Watchmen hits theaters on March 6, marking the end of a long, long wait for legions of fans of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking comic. Aficionados have followed the development of the film closely, watching for every new photo, trailer, and news item about this long-anticipated release. Fans of the comic will undoubtedly be lining up to catch the first showings, but what if you’ve never read the original comic book, and are hesitant to see a film about heroes you’ve never heard of? Never fear, for Weekly Ketchup columnist Greg Dean Schmitz has written up a definitive guide to the heroes of Watchmen, so you can learn about everyone’s sordid backgrounds (or most of them, anyway) before seeing the film.
Real Name: Edward “Eddie” Blake
Played By: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, best known for his TV work as the brothers’ dad in Supernatural and as Denny Duquette, heart patient turned ghost in Grey’s Anatomy.
Concept: The Comedian got his start back in the early days of costumed heroics in a costume patterned after clowns, but Blake was always one of the more violent heroes, in an obvious and no doubt intended contradiction. The Comedian’s costume evolved to be more armored, with shoulder pads adorned with U.S. flag imagery, with a “smiley face” button on his chest to keep the “Comedian” motiff. Not himself being super-powered, The Comedian enjoyed using dangerous weapons like big honking guns, grenade launchers and flame throwers.
History: Back in the Minutemen days, The Comedian was the team’s youngest member, and also the one that caused the most friction within the group, leading to a violent confrontation with another hero named Hooded Justice. Over time, Blake turned out to be the hero most eager to work directly for the U.S. government as a soldier and assassin around the world, most notably in Vietnam (along with Dr. Manhattan). In the 1970s, The Comedian teamed up with Nite Owl to help control civilian anti-hero protests, but clearly The Comedian enjoyed “controlling” the mobs a bit too much. Blake’s violent death by defenestration at the beginning of Watchmen is the event that kicks off the rest of the story.
Charlton Comics Inspiration: Ironically, the Charlton basis for The Comedian is The Peacemaker, a hero devoted to the cause of peace who uses non-lethal weapons to further his cause. By contrast, The Comedian was perfectly okay with killing people, and his causes were usually far from peaceful.
Other Inspiration: Eddie Blake’s appearance was loosely inspired by 1970s action star Burt Reynolds, his role as a henchman for Richard Nixon was inspired by G. Gordon Liddy, and the comics character that he is closest to being a twisted version to is arguably Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Comedian can also be seen as belonging to the same school of patriotric superheroes as Captain America, although most are not as violent as The Comedian.
Real Name: Walter Joseph Kovacs
Played By: Jackie Earle Haley, who is probably best known for his work as a child/teen actor in the 1970s, including the first three Bad News Bears movies and the role of Moocher in Breaking Away.
Concept: Vigilantes are rare in the real world, but when we do hear about them, they are often associated with psychological conditions. Such is the case with Rorschach, whose mask is based upon the inkblots of the same name, and who himself has a severely disturbing psychological background. The son of a prostitute, Kovacs took on the identity of Rorschach as a way to mete out his own type of dark justice on the world, which frequently included mutilation and murder. Rorschach’s key piece of equipment is a grappling hook gun, but he also shows a MacGyver-like knack for improvising household items into weapons. Rorschach is most famous as the narrator for much of Watchmen and his dark view of the world, which includes rants about all the forces he perceives as being responsible for the world’s ills. These rants display a strong sense in moral absolutism and moral objectivism, as well as very anti-communist, anti-liberal views.
History: Rorschach got his start trying to be a “good” costumed adventurer, but an encounter in 1975 with a murderer who fed a young girl to his dogs flipped Rorschach from being a man who wore a mask to being a mask who was also a man, and just as violent as any criminals. Early in his crimefighting career, Rorschach teamed up with Nite Owl (who supplied him with his grappling hook gun). When the Keene Act outlawed costumed vigilantes, Nite Owl retired, but Rorschach never did. A wanted man, Rorschach frequently finds himself simultaneously fighting both the police and the criminals he’s after.
