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Comic Book / Watchmen

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Juvenal, Satires

The deconstruction of the superhero genre.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is a 12-Issue Mini Series that ran from September, 1986 to October, 1987, published by DC Comics, and subsequently printed as a single volume graphic novel.

The story is set in an Alternate Universe that mirrors the real world of the late 20th century, with just one key difference. In the real world, the runaway success of Action Comics #1 in the summer of 1938 led to superheroes becoming a major sensation in American pop culture; in this world, it inspired a wave of real people to take to the streets in colorful costumes to fight crime like their heroes in the comic books, leading to the formation of an organisation known as the Minutemen.

By the 1940s, superheroes are a very real part of American life and culture, but they're ultimately unprepared for the new status quo of the early 1960s, when the U.S. government's experiments in theoretical physics lead to the birth of "Doctor Manhattan", an omniscient Physical God with the power to remake the universe at will. The latter half of the 20th century sees the US winning The Vietnam War with Doctor Manhattan's help, leading to a greatly escalated Cold War.


By the start of the story, the aging members of the first generation of superheroes are retired or dead, and their would-be successors have been forbidden from crime-fighting by the passage of the Keene Act during Richard Nixon's third term in 1977. By the 1980s, the world is at the brink of nuclear war, and most of the world's superheroes have returned to their civilian lives. One of the only holdouts is the mysterious "Rorschach", a mentally unstable renegade crimefighter who lives off-the-grid in New York City, pursued by the NYPD for his long history of illegal vigilantism.

The plot of Watchmen begins with the murder of Edward Blake, a former member of the Minutemen who went on to become a feared Black Ops agent for the US military. While investigating Blake's murder, Rorschach delves into his past as the superhero "The Comedian," and begins to suspect that someone deliberately targeted him for his superhero past. As he follows a trail of clues through the seedy underbelly of New York, Rorschach seeks out his former acquaintances — Dan Dreiberg ("Nite Owl"), Laurie Juspeczyk ("Silk Spectre"), Doctor Manhattan (formerly Jon Osterman), and Adrian Veidt ("Ozymandias") — believing that their past adventures may have sown the seeds of a new threat. But Blake's murder is only the start of a bigger mystery—one that will ultimately bring the heroes together for one final battle, and force them to question everything that they believe in.


The series is perhaps best known for being one of the first serious attempts at examining how modern society and culture might really react to the presence of costumed vigilantes with secret identities (though it wasn't the first to deconstruct it, as Marvel Comics did quite a bit of this in the Silver Age — what sets Watchmen apart is how it framed its narrative against the backdrop of the Cold War in a more realistic light). More broadly, though, the whole story is a protracted examination of the conflict between power and morality. It's no accident that it was written towards the end of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union — two superpowers of a different sort — were reaching the apex of their power on the world stage. At the heart of the story's complex web of character relationships, the superheroes are ultimately divided by questions about the values and pitfalls of moral systems. Several characters are unabashedly amoral nihilists, and consciously reject the notion of following ideals; others fall to the opposite extreme, and steadfastly refuse to compromise their ideals for any reason. The story demonstrates the perils of both ways of thinking, while also following the struggles of ordinary people caught in the middle, who are just trying to do the right thing.

For the other works titled Watchmen or follow-ups, see the franchise's page.

Warning: As Watchmen came out three decades ago, there will be untagged spoilers from this point forward.


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    Tropes A-F 
  • '90s Anti-Hero: Rorschach and the Comedian are progenitors of this trope, albeit not strictly embodying it themselves. On record, Moore despises the fad for "Darker and Edgier" heroes whose ultraviolence is justified by some half-assed attempt at Watchmen-style deconstruction. The other big-noted superhero work of 1986, Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is probably a more representative proto-example of "Nineties Anti-Hero" comics. Notably, Miller's no fan of it, either. Both authors were trying to take superheroics to their logical conclusion, rather than make dark and edgy look cool.
  • Abandoned War Child: What the Comedian planned to do to a Vietnamese woman he impregnated. Instead, she attacked him with a broken bottle, scarring him for life, and he shot her dead.
  • Above Good and Evil: The longer he is Dr. Manhattan, the further he drifts from typical human morals, something even the Comedian worries about. However, after his talk with Laurie on Mars, he becomes convinced of the value of human life. This allows Manhattan to agree not to expose Veidt as an Omnicidal Maniac and even kill Rorschach, but this also leads him to leave Earth forever.
    Veidt: I’d hope you’d understand, unlike Rorschach
    Manhattan: Yes, I understand without condoning or condemning. Human affairs cannot be my concern. I’m leaving this galaxy for one less complicated.
    Veidt: But you’d regained your interest in human life…
    Manhattan: Yes, I have. I think perhaps I'll create some.
  • The Ace: Ozymandias. Deconstructed. So, you are an intelligent, handsome, charismatic person with peak human physical prowess. You've made a hell of a lot of money all by yourself, and you're clever enough to realize that crimefighting does not change anything, and yet, out of good intention, you still wish to make the world a better place. So what do you do? Commit mass murder with faking an Alien Invasion as part of a Genghis Gambit. And what pushes you to do this is your idealism.
  • Achilles in His Tent: Played with. Laurie thinks Jon is doing this by exiling himself to Mars instead of stopping the impending nuclear war between the U.S. and USSR. But actually, Jon for once cannot see what is going to happen and therefore couldn’t have prevented Veidt’s plot even if he had been on Earth.
  • An Aesop: Empathy is a hero's most important quality. Regardless of honorable intent, committing atrocities for the sake of the greater good never ends well; neither does singleminded, uncompromising adherence to a code. You can't solve the world's problems if you're indifferent to other people's suffering.
  • Alliterative Name: Daniel "Nite Owl" Dreiberg. The Silk Spectre(s). Wally Weaver, Bill Benjamin Brady (although his first name is actually William). Also the new presidential candidate, film star Robert Redford.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Hell, if you look hard enough, everything in the whole book is a Historical In-Joke in one form or another.
    • Most of the original superheroes die, retire, or go nuts after WWII, with a new generation popping up in the late fifties, mirroring the real-life post war decline of comics and the rise of the Silver Age.
    • A lot of other ones too. Nite Owl calls his Batman style gadget collection from the '60s "campy". In the real '70s, comics (arguably) entered the Bronze Age as Super Hero comics started to deal with political issues; in the Watchmenverse's Seventies, they are the issue.
    • The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan briefly discuss the effects if the US had lost the war in Vietnam. They also show a picture of a triumphant Richard Nixon giving the “V” victory sign next to a helicopter on a launching pad, which alludes to the final helicopters leaving Vietnam when Saigon fell in 1975.
    • How about those two Washington Post reporters found dead in a garage?
    • How about: "This is still America! People don't want a cowboy actor for president!" (of course, the cowboy actor running for president in this particular universe is Robert Redford; in the movie, it was changed to a direct Ronald Reagan reference, probably because Redford hasn't been in a movie in a long time, but everyone knows Reagan).
  • All There in the Manual: Lots of background information (supplied by Moore and Gibbons themselves) about the characters and their equipment can be found in the Watchmen Modules and Sourcebook for the now-defunct DC Heroes RPG.
  • Alternate History:
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Rorschach suspects as much of Veidt, though as the sequence is told from Rorshach's perspective it's fifty-fifty whether Veidt is Straight Gay or if it's just Rorshach being his usual sexually confused homophobic self.
    • The "holding a handshake too long" scene that demonstrates Dan's sexual tension for Laurie is mirrored later with confirmed bachelor Rorschach doing the exact same thing to Dan (though it could just as easily be due to Rorschach's complete lack of social graces).
  • Anachronic Order:
    • In Issue #4, Dr. Manhattan's backstory uses Non Linear Storytelling.
    • In Issue #9, Dr. Manhattan also uses his abilities to help Laurie reach a highly personal conclusion about her life, namely that Eddie Blake is her father.
    • Issue #11 actually uses this as a plot twist. The narrative is mainly set in Ozymandias's base in Antarctica, while we're seemingly led to believe that what's going on in New York City with all the side characters is taking place at the same time. However, as the issue's ending indicates, Ozymandias dropped the squid on the city 35 minutes before the heroes got to him. Subtle foreshadowing to the New York segments taking place in the past can be seen in the background, where the clocks are all set before midnight, while the one in Ozymandias's lair is set to midnight.
  • Analogy Backfire:
    • The lock company "Gordian Knot," which is famous precisely for being cut.
    • The name Ozymandias. In spite of the "look on my works, ye mighty and despair" line, the source poem is actually about the fleeting nature of power (the line is carved on a pedestal and nothing beside remains). Ozymandias's great strategy for peace on Earth will fail... eventually.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Ends with the current Nite Owl and Silk Spectre coming out of retirement to fight crime together. Then there's The Stinger, implying that they may have to deal with the fallout from Rorschach exposing Ozymandias' crimes...
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: The two Nite Owls and the minor character Mothman.
  • Animated Adaptation: In-universe, the memo from Veidt's marketing department (included between chapters) mentions that they've been working on a Saturday Morning Cartoon starring Ozymandias, Bubastis, and unlicensed versions of Rorschach, Nite Owl II and Moloch; the show is expected to tie into Veidt's new line of action figures. Out-of-universe, the concept's been parodied with Harry Partridge's Saturday Morning Watchmen and played with by the Watchmen "motion comic" DVD. Also parodied on The Simpsons with 'Watchmen Babies in V for Vacation'.
  • Animation Age Ghetto: In-universe, for pirate comics. Those written by Max Shea are described and shown as extremely dark and disturbing, and his horror-inducing skills are even a plot point, but a newspaper story about his disappearance refers to them as "children's pirate comics."
  • The Annotated Edition: Two of them have been made; one is an unofficial version, while another is a large hardcover that reprints the entire book in black and white but adds many annotations and notes about the story to go with it.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Moloch attends the funeral for the Comedian even though he was a criminal the Comedian clashed with.
  • Anti-Climactic Unmasking: Played with. Far before Rorschach was actually unmasked, the readers had been seeing him all this time as the sign-holder. In-universe, it was certainly dramatic.
  • Anti-Hero: Probably all of the main characters, to a greater or lesser degree. Some of them try, though. Rorschach is the most notable due to being quick to kill criminals.
  • Anti-Villain: Ozymandias wants to stop a nuclear apocalypse and create a lasting peace, but resorts to brutal methods that push him straight into villainy.
  • Anti-Nihilist:
    • Possibly Rorschach, though he is far from the kindest or most humane example of this type of character. Faced with a world that he finds to be essentially meaningless, he chooses to see patterns that no other people can, and build his strict moral code from that. In other words, despite knowing that he lives in a nihilistic universe, he never, ever, gives up on his ideals. Even when it may have been better for all concerned.
    • Rorschach's prison analyst is a straighter example. Over the course of just four days, Malcolm Long's most famous patient succeeds in driving the good doctor over the Despair Event Horizon, effectively ruining his home life and previous optimism. The next time we see him, Malcolm's the first person to try breaking up a brawl right before Ozymandias' creature strikes New York, saying to his estranged wife that he has to help — because helping others is really the only thing that matters.
    • Dr. Manhattan becomes this in the end.
  • Anyone Can Die: Outside the second-generation hero group, the only named characters to survive are Silk Spectre I, Mothman (although he is in a sanitarium), the editor and assistant at the New Frontiersman office, and maybe Rorschach's landlady and her kids — depending on where they lived. Often, the deaths are right at their subjective moments of triumph, particularly at the newspaper stand at the end. And that doesn't even count the deaths of The Comedian and Rorschach.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • The doomsday clock counting down to Veidt's monster destroying New York City.
    • A smiley face — the Comedian's emblem.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Who Watches the Watchmen?"
    • "Gag" and "Joke" are both Unusual Euphemism for superhero's role in society, the Comedian being Laurie's father and Veidt's Evil Plan.
