An Idiot's Guide to Watchmen
On March 6th, a film called Watchmen arrives in theaters. Over the course of the next week, you’ll hear words like "explosions," "superheroes" and "that blue dude" – followed, most likely, by an image of a yellow smiley face with what appears to be some red paint smeared across one eye. Who (or what) are the Watchmen? And why are so many people ridiculously hyped up to see this movie?
Well, come with us on a little photo tour, and we’ll bring you the skinny on Watchmen, its characters and their universe.
by Erik Davis
The Graphic Novel
Originally published as a 12-issue comic book series back in 1986 and 1987, Watchmen – which was created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins -- has since gone on to become one of the most successful, critically acclaimed comics of all time. It’s dark, brutal and oddly hilarious, and it takes place in an alternate reality version of 1985 – where costumed superheroes exist and the world is on the verge of nuclear war.
Costumed superheroes, you say? They’ve existed for years, going as far back as the 1930s, when, in 1939, the first group assembled. The Minutemen were an eight-person team made up of regular people who took it upon themselves to act as vigilantes and protect their city.
The original group was comprised of Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre, Hooded Justice, Nite Owl, Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman and The Comedian. They disbanded in 1949. While some, like Silk Spectre, got married and had a child, others, like The Comedian, continued to fight evildoers at home and abroad in Vietnam during the war.
Formed in 1966 by Captain Metropolis, this new group of masked adventurers was made up of folks who grew up watching their favorite costumed heroes in action. Comprised of freaks, fans, fools and family, The Crimebusters ushered in a whole new dangerous era. By bizarre accident, one of their members actually developed superpowers … but we’ll get to him in a moment.
These are the main characters of Watchmen (the comic and the movie) from left to right: Edward Blake/The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley).
In the Beginning
While the stories behind these crime-fighting vigilantes trace all the way back to the early 1900s, the central plot of Watchmen begins with the death of The Comedian at the hands of a mysterious masked figure. Following a vicious battle inside his own high-rise apartment, he’s thrown – beaten and battered – through a window, the onetime masked adventurer meeting his fate on the concrete below … along with his official symbol, a smiley face pin, which has a bit of blood smeared through one eye when it lands alongside its owner.
Though The Crimebusters were forced to stop their crime-fighting ways due to an emergency bill outlawing all non government-sanctioned costumed heroes proposed by Senator Keene (otherwise known as The Keene Act) in 1977, some (namely Rorschach) chose not to stop, wreaking havoc and evading the police instead.
When The Comedian is murdered, Rorschach feels there may be a sinister plan at work to kill off all living costumed adventurers. With that in mind, he takes it upon himself to solve this mystery with or without the help of his fellow retired heroes.
But What About That Blue Dude?
That Blue Dude was a very human dude named Jon Osterman, who, during the 1950s, was a scientist who studied atomic physics. However, he wasn’t always a scientist – as a boy, Jon wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a watchmaker. But when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, Jon’s father forced his teenage son to pursue another career.
Jon graduated from Princeton in 1958 with a Ph.D. in atomic physics, which he used to land a gig on a research base experimenting with an ‘Intrinsic Field’ subtractor. It was there where he fell in love with a girl named Janey Slater, and all was fine and dandy until the day Jon accidentally got trapped inside the intrinsic field experiment test chamber, and, unable to free himself, was vaporized on the spot as Janey and his co-workers watched in horror.
Over the next several months following Jon’s accident, workers on the research base began to witness glowing body parts floating through the air – which, eventually, lead to Jon literally piecing himself back together. He becomes a tall, hairless, ripped, blue-skinned man who, strangely, experienced all the moments of his life simultaneously, had the powers to teleport off the planet earth and could destroy anything (human or non-human) with a simple wave of his hand.
It’s these superhuman powers that garnered interest from fellow masked heroes, as well as the U.S. government, who sent Jon – now nicknamed Dr. Manhattan (a reference to the Manhattan Project) – to Vietnam as a super soldier where he of course annihilated anything that got in his way.
Who said blue men can't win over the ladies? In fact, during his time as a member of The Crimebusters, Dr. Manhattan wooed Silk Spectre II (Laurie Jupiter), much to the dismay of the aging Janey Slater. But Jupiter had her own issues to deal with, and she soon realized that falling in love with an emotionless ball of blue glowing nakedness might not have been what her mom expected of her.
Oh, and speaking of her mom…
The Original Silk Spectre
Sally Jupiter (played by Carla Gugino) was a former dancer-turned-costumed hero who was more about the celebrity factor than she was fighting crime – hoping to eventually parlay her vigilante gig into a career as a successful film star. As a member of The Minutemen, Sally was sexually assaulted by The Comedian on one occasion; a terrible act that remained hidden to protect the group, but was later revealed in a tell-all book written by the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason.
This one event, however, changed the course of Sally’s life, as well as that of her daughter, Laurie – who, with the help and guidance of her mother, would eventually grow up to become the second Silk Spectre.
Watchmen’s Hottest Hero
Unlike her mother, Laurie Jupiter never liked being a vigilante. She wasn’t crazy about dressing up in the outfit, and was somewhat relieved when the Keene Act was passed so she wouldn’t have to fight crime anymore. But as the costumed heroes began to disappear, so did her relationship with the bland, emotionless Dr. Manhattan. This disconnect, as it so often does, forced her into the arms of another man.
The Other Man
Friendly, honest and likable, Dan Dreiberg used money from a large inheritance to fund his masked hero habit. A longtime fan of the original Nite Owl (Hollis Mason), Dan wrote to Mason when he retired and asked if he could take over as the second incarnation of Nite Owl. Mason agreed, and Dan used his technical smarts to not only design a cool suite, but also build a flying ship, nicknamed "Archie."
The New Nite Owl
When Laurie Jupiter left Dr. Manhattan with a few bags and lots of tears, she found comfort and shelter with Dan Dreiberg. Not only did the two form a strong bond outside and inside the bedroom (wink, wink), but they also convinced one another to suit back up and help Rorschach find the person(s) responsible for killing off costumed heroes.
This Alternate Reality
The 1985 in Watchmen isn't much different from the 1985 we all know, love and remember fondly – with the exception of these costumed heroes, whose existence has altered not only the outcome of the Vietnam War, but also the presidency of Richard Nixon. See, in this reality, Nixon was elected to a third term after reporters investigating the Watergate scandal (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) were found dead in a garage.
In the film Robert Wisden plays Richard Nixon, who's seen here with director Zack Snyder.
It’s, Like, Totally 1985
Snyder and his crew painstakingly re-created the streets, sounds, smells and people of the Watchmen version of 1985, right down to the tiniest details. In fact, Snyder kept a copy of the graphic novel on his monitor at all times so he and the cast could use it as a reference while filming.
Like he did with adapting the graphic novel 300, Snyder once again went to great lengths to mirror the pages of Watchmen on the big screen. In addition to the film and the novel, Warner Bros. also released a 12-episode motion comic, available on iTunes, DVD and Blu-ray (March 3rd).
C'mon now, we're not gonna tell you everything – you’ll have to pony up some cash for a ticket in order to see the rest. Do Rorschach, Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II save the day? What happens to Dr. Manhattan? And who the hell watches the Watchmen, after all? Is it us? You? Them? Everyone?
Take note, friends, Watchmen arrives in theaters on March 6th.