(Who Watches the Watchmen?)


Watchmen comic cover

In 1986-1987, DC Comics released possibly the most ground breaking 12 issues of sequential graphic storytelling ever created. The series was Watchmen, and within its approximately 400 pages, the events surrounding a strange murder-mystery take a close look at how "real" superheroes might actually operate in a much more realistic world than the four-color comic norm.

The material below was taken from four sources. The first, naturally, was the 12 issue Watchman maxi-series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The second was the DC Heroes module Taking Out the Trash, written by Ray Winninger with a mini-sourcebook co-written by Alan Moore detailing the Minutemen. The third was the DC Heroes RPG, Second Edition, which presented more up-to-date versions of the major characters than the original DC Heroes RPG. Finally, there was the Annotated Watchmen, written by Doug Atkinson and located at http://www.capnwacky.com/rj/watchmen/.

The write-ups I created were adapted from the character sheets given in the DC Heroes module and RPG. Translation was performed using the DC Heroes to HERO System conversion notes in Adventurer's Club #10 as a guide. Skills and disadvantages were taken from the source, or were added based on personal opinion of what the character should have.

A Brief History of the Watchmen Universe

The universe portrayed in the world of Watchmen is our own... well, our own that until 1938, that is. In October of that year, a man calling himself "Hooded Justice" appeared, becoming the world's first costumed crimefighter. His appearance and actions set off a spark resulting in numerous other costumed adventurers appearing, with no less than seven active in and around New York alone.

Things remained relatively normal (if you discount costumed crimefighters battling with similarly attired supervillains) until November 22, 1959. This day marked the birth of Doctor Manhattan, and the end of the world as we would know it.

Dr. Manhattan had been a relatively normal physicist by the name of Jon Osterman until an experiment with an "intrinsic field separator" altered his body structure. This new superhero was super in more than just name. He had complete control of his atomic structure and could teleport, walk through walls, melt tanks with a wave of his hand, disassemble an object without touching it, and so on and so forth, demonstrating a host of superhuman powers.

Along with Doctor Manhattan, several other new superheroes appeared, following in the footsteps of their 1940's ancestors. They fought crime and proved to be quite successful, so successful in fact, that in 1977 the Keene Act was passed, outlawing costumed vigilantes. Some heroes retired, some received special government sanction, and some went underground, refusing to quit their private war on the criminal underworld.

The Watchmen Universe Today

The Watchmen graphic novel covers events between October 12 to November 2, 1985. Naturally, due to the nature of the storytelling, there are many flashbacks, detailing events as far back as the late 1930's. In any event, the world depicted is highly different than our own. Some of the major differences are:

  1. Comic Books: Superheroes as a comic genre died out in the early to mid-1950's, with pirate comics replacing them. At the end of the Watchmen series, horror comics have become popular.
  2. Electric Cars: Dr. Manhattan makes the electric engine feasible. By 1985, electric cars are everywhere and gasoline-powered cars seem virtually nonexistent.
  3. Genetic Engineering: The most obvious product is Bubastis, Ozymandias's giant lynx. Chapter 1 shows what looks to be a four-legged, flightless bird as well.
  4. Nixon: Richard Milhouse Nixon is serving an unprecedented fifth term in 1985, following his election in 1968. The 22nd Amendment was repealed in 1975 allowing him to run again and again.
  5. Space Travel:  Chapter 1 has a newspaper headline reading "Congress Approves Lunar Silos". It would seem that there is a lunar base of some sort and significantly more space travel in the Watchmen universe than in ours.
  6. Vietnam is the 51st State: Following Dr. Manhattan's involvement in the Vietnam War in 1971, the Viet Cong surrendered in just two months. In 1985, Vietnam became the 51st state.

Major Costumed Characters in the Watchmen Universe

Captain Metropolis: A former Marine, Captain Metropolis was the founder of the original Minutemen. A homosexual who carried on a long running affair with Hooded Justice (see), he died in a car crash in 1974.

Comedian: The Comedian was the longest active costumed adventurer until his death in 1985. He started out with the Minutemen, eventually becoming a government operative in 1942. He remained active through the 1960's and 70's, fighting in Vietnam, suppressing riots, and freeing the hostages held in Iran. It should be noted he can be linked to a number of deaths, including Hooded Justice, John F. Kennedy, and Woodward and Bernstein (the reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal). It's the Comedian's death, in 1985, that sets off the chain of events covered in the Watchmen series.

Dollar Bill: A former star athlete, Dollar Bill was the in-house superhero of a New York bank and a member of the Minutemen. He was shot and killed in 1946 trying to prevent a bank robbery.

Doctor Manhattan: The worlds first (and so far, only) true superhuman, Doctor Manhattan was created in a lab accident in 1959. His existence helped change the balance of world power, resulting in the crisis that Ozymandias (see) works so hard to prevent. It is this crisis, and Ozymandias' actions to prevent it, that forms the primary plot to Watchmen.

Hooded Justice: The first costumed superhero, Justice got his start in 1938. He was active until 1955 when he was murdered by the Comedian (see). A homosexual, he had a long affair with Captain Metropolis (see), although he disguised this fact by using Silk Spectre as cover.