  • Armor-Piercing Response
    Veidt: I did the right thing, didn't I? It all worked out in the end.
    Manhattan: "In the end?" Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever does.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Olympus Mons looks nothing like the way it's portrayed here. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano about 22km high, but also about as wide as France. Consequently, it has a shallow slope of only about 5°.
  • Artistic License – History: On page 20 of Chapter 12, Adrian quotes the Egyptian Pharoah Rameses "Canaan is devastated, Ashkelon is fallen, Gezer is ruined, Yenoam is reduced to nothing...Israel is desolate and her seed is no more, and Palestine has become a widow for Egypt...All the countries are unified and pacified." The Annotated Edition points out that the Merneptah Stele hieroglyphics from 1203 B.C.E., which this quote stems from, was done at the behest of Pharoah Merneptah (to celebrate the victory of a major invasion he had successfully repelled) who ruled Egypt immediately after Rameses II, so Adrian is technically incorrect in his quotation, though not disingenuous since surely some of the aforementioned pacification was Rameses' doing. However, Dave Gibbons suggests in the same anecdote that Adrian simply made a mistake due to the mental stress from all that had just happened (flying to the Antarctic, killing millions of people, catching a bullet, etc.)
  • Artistic License – Military: The flag at Comedian's funeral is folded into a rectangle shape instead of the proper triangle.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • Late in the story, Nite Owl and Rorschach ride the Owlship to Veidt's Antarctic hideout in less than 24 hours, from just after midnight on 2nd November to 11pm New York Time. Antarctica is 9260 miles from New York, meaning the Owlship would have had to been flying at over 400mph to reach it in such a short span of time.
    • As The Annotated Edition points out, even if Adrian could have moved fast enough to catch the bullet Laurie shoots at him, it should have torn right through his hand, and not merely injured it. There's also the matter of him even catching it at all: handgun bullets typically travel 700-1,500 feet per second and Laurie was no more than 10 feet away from Adrian when she fired. Even assuming the ammunition used was the slowest type of round, at 700 fps the bullet would have crossed that space in 14 thousandths of a second, a speed that is absolutely impossible for any human to keep up with, no matter how physically apt they are. Adrian may be in top shape, but no athletic prowess could possibly allow him to move 18 times faster than a normal person. Testing has shown that even in a high-threat situation, the fastest the average person can move their hand over the distance we see Adrian cover is 250 milliseconds. Dave Gibbons does suggest that by moving his hand at close to the speed of the bullet, the closing velocity would be small enough for him to grasp it without major injury, but also notes that even this should be taken as gentle fiction.
  • Artistic License – Politics: With his increased popularity after victory in Vietnam, President Richard Nixon makes a successful push to overturn the 22nd Amendment and win a 3rd term. Amendments are notoriously difficult to pass and even harder to repeal, the latter compared to the likelihood to living to 80 and being struck by lightning. This is on top of the United States having a strong tradition of only two presidential terms ever since 1789, before the 22nd Amendment made it official in 1951. Franklin Roosevelt did serve more than two terms, and this is an alternate universe, so it is plausible.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Deconstructed. Nite Owl II. Yeah, he managed to follow the footsteps of his idol, but he does not have any life or motivation besides to be a masked vigilante, and when this is taken away from him, the highlight of his life becomes listening to his predecessor's reminiscing about the glorious past.
  • Asian Baby Mama: Almost; the Comedian ends up killing a Veitnamese woman he impregnated when she confronts him.
  • Asshole Victim: The Comedian "made a lot of enemies, even among his friends" and nobody other than Rorschach seems to really care about his murder.
    Is that what happens to us? A life of conflict with no time for that when it's done, only our enemies leave roses.
    • And possibly Moloch.
    • Lawrence is another one. He is killed by Michael while under Big Figure's orders who wanted revenge on Rorschach. In the comic Lawrence gets his throat slit with a utility knife, in the movie his arms are cut off.
  • Atomic Hate: The "nuclear football" carried around by President Nixon, in an unusual subversion of the Big Red Button.
  • Attempted Rape: The Comedian tried to violate the first Silk Spectre. It was fortunately stopped by Hooded Justice, and causes both Hollis Mason and Sally Jupiter to hate him even years later.
  • Badass Boast:
    Dr. Manhattan: " I have walked across the surface of the sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast, they could hardly be said to have occurred at all. But you, Adrian, you're just a man. The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite."
  • Bad-Guy Bar: Rorschach prefers to get his information by visiting bars and torturing criminals he finds there.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Subverted. Though Ozymandias successfully carries out his plan and proclaims that he has ushered a new era of peace, Dr. Manhattan cryptically suggests that his triumph is but temporary. The final panel also heavily implies that his crimes are about to be revealed to the public.
  • Badass Boast: Dr. Manhattan may not think of himself as a god, but he sure boasts to Adrian like he is.
    Dr. Manhattan: I’ve walked across the surface of the sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast they can hardly said to have occurred at all. But you, Adrian, are just a man. The world’s smartest man poses no more threat to me than its smartest termite.
    • There's also Rorschach's "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with YOU. You're locked up in here with ME!"
  • Bait-and-Switch: On the second page of chapter 1, we are introduced to a detective wearing a Badass Longcoat - and whose prominent chin is noticeably covered in Perma-Stubble - investigating a crime scene. Soon afterwards we are introduced to Rorschach, a costumed vigilante in a Badass Longcoat - and whose prominent chin is noticeably covered in Permastubble - investigating a crime scene. This turns out to be a complete coincidence.
  • Bathroom Brawl: Rorschach takes time out from being broken out of prison to pursue Big Figure into the bathroom and kill him.
  • Battle Couple: Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II are together and do some fighting.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Invoked in-story (or at least In The Manual). Professor Milton Glass says he is misquoted as having said, "The Superman exists, and he's American" about Dr. Manhattan. What he actually said was, "God exists, and he's American."
  • The Beard: Silk Spectre serves as a fake girlfriend for Hooded Justice to cover up his sexuality, so much so that Laurie thinks he’s her father.
  • The Berserker: Hooded Justice, who beat criminals to the point of crippling them, and Rorschach, who outright murders them.
  • Beware the Superman
    Milton Glass: At the time, I was misquoted. I never said the Superman exists and he's American. What I said was "God exists, and he's American." Now, if you're starting to feel a crushing sense of religious terror at the concept, don't be alarmed. It indicates only that you are still sane.
  • Big Bad: Ozymandias is an interesting example as, while his deeds are certainly worthy of proper Big Bad status, he's occasionally a sympathetic character.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Subverted. They're thirty-five minutes too late to make any difference.
  • Big Rotten Apple: Despite the upscale areas looking like a Raygun Gothic Shining City, New York City is portrayed as being wracked by poverty and social unrest, like how New York City really was at the time the comic was written.
  • Big "YES!": Ozymandias exclaims in joy upon seeing news footage of the United States and the Soviet Union ceasing hostilities, "I DID IT!"
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ozymandias averts nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, but at the cost of the lives of Rorschach and much of the population of New York City. And then there's the lingering implication that this temporary truce may soon come crashing down.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Rorschach claims that Black-and-White Morality is his moral outlook on life, symbolized by his mask which contains both black and white fluids that never mix into gray. His last words to Dan are "Never compromise. Even in the face of Armageddon, never compromise."
  • Black Comedy:
    • When reminiscing about their crimefighting days, Laurie and Dan wind up talking about a guy who pretended to be a villain because he was a masochist who wanted costumed heroes to beat him up. Laurie asks what finally happened to him.
    • The elevator man's announcement "Ground floor coming up" is juxtaposed with a picture of Edward Blake being thrown out the window. In fact, most un-named character dialogue is put over a scene to give this effect. i.e. Manhattan's interview while Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II fight off thugs.
  • Bond One-Liner: Rorschach gets a couple during the prison riot.
    • "Never disposed of sewage with toilet before."
    • When Dan and Laurie arrive to rescue him, he hardly bats an eye at their presence and asks to use the restroom, to their bewilderment. What they don't know is that he's following Big Figure, who he proceeds to kill off-screen.
      Rorschach: Can I leave now?
      Spectre: Really? I mean, are you sure? We don't want to get too reckless and go diving headfirst into things!
      Rorschach: Hurm. Good advice. Sure there are many who'd agree with you.
  • Book Ends:
    • Red-stained smiley (it's actually a ketchup stain at the end, but the symbolism is still there), doomsday clock.
    • The first entry in Rorschach's journal appears at both the beginning and the end of the story.
    • The story begins and ends with a Plot-Triggering Death; the Comedian and Rorschach's.
  • Break the Badass: The Comedian's reaction to the plan of Ozymandias turns him into a sobbing wreck who's a far cry from the ruthless hardass he once was.
  • Break the Haughty: Big Figure gets reduced to a sniveling wimp, once Rorschach has his way with his two goons. Once he gets his way with him, this trope applies in more ways than one...
  • Brick Joke:
    • Nite Owl's robotic armor, which he never used more than once after he broke his arm trying to use it. When the police storm Nite Owl's hideout, the suit is the only thing that he left behind!
    • In the same chapter, a lock repairman promises Dan that the new, improved lock can hold off an army. An army of policemen breaks it when kicking the door down anyway, although Rorshach's reactions imply it was actually holding them off for a while.
  • Bullet Catch: Laurie shoots Ozymandias, but he survives by catching the bullet with his bare hand.
  • Bury Your Gays:
    • After being kicked out of the Minutemen for her sexuality, the Silhouette was then murdered along with her lover by a former nemesis.
    • It is strongly implied that Hooded Justice was gay, and did not meet a pleasant end. Same for his supposed lover, Captain Metropolis.
    • Joey and her ex suffer the same fate most of New York City does.
  • The Can Kicked Him:
    • Rorschach uses a toilet to kill a goon by smashing it with his foot and filling the cell with water, causing the goon's arc welder to electrocute him.
      Rorschach: Hurrm. Never disposed of sewage with a toilet before. Obvious, really.
    • It's heavily implied that he does it again later, killing the Big Figure in a toilet.
  • The Cape:
    • Captain Metropolis, a Golden Age hero apparently opposed to the civil rights movement — his secret homosexual relationship with Hooded Justice notwithstanding. He really isn't a bad guy, though both Dollar Bill and Nite Owl are probably more intrinsically heroic.
    • Also Dollar Bill, where both the attitude implied by and the actual cape in his costume got him killed.
    • Deconstructed. Most of the Minutemen. Despite their good intentions, the members included bigots, glory hounds and even an attempted rapist.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Ozymandias' empire and supervillain scheme is built on capitalism and consumerism and part of how he makes his power work is the way his products and advertising filter in the background without characters, main and supporting, even aware of his presence and intentions. Of course, Veidt is in many ways a "good" capitalist, he doesn't seem to exploit his employees in his non-villain schemes, he's not an anti-intellectual, and he's not a coward in the physical sense. From Veidt's view to be any kind of superhero with real-world impact and influence, you need to have a business empire.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • One of the knot-tops, Derf's girlfriend, accurately predicts the events of the false alien attack, alluding to a "big flash" and a "shockwave," but because she's on KT-28's, nobody even listens to her.
    • Rorschach is quite correct in his belief that the Comedian's murder was part of a larger conspiracy, but completely misidentifies the motive. Due to his general behaviour, no-one takes him seriously anyway.
    • Defied by Rorschach when listening to Moloch's story about the Comedian breaking into his apartment. He noted that it was completely unbelievable. So it must be true.
  • Cast of Expies:
    • The entire lead cast, since DC wouldn't let Moore use the Charlton Comics characters he originally wrote the story for. The full list: Nite Owl is Blue Beetle, Rorschach is The Question, Ozymandias is Thunderbolt, Silk Spectre is Nightshade, The Comedian is Peacemaker, and Doctor Manhattan is Captain Atom. Moore would later admit that it was probably better this way.
