Watchmen: Everything you need to know

If you’re any sort of pop culture fan and haven’t heard of Watchmen - the celebrated graphic novel from Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons - then we wonder what it’s like to be a depressing individual. Released as 12 comics between 1986 and ’87, Watchmen is at its core a noir detective story. Peel back the layers and you’ll find a comic about comics, where every character is in some way an archetype of popular characters like Superman or Batman.

And two days from now, one of the most complex stories of the modern era will hit theatres. It took Hollywood twenty-something years to film the unfilmable, after a series of multiple writers and directors signing on and leaving the project. And if you’re reading this, then you’re aware that Part 1 of the Watchmen prequel arcade game - The End Is Nigh - is available on XBLA and PSN.

So why are we here? Well, if you know absolutely nothing about the franchise or need a quick refresher course in Watchmen lore, we’re here to prime you in all things Rorschach, prime you for the first blockbuster of 2009 and add insight into the existence of the arcade game.


Set in an alternate history of America in the mid-80s, a number of key things are different. For one there are superheroes. In addition, Richard Nixon is currently serving his fourth term of presidency, stemming from the US victory in Vietnam. Add to that the growing hostilities between the Soviet Union and America and you have a world ready to implode.

Someone has killed The Comedian. The beginning of the comic explores the vicious murder of one of two government-licensed superheroes, former member of the Minutemen and Watchmen, Edward Blake. Rorschach - former Watchmen and current sociopath - plays detective and meets with all former members of the Watchmen before the Keene Act required they resign from public duty.

Among former teammates: the second Nite Owl (a gadget-obsessed, now impotent middle-aged man), Ozymandias (smartest man in the world, now one of the wealthiest), the second Silk Spectre (an ass-kicking lady taking after her mother) and the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan (who can change his and anyone else’s matter at will, including teleportation).

In a nutshell (that won’t do the comic any justice), Rorschach’s investigation into the Comedian’s death is a jumping-off point to discover the layered complexities of each character. Dr. Manhattan is a literal Superman, America’s leading edge in the Cold War against the Soviets. Manhattan is also emotionally detached from every living being on the planet, including his girlfriend the Silk Spectre.

This detachment and accusations that he has given a number of people cancer leads him to seek solace on Mars (yes, the planet). Meanwhile, an assassination attempt on Ozymandias’ life pushes Rorschach and the Nite Owl to question exactly why the former Watchmen are being bumped out of the way. Add to that the fact that with Manhattan out of the way, the Soviets feel comfortable enough to invade Afghanistan and push the limits of their power against the US. That’s all we can say without pushing into deep, deep spoiler territory. Unless… you want to know more.

Seriously, we’re about to give the whole thing away.

Turn back. You’ll be sad if you keep reading.

Ok, here’s the big reveal! You were warned!

With mounting tension in the Cold War, Nite Owl and Rorschach uncover a conspiracy that links the death of the Comedian to the mounting tensions of the Cold War. You see, Ozymandias put out a hit on himself as a red herring to lead people away from the fact that he’s planning something so outrageous and terrible that it will link the US and Soviets together in unison… namely a staged alien invasion of New York.

Ozymandias hired scientists and artists to combine strands of DNA from animals to create a squid-like monster, which he “warps” into New York, killing millions and leaving a wave of destruction. Yes, millions are dead and the Big Apple is destroyed. But because of a perceived threat on the world, The Soviets and Americans drop their petty Cold War and join forces against this new “threat” (which of course doesn’t exist). What’s even more interesting is how this plan was enacted by Ozymandias without Manhattan’s involvement. And once Manhattan learns of the plan, he submits because of the bigger picture. Wouldn’t you rather kill millions to save billions?

Place in history

We let GR staffer Henry Gilbert tell us exactly why the Watchmen comic is so damn important. Take it away, Henry!

Watchmen has been praised both inside and outside of the comics industry. In 1988, Watchmen won a Hugo award - for an achievement in sci-fi/fantasy literature, Time magazine declared Watchmen one of the 100 best English-language novels and Entertainment Weekly said the comic was the number 13 best novel printed in the last 25 years.

So why is Watchmen so damn important? Well, as stated earlier, Watchmen is a comic about comics, a simultaneous celebration of the medium while deconstructing popular conventions and archetypes.

Some comic fans have said that 1986 was the end of superhero comics, or at least an end. That year's seminal Dark Knight Returns, which concludes with the death of Batman (though not Bruce Wayne), and the last heroes in DC disappearing, was the death of the superhero. And coming out the same year was Watchmen, which is the funeral for that death. Like a memorial it looks back at its history, its many milestones and what it meant. But that sad view is incredibly short sighted: comics has endured nearly 25 years since then, and in both DKR and Watchmen this dissection of concept was followed with a rebirth and rebuilding of the form that the mainstream comics media hasn't completely recovered from.
Deconstruction and analysis is at the heart of Watchmen, whether it’s the nihilistic insanity of an unstoppably driven man like Rorschach, the gradual separation from humanity that god-like powers give Dr. Manhattan, the deeper sexual desires guiding the needs of Nite Owl and his resulting impotence, the love/hate one feels for their parents in Sally Jupiter, or the desire to save the world by the earth's smartest man resulting in mass murder. It places heroes in the "real" world we know and lets us see how they would affect society and how society would push back at these individuals.

