Chances are, it’s been some time since you flicked through the pages of Watchmen. With the Watchmen HBO series (opens in new tab), a quasi-sequel to the iconic comics, having started, a refresher on the 12-issue run could be the difference between losing yourself in Damon Lindelof’s new show and losing track entirely. Trying to keep up with who’s who and what everything means is difficult with a story as layered as Watchmen, so we’ve established the essentials, complete with the key things to remember from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ masterpiece.
Without further ado, here’s a brief blitz through the eight major takeaways from the ending of the Watchmen comics, plus what it might mean moving forward for the Watchmen HBO series.
What happened to the heroes?
There are two main groups of costumed heroes in the 20th Century: The Minutemen, and the Crimebusters.
The Minutemen existed decades before the events of the original Watchmen and consisted of the original Silk Spectre, the original Nite Owl, The Comedian, Captain Metropolis, Hooded Justice, Dollar Bill, Silhouette, and Mothman.
They disbanded in 1949, but not before some big deaths shook the group to their core. Silhouette was murdered after being outed, Dollar Bill met his end after a bank robbery, and Captain Metropolis reportedly died in a car crash.
Both the original Nite Owl and The Comedian were killed during the events of Watchmen (by a mob and Ozymandias respectively). Hooded Justice disappeared after Nite Owl released a tell-all book detailing the love affairs and lives of the Minutemen.
The Crimebusters, meanwhile, will be far more familiar: Ozymandias, Doctor Manhattan, The Comedian, Rorschach, the second Silk Spectre, and the second Nite Owl. The latter pair ended up together, while Rorschach is killed by Doctor Manhattan for threatening to reveal the truth about Ozymandias’ destruction of New York. Manhattan, meanwhile, leaves Earth for Mars.
Ozymandias saved the world – by blowing up New York
Ozymandias is, by all accounts, your archetypal villain: full of himself, has a terrible haircut, and explains his master-plan in agonising detail to the heroes. But Watchmen is anything but black-and-white.
In order to put an end to the cold war, Ozymandias concocted a fake alien threat (a giant, terrifying quid) and detonated it in the centre of Manhattan, killing half the city’s population. This forced world leaders to step back from nuclear warfare and, instead, turn their attention to the ‘threat’ from beyond the stars.
Did Ozymandias kill thousands of people? Sure. But he may have saved billions in the process. He himself is legally confirmed dead by the time the Watchmen HBO series starts, though he is very much alive (and played by Jeremy Irons). What else could he be plotting?
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Rorschach’s journal revealing the truth may (or may not) have been published
Watchmen’s parting shot in its final issue featured the possibility of Rorschach’s journal, which contained information about Ozymandias killing The Comedian and the residents of Manhattan, being published in the media. It’s left up to the reader to decide whether it made it to print, however.
The events of the HBO series may deal with that fallout. A group of vigilantes calling themselves the Seventh Cavalry have been spotted in recent trailers – each wearing the Rorschach mask. Was his message carried far and wide or do only a certain fringe of society believe his words?
Rorschach is dead
Speaking of Rorschach, the masked anti-hero was killed by Doctor Manhattan during the final act of Watchmen. Rorschach reveals his plan to tell the world about Ozymandias’ deceit, though Doctor Manhattan foresees that unveiling the truth could cause serious long-term harm, and seeing as the damage has already been done, what’s the point. Judging by the Rorschach mask-wearing terrorists spotted in the trailer, Doctor Manhattan looks to have been right.
Doctor Manhattan lives on Mars
Throughout Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan grows increasingly distant and un-enamoured by human race. The omnipotent being retreats to Mars after being wrongly accused of causing cancer. Although he returns to deal with the fallout of the giant squid in Manhattan, he once again goes back to the Red Planet at the story’s end, hinting that he may create some human life of his own. Doctor Manhattan is also seen in a recent trailer for the Watchmen HBO series having apparently returned to Earth.
Who killed the Comedian?
The Watchmen comics’ big opening mystery surrounded who threw the Comedian from his high-rise apartment. Short answer? It was Ozymandias, who discovered the hero, real name Edward Morgan Blake, had been sniffing around, investigating some of his schemes. He gets killed for his troubles.
The Keene Act
The Keene Act was passed into law in 1977 and bans costumed superheroes of any kind. Rorschach is the only one who flouts this law and is a vigilante on the run because of it. The only heroes allowed to exist in the world of Watchmen are those under the supervision of the United States government or, as seen in the Watchmen HBO series trailers, police departments.
Presidential term limits no longer exist
An odd thing to pull out of the pages of Watchmen, but one that could prove crucial to the world of the HBO series. Richard Nixon repealed the traditional two-term limit before the events of the comic, with his third term being his last. He was replaced by actor Robert Redford, who is still President by the time the new show rolls around.
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