    • Dr. Manhattan is also a Captain Ersatz for Gold Key's Doctor Solar. Compare Manhattan's original costume in the novel to Solar's; also, both are passive research scientists working on a remote nuclear research base who end up as tools of the government. Note also that Solar spent his first few issues in a new frontier-style suit, tie, and Raybans; very sartorial and possibly lampshaded in references to how Manhattan made the double-breasted suit a major fashion look.
    • Some of the Minutemen are also Captain Ersatzes for non-Charlton superheroes. Mothman, Comedian, Hooded Justice, Silhouette, and Captain Metropolis were MLJ/Archie Comics' The Fly, Peacemaker, Hangman, The Black Witch, and Captain Flag, respectively (a carryover from one of Moore's earlier ideas for a superhero murder mystery). The Comedian's status as a patriotic hero is a holdover from this, inspired by Archie's Shield — evidently there was some combining of characters going on. And, as Moore admitted, the original Silk Spectre was based on the Fox Feature Syndicate version of the Phantom Lady.
    • Silk Spectre also has a little bit of Black Canary in her makeup, especially as the daughter of a superheroine who takes on Mom's mantle.
    • Although the first-person narration and the journal keeping are both directly taken from the Question, Word of God states that the actual content of them - especially in the first half of the story - is more inspired by Travis Bickle's first-person narrations in Taxi Driver.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Dave Gibbons' highly realistic art style makes all the characters extremely distinct and recognizable even as they age many years. There are many scenes where you can spot the numerous Recurring Extra characters appearing in the background even when the narration or dialogue doesn't call attention to it.
  • Celibate Hero: Rorschach, who is disgusted by sex due to trauma received from seeing his prostitute mother at work, and is possibly asexual.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Both dealt with and averted. DC Comics apparently did exist in the Watchmen-verse, but the complications caused by real costumed vigilantes have led to superhero comics falling out of popularity. Superheroes that are cultural icons in our world have long since fallen into obscurity by the events of the story, which is why nobody notices the similarities between Nite Owl and Batman or between Rorschach and The Question. Since DC's superhero books have presumably been out of circulation for decades, this also conveniently avoids questions about who wrote For the Man Who Has Everything and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
  • Central Theme: It's hard to boil it down to a single theme. Moore stated that the book is essentially about power ("Who watches the Watchmen?"/Monitoring our protectors and minders) or as Dr. Manhattan states, "Who makes the world?" When a Physical God doesn't have all the answers, when the "world's smartest man" is filled with doubt and the Presidents and businessmen are equally confused, why do ordinary people keep believing that they are more powerless or that they need heroes?
  • Character Development: Most of the major characters change or are revealed to be different from how they initially appeared at the beginning.
    • The Comedian was a Jerkass who sought to actively personify his nihilistic perception of the world as one big cruel joke. Nothing mattered and he didn't care what anyone else thought of him. Near the end of his life, he discovered something that horrified even him, briefly had a genuine romance with someone he hurt, and fathered a daughter that he was sincerely saddened to learn hated him and wished to spend time with her.
    • Ozymandias was cold and calculating, behaving as innocently as possible to avoid suspicion and did not hesitate to initiate his plan to kill thousands of New Yorkers. However, in his final scenes, he expresses both regret and uncertainty as to whether or not he did the right thing.
    • Rorschach began the novel refusing to give any aid to humanity when the bombs start dropping. He dies refusing to agree to allow the loss of many lives to be blamed on a lie when a similar, metaphorical bomb falls on New York.
    • Nite Owl II grows a pair and starts standing up to his fears, like Rorschach.
    • Doctor Manhattan saw no real value in human life, more interested in astronomical, atomic and geological events. He eventually sees that humanity has something of value when he realizes that the simple fact that Laurie was born at all, especially when her biological parents have a toxic history, was in itself a miracle.
    • Silk Spectre II accepts her calling as a superhero after spending the majority of the book lamenting her loss of a normal life, and even implies that she will take after her father by adopting more firearm-related articles.
  • Charles Atlas Super Power: All the heroes and ex-heroes, except Dr. Manhattan, who has actual superpowers. Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias is the most obvious, complete with actual Atlas-like bodybuilding fliers and programs and brochures and he even does the ultimate Atlas-style at the end, the Bullet Catch. Incidentally, this is one comic book trope and Silver Age shtick that is more or less played straight in the comics and not subject to any mockery, even if it is blatantly unrealistic and parodied in other comics which note that maintaining Heroic Build, and remaining in permanent fighting conditions would not be realistically possible for someone with Rorschach's malnutrition, leave alone Adrian Veidt's impossible Silver Age Doc Savage feats.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Rorschach's journal, which sets up the plot twist in the final frame.
    • Silk Spectre finding a gun on a dead New Yorker with which she later shoots Ozymandias.
    • The missing artists and writers, obliquely referred to throughout, are responsible for Veidt's squid monster.
    • And the 'Institute For Extra-Spatial Studies'.
    • The excerpts of the Black Freighter comic we've been reading were written by the same man who wrote the Squid's psychically telegraphed fake Back Story. Said Comic Within A Comic also becomes more clearly understood as a metaphor for Ozymandias and his plan when we reach the end of the comic. Really, people can probably go on nearly forever here.
    • In Chapter 11, Dan expresses disbelief that Veidt could have actually planned his own assassination attempt, citing the unpredictability of the shooter as his evidence. Veidt responds by saying that he would have had to just catch the bullet. Guess what he does in the next chapter.
    • The names of several companies sound like slightly florid names common to comic books. They're all owned by Veidt through dummy corporations.
  • Chekhovs Gun Man: Rorschach turns out to be that guy we've seen holding the The End Is Nigh sign and buying New Frontiersman.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Silk Spectre II tries to light one of these on Mars. Dr. Manhattan points out there isn't enough oxygen in her air bubble and offers to expand it, but she says she doesn't want a bubble full of smoke and just asks for a glass of milk.
  • Cliffhanger: Will New Frontiersman publish Rorschach's journal, implicating Ozymandias for the New York City monster attack?
  • Clocks of Control: Clocks are a recurring motif, especially pertaining to Dr. Manhattan. Though he is for all intents and purposes a Physical God, it's played with: he's powerless to stop fate's unwinding, even as he sees all the moving parts of it in action. The reference is simultaneously to Einstein's comments about becoming watchmaker, and the Doomsday Clock, among several other layers of metaphor.
  • The Cloudcuckoolander Was Right: A subversion. Rorschach is a dangerously paranoid man who proves to be painfully wrong about many things, but his delusional ravings about a vast shadowy conspiracy and the impending end of the world turn out to be chillingly close to the truth.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: Rorschach's "costume" consists of his mask, plus a hat, trenchcoat, a purple pinstriped suit, and leather gloves.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: Not only does this series takes its title from the famous quote attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal ("Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"/"Who watches the watchmen?"), but also the name of every single chapter is a piece of song lyrics/other famous quotes. The full quotes are found at the end of each chapter.
    • Chapter I: "At Midnight, All the Agents..." (from the song, "Desolation Row," by Bob Dylan).
    • Chapter II: Absent Friends (from the song, "The Comedians," by Elvis Costello).
    • Chapter III: The Judge of All Earth (from the Book of Genesis).
    • Chapter IV: Watchmaker (from the quote, "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking... The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker." By Albert Einstein).
    • Chapter V: Fearful Symmetry (from the poem, "The Tyger," by William Blake).
    • Chapter VI: The Abyss Gazes Also (from the quote, "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." By Friedrich Nietzsche).
    • Chapter VII: A Brother to Dragons (from the Book of Job).
    • Chapter VIII: Old Ghosts (from the poem, "Hallowe'en," by Eleanor Farjoen).
    • Chapter IX: The Darkness of Mere Being (from the book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, by Carl Jung).
    • Chapter X: Two Riders Were Approaching... (from the song, "All Along the Watchtower," by Bob Dylan).
    • Chapter XI: Look on My Works, Ye Mighty... (from the sonnet, "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley).
    • Chapter XII: A Stronger Loving World (from the song, "Sanities," by John Cale).
  • Complexity Addiction: Used cleverly. Ozymandias makes his scheme far more complex than it really needed to be in order to slow down Rorschach's investigation. If there weren't so many Red Herrings, then Rorschach could have figured it out much sooner and may have been able to stop Veidt.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Part of Adrian Veidt's soft power is weaponizing this. He runs companies that sell consumer products like perfumes (such as Nostalgia), as well as merchandise based on his own career as a hero and fitness expert. The appendix of the penultimate issue has one of his employees pitching him plans to merchandize the Crime Busters which Veidt considers before vetoing because he has a hunch that superheroes won't be of demand and interest for a while. Incidentally, he predicts a baby boom after the Squid Apocalypse and the Cold War ending Genghis Gambit, so he tells his company to invest and buy baby products and child care.
  • Cope by Creating: After Dr. Manhattan flees to Mars in the mistaken belief that he accidentally caused cancer to develop in people close to him, including his ex-girlfriend, he calms himself by creating a huge, intricate palace out of the sand.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: Veidt Industries is a rare benevolent example. Their CEO Ozymandias spends all their resources on a plan to save the world from nuclear annihilation by killing all of New York City.
  • Corporate-Sponsored Superhero: Dollar Bill, a hero briefly mentioned in the side book chapters, is one of these.
  • Corrupted Contingency: This is what resulted in Jon Osterman becoming Dr. Manhattan. When he entered a test chamber to retrieve his lab coat which contained a watch, the doors automatically locked behind him while the automatic timer started up the generators for that afternoon's experiment. As a safety feature, the researchers were unable to open the door or override the countdown and could only watch helplessly as Jon was torn apart by the generators' blast.
  • Corrupt Politician: Nixon is on his fourth term, Woodward and Bernstein were murdered in a garage, and the Comedian is saying nothing.
  • Crapsack World: Where do we start? Alternate History 1985 on the brink of a nuclear war with an apathetic quantum physics god on the side of America who doesn't care about humanity anymore? America winning the Vietnam War and making Vietnam an American state? New York filled with crime and falling apart, with an Ax-Crazy Sociopathic Hero roaming the streets? A US President who is heavily implied to be using his right-hand superhero to take out his opponents? Ozymandias attempted to fix this at the end of the series with the squid monster, which eased tensions between the Soviets and Americans, but it is implied that the peace might not last for very long.
    "And yet, perhaps, no worse a world than yours..."
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Ozymandias plans to prevent a nuclear war by faking an alien invasion, reasoning that a common threat would force all nations to join forces. To do so, he creates a mutant giant squid, teleports it into New York and arranges for it to unleash a psychic shockwave that kills everyone in the area while drives those further away insane. The plan is so absurd Nite Owl himself voices his disbelief, yet it produces the result Ozymandias had envisioned.
  • Crazy-Prepared: While it doesn't clarify if he did build it solely for that purpose or not, the Annotated Edition points out it would have required some remarkable foresight on Adrian's part to build an Intrinsic Field Separator (a device that basically recreates the accident that created Dr. Manhattan in the first place) for the sole purpose of using it to rid himself of Dr. Manhattan should he be cornered in spite of already handicapping him with the Tachyon Generators. Of course, if that was the case, Adrian probably didn't factor in that Dr. Manhattan could just rebuild himself again afterward, which he immediately does—it's not like the accident that gave him his powers managed to kill him in the first place, after allnote .
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Played with; Dr. Malcolm Long is certainly affected and his notes and sessions with Rorschach in technical terms does go further in breaking through Rorschach's facade than others before. Yet he is so moved by Rorschach's story, that he becomes depressed and disgusted at his middle-class life compared to the horrors that Rorschach has faced in the past, ultimately realizing that he in his own way must do what he can to help people...and then being annihilated by Ozymandias.
  • Crystal-Ball Scheduling: All over the place. Tales of the Black Freighter runs throughout the whole story, Doctor Manhattan's interview parallels Dan and Laurie being attacked by muggers, Ozymandias "mounting the bar"...