To say Watchmen changed everything is too straightforward and simplifies comics down to one genre. However, mainstream super comics were deeply changed and to this day DC and Marvel take much from it. But to paraphrase Alan Moore from an interview, he wishes more artists would have taken inspiration from it stylistically and in the changes in storytelling than just the grim mood. Because in less obvious ways Watchmen altered the medium in its design, from page layout to covers to timing and even its narrative structure was revelatory thanks to the reality that drips from the lines that Dave Gibbons infused in the art.


  • NTNDOChamp - March 9, 2009 5:10 a.m.

    Just so you all know, the term "Watchmen" is never stated or completed in the comic. It is a phrase coined by the public (Who watches the Watchmen?), but that's it. No group ever existed in the comic called "Watchmen," so it is an incorrect statement when this article states that the Comedian is apart of the Watchmen, because it never existed. The group exists in the movie for the sole purpose of giving Rorschach more motive to solve the Comedians murder. Just so you all know.
  • Da360guy - March 7, 2009 4:01 p.m.

    This game is going to be awsome i'm going to buy it for the 360
  • Gotxxrock - March 5, 2009 7:46 p.m.

    *Sigh* Watchmen is going to become the next dreadnought of marketed accessories and the next rally point for angsty contrarian kids. >_< I love the comic so much, and I'm excited for the movie... but... GGGRRRR... I should just be the ignorant consumer I usually am and just buy all this shit anyway -_-
  • darkside17 - March 5, 2009 2:50 a.m.

    Rorschach reminds me of the Question from Justice League. Watchmen rules
  • xFnKxTaLeNtx - March 4, 2009 10:43 p.m.

    cool want to see the movie both look pretty good
  • Jimmyjammy - March 4, 2009 10:04 p.m.

    You shouldn't have bothered with the article and just put "READ THE FUCKING COMIC" in giant letters.
  • Awesomeitude1523 - March 4, 2009 8:43 p.m.

    I honestly can't wait to get this game. Hope It's great. Also, First.
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - March 6, 2009 7:49 p.m.

    lol.... I've noticed that a numerous amount of Watchmen-themed display pics have started appearing (mine included) also, awesome article. i have read Watchmen SOOO many times. just plain awesomeness
  • RebornKusabi - March 6, 2009 7:41 p.m.

    I just got back from seeing the movie and it was 98% faithful- literally the only thing changed about the movie from the comic was... what was mentioned in the article that was changed in the movie >_> Obviously I don't wanna spoil the ending because of how awesomely thought-provoking it is. Other then that, it was pretty faithful and the only people that will be complaining is people who prefer the (in my opinion) retarded and far-fetched ending of the comic. Loved it and plan on seeing it again with my friend after he gets off of work!
  • Rattlehead - March 5, 2009 8:16 p.m.

    I'm super pissed I wont be able to see it this weekend. Hopefully your article will convince more people to read the greatest thing ever
  • smallberry - March 5, 2009 4:27 p.m.

    I love this site even more knowing how much you guys love Watchmen. I will come to your office and make you all some curry.
  • veratron - March 5, 2009 7:55 a.m.

    great retelling of the watchmen history and its impact on the comic book industry i also like the history of the film development which haven't i heard before. also i hope you don't get any grief for spoiling the movie about a comic book thats been out for over 25 years.
  • Z-man427 - March 5, 2009 6:54 a.m.

    i've been wondering if Ozymandias really is the villain. Because what he strived for was world peace. But he killed off millions. but could Rorschach and company be the villians without knowing? anyway, I'll be seeing it either friday morning or saturday night
  • Samael - March 5, 2009 5:13 a.m. sounded like you like the game far more in this article, than in the one with Dan Amrich. But aside from that, great article.
  • MajicJohnsonEatsBabies - March 5, 2009 3:23 a.m.

    he remindes you of the question because the comic was origanly supposed to have the question:rorshack nite owl:blue beetle dr.manhatan:captain atom, but the characters were bought by dc before crisis on infinte earths so dc told alan moore to make up new characters that are like them
  • riodoku79 - March 4, 2009 11:32 p.m.

    You guys are just using the game as an excuse to make love to the watchmen comic aren't you?
  • animeman - March 4, 2009 11:06 p.m.

    When I first saw the commercial for the movie I thought it looked really cool but I didn't know anything about Watchmen. But now I do thanks GR.
  • RebornKusabi - March 4, 2009 9:13 p.m.

    I'm seeing the movie on Friday morning so I won't have to deal with idiot teenage audiences and instead see it with people who will actually be mature while watching the movie.I did this with The Dark Knight (There was mostly old couples and hardcore geeks in the audience) and Rambo (There was mostly old people and hardcore Rambo fans) and since I enjoyed the movies because of this, I plan to do the same with this one. I have already gave a heads up to my work that I have Friday off and I honestly can't wait for it to get here! To make matters even better, RE 5 comes out NEXT Friday... too bad I start college on Tuesday of next week >_> I guess what I am getting at is, Great Article Shane! Loved it and loved the fact that you were so indepth on what exactly the comic was about. Hopefully it will answer many questions people will undoubtfully have about both the comic and the movie. Even more hopefull is it will persuade people to see the movie even after they have probably written it off as another superhero movie.
  • TheSuburbiaRuins - March 4, 2009 9:12 p.m.

    I'm not sure if I'm excited for Friday or not, I have very mixed feelings.. especially with the whole end changing thing. Oh well, I guess I'll see. Good article Shane.
  • Cyberninja - March 4, 2009 9:10 p.m.

    i wish i had a ps3 for this game

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