Question
Quote: "I wish all the scum of the earth had one throat and I had my hands about it."

A moral absolutist and staunch nationalist, Rorschach is the only active vigilante in the series and the murder of Edward Blake sets the wheels of his paranoid mind into motion. He’s convinced that someone is killing masked heroes and takes it upon himself to solve the crime before it goes too far.

The long way around is to say that he’s a real world exploration of an archetypal character such as Batman: someone who is driven beyond driven by a sense of moral objectivity – a superhero for the Randian set. A vengeance filled vigilante who sees the world with a very black and white sense of morality and enforces a particularly brutal style of crime fighting. What would that type of superhero really be like if they existed in the real world?

Nite Owl describes him as “tactically brilliant and unpredictable.” I’d call him batshit crazy. Either way, Rorschach is one of the most popular characters in the story: incredibly complex and totally badass. He reminds you a lot of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, only with a sweet mask and a grappling hook.





 Tales of the Black Freighter

Tales of the Black Freighter

Watchmen also features a story-within-a-story in the form of “Tales of the Black Freighter”. It’s a fictional pirate comic book that is quite popular among readers within the world of 'Watchmen'. In a world populated with costumed adventurers, superhero comics probably wouldn’t be very popular. In this world, EC Comics thrived rather than being stomped out due to the restrictive Comics Code.

The featured story, titled “Marooned” is rich with subtext and allegory and in many ways mirrors the events taking place in the main story while serving as a perfect counterpoint to others. I’d go into more detail, but I don’t really want to spoil anything here. Let’s just leave it at this: there’s a kid in Watchmen who’s reading a pirate comic and sometimes you’re reading the pirate comic with him. As you read the story, you find yourself thinking “Holy crap! That’s sort of what’s going on in the main story!” Watchmen is a book that’s meant to be read more than once. If at first it seems a little odd; trust me, it’ll make more sense the second time around.

Zack Snyder will not include the "Black Freighter" story in the theatrical release of Watchmen. However, not wanting to discard this important element of the book, Snyder filmed an animated movie based on it, which will be released on DVD simultaneous to the film. The "Black Freighter" animation will also be integrated with the film (the same way the story is woven into the graphic novel) for the director's cut due out late in the year.


Under the Hood

Under the Hood

Another fictional story-within-a-story is “Under the Hood”, the autobiography of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl and first costumed vigilante in the world of the Watchmen. Several chapters of the book are “re-printed” as supplemental material in the back of the first three issues.

Under the Hood is a controversial tell-all and serves as both an origin story for Nite Owl and the Minutemen of the 1940’s and as a deeper look at the world Alan Moore had created. Lots of key story elements are introduced in these excerpts and they really enrich the overall story. Reading them makes one feel that Alan Moore probably could’ve had a future writing prose. However, anyone who has read (or tried to read) his novel “Voice of the Fire” would probably say otherwise. Sorry Alan; I love ya, but I gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em.

As with the "Black Freighter", there wasn't really a way to include "Under the Hood" in the theatrical movie. However, Snyder commissioned a documentary-style short film that captures the material in celluloid form. The "Under the Hood" movie will be released on the same DVD as "Tales of the Black Freighter" this March.


Writer: Alan Moore

These days he is known as a vegetarian, an anarchist, a practicing magician and occultist, Moore began writing scripts for Marvel UK books and had made his name in 2000 A.D. and Warrior writing stories such as the groundbreaking Marvelman (later re-titled Miracleman) and V for Vendetta when his work caught the attention of DC editor Len Wein, who hired him to write Swamp Thing. Moore reinvigorated the stale title and continued to cement his reputation with stories such as The Killing Joke before beginning work on Watchmen with artist Dave Gibbons. In recent years, Alan Moore has been sick and tired of seeing his work mutilated on the big screen with screen adaptations of From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moore fought to have his name removed from subsequent films like Constantine, V for Vendetta and now Watchmen. As a result, when the credits roll, Moore’s name is nowhere to be found.

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons cut his teeth working on 2000 A.D. over in the UK before coming to the States to work for DC Comics. Gibbons teamed up with Moore on the Superman story “For the Man Who Has Everything”. This, of course, eventually led to being the full partner and collaborator for Watchmen. His work on Watchmen is particularly notable for its simplicity, giving a level of control over storytelling previously un-accustomed in comics.






And that, for the most part, is an overview of the major characters of Watchmen. There are a fairly sizable number of ancillary characters who play pretty large roles throughout the story, but you don’t want us to give everything away, do you?


Showing items 1 - 10 of 41
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TayDor 2/23/2009 4:22:30 AM

Great article. 


Nice to see a clip on the actor playing Ozymandius where he isn't saying how wrong for the roll he is.  Someone must of told him to knock that off.

karas1 2/23/2009 4:36:06 AM

Actually, Hooded Justice was the first costumed vigilante to make the scene.  Nite owl was the second.