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Dan and Laurie are cornered in an alley by muggers carrying knives and chains. Thanks to their past experience as heroes, the two brutally beat up their aggressors without much trouble.
    • Rorschach and Nite Owl II have both been established as extremely capable hand-to-hand artists whom not even a bar room full of ruffians will consider messing with. When they head off to Antarctica to confront Ozymandias, there follows a short two-on-one battle in which Rorschach attacks Ozymandias from behind while Nite Owl stands by with a pocket laser to burn Ozy down if necessary. Veidt doesn't even work up a sweat in dealing with both of them. When Rorschach comes back for round 2, while Nite Owl is still nursing his broken nose, Ozymandias carries on calmly monologuing while handing Rorschach exactly enough of a beating to let him know he's beaten.
    • The Comedian is beaten to a bloody pulp and then defenestrated without even laying a significant glove on Ozymandias.
    • Doctor Manhattan is inconvenienced for approximately one minute by being disintegrated.note  On reforming himself, he doesn't even bother to spank Ozymandias; he just calmly informs the world's smartest man that he is a contemptibly insignificant lifeform.
  • Cyanide Pill: Plays a part in the attempt on Adrian Veidt's life and his conspiracy. Adrian Veidt reaches into the mouth of his would-be assassin to get at his cyanide pill. More accurately, he feeds it to the hitman to clean up that loose end. The whole thing was staged to throw suspicion off Veidt.
  • Darker and Edgier: One of the main progenitors of the trope, though not strictly adhering to it itself.
    • While it does take place in a Crapsack World and some of the chapters (especially Chapter 6) express a very negative outlook on life, this is balanced by the fact that the characters still manage to find hope in their circumstances and ultimately emerge from the experience having benefited from it. Moore actually regretted that the comic helped to popularize Darker and Edgier.
    • Likewise while the comic has greatly inspired the move towards grittiness, Dave Gibbons' art is actually quite colourful rather than Real Is Brown or the studio darkness of its movie adaptation. The comics have a wide palette and in many respects it's closer to 50s comics with purples, greens, reds and blues. The costumes worn by the characters are all colourful and bright. Alan Moore biographer Lance Parkin notes that what makes Watchmen unique was that it told a mature story while still looking like a brightly coloured adventure comic and that the contrast between story and visual style was one of the main focus of its deconstruction.
    Lance Parkin: It's worth noting that Watchmen is not literally a dark book... the pages of the comic, even when they depict scenes set at night, are made up of vivid greens, reds, blues, oranges and yellows. It's more reminiscent of the garish Batman TV series (1966–8) than Christopher Nolan’s more recent Batman movies. Often, there is a narrative reason for such gaudiness — for example, Moloch’s apartment is intermittently lit by the neon sign from the nightclub next door — but just as often the colours used make no pretence at naturalism. As Watching the Watchmen makes clear, colourist John Higgins worked hard, and closely with Gibbons, on the colour scheme for the book. It's fair to say the printing techniques that comics used in the mid-eighties were limited: however, when Higgins took advantage of advances in technology to redo the colouring for the 2005 Absolute Watchmen edition, he retained the overall palette, even if he made many small alterations... The candy colours in Watchmen are an artistic choice.
  • Dated History: Rorschach's account of the murder of Kitty Genovese is based on a New York Times article that came out shortly after Genovese's death, which said that 38 people watched her being killed in plain view, and did nothing. This was, for years, the only narrative about what happened, and was the one Moore drew on. However, later researchers found that the Times story lacked evidence: nobody saw the attack in its entirety and those that did see it only saw parts of it. Some people heard her cries for help, but assumed it was a lover's quarrel or just people leaving a bar. The killer attacked Genovese twice, disguising himself after the first attack, so people didn't realise it was the same guy. After the second attack, one of Genovese's neighbours called the police and another, a 70-year-old woman, cradled her while she was dying. So while Genovese's murder was undoubtedly horrible, it was no more awful than most murders: the story that people watched it happen and didn't lift a finger is entirely without foundation, and seems to have been made up by the original reporter, as the Times itself acknowledged in a 2016 article. While it is is fitting for Rorschach to believe such a bias-reinforcing story, even Dr. Long on hearing this story, does not demolish this claim, since this was indeed the widely accepted narrative for a long time.
  • Dating Catwoman: A villain named Twilight Lady had a crush on Nite Owl II. Dan accuses her of having had a "fixation" and having been "sick," but there are clear suggestions it's something of a hypocritical excuse, what with his own moderate costume fetish and the fact that he kept her picture and has a dream about her before it turns into one about Laurie. Still a bit of a deconstruction.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Each main character gets an issue devoted to them and/or their backstory:
    • Issue #2: Edward Blake/The Comedian
    • Issue #4: Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    • Issue #6: Walter Kovacs/Rorschach
    • Issue #7: Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II
    • Issue #9: Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre II
    • Issue #11: Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias
  • Death-Activated Superpower:
    • Dr. Manhattan is created after his human self is blown apart atom by atom.
    • The "Squid" was engineered with the ability to broadcast a telepathic sign directly into humans' brains after its death, fueling their paranoia.
  • Death by Disfigurement: Rorschach throws boiling oil into a fellow prisoner's face after he announces his intention to stab Rorschach.
  • Death by Origin Story: Subverted and played straight with Rorschach. When his mother died, all he said was "Good." But when Kitty Genovese was killed and multiple people heard and saw this event yet did nothing, he decided to become a vigilante.
  • Death Faked for You: Dan and Laurie were able to assume their new identities easier because they're also presumed dead after the monster attack.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: The comic book as a whole is a deconstruction of various Super Hero archetypes and tropes. Alan Moore wrote the characters of Rorschach and the Comedian as sociopathic jerks, deconstructing the Batman-style Anti-Hero and the Captain Patriotic.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: A famous example. The series examines nearly every facet of the superhero genre, and deconstructs nearly all of it. It takes place in an alternate version of the 20th century with a history based on the history of comic books, with the first generation of superheroes emerging in the late 1930s, a new generation of heroes in the post-World War II era fighting crime with super-science, and the heroes ultimately facing increasingly complex political and social issues in the 1970s. The cast also includes nearly every classic superhero archetype: star-spangled soldiers, bombshell sex symbols, upstanding paragons of virtue, nocturnal street vigilantes, clever crimefighters with advanced gadgets, and even a wise scientist empowered by a freak lab accident.
    • But even in the 1930s, most of the public views "costumed adventurers" as deluded weirdos or dangerous psychotics (or both), and it's made clear that they're woefully incompetent at anything but busting petty criminals. When the next generation of heroes begins, the powerful Doctor Manhattan soon gets pressed into service by the US military, and singlehandedly changes the geopolitical status quo of the Cold War. The superheroes prove unable to handle the political challenges of the 1970s, and most of them soon agree to give up crimefighting.
    • And when one of them actually does hatch a plan to save the world, he turns out to be the villain—demonstrating that people who try to change the fate of human race are usually dangerous or insane. Not to mention that the star-spangled soldier is an amoral nihilist, the bombshell sex symbol resents being a sex symbol, the nocturnal street vigilante is a paranoid conspiracy theorist, the clever crimefighter with the gadgets is a painfully shy self-loathing wallflower, and the wise scientist grows distant from humanity after gaining powers.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Most of the heroes were products of their time. Their beliefs and prejudices are telling.
    • Sally kept her Polish heritage secret. Silhouette made fun of her for it.
    • Dollar Bill was homophobic.
    • Captain Metropolis and the Comedian were racist.
    • Hooded Justice was an anti-Semitic, patriarchal Nazi sympathizer.
    • The Comedian is a sexist and a misogynist, and an unrepentant war criminal who uses his position and authority to enact his power fantasies and desires.
    • Rorschach is a homophobe, a misogynist, and subscribes to extreme right-wing nationalistic views.
  • Derivative Differentiation: Moore and Gibbons gradually retooled the Charlton characters from their original mostly by putting a gritty spin, that altered the dynamics and personalities either by inverting it or playing with the tropes:
    • The Peacemaker was a U.S. diplomat and Martial Pacifist who believes in peace so much he fights for it, and works with government authorities to take down warlords and dictators. Moore found the idea bizarre (believing in peace and pacifically subverting foreign governments and passing it off as diplomacy) and so made him The Comedian who thinks everything is a joke and nihilistically serves the U.S. Government's foreign policy even if he's entirely cynical and indifferent to its idealistic and political justifications.
    • The Question, as Moore noted in interviews, was Ditko's self-created audience-friendly whitewash of Mr. A. Where Mr. A was outright propaganda for Randian ideas, the Question subscribed to objective ideas but had a civilian and superhero work/life balance working as an Intrepid Reporter who had a smart-guy scientist create the chemicals that gave him his face-mask, which made his adventures work like a traditional superhero story with Randian subtext that audiences could take-or-leave. Moore made Rorschach a full-time superhero without a civilian identity, while also making him a Small Steps Hero interested in seeking the truth like the Question and Mr. A, which meant that Rorschach became a hobo and the only avenues for "truth" he would be interested in are extremist publications that validate his biases (like the New Frontiersman).
    • Ditko's Ted Kord Blue Beetle was a Legacy Character to Dan Garret's Blue Beetle (civilian alter-ego created by Will Eisner) and he was intended to be athletic, energetic, and enterprising compared to Garret. In Moore's version on account of Dr. Manhattan's arrival ending the costume superhero age just at the moment that Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II wanted to get in, the dynamic is reversed. Hollis Mason or Nite Owl I is a fit-for-his age handsome older man who has a sense of achievement and contentment about his life, while Dreiberg o Blue Beetle II is a mid-life crisis pot-bellied Jaded Washout.
    • Captain Atom or Allen Adam as he was called in the Charlton Era was a lab technician who accidentally got atomized during a nuclear rocket launchnote  and then somehow reformed his own atoms and became a being of pure energy who needed to wear special outfits to shield people from radiation. Moore updated this very obvious origin (a Silver Age Excuse Plot made without any real awareness of actual particle physics and radiation) with Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything, noting that reforming oneself into matter would not happen on the atomic but on the smallest possible level and rather than an excuse plot, the quantum understanding of the universe fundamentally changes and alters Jon Osterman's personality and understanding of life. This also allowed Moore to do away with radiation and with that a need for a special outfit to shield others, hence why Dr. Manhattan walks around nude.
    • Nightshade was a woman who was the daughter of a U.S. Senator and a woman with magical powers and teleportation abilities. Moore and Gibbons didn't find her especially interesting so they borrowed from the Black Canary who had Golden and Silver Age versions. However, Nightshade's dad being a U.S. Senator informs Laurie's revelation that her father is The Comedian, a government operative and black ops assassin.
    • Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt created by Peter Morisi (a former NYPD cop turned writer) was a Charlton acquisition that had traits common to Doc Savage and Bruce Wayne, namely in that he was an orphaned child of philanthropists who traveled around the world and became a McNinja. He was also known for using "the unused portion of the brain" and being super-intelligent with the ability of clairvoyance and anticipating future outcomes. Moore kept the "unused portion of the brain" pseudo-science and played it straight (since it allows Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias to be a compelling villain) but played up the entire clairvoyance and idea that he could predict and future as an expression of an overly deterministic and utilitarian mindset, and likewise leaves it ambiguous and uncertain if what Veidt did averted an apocalypse, if it was All for Nothing, and also revealing in the end an entirely uncertain and unsure man behind the facade of superhuman intelligence.
  • Determinator: Deconstructed. Rorschach. He is uncompromising and he still fights crime after vigilantism was proscribed. Yet, he is abrasive, his black-and-white world view clearly viewed as unhealthy and insane, and when he is confronted with the wrongness of his world view, he quickly becomes vulnerable, not to mention it is his determination that gets him killed.
  • Deus ex Machina: Lampshaded, referenced by name, and eventually Subverted when Dr. Manhattan appears following his Deus Exit Machina so that Laurie can "Try to convince [him] to save the world."