Charlton Comics Inspiration: Rorschach was based upon The Question, and the visual similarities between the two characters are probably the closest of any in Watchmen. Like Rorschach, The Question wore a trenchcoat, hat and a strange mask that covered his face, in his case, a flesh-colored blank slate with no mouth, nose or eyes. Unlike Rorschach, The Question avoided violence, but when he became a recurring character on the Justice League Unlimited TV series, The Question was adapted as something of a Rorschach homage himself, particularly his tendency towards paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories.
Other Inspiration: In a way, Alan Moore took elements of Batman and split them up between Rorschach and Nite Owl. Nite Owl has a Batman-ish costume and the gadgets, while Rorschach can be seen as what might have happened to the Dark Knight if he lost all touch with reality and gave into his basest nature.
Real Name: Dan Dreiberg
Played By: Patrick Wilson, best known for his roles in The Alamo, Little Children and HBO’s Angels in America.
Concept: Lacking the conviction of someone like Rorschach, Nite Owl is the ultimate example of someone who seemed perfectly targeted by the Keene Act which made costumed adventuring illegal. Drawing inspiration from the first Nite Owl (a member of the older Minutemen team) and his own interest in owls, Dan Dreiberg was arguably an engineering genius who invented his own air ship, the Owlship, and lots of gadgets and specialized costumes with which to fight crime.
History: Coming into the costumed hero scene at around the same as Rorschach (the early 1960s), Nite Owl (II) was driven into early retirement by the Keene Act. Keeping the Owlship and all his gadgets in a dusty garage, Dan spent the next 10 years getting chubby, spending a lot of time with the original Nite Owl (who retired years earlier) and secretly obsessing nostalgically about his good old days as a superhero.
Charlton Comics Inspiration: Nite Owl is mostly based upon the Silver Age version of Blue Beetle, who like Dan, was also the second hero to have that name, and was a gadget hero who travelled around in a round airship. When Blue Beetle joined the DC Comics stable, he was portrayed as a bit of a goof, which is in stark contrast to the way Dan Dreiberg mopes around.
Other Inspiration: Like Rorschach, there are obvious similarities between Nite Owl and Batman, as both rely heavily on gadgets and interesting means of transport. Nite Owl and Batman also both take their inspiration from things that fly through the night.
Real Name: Laurie Juspeczyk
Played By: Malin Akerman, a Swedish-Canadian actress normally seen as a blonde, and not as a brunette as Silk Spectre is. Akerman is still a relative unknown, but she has appeared in 27 Dresses, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and on HBO’s Entourage.
Concept: Laurie Juspeczyk was pushed by her mother, the original Silk Spectre, into the hero business at an early age. Like most of the heroes in the world of Watchmen, Laurie has no actual superpowers. But she is very agile and athletic and she’s very big on kicking bad guys in the face.
History: Taking over her mother’s hero moniker as a teenager, Laurie quickly fell in love with Dr. Manhattan, and when most other heroes were forced into retirement, she moved in with Dr. Manhattan, living in his quarters on a government military base. Manhattan’s growing disillusionment with the human race, however, causes friction in their relationship, and as Watchmen starts, Laurie finds herself attracted to another costumed adventurer.
Charlton Comics Inspiration: If Watchmen had used the Charlton Comics characters, Silk Spectre would have been Nightshade, but the two characters share little in common besides both being female, as Nightshade had magical super powers like teleportation and the ability to blend into shadows.
Other Inspiration: Silk Spectre is most obviously based upon the DC Comics character Black Canary, who like Laurie was also the daughter of a heroine with the same name. Both Silk Spectre and Black Canary are known for wearing skimpy, thigh-revealing outfits while beating up bad guys, but Black Canary also had an actualy super power (a “super scream”) while Silk Spectre does not.
Real Name: Dr. Jonathan Osterman
Played By: Billy Crudup, who is arguably the biggest “star” in the Watchmen cast, having starred in several movies, including Almost Famous, Jesus’ Son and Stage Beauty. This summer, Billy Crudup costars with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in Public Enemies, playing J. Edgar Hoover.