Yes, she IS that big a Watchmen geek!  Waiting for bated breath for the movie. 

spiderhero 2/23/2009 4:37:06 AM

The very existence of this "article" supports what I said last week. There is no big audience for this movie. The mainstream public doesn't know who these characters are, there's no big name actors attached as a draw, and you have to be pretty familiar with comics to even "get" the story. It isn't a kid's movie, a date movie or even an action movie. Though they seem to be marketing it as the latter. I think most of America will join in with the esteemed Allan Moore and avoid the movie. 20-25 mil opening weekend and 30-40 mils toops for total box office take. WB has a flop on their hands I think.

Hobbs 2/23/2009 6:48:22 AM

spiderhero, it will be interesting to see though I think you are crazy if you say it will top out at 40 mil.  If that shitty ass Daredevil movie with dumb ass Ben Affdick can make 100 mil because mostly us fans went to see it then Watchen will at least make that.  I say it makes 50-60 opening weekend and the buzz about it will make people curious about the movie and push it over 200 mil when all is said and done. 

Showcasing the characters has nothing to do with not having an audience.  It's just marketing man, nothing more nothing less. 

I do agree with you that the overall marketing on this movie has sucked.  WAAAAAYYYY too much information for the casual viewer who doesn't know anything about Watchmen.  I know all about Watchmen and I'm lost on which way to go with all the info out there.

xenomorph 2/23/2009 6:56:25 AM

Spiderhero don't be such a downer. Not every superhero story has to be spider-man or superman. What I loved about this comic was that it showed hero's with personal lives and problems that are not normaly associated with superheros, such as sexuality, alchcohalism, polititics, and even religous beliefs. But I guess that a deep story and well thought out characters are too much for you. Why don't you go back to watching spider-man 3 and leave us WatchMen fans alone.

As for allan moore, I don't know what his problem is, but it's his loss.

ChadDerdowski 2/23/2009 7:51:35 AM

20, 15, 10 or maybe even 5 years ago, I might be inclined to agree with spiderhero.  But in recent years, superhero movies have become big business and even if people don't know who they are, I think Watchmen's gonna be a success.

The fact that the trade paperback is flying off the shelves might be one indication that people are interested.  Those record sales can't all be geeks.  #1, a lot of us have read the book already and #2, we're more likely to buy it at our LCS.  Major chains and are reporting insane sales - those are the "regular folk".  They want to know who the Watchmen are.

Anybody heard of a movie called The Dark Knight?  I guess it did pretty well.  How many zeros are in a billion?  Iron Man, Spider-Man 1-3, X-Men 1-3... these aren't movies that do "okay" at the box office.  They're monster hits.  People like superheroes and beyond that, people are familiar with the basic concept of superheroes.  You don't have to have a weekly pull list to understand the idea of a hero who uses high-tech gadgets and flies around in an airship.  You don't need to have a Geoff Johns-like knowledge of comic history to understand the notion of a tormented soul who puts on a mask and violently avenges the weak.  Even my mom and dad know superhero archetypes.  Watchmen takes these archetypes and turns them on their ear.  Even causal fans are ready for that sort of thing and they'll definitely "get it".  I guess I could be wrong, but I think there's a market for this film.

ysidoro1701 2/23/2009 8:10:50 AM

Its funny but have some people here forgotten about the succes of another movie by Mr Snyder,300.  Which went on to destory all of our predictions on its box office take.

mbeckham1 2/23/2009 8:57:59 AM

I wondered if there were some paralells with Marvel's alternate universe Squadron supreme. Nitehawk/NiteOwl, Silk Specter/ Lady Lark, Dr. Manhatten/Dr. Spectrum and a little bit of Hyperion. Doc Spec even went monochrom after his power Prism exploded in his face and /or chest. It even adressed the question of how much power superheores should have. And had similar love triangles with devastating consequnces, in that case involving a behavior modiier. Don't know which came first really but I wondered if one might have inspired the other

laforcer69@yahoo.com_home 2/23/2009 8:59:44 AM

I think the advertising campaign has done more than enough to bring in people who have never heard/read the Watchman...I am one of those people who have never came into contact with Watchman until a year or so back when it was said that it was going to be made into a movie by our man Zack but my interest in it showed up when the advertising of it came about and now I am totaly jazzed to see this movie so SPIDERHERO, I think you are wrong and I agree with most of you that it will go on to make boat loads of cash...

gauleyboy420 2/23/2009 9:35:21 AM

SUPERNAUT, THANK YOU ! THANK YOU!! for calling it a trade instead of "GRAPHIC NOVEL"

I know they're trying to make it sound more adult in all of the marketing campaigns "The most celebrated graphic novel of our time"

It's a COMIC, same as Spidey, just a single story arc. I'm sick of the pretensiousness of people feeling the need to call a lowly comic something else. After all a lowly comic bok move just had an oscar winnig performance in it.

Mbeckham, Squadron Supreme was first, but I have to think Moore wrote a much more compelling story, and thats why his Watchmen has become more re-known, and long lasting in the eyes of fanboys.

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