    Dr. Manhattan: Now, I believe we have a conversation scheduled.
    Laurie: God, Yes. Yes, I was just thinking...But Jon, how did you know? I need to see you, you appear...I mean, it's all so Deus Ex Machina...
    Dr. Manhattan: "The God out of the machine." Yes. Yes, I suppose it is...
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The civilian characters (Det. Fine, Dr. Long, Bernard the newspaper seller, Joey the lesbian cab driver) all die when Veidt's monster attacks.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Deconstructed. Moloch. You would guess that a crime lord with style ends up quite rich, right? In reality by the time he is a fragile old man, he is lonely, poor and suffers from cancer, not to mention that gets shot for being an inconvenience. Not to mention that the criminal underworld really soon deems this trope as a ridiculous eccentricity.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: No. No, you did not.
    Dr. Manhattan: "I am disappointed, Veidt. VERY disappointed."
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Ozymandias infects everyone who was close with Dr. Manhattan so the general public (and Manhattan himself) would suspect he's radioactive, driving him to leave Earth. He also discovers that tachyon particles (which move through time differently than most other matter) can cloud Manhattan's view of the future, ensuring that he doesn't realize that it's a scam—even though has omniscient intelligence, and can usually perceive all points in time simultaneously.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Only Ozzy realized Dr. Manhattan still had emotions.
  • Different World, Different Movies: The existence of real superheroes led to the American comic book industry developing very differently than in our world, ultimately resulting in superhero comics falling out of popularity and comic books about pirates becoming popular instead. To elaborate: Congress chose not to scapegoat comic books during the national panic over juvenile delinquency in the 1950s (since this might have cast the U.S. government's relationships with comic book-inspired "costumed adventurers" in a negative light), meaning that the the Comics Code was never established under government pressure, EC Comics never went out of business due to their crime and horror comics suffering heavy censorship, DC Comics never overtook EC to become an industry leader, and Marvel Comics (apparently) never took off by painting themselves as the Younger and Hipper alternative to DC.
  • Disposable Superhero Maker: Dr. Manhattan's accident. It's implied the Soviets tried to replicate it, but they were unsuccessful.
  • Dissimile: Moloch says this about his illness: "You know that kind of cancer you eventually get better from? That's not the type of cancer I have."
  • Does Not Like Guns: Subverted a lot as many of the heroes start using guns because it's just more practical.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • A Cape who dresses in primary colors and has a letter on his chest ("M" for Metropolis) and a grim, violent avenger of the night are on the same team together. Also, they're lovers-er I mean, "good friends".
    • During Nite Owl and Silk Spectre's sexual encounter in the cockpit of Nite Owl's ship, Laurie's elbow bumps the flamethrower button, sending a jet of fire across the sky...
  • Double Entendre: Hollis Mason's trophy has the words "IN GRATITUDE" written on the base. After it's used to beat him to death, the blood covers the space.
  • Double Standard: Silhouette is kicked out of the Minutemen after being exposed as a lesbian. Two of the male members of the team were also homosexual, but did not ever get called out for this, presumably because their relationship was never made public.
  • Driving Question: Who killed the Comedian and why?
  • Dwindling Party:
    • Sally noted that The Minutemen were this.
    • All the people Dr. Manhattan has either outlived or lost contact with.
  • Dye or Die: The Silk Spectre II and Night Owl II, at the end of the comic.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Nite Owl has retreated into study, Dr. Manhattan is amoral to the point of being inhuman, and many other ex-heroes are wracked with neuroses — being mentally unbalanced is apparently a prerequisite to being a superhero, which would make some sense considering...
    • In Nite Owl 1's account of the Minutemen, they were, in his words, a bunch of screwed up people who ran about in costumes for kicks and possibly sexual pleasure.
    • It's played pretty quietly for Laurie's whole background. As a minor, she dates a man over twice her age, and resents authority figures trying to control her life, despite living with an omnipotent man who couldn't care less about her. Some would say that she has daddy issues. She's also deeply in denial about the Comedian being her father, as her conversation with Jon makes her realize she had more than enough evidence to put the pieces together, she just didn't want to.
  • Easter Egg:
    • The AOXOMOXOA poster, "RR" (Rum Runner — think pirates) neon sign, Rorschach's napkin blots and monogram, and other mirror images in the artwork are the key clue about the 5th chapter being a palindrome.
    • Keep an eye out for the round yellow bloodstained electrical outlet in the same scene, mirroring the identical looking smiley in the first chapter.
    • Watch very carefully the trash can in the background outside Gunga Diner in the 5th chapter, and you will find out the identity of both Rorschach (whom you follow around in first person without his mask in the same chapter) and the company that handled the frame-up (Pyramid).
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It's hard to say whether or not their apparent happiness will last, but Dan and Laurie seem to have pulled off a surprisingly happy ending for themselves.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Given a distinctly 'meta' spin — this is a "fake" Eldritch Horror, and yet one with a pretty impressive body-count. Otherwise pretty true to what's supposed to happen when a Great Old One wakes.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Hollis Mason's book, Under the Hood. Along with excerpts from other clippings.
  • Epigraph: The clippings and other associated material at the end of each issue/chapter; the quotes used at the beginning and end of each issue/chapter (from which the chapter names are taken).
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Rorschach's nihilistic "and I'll whisper, 'No'" inner monologue as he, unknown to the audience, walks unmasked through the massive puddle of blood left behind by the Comedian's death. Easily one of the most iconic introductory speeches in comic history.
    • The first appearance of Doctor Manhattan: a giant, glowing blue naked humanoid towering over Laurie and Rorschach, who, when Rorschach informs him of the Comedian's death, replies, "Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?" The good Doctor is in, everybody.
    • The Comedian is described as a slain American hero who many speak of with reverence, and when we first see him in person, he's laughing and good-naturedly joking around with the other Minutemen while shamelessly flirting with Silk Spectre I. A few minutes later, he tries to rape her and beats her viciously when she resists him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Comedian, after shooting a woman pregnant with his child, is still shocked that Manhattan did nothing to stop him even though he obviously had the power to. And the Comedian has a full Villainous Breakdown when he learns about Ozymandias’ plot.
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask:
    • Veidt starts explaining his motives to Dan, while he effortlessly repels Rorschach's attack.
    • Dr. Manhattan is able to work on a lab experiment while two copies of himself have a threesome with Laurie. She's very offended.
  • Expy: When Alan Moore began work on the book, the plan was to use all of the characters DC purchased from Charlton Comics, but editors ultimately put the kibosh on that, so he had to create new ones.
    • The Comedian is an expy of Peacemaker.
    • Hollis Mason/the first Nite Owl is an expy of the first Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett.
    • Dan Dreiberg/the second Nite Owl is an expy of the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord.
    • Doctor Manhattan is an expy of Captain Atom.
    • Ozymandias is an expy of Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.
    • Rorschach is an expy of The Question and Mr. A. Moore also puts in elements of Batman noting that "he would be considered a nutjob in real life," and in another interview he clarified Rorschach as "Batman without the excuses." There's more than a little of Travis Bickle in his journal entries, too. (Also confirmed by Moore.)
    • Silhouette is an expy of Nightshade.
    • Sally Juspeczyk/the first Silk Spectre is an expy of both Dinah Drake Lance/the first Black Canary and the Phantom Lady.
    • Laurie Juspeczyk/the second Silk Spectre is an expy of both Dinah Laurel Lance/the second Black Canary and the Phantom Lady.
  • Eye Scream: Rorschach shoves a burning cigarette into his bully's eye in his backstory.
  • Fake Assassination: Ozymandias. After overpowering his would-be killer, he forces a cyanide pill down his throat to make him look like a suicide attacker. What's more, Ozy was the man who really killed the Comedian.
  • Fantastic Fantasy Is Mundane: Superhero comics aren't really a thing in this world because real superheroes exist. Instead, comic books in other genres have taken up the slack, most notably Tales of The Black Freighter.
  • Fictional Document: "Tales of The Black Freighter," a pirate comic used as counterpoint to many scenes. Also, most issues of the original had a back-up piece consisting of excerpts from other fictional works, most notably Under The Hood, Hollis Mason's tell-all book about the original Minutemen, and Super Powers and the Superpowers, a criticism of US military policy during the age of Dr. Manhattan.
  • Filler: One of the weirdest examples of filler in the history of the term. According to That Other Wiki Moore and Gibbons were contracted for a 12-issue run of the comic, but the plot that Moore had envisioned would take up, at most, six. He decided to get around this by devoting several chapters to closely examining the characters and the world in which they live. However, as Moore began to write the series, he realized that "the plot itself is of no great just really isn't the most interesting thing about Watchmen."
  • Fingore: Rorschach tortures a mook by breaking his fingers until he gives away the information he needs.
  • Flat "What"
    • Laurie after Dan decides they must rescue Rorschach.
    • Dan after first hearing about Veidt's plan to kill half of New York City.
  • Foil:
    • The Comedian and Doctor Manhattan: Both of them are defined by their nihilistic outlooks on life, and they essentially reject morals of any kind, but they do it for entirely different reasons: the Comedian is an impotent sociopath who mocks the morals of civilized society for lack of anything better to do with his life, and Doctor Manhattan is an omnipotent Physical God who can't bring himself to care about humans because he realizes how insignificant they are on a cosmic scale.
    • Rorschach and Ozymandias: Both of them are defined by their unshakeable attachment to their morals, refusing to abandon their ideals no matter how many people they hurt, but they also have very different ideas about serving the greater good. Rorschach lives the life of an urban vigilante so that he can deal out justice to evil wherever he sees it, and he's a textbook moral absolutist, believing that any and all immoral acts must be punished without mercy; Ozymandias lives the life of a scholar, mystic and industrialist so that he can implement his ideas on a global scale, and he's a moral utilitarian, believing that even mass genocide can be justified if it ultimately saves more lives than it ends.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • One of the major plot points is the character assassination of Doctor Manhattan. The climax involves a massive attack on the island of Manhattan.
    • The very first person we see in the comic is Rorschach (although we don't know it's him at the time) striding through an enormous pool of blood — a pool of blood not unlike that which Dr. Manhattan will turn him into at the end.
    • Just as the detectives talk about Rorschach, they unknowingly walk past an unmasked Walter Kovacs. One of them suddenly feels chilly once he appears.
    • The entire story of Tales of the Black Freighter is an allegorical hint towards Adrian's plan and his motivations for going through with it.
    • The excerpt from a book discussing Tales of the Black Freighter and the copy for the New Frontiersman end by discussing the disappearance of Max Shea and others before it's revealed where they ended up.
    • When they first meet, Doctor Manhattan notes that he finds Ozymandias interesting.
    • Laurie's first meeting the Comedian is full of these towards the revelation that he's her father. He's noticeably a lot nicer to her than everyone else and he catches himself when he's about to call her his daughter. Even more subtly done is them sharing a light, drawing attention to how Laurie shares a lot of his quirks including a tendency to smoke.
    • Pyramid Deliveries. Adrian isn't exactly subtle about his Egyptian motif, is he?
    • In two of the times the calendar in Dan's house is shown up close, the date of November 2 - the day the squid dropped - is focused in some way, with the number 2 half-encircled by tobacco smoke or with Laurie's finger over it.
  • Friendly Enemy: The Comedian visits his old nemesis Moloch because he has no one else to talk to when he learns about Adrian's plan.

    Tropes G-L 
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Deconstructed. Nite Owl II's gadgets are Awesome, but Impractical because most villains he fights are just normal people.
  • Gaining the Will to Kill: Rorschach's origin flashback shows his — up until that point, he had only beaten criminals up and tied them up for the police. But after finding that a kidnapped child had been chopped up and fed to the kidnapper's two Alsatians, he begins to kill villains as necessary.
  • Generic Graffiti: "Who Watches The Watchmen?" though this is never truly shown in full; we just have to assume it's always the same.