Concept: In a world of superheroes who face down evil without superpowers, Dr. Manhattan is an exception. As a scientist at a government facility in the early 1950s, Dr. Jonathan Osterman’s body is destroyed in an experiment. By the sheer force of his own will, Osterman is able to put his body back together, atom by atom, and demonstrates an amazing ability to understand and control matter and energy at even the smallest levels. With blue skin and a wide array of abilities that include teleportation, disintegration and an awareness of himself across time, the mere existence of Dr. Manhattan dramatically changes the course of 20th century history, including thousands of inventions (such as the blimp-like airships that replace jets as the main means of aerial transportation) that are created as a result of Manhattan’s abilities and knowledge.
History: With his amazing abilities, Dr. Manhattan is an obvious candidate to become not just a hero, but the world’s only true super hero. However, his alignment with the U.S. government soon leads him to also becoming a pawn in America’s military engagements (especially Vietnam), which Manhattan agrees to in no small part because of the detachment he now feels to the human race in general; after all, he is a sort of walking god. Dr. Manhattan has two romantic interests in his life, but both ultimately go badly, since he is so distanced from the emotions of normal human beings.
Charlton Comics Inspiration: Dr. Manhattan was inspired by Captain Atom), another nuclear-powered superhero who worked for the U.S. government. Alan Moore, however, took the concept to an entirely different level. Moore made Manhattan much more detached than the average hero, and only a soldier inasmuch as he was willing to carry out the military’s dirty work.
Other Inspiration: Although they share little in the way of visual similarities, Dr. Manhattan has to be viewed as a commentary on what the world might be like if Kal-El of Krypton, AKA Superman, really had come to Earth, as they both have god-like abilities. Their personalities couldn’t be more different, however. Where Superman has an empathy for the human race, Dr. Manhattan has only a small portion of his own humanity intact anymore, and as Watchmen begins, Manhattan is starting to wonder if Earth is really all it’s cracked up to be.
Real Name: Adrian Veidt
Played By: Matthew Goode, a relatively unknown British actor who has appeared in Chasing Liberty and Match Point.
Concept: In comics, if a super hero doesn’t have any actual super powers, some explanation has to be given for how they’re able to go out and beat up criminals without being beaten up themselves, or even being killed outright. Usually, the writers just say that the character has learned to maximize what their body is able to achieve through training, and Ozymandias is an extreme example of that idea. Taking inspiration from Alexander the Great, Adrian Veidt taught himself how to use both his brain and body to their full potential, which includes his claim that he can catch bullets with his bare hands. Being so super smart, Ozymandias has also bio-engineered his own unique pet, the strange big cat called Bubastis.
History: Not much is actually known of Ozymandias’ early career as a costumed adventurer, except that he was responsible for taking down Moloch the Mystic, and was among those who were recruited to join a group of adventurers. When the Keene Act outlawed costumed vigilanties, Adrian Veidt was quite content to retire and focus on his corporate empire. Veidt Industries is a large, hi-tech corporation with varied divisions, not the least of which is one that creats action figures based on Veidt’s former exploits as well as the likenesses of the other heroes.
Charlton Comics Inspiration: Ozymandias was inspired by Peter Bolt, Thunderbolt, one of the more obscure Charlton characters. Thunderbolt was a man who discovered the wonders of Buddhist philosophy, and taught himself to use his body and brain to their full potential, just like Ozymandias.
Other Inspiration: Ozymandias’ philosophy of maximizing his physical and mental abilities, and his interest in having a massive business empire, seems to be very inspired by some of the aspects of Batman not covered by Rorschach and Nite Owl (II). The nipples and sculpted muscles of Ozymandias’ costume in the movie are also obvious homages to the Batman and Robin costumes of the movies directed by Joel Schumacher. Finally, the name Ozymandias is a reference to the poem Ozymandias by Percy Blythe Shelley, famous for its line, “Look on my works, Ye Mighty, and despair!”.
