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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1831

Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, was published by DC Comics as a twelve-issue limited-series comic book during 1986 and 1987. Afterwards, it was collected as a bound graphic novel.

The first chapter is set in 1985 in an alternate-reality New York City. The police...

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Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, was published by DC Comics as a twelve-issue limited-series comic book during 1986 and 1987. Afterwards, it was collected as a bound graphic novel.

The first chapter is set in 1985 in an alternate-reality New York City. The police arrive at the home of Edward Blake, otherwise known as the Comedian. Upon investigation, the police piece together that someone broke into Blake’s home, engaged in a vicious fight with him, and threw him through the plate-glass window. Rorschach, a member of the retired group of crime fighters known as the Watchmen, hears about Blake’s death and begins his own underground investigation. He believes that someone is out to assassinate all the previous Watchmen. Rorschach decides to warn all the members of the group about his suspicions. He first visits Dan Dreiberg, the former Nite Owl II, and chastises Dan for quitting crime fighting. Rorschach then visits Adrian Veidt, the former Ozymandias; Jon Osterman, known to the world as Dr. Manhattan; and Laurie Juspeczyk, the former Silk Spectre II. After Rorschach leaves the compound where Jon and Laurie live, Laurie reminisces about Dan and the two meet for dinner, during which they recall their days as the Watchmen.

At the beginning of Chapter 2, the scene swaps between Edward Blake’s funeral and a visit to Sally Juspeczyk by her daughter Laurie. During the visit, Sally picks up a photograph of the original group of Watchmen and flashes back to her relationship with Eddie. After the group’s photo shoot, Sally goes into a back room to change out of her costume, and Eddie sneaks in on her. When she refuses his sexual advances, he becomes violent and brutally beats and rapes Sally. He is stopped by the Hooded Knight, but for Sally it is much too late. Laurie questions her mother about a sleazy comic book that she finds in her mother’s room, but Sally will not stand for Laurie’s accusations. Meanwhile, back at Blake’s funeral, Adrian Veidt also flashes back to his dealings with Blake. When the new band of Watchmen gets together, Veidt proposes that they could save the world with intelligence and the right leadership. The Comedian has been through many trials already and has grown cynical to any attempt to better the human race. Once again, the scene reverts to the funeral, and this time Jon flashes back to his experience with Blake in the Vietnam War. After the war is over, Blake is confronted in a bar by a Vietnamese woman whom he has gotten pregnant. Blake wants to walk away and forget it all, but the woman says that she will not let him forget and slashes his face. Blake shoots her. Jon chastises Blake, but Blake reminds Jon that instead of changing the face and nature of the war, he went along with it to win. He tells Jon that Jon is drifting away from understanding humans. In the final flashback from the funeral, Dan recalls a riot that he and the Comedian broke up during a police strike. The Comedian exerts violence against the crowd of people who claim that they do not want vigilantes trying to stop crime. When Dan questions the Comedian’s motives, the Comedian says that the people need to be protected from themselves. After everyone leaves the funeral, Rorschach visits the gravesite and decides to continue to pursue the Comedian’s killer. He goes to the home of Edgar William Vaughn, who was known as Moloch during their crime-fighting days. Moloch was the Comedian’s biggest enemy and is therefore suspect; however, Vaughn claims that the Comedian came to him several nights before his death seemingly to make a confession. The Comedian had told Moloch that his name was on some kind of list and that he found out about some “joke” that was threatening them all. Rorschach leaves Moloch’s home to reflect on this new information.

Chapter 3 opens with a disagreement between Laurie and Jon. Although they have been intimate for some time, Laurie says that Jon does not know how to relate to her as a person. She leaves him and goes to Dan’s home. Meanwhile the scene is woven together with an interview that Jon’s former girlfriend Janie Slater gives on the same topic. Laurie seeks comfort in Dan; simultaneously, Jon prepares for the television interview. While Laurie and Dan are accosted by thugs in an alley, Jon is accosted by television reporters and interviewers who claim that he has caused cancer in those who have been close to him. When he is accused of dooming the lives of multitudes of people, Jon escapes and transports himself to Mars.

In the next chapter while on Mars, Jon recalls the events preceding the disaster that turned him into Dr. Manhattan. While working as a physicist, Jon meets and falls in love with a coworker, Janey Slater. He leaves his coat behind in the intrinsic field center, and when he goes to retrieve it, the door accidentally shuts behind him. The other scientists stand powerless as the machine atomically dismantles Jon. In a few days, he manages to reassemble himself and comes back to the world as a charged being whom the government names Dr. Manhattan to inspire fear in other nations. Dr. Manhattan is co-opted to help in conflicts such as the Vietnam War, and he slowly feels his sense of morality slipping away.