Moloch: A former stage-magician, Moloch first appeared in the 40's and went on to become a powerful crimelord by the 1960's. In the late 1960's, his criminal empire collapsed and Moloch spent the 1970's in prison. He ended up living poor and alone in a tiny apartment. Moloch was murdered in 1985.

Mothman: A bored and rich playboy, Mothman developed his costumed persona to fight crime and boredom. In 1954 he was determined to be a Communist sympathizer by HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee). This drove him to drink and resulted in his admittance to an alcohol rehab center in 1962.

Nite Owl I: A New York police officer, Nite Owl was one of the first superheroes. A member of the Minutemen, he was active until 1962. Nite Owl was killed in 1985 by a gang of thugs who mistook him for Nite Owl II (see).

Nite Owl II: Inheritor to the Nite Owl mantle, Nite Owl II used an impressive array of gadgets to fight crime from 1962 to 1977. He retired with the passing of the Keene Act, eventually coming out of retirement in 1985.

Ozymandias: The "world's smartest man," Ozymandias uses a full 100% of his brain power. He is a virtual superhuman himself, with athletic skill and intellectual prowess far beyond those of anyone else around him. Realizing the self-destructive path that the world is on as early as 1966, he devises an elaborate plan to save mankind from itself.

Rorschach: A former garment worker, Rorschach started in 1963. He worked extensively with Nite Owl II until Nite Owl II quit in 1977. Rorschach underwent a drastic change of personality following his investigation of a kidnapping case in 1975, becoming even more violent in his treatment of criminals. Rorschach was killed by Dr. Manhattan in 1985.

Silhouette: An aristocrat from Austria, Silhouette fled to America to escape Hitler. She fought crime for the sheer thrill of it. A lesbian, she was expelled from the Minutemen in 1946 and killed shortly thereafter.

Silk Spectre I: An member of the Minutemen, Silk Spectre fought crime in order to make money. Her initial exploits were mere publicity stunts, designed to cash in on the superhero "fad." She was eventually succeeded by her daughter, Silk Spectre II (see).

Silk Spectre II: Daughter of the original Silk Spectre, Silk Spectre II debuted in 1966. She quickly fell in love with Doctor Manhattan, staying with him until he left Earth in 1985. When we had last seen her, she had joined up with Nite Owl II and intended to reactivate her crime fighting career with him.

Other Costumed Characters in the Watchman Universe

In Chapter III of Under the Hood (found in Chapter II of Watchmen) Nite Owl states "there were at least seven costumed vigilantes operating on or around America's West Coast." Other than the characters described above, these other heroes are never mentioned, although there must have been enough of them to warrant the Police Riots and Keene Act of 1977. On the other hand, we are presented with a interesting (if short) list of supervillians, even if most are only mentioned in passing. They are:

Captain Axis:  A Nazi operative, Captain Axis was active during World War II.

Captain Carnage: A masochist, Captain Carnage dressed up as a supervillain in order to get beaten up. He encountered Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, and Rorschach. According to Nite Owl II, Rorschach dropped him down an elevator shaft.

The Big Figure: A mob boss active in the mid-1960's, the Big Figure looks to stand a grand total of four foot zero. He is killed by Rorschach in 1985 during a prison riot.

King Mob: A supervillain active during the 1940's, the only clue we have to his nature is "King Mob's Ape Mask" seen displayed in the Minutemen headquarters.

Liquidator:  Active during the 1940's, Liquidator killed Silhouette after she was expelled from the Minutemen.

The Screaming Skull: Another Nazi operative during World War II, the Screaming Skull apparently found religion and became a born-again Christian in the early 1980's.

The Twilight Lady: A vice-queen operating in the late-1960's, the Twilight Lady was romantically involved with Nite Owl II at one point in his career.

Underboss: An underworld crimelord active in the mid-1960's, the Underboss was taken down by Rorschach and Nite Owl II soon after they teamed up.

Paranormals in the Watchmen Universe

Although the Watchmen universe is meant to be "realistic," it can be inferred that paranormals other than Dr. Manhattan do exist. Ozymandias is one of these people. His heightened mental and physical abilities are virtually superhuman, making him a true paranormal. There is also mention of a Robert Deschaines, a "psychic and clairvoyant," whose brain Ozymandias clones for his own purposes. Ozymandias also states "...sensitives world-wide will have bad dreams for years to come." Thus, we can presume certain forms of psi/esper powers (such as minor telepathy, emotion sensing, clairvoyance, pre- and retrocognition etc.) exist in the Watchmen universe.

The central characters in the series Watchmen are based upon a number of characters originally published by Charlton Comics. These characters were acquired by DC Comics and later incorporated into the DC universe. Alan Moore wanted to use the original, Charlton versions of the characters, but ended up redesigning them into their current incarnations after DC Comics said "no" to the idea.

Watchmen Character Charlton Character
Comedian Peacemaker
Dr. Manhattan Captain Atom
Nite Owl I & II Blue Beetle I & III
Ozymandias Thunderbolt
Rorschach The Question
Silk Spectre Nightshade