The movie version of Watchmen also mentions The Minutemen, the original generation of costumed crimefighters who formed a team in 1939 and were active for most of the 1940s.
Captain Metropolis: Former Marine Nelson Gardner became Captain Metropolis to fight everything that he felt was morally wrong with America, and was the man behind forming the Minutemen as a way for the heroes to work together. In the 1970s, Captain Metropolis was quoted as making racist remarks, which fueled the public’s distaste with heroes, and he died in a car accident in 1974.
Dollar Bill: Dollar Bill was a college football star from Kansas who was recruited by a bank company in New York City to protect their locations, and give the company their own hero as part of a publicity effort. However, Dollar Bill is cited in Hollis Mason’s book as the reason most heroes (except Nite Owl, notably) don’t wear capes, as an incident in which his cape got caught in a revolving door led to him being brutally gunned down by bank robbers.
Hooded Justice: The first person ever to put on a mask and fight crime was the large, burly man thought to be circus strong man Rolf Muller. Although actually a homosexual who was having a relationship with Captain Metropolis, during the 1940s, Hooded Justice and Silk Spectre pretended to the world to be dating as a cover. Hooded Justice disappeared in the 1950s as the House Un-American Activities Committee begain to investigate the activities of costumed adventurers.
Mothman: Using special wings that allowed him to glide through the air, Mothman was probably the closest the original generation of heroes had to someone capable of displaying anything like super powers. However, the House Un-American Activities Committee went after Mothman quite harshly, which led to alcoholism and struggles with his mental health.
Nite Owl (Original): Hollis Mason was a police officer who decided he could fight crime better on his off hours. After retirement, Mason wrote an autobiography, Under the Hood (a documentary version of which will be on the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD), and opened an auto repair shop.
Silhouette: Ursula Zandt, a Jewish immigrant, was the only female hero who wasn’t part of the Juspeczyk family. Zandt was also a lesbian, which led to her being thrown out of the Minutemen in 1946, and murdered (along with her lover) a few weeks later by one of her costumed villain foes.
Silk Spectre (Original): Sally Juspeczyk was a 1930s model, burlesque dancer and “actress” who took the name, Sally Jupiter, and then began fighting crime as the Silk Spectre, under the guidance of her agent-turned-husband, Laurence Schexnayder. As a member of the Minutemen, Sally had an encounter with the Comedian that turned violent, and changed her life forever, and she went into retirement a few years later. In Watchmen, Silk Spectre I is the original hero with the largest role, and is played by Carla Gugino (Spy Kids).
Although they never came together as a group like the Minutemen, there were indeed costumed villains in the world of Watchmen for them to fight.
Big Figure: Big Figure is an ironically-named little person who is the leader of a crime syndicate, and imprisoned during the events of Watchmen.
Captain Carnage: This villain was actually a masochist who just enjoyed being beat up. After many encounters with Nite Owl (II) and Silk Spectre (II), Captain Carnage tried his routine on Rorschach, who dropped him down an elevator shaft. Ouch.
The Knot Tops: The Knot Tops are a New York City gang who are seen causing all sorts of mischief and damage in Watchmen. They appear to be big fans of a musical group called Pale Horse. Like many of the changes in fashion portrayed in Watchmen, it appears that the Knot Tops are a variation on the punk rock scene of the 1970s and 1980s, if things had gone differently.
Moloch the Mystic: Edgar Jacobi was a magician turned villain who became arguably the highest profile villain in Watchmen. After serving much of his life in prison for his crimes, Jacobi went into quiet retirement, but he reappears in Watchmen, where he is played by Matt Frewer (Max Headroom).
Richard M. Nixon: Although not a costumed villain, President Nixon, who still has his office in 1986, 18 years after being elected, is portrayed as having lots of nefarious connections, including possible involvement in the JFK assassination and the 1970s murders of two reporters named Woodward and Bernstein.