    • This has become an Ascended Meme in its own right, where it's almost a rarity to find a comic book graffiti page without it.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Ozymandias engineered a giant psychic squid that mind nukes half of New York City.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a Film Noir Raygun Gothic Golden Age / Silver Age / Dark Age Sci-Fi Cyberpunk Political Alternate History Deconstruction of superheroes that invented half the tropes used by modern comics, and quite a few others besides. Phew.
  • Germanic Depressives: Osterman, after turning into Doctor Manhattan, realizes that past and future are the same thing, and everything is preordained. From that point on, he sounds very sad and depressed in his inner monologues. He doesn't show it, of course, as preordination demands that he plays his different role.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Ozymandias is superhumanly efficient and successful at practically everything he does. Including his final villainous masterplan.
  • Get It Over With: Rorschach's last words are to order Dr. Manhattan to kill him, otherwise he will reveal Ozymandias' actions to the rest of the world.
  • The Ghost: Soviets — and the Soviet Union in general — are mentioned constantly during all the story but they are never seen onscreen.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: In the final chapter, Laurie, shocked after witnessing the devastation in New York, somberly tells Dan that being alive is wonderful. The two then embrace and make love to each other.
  • A God I Am Not: Doctor Manhattan, despite his incredible powers and what the Vietnamese and many others think, does not consider himself a god.
  • Godwin's Law: Used correctly by Rorschach of all people, who responds to the rebuttal of a potential suspect because he's a vegetarian with pointing out Hitler was also vegetarian.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Nite Owl and Rorschach, respectively. However, this gets reversed when Nite Owl, angered over the death of Hollis Mason, goes overboard during an interrogation and Rorschach has to rein him in.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In "Tales of the Black Freighter", the protagonist bashes a man's skull and strangles his female companion on the beach. All we see throughout the scene are the horses, watching.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Completes the racial caricatures in the "The Way We See It" political comic, each of whom led their threats with "Oy vey!", "Da!" and "Si!".
  • Greedy Jew: In-Universe. The New Frontiersman's representation of "Big Business" in one of their editorial cartoons is a not-so-subtle Jewish banker stereotype. He even says "Oy vey!" Ironically, the Frontiersman's editorial cartoonist is later revealed to be named Feinberg.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Rorschach kills criminals who could just as easily be arrested, but he also saves a woman from potentially being raped or mugged. Ozymandias destroys half of New York City in an elaborate ruse to save the world. It's not as simple as saying that some of the characters are perfectly good or evil.
  • Groin Attack: Laurie has no compunctions about dealing with either muggers or obstructive prison guards with a precisely placed knee-strike, although it's by no means the only shot in her locker.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Rorschach's revelation of the origin of his odd philosophy ends up convincing his shrink to see the world his way (...or to relate a little, at least).
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: Several of the original Minutemen were dragged in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hooded Justice refused to participate and vanished without a trace, leading the public to assume he was a Soviet spy who'd been silenced. (The background materials *heavily* imply that HJ was actually a German circus strongman who was killed by Comedian just as the latter was beginning his government service. It's left more ambiguous whether Comedian did it because the government told him to, because he was still bitter about HJ from their Minutemen days, or both.
  • "Have a Nice Day" Smile: The Comedian wore a smiley face button.
    Somebody explain. Somebody explain it to me.
  • Heartfelt Apology: Nite Owl gets so tired of Rorschach's sociopathy, he stops and just yells at him near the end of the comics. This has an unexpected effect on Rorschach, who completely breaks character and sincerely apologizes to Daniel for being so difficult and thanks him for tolerating his attitude, nonetheless. He even breaks out proper pronouns and grammar for the first and last time in the series for this.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Hollis' former archenemy The Screaming Skull discovered religion.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • The Comedian, after discovering Ozymandias' plan, visits his old enemy Moloch's home and cryptically informs him what he witnessed while sobbing uncontrollably.
    • Rorschach gets two, first after the child murder that prompts him to become Rorschach full time, and the second when realizing he could either prevent Armageddon or he could serve the truth, but not both, shattering his black-and-white worldview. He chooses the latter, knowing that it would force Manhattan to put him out of his misery.
    • Laurie gets two, first when she realizes that the Comedian is her father by way of a willing and loving affair with her mother, whom he once tried to rape; her mother gets one of her own when Laurie says she knows who her father is, and the second when she realizes that everyone she's seen for the series run other than the heroes themselves is likely dead due to Veidt.
    • Osterman breaks down when he realizes that he is trapped in the test chamber with no way to stop the experiment that is about to kill him.
    • Veidt ends with one. Believing he's saved the world, he crows about it to Manhattan, who reminds him that nothing ever ends. The cryptic advice clearly troubles him greatly.
    • Dreiberg gets one when he finds out his idol and friend dies due to Dreiberg coming out of retirement, and people confusing the two Nite Owls. His Berserk Button gets mashed so hard the Ax-Crazy Rorschach tells him to calm down.
  • Heroism Motive Speech:
    • Malcolm Long initially faces an existential crisis after being confronted with Rorschach's grim worldview and horrible life experiences. He ends up making two speeches, one questions the hollow nature of his profession and middle class life, the other reconciles him with that reality.
    Malcolm Long: "I looked at the Rorschach blot. I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn't. It looked more like a dead cat I once found, the fat, glistening grubs writhing blindly, squirming over each other, frantically tunneling away from the light. But even that is avoiding the real horror. The horror is this: In the end, it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness. We are alone. There is nothing else."
    Malcolm Long: "In a world like this, it's all we can do, try and help each other. It's all that means anything."
  • Hero with Bad Publicity:
    • Veidt claims that, when he retired in 1975, he was "the only hero retaining public sympathy," and what we see of how the media treats him post-retirement bears it out.
    • Dr. Manhattan's reputation is ruined by a concocted story accusing him of giving cancer to anyone near him.
  • Hidden Villain: The Comedian's murderer and the person responsible for the events of Watchmen. It turns out that Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias is behind it, all in the name of world peace of course.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Adrian Veidt eats a ball of hashish and has a vision that eventually leads to his plan of "conquesting the evils that beset men".
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: Though in this case used to refute a logical fallacy rather than commit one; the implication is not "because Hitler was a vegetarian, all vegetarians are evil," but rather "because Hitler was a vegetarian, it's not safe to say that vegetarianism automatically means one is a saint".
  • Hobo Gloves: Rorschach wears them while carrying his "The End Is Nigh" sign.
  • Hollywood Law: Rorschach was sent to Sing Sing before even being tried for his crimes, while in reality he would be held at Riker's Island until trial. He also would likely be kept isolated from other inmates as a notorious vigilante crime fighter, which is not only for his protection but to avoid an incident like in the cafeteria.
  • Homophobic Hate Crime: In the Backstory, Watchmen member Silhouette was outed as lesbian and expelled from the group (which apparently ran on a version of "don't ask, don't tell," as at least two other members were believed to be gay but nobody said anything), then murdered along with her lover for being gay. This is briefly shown in the film's opening montage.
  • Horrible Housing: Rorschach lives in a squalid apartment and dislikes his landlady.
  • Hourglass Plot: Rorschach and Ozymandias exchange positions at the end. The latter calls the former a right-wing loony and the former regards him as a liberal hypocrite. As a young man, Rorschach wrote gushingly about Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the wisdom of Well-Intentioned Extremist thinking. But he's appalled when Ozymandias comes around to it, and does it for real.
  • How We Got Here: Everything about the Comedian is this trope. After all, he's an omnipresent character... who was killed at the beginning of the story.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The Comedian definitely thinks all of humanity are terrible people at their core.
  • Humans Are Special: Dr. Manhattan initially disagrees with this sentiment, and overall considers the existence of life to be an overrated phenomenon. He changes his mind when he learns that the Comedian was Laurie's father, and decides that such an incredibly improbable circumstance not only makes Laurie's life miraculous, but also the lives of every other human being.
  • Hyperlink Story: The book has a main cast of 6 costumed heroes with an intricate past and history, and an extended supporting cast of ordinary humans who weave in and out of the larger story and contain many parallel vignettes that counterpoint the main story. Moore said that he conceived the story as an ensemble and felt that the characters were meant to work in conjunction with each other, and that ultimately there is no one main character in the book, and the perspective and point of view keeps being passed between five of the main cast, the Comedian is the most prominent Posthumous Character.
  • Iconic Outfit:
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Ozymandias destroys half of New York City to save the world from nuclear armageddon.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Jon sees Laurie and Dan laying together post-coitus, he gives a small smile and keeps walking.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The title of every chapter is part of a quote that appears in full at the very end of the chapter, from sources such as Dylan, the Bible, Einstein and Nietzsche.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: The Comedian gunning down the Vietnamese woman carrying his own illegitimate child.
  • Immortal Apathy: Doctor Manhattan became immortal in a Freak Lab Accident, and while he hasn't been immortal for very long his perception of time is non-chronological, which means his subjective memory extends much further. Throughout the book he's apathetic to anything going on around him because his perspective is so vast that anything humans do is inconsequential to him.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit:
    • Dollar Bill was hired by a bank, who thought having their very own masked man was a great gimmick. They designed his costume to be as attractive to the public as possible. This had tragic consequences when his cape got stuck in the bank's revolving door, and the bank robbers he was chasing shot him.
    • Nite Owl II once tried to use the bathroom while on a stakeout. Taking off and putting on his costume took so long that the drug dealer he was tracking got away. He redesigned the costume the next day.
    • Mothman's wings poke Comedian.
  • Innocent Bystander Series: It's told partly from the perspective of the normal police officers investigating the deeds of so-called (and one actual) superheroes.
  • Insane Troll Logic: "Time is an illusion, therefore watches are worthless." may seem internally consistent, but with a bit of Fridge Logic, makes Jon's dad look like a victim of this trope.
  • In Spite of a Nail:
    • The timeline diverges way back in 1938, but Nixon is still elected president in the same year, the break-in at the Watergate Hotel still happens, and Woodward and Bernstein still investigate it, though the Comedian kills them and it's never exposed.
    • JFK still dies on November 22nd 1963 in Dallas, but it is implied in the book, and actually shown in the movie continuity, that the Comedian kills him. Also, the paper reports imply that Kennedy had a chance of survival — in the real world, his head was blown open and he had no chance. Either this was a paper acting off bad information, or the assassination went slightly differently in the comic timeline.
    • The Iran hostage crisis still occurs but the Comedian solves the issue nearly single-handedly.
    • In Watchmen, superhero comics died off after the 'real thing' started emerging — instead, horror and drama comics are all the rage, D.C. and E.C. mainly publish stories about pirates, and Timely/Atlas Comics does not appear to have become Marvel Comics, as it did in our world. It is implied in one article that Frederick Wertham's anti-comics campaigns were ignored due to the propaganda value of American costumed heroes being promoted in print; ironically, this prevents the genericisation of the American comics industry that happened after Wertham in real life, and the superhero genre eventually dies a natural death.
    • World history is not altered that much until the appearance of Dr. Manhattan. There is nothing to indicate that World War II is significantly changed, and some of the heroes fight in the war as normal soldiers.
    • The Soviet Union still invades Afghanistan, although six years later than in the real world.
    • Devo is also mentioned to have formed in Ohio in the late 1970s.
    • The Mikhail Gorbachev still becomes the leader of the Soviet Union, but in the Watchmen 'verse he is seemingly far more combative and hawkish than his real-world counterpart.
  • Informed Flaw: Rorschach describes the patrons of Happy Harry's bar as "human cockroaches" obsessed with "heroin and child pornography". Yet on the two occasions he goes in there, they never seem to be doing anything criminal. The first time, despite his Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, nobody has the faintest connection to the murder he is investigating. The second time, all he needs to do is ask, and they reveal who he is looking for immediately. Similarly, the knot-top that Nite Owl victimizes in revenge for Hollis Mason's death is not connected to the crime and gives Nite Owl information on the perpetrators. Another sign of Rorschach's warped worldview, perhaps?
  • Intimate Psychotherapy: The heroes were too late, millions of New Yorkers have just died, and the first thing Dan and Laurie do is have sex. Laurie justifies it in a way that fits this trope.
  • Ironic Name: As Moore and Gibbons pointed out, all their superhero names for their major characters are literary and character puns rather than the usual Awesome McCoolname of superhero brand names:
    • Dr. Manhattan is the name of a Godlike superbeing which alludes to the Manhattan Project that built the nuclear bombs, when in fact he is a quantum-powered being who got his powers from an accident in Gila Flats, Arizona. There was nothing deliberate about his powers or anything to tie him to Manhattan aside from Government PR and branding, which Osterman scornfully Lampshades in his flashbacks.
    • Nite Owl puns on "Night Owl" and the common early-20th century slang which made Night into Nite. Night Owl originally referred to party animal, i.e. people who stay out late at night, being super-extroverted and being total insomniacs, while the "Nite" shortening was often used in clubs. Both the superheroes who adopt those monikers, Hollis Mason and Dan Dreiberg by the time we see them, are staid normal men who live alone, keep regular hours and are pretty introverted and reflective.
    • Silk Spectre is especially ironic in the case of Laurie Juspeczyk, who adopts the smoky Femme Fatale-like identity that belonged to her mother, when she's actually a level-headed everywoman who prefers being in committed relationships.
    • The Comedian is intentionally ironic and mocking, being deliberately discordant in being a light-hearted moniker for an amoral government-paid assassin, black-ops mercenary and war criminal. To him everything and everyone is a joke which he uses as license to Put the "Laughter" in "Slaughter".
    • Ozymandias is the superhero moniker by Adrian Veidt who wants to build a permanent lasting peace when the name and title refers to a classic poem about how nothing lasts forever and all attempts at immortality are pathetic.
    • Rorschach is the name chosen by a superhero with Black-and-White Morality and quasi-Objectivist beliefs to show how scary and intimidating he is, when it refers to ink-blot tests that are famously subjective, and which the comic's main psychologist Dr. Malcolm Long points out is entirely meaningless.
  • Irony: Nuclear physicist Jon Osterman accidentally locks himself inside a disintegration chamber minutes before it's due to activate. When he begs to be let out, his supervisor Dr. Glass tells him that the automatic door lock can't be overridden once the countdown has started: "It's... it's a safety feature." The last four words are set in tiny print, indicating that Glass is all too aware of the situational irony.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: If Jon hadn't forgotten his girlfriend's watch in the lab, he wouldn't have gone back to get it, get locked inside the experiment chamber, be ripped apart, and be reborn as Dr. Manhattan.
  • It's Personal: The brutality of the Comedian's murder is likely fueled by Ozymandias' humiliating defeat when they first met years before. It's also implied that the Comedian murdered Hooded Justice, ostensibly because HJ was a communist agent (in fact he had Nazi sympathies), but actually in revenge for the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown HJ gave the Comedian for trying to rape Silk Spectre.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Rorschach tortures criminals to get information, often needlessly.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and (very grudgingly) Ozymandias respect the Comedian for his clear-eyed view of humanity and that he lives according to his (very warped) morality.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: It's a murder mystery told in elaborate framed pictures with crosscutting dialogue and crosscutting flashbacks, all leading up to The Reveal.
  • Just Between You and Me: Justified. He did it 35 minutes ago; it doesn't matter if they know now. Also, Dan and Rorschach are his former comrades, and he thinks he can convince them that he did the right thing. He succeeds with Dan.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The Comedian nearly rapes Sally Jupiter and shoots his own would-be Asian Baby Mama.
    • The Knot Tops who killed Hollis killed his dog Phantom, too.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: After he cracks, Rorschach becomes a vigilante who murders criminals; after the Keene Act, he becomes a fugitive vigilante who murders criminals. Technically this is continued when Manhattan eventually kills Rorschach, although it's not an example of the trope.
  • Knight Templar: Rorschach, and Ozymandias, in a more typical example of the trope.
  • Know When to Fold Them: When Ozymandias dramatically reveals his evil plan, one by one the heroes accept that he is right and that the only way they can prevent the plan's success is by revealing it to the general public... which will save no one and possibly destroy the world. Rorschach, however is a deontologist and so believes that people should be told the truth, no matter the cost. Naturally, he announces this. His death is swift.note Everyone else Knew When To Fold Em — they get to go home and mope.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: At the end, when Laurie and Dan visit Sally in disguise:
    Nurse: Your friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hollis are here to see you.
    Sally: What? But I don't know any... I don't know anyone I'd rather see!
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: On the last page, the editor of the New Frontiersman tells his assistant to pick some material for the next issue from a pile of rejected submissions, including Rorschach's journal. Moore set this scene up as a way to address the reader directly and emphasize the final meaning of the story:
    I leave it entirely in your hands.
  • Legacy Character:
    • Dan Dreiberg succeeded Hollis Mason as the Nite Owl, while Sally Jupiter pushed her daughter Laurie into taking her role as the Silk Spectre.
    • Deconstructed with both Nite Owl II and the Silk Spectre II. Just as Dan, Laurie does not have any life besides vigilantism, she does not have any connection or relationship besides the costumed heroes, and this lifestyle was forced on her by her own mother.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: Ozymandias's plan.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Referenced and played with, like most Comic Book Tropes in Watchmen. Ozymandias and the Comedian do this when they first meet, but it's revealed that the Comedian recognized Ozy, but attacked him anyway, using the excuse that "For some reason it happens a lot when costumed crimefighters meet for the first time."
  • Levitating Lotus Position: Dr. Manhattan does the levitating version of the Lotus Position while creating his fortress on Mars.
  • Limited Social Circle: Deconstructed. The heroes' issues make them incapable of forming relationships with normal people. They literally have no one but each other.
  • Literal Metaphor: Night Owl comments that in the early years, Rorschach "...was quiet, he was grim, but he still had all the buttons on his overcoat." And in fact, in flashbacks to those early years, when Rorschach was more sane, his trench coat has all its buttons—in the 'present day' storyline, his coat is missing one.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • Living Legend: The comic deconstructs these, among many other tropes. People seek this status, for good or ill. People achieve it, for good or ill. Doctor Manhattan is the extreme...
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The Comedian is Laurie's father.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: The Big Figure, one of Rorschach's old enemies, who winds up running across him again in prison. He apparently has control over the guards, too.

    Tropes M-R 
  • Madness-Induced Omnivore: The Show Within a Show "Tales of the Black Freighter" is about a castaway who loses his sanity during his arduous journey back to his hometown. One of the first signs of his madness is when he devours a raw seagull, with the action being depicted on a red tinted panel focused on his choleric face. He later kills and eats a shark, explaining in an inner monologue that the inversion of predator-prey dynamics makes him laugh out of hatred.
  • Married to the Job: Deconstructed. Worse if that job is as a costumed vigilante. What's the point of fighting street level crime when bigger issues like impending nuclear war hangs over everyone's head? Only someone really screwed up like Hooded Justice, Rorschach or Ozymandias would choose this as a career.
  • Match Cut:
    • The closest possible equivalent in print. Used mostly during the flashbacks at the Comedian's funeral.
    • In chapter 12, page 22, the panel of Dan and Laurie eloping, which frames them in giant shadows, is immediately followed by a close-up of Rorschach's mask that has a very similar pattern in it.
  • Meaningful Background Event: A man holding an "End Is Nigh" sign is frequently seen on the streets. His name is Walter Kovacs a.k.a. "Rorschach".
    • In Watchmen no 5, "Fearful Symmetry", at page 6, panel 3, Rorschach mentions that if Moloch wants to send him a message, he could do it by "leaving him a note at the trash can in front of the Gunga diner, between the 40th and the 7th." At page 12 panel 9, and again at page 17 panel 8, we see a character checking out that trash can. That means that the reader could have figured out Rorschach's identity before The Reveal at the end of the issue. The Dramatic Irony is that Bernie give us this monologue:
    "You never know, never know what awaits you. Everything we see is the surface. There is a lot of garbage that we don’t even notice. Until it’s too late."
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ozymandias, which suggests the final fate of his "better, more loving world." His last name, Veidt, comes from German actor Conrad Veidt, whose appearance in The Man Who Laughs directly inspired the character design of The Joker.
    • Jon Osterman: "Oester" is a pagan fertility festival that was replaced by Easter. Oster also is originally Saxon for "Rising", which makes Jon Osterman the "Rising Man" — appropriate for the world's first true superhuman.
    • Rorschach turned out to be one on a meta level, to Moore's chagrin, though plenty of fans do see him for the disturbed sociopath he is.
    • The Minutemen, the superhero team from the 1940s, share the same name as an American intercontinental nuclear missile.
    • The Gordian Knot lock company. Fittingly for the name, nobody ever seems to pick one of their locks, but apparently they are rather easy to break open.
  • Men Get Old, Women Get Replaced: There were originally two female members of the Minutemen team which existed in the 1940s: Silhouette and Silk Spectre. When the Crimebusters formed as their replacements, there were two veterans of the Minutemen: Captain Metropolis and the Comedian. Silhouette was killed after being outed as a lesbian and Silk Spectre was replaced by her younger daughter.
  • Merchandising the Monster: Defied. Issue #10 of the series contains excerpts from Adrian Veidt's communications with the team responsible for creating a toy line based on his former superheroic identity, who propose including figures of the violent vigilante Rorschach and former supervillain Moloch the Mystic (along with Veidt's fellow retired superhero Nite Owl). However, Veidt vetoes their inclusion thanks to ethical concerns, instead proposing creating a fictional army of costumed terrorists.
  • Mini Dress Of Power: Both Silk Spectres with Silk Spectre II wearing a black Leotard of Power over a see through skirt with a chiffon cover, a belt, and heels.
  • Mind Rape: The effect that the "monster" has on survivors, even halfway around the globe, is to instill paranoia. The psychic attack is stated to drive some victims to madness.
  • Mischief for Punishment: Captain Carnage is said to have done this, the kink version. He only pretended to be a supervillain so he'd get off from the superheroes kicking his ass, ultimately meeting his end when he tried it on Rorschach and was dropped down an elevator shaft for his troubles.
  • Mission Creep:
    • Part of the drama about the grounded take on superheroes is the poignancy of what heroes do, or what they become, when there aren't bad guys and supervillains to fight and they have to take on real problems. The comic dealt with the fact that superheroes who sign up to "fight crime" and "save the world" will eventually face issues when saving the world means taking a stand against the government that they ostensibly serve.
    • As noted by Hollis Mason and others, the original superheroes were formed to fight street crime and to that end, they formed crime fighting groups and gadgets. But upon meeting with success and facing a reduction of crime, the superheroes have to find other avenues to work, and either become celebrities, try (and fail) to blend back into civilian life or in the case of Mason, retire only to come to face the Physical God Dr. Manhattan who is more or less going to make his career and all memory of it obsolete. Eventually the superheroes face a public and government backlash, opposed by the police and other supporters for being Vigilante government-loyal stooges in a time when America is a major, unopposed superpower.
    • Captain Metropolis and the Comedian discuss this during the first (and only) meeting of the Crimebusters. Gardner wants to form a professional crime fighting group to shut down all crime but Blake notes that it's ridiculous and pointless in the shadow of the nuclear bomb and so long as none of them have a solution to deal with that, such crime-fighting is meaningless kid's stuff. Ozymandias sees the Comedian's comments as illustrating that a true superhero's capacity has to grow and expand to properly "save the world" and so abandons conventional superheroism outwardly while still committing himself to save the world by becoming a corporate magnate, scientist and Well-Intentioned Extremist. Some would say that Veidt has undergone Motive Decay but Veidt would insist that conventional heroes have to grow up to better tackle problems of the adult world of geopolitics, commerce and mass media. Indeed, when Nite Owl and Rorschach meet Veidt in his lair, he is wearing his old superhero costume rather than the civilian clothing he had been wearing throughout the comic, which suggests that in his mind he sees his actions as superheroic even if it appears the contrary to his ex-colleagues.
  • Mistaken for Thief: Zigzagged for the first meeting between Ozymandias and The Comedian. Comedian beats Ozymandias and claims it's because he thought Veidt was a burglar, but it's implied that actually he knew who Ozymandias was, Blake just wanted an excuse to beat up someone he didn't like.
  • Mistaken Identity:
    • Blaire Roche, the little girl Rorschach failed to save, was kidnapped because she had the same last name as some rich family.
    • Hollis Mason was killed because it was thought he was the Nite Owl who busted Rorschach out of jail.
  • Mistaken for Related: Rorschach's Cynicism Catalyst was a little girl who'd been kidnapped by a man who thought she was related to a rich family due to having the same surname. On realizing his mistake, the kidnapper murdered her and fed the corpse to his dogs. Rorschach burned the man alive and became the '90s Anti-Hero we all know.
  • Monster Modesty: Inverted with Doc Manhattan, who becomes increasingly immodest as he gets further from his humanity.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: Each of the major characters can be said to represent different attitudes to morality, and part of the conflict comes from their competing moral outlooks, and their successes and failures in living up to it in any meaningful fashion:
    • The Comedian is a nihilist who sees the world as nothing but a joke, and just doesn't care about right or wrong, Rorschach is an objectivist and a moral absolutist who refuses to see the world in any terms other than black and white, Dr. Manhattan is so alienated from the human experience that the very concept of morality escapes him, and Ozymandias favors an overall utilitarian liberal ideal of doing good to build a better society. While Laurie and Dan Dreiberg are more grounded everyman types who more or less don't act out or impose a moral view on the world.
    • Ultimately none of them are truly consistent, or can be truly consistent, to their ideas. The Comedian's facade of cynicism shatters utterly and he turns out to be a lonely, self-loathing wreck who is truly pathetic on the inside. Dr. Manhattan, the most seemingly misanthropic of the superheroes, gives the ultimate Humans Are Special speech in the book. Ozymandias and Rorschach exchange places as the story follows: they at first see each other as being a guilty liberal (Ozymandias) and a fascist (Rorschach) but the morally absolute Rorschach, who once justified Harry Truman's Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is stunned when Ozymandias launches a similarly brutal attack using the same justification. This time Rorschach takes the opposite tack and denounces this action, willing to die rather than uphold this facade.
  • Moral Myopia: A young Rorschach wrote a paper defending the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguing that the deaths of all those civilians are acceptable as it ended World War 2. However, when Ozymandias destroys New York City to create world peace, Rorschach finds this unacceptable. This was likely done deliberately by Alan Moore as Rorschach represents a right-wing philosophy that Moore does not approve of.
  • Motifs: Everywhere. There are some motifs that appear throughout the story (like the bloodstained smiley or the doomsday clock counting towards midnight), and some that appear primarily in one chapter (like "two riders" in various forms during chapter 10).
    • The bloodstain on the smiley vs. the minute hand on the doomsday clock.
    • The butterfly / Rorschach blot / large bloodstain / Hiroshima shadow.
    • In every chapter that involves cross-cutting between two sets of events, the dialogue in every single panel refers back to the dialogue in the previous (cross-cut) panel, and the image usually refers back to the image on the previous page. For chapter 5, "Fearful Symmetry" they made the entire issue a palindrome.
    • Mirrored images, especially in chapter 5 "Fearful Symmetry" (a line from Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright).
    • The two riders / Pale Horse in chapter 10, "Two Riders Were Approaching" (a line from All Along The Watchtower).
      • The names of the events going on nearby — Pale Horse in concert with Krystallnacht, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) — also seem totally innocuous, until the last chapter.
    • The nuclear symbol / ship with black sails (inspiration for the Black Freighter, according to Moore).
    • The Gordian Knot lock company; Egyptian symbols, Pyramid Deliveries and the alien invasion in-jokes.
    • People hugging each other during a nuclear blast (Dan and Laurie, Bernard the news vendor and Bernard the black kid).
      • Further mirror motifs implied when it's revealed that the news vendor and the black comic book reader share the same name. Bernard.
  • The Movie:An adaptation was made in 2009 by Zack Snyder.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Deconstructed with the Silk Spectres. Laurie resents her revealing outfit and plans to get a less feminine moniker and a gun.
  • Muggle Power:
    • A theme of the story is what is the point of non-superheroes and non-powered heroes and villains in a world transformed by Dr. Manhattan's presence. Moore takes this further, by showing common civilians having problems as compelling and important as that of the masked heroes.
    • In his introduction for the Absolute Edition and other interviews, Moore stated that the normal human characters like the newspaper seller, the boy reading comics, Dr. Malcolm Long and his wife, were more interesting to him than the superhero characters and that for him, Watchmen was a work where he finally outgrew any lingering nostalgia superhero characters held for him.
  • My Beloved Smother: Laurie feels her mother put a lot of pressure on her to follow in her footsteps.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: One of the cops who investigate Blake's death shudders when he hears Rorschach's name. The man with the "THE END IS NIGH" sign they walk past is him.
  • Mythology Gag: Rorschach squirts a ketchup question mark into a napkin and folds it to get a Rorschach blot.
  • Narm: In-Universe and Deconstructed — In the original Night Owl's autobiography, Under the Hood, Hollis Mason reminisces about "the saddest thing he can think of", and tells the story of the time he and his father's employer, on the edge of a complete breakdown and with his eyes full of tears broke the news that his wife was cheating on him, but despite this being a great personal tragedy for him, they couldn't help but laugh hysterically at him, as the boss was wearing big plastic breasts and was playing "Ride of the Valkyries" on the record player in his office. They immediately apologized to him afterwards, but their reaction is still what ultimately drove their employer over the edge, and he committed suicide the same day.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The existence of "costumed adventurers" has made the world of Watchmen even less safe. The very existence of Dr. Manhattan has brought Cold War tensions to the brink of The End of the World as We Know It.
    • Rorschach's investigation into the Comedian's death involves warning the other former heroes of a potential mask-killer. Ozymandias then fakes an assassination attempt on himself as a Red Herring to convince the others it's true. He initially only planned to do away with Dr. Manhattan, and killed the Comedian solely because He Knows Too Much.
    • The Comedian's cynicism about the effectiveness of the Crimebusters and subsequent exclamation that the Cold War will end with nukes killing everyone ends up inspiring Ozymandias to end the Cold War by killing off half of New York's population.
    • Dan and Laurie breaking Rorschach out of prison had the unintended consequence of causing Hollis Mason's death.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Lampshaded by Rorschach:
    "Don't worry... won't insult legendary underworld solidarity by suggesting you surrender name without torture."
  • No OSHA Compliance: The intrinsic field substractor experiment is actually introduced as having 'new safety features'. Like time locks for the entrance door that close the experiment at a set time (rather than, like most time locks, refusing to open until a fixed time after closing) without any human interference or even presence in the control room, with no checks to see if any personnel is inside the chamber at the time, with no warning given to any personnel in the chamber before closing, with no way whatsoever to open it after closing and with no way to stop the Disintegrator Ray after the door has closed. Pro-tip for any Evil Overlord whose nemesis keeps escaping from their Death Trap: Hire these guys as safety consultants for your evil lair.
  • Non-Linear Character: Dr. Manhattan. Past, present, and future is going on at the same time and so he cannot do anything.
  • Non Linear Storytelling: The flashbacks (about a third of the work) and Dr. Manhattan's account of his past are told in Anachronic Order, in part to highlight Dr. Manhattan's perspective.
  • Non-Powered Costumed Hero: Thoroughly explored as a concept through the different characters, their reasons for becoming one and the consequences for them and the society. Dr. Manhattan is an inversion of this trope.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Lampshaded by Silk Spectre in both the novel and movie, where she comments on how the future seemed bleaker and the past increasingly blissful despite all the glaring, gritty flaws. Including what happened between her and the Comedian.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Ozymandias is a misunderstood villain. He single-handedly kills off half of New York City in order to avert a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union that would destroy the world. However, Moore makes it clear that both he and Rorschach are extremists in their own ways. The only characters Moore unabashedly show in a positive light are Laurie and Dreiberg, both of whom only wanted to prevent more death. Everyone else ends up dead, exiled, or riddled with guilt and uncertain if they didn't just make things worse.
  • Not in Front of the Kid: Rorschach starts to tell off his landlady for telling lies about him to the media, calling her a whore; she pleads with him not to say that in front of her kids. "They don't know." Rorschach pets that particular dog, because he can see a parallel between her kids and his childhood — except he was not shielded from his mother's profession.
  • Not So Omniscient After All: Dr. Manhattan starts out as a omniscient Non Linear Character. During the storyline, something happens that makes him temporarily lose his omniscience while still being a Non Linear Character. He is actually excited by experiencing uncertainty again.
  • Not So Stoic: Despite his apparent detachment from humanity, Jon still has emotions. He is quite upset when he learns he gave Janey cancer and goes back to Arizona to retrieve a picture of them together before his accident. He’s also upset that Laurie leaves him after twenty years, and he even lampshades this when he tells Laurie that him leaving for Mars after the broke up demonstrates his feelings for her. He also gets quite angry (for a moment) after Veidt tries to destroy him.
  • The Omnipresent: Doctor Manhattan experiences all time simultaneously, and has no trouble sleeping with his girlfriend using a handful of bodies, while a dozen more work on a science experiment.
  • Old Superhero: Deconstructed. For all their fighting skill, Captain Metropolis, the Comedian and Hollis Mason can't stop the ravages of time. The last two die fighting younger enemies. The first Silk Spectre plays with this one, as she recognizes her superhero days are well behind her but likes to reminisce about the past and pushes her daughter to take up her legacy.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The brief "war room" scenes with still-President Nixon have this effect, with weird colors and shadows that make the powers that be look unsettlingly alien... but as it comes down to the wire, Tricky Dick himself, face lost in the shadows, can only pause and realize that "you" always think it'll be up to somebody else...
  • Omniscient Hero:
    • Adrian Veidt has everything so well figured out that the morality issue is reduced to whether or not the goals he achieved was worth all the lives he sacrificed. However, two of the last few scenes make the whole thing ambiguous, leaving it to the reader/viewer do decide if the trope is played straight or subverted.
    • Dr. Manhattan himself would fit the trope perfectly if it wasn't for a certain loophole that effectively makes him lose his omniscience halfway through the story. Before that point, he is so omniscient that ''it bores him'', but the readers/audience are spared from sharing that boredom since he's a side character rather than the protagonist.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Averted. There's Josephine, the lesbian cab driver (who goes by Joey), and Josephine, the wife of one of Veidt's employees.
    • There are two Bernards, but that fact is lampshaded.
  • Only Sane Man: Rorschach certainly thinks he's this, as did the Comedian in a way. Hollis Mason fits this trope a little better, since he's one of the few characters who isn't up to his ass in mental problems.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Rorschach loses his rough voice when his face isn't covered by his mask. The difference is enlighted by the form of his speech balloon. This subtlety isn't featured in the movie.
  • Out-Gambitted: Everyone seems to forget that, despite his death, Rorschach left his journal full of sensitive information to the press. Determining that this was probably the safest course of action to keep to his principles. The future was uncertain anyway.
    • They didn't forget because they never knew in the first place. Dreiberg thought Rorschach was checking for incoming mail, and didn't realize he was actually sending a package out.
  • Painting the Medium: None of Rorschach's words are ever bolded for emphasis like others characters' are, which fits with the description of his voice as a Creepy Monotone. His speech bubbles are drawn with rough edges while his mask is on, which might simply mean that the mask muffles his voice, since he retains his blank stare, monotone, and elliptic sentences when unmasked, but the bubble