Chapter 5 opens with Rorschach’s visit to Moloch. Rorschach still suspects that Moloch is responsible for Blake’s death, so he goes to question him. Moloch, however, still denies any involvement. Meanwhile, an attack is made on Adrian Veidt at his company’s headquarters. A reporter is shot and killed in the fray, and Adrian is able to take down the shooter before anyone else is harmed. This event falls in line with Rorschach’s suspicion that someone is out to take the lives of all the former Watchmen. Still suspecting Moloch, Rorschach returns once again to Moloch’s home, this time to find him killed and slumped across the kitchen table. The police have been watching Moloch’s apartment and immediately rush in to apprehend Rorschach.

The next chapter continues as Rorschach is taken to prison, where he is questioned by a psychologist. The doctor wants to understand Rorschach as a person, but Rorschach keeps himself guarded. It is only through Rorschach’s internal flashbacks that the reader sees the abuse he suffered as a child and his killing of a man who murdered a small girl and fed her body to dogs. Rorschach notes that this killing turned him toward crime fighting.

Chapter 7 moves from Rorschach’s story back to Laurie and Dan. The two become intimate, and later Laurie tours Dan’s house. In the basement, she sees his old Nite Owl costume hanging on display, and she recalls their crime fighting days. Laurie dreams of re-suiting, and she convinces Dan to join her. The two resume their former identities as Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II, and while scanning the neighborhood, they save people from a burning building.

After having saved the residents, Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II decide to go to the prison to help free Rorschach. Yet Rorschach is already devising a scheme to get himself out of prison, and after a few incidents with former enemies, Rorschach gets out of his cell. A riot blooms in the prison just as Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II arrive. The three escape via Archie, Nite Owl’s air vehicle.

In Chapter 9, Dr. Manhattan transports Laurie to Mars, and the two try to understand each other’s vision of the world. Jon tells Laurie that he wants to understand the way her world works. Jon is able to manipulate time so that Laurie can see things that have happened in her past. Through Jon, Laurie sees her mother’s relationship with Eddie Blake and the forced sexual encounter that Blake inflicted upon Sally. Laurie remembers her mother’s past aggression against and avoidance of Eddie. She is upset that she is a reminder to her mother of this horrible experience in her life, but Jon tells her that this past is the key to his understanding of human life. He says that human life is grand because something so wonderful can come out of something so terrible, and this breaks all laws of logic. At this point, Jon changes his mind about permanently staying on Mars and neglecting the human race.

Out of prison, Rorschach resumes his quest to find out who is murdering the former Watchmen, and he and Nite Owl II probe bars and find a link. They discover that it is in fact Adrian Veidt, the former Ozymandias, who is behind the murders. The two discover that Adrian has fled his local headquarters and has gone to a hideout in Antarctica. Before leaving to find Adrian, Rorschach drops his journal detailing his experiences in the mail to the local newspaper.

In Chapter 11, Rorschach and Nite Owl II arrive at Veidt’s headquarters. Adrian is prepared for their arrival, and once they get there, he explains to them his plans to save the world. Adrian believes that the only way humanity can be saved is by conquering the evil that resides in them and by starting from nothing. He has set into motion a series of nuclear events to destroy the world. Adrian confesses that he did murder Blake because Blake became aware of his plans. To keep suspicion away from himself, Adrian devised attacks to make it appear that some enemy was out to murder the former Watchmen. Rorschach and Nite Owl II are not powerful or smart enough to stop Adrian, and the nuclear destruction starts.

The final chapter of Watchmen opens with scenes of murdered citizens in New York City. Adrian has made it appear that an alien is responsible for the attacks. Jon transports himself and Laurie to Adrian’s hideout and the two confront Adrian. Adrian tricks Jon into one of his machines, and he uses energy to dismantle Jon. However, Jon is able to restructure himself as he did in the past.  Meanwhile, the news reports on the television claim that cities around the globe are uniting in the face of destruction to save themselves from alien attack. Adrian is happy that he has been able to get people to unite, and Jon agrees that this is important. The others want to turn Adrian in to the authorities; however, Jon says that the key to keeping peace is remaining silent. Rorschach will not agree, so Jon kills him and leaves to a galaxy "less complicated." In the end, a reporter takes Rorschach’s journal out of the crank file because he needs a story to run. This goes along with one of Jon’s final statements, “‘In the end?....Nothing ever ends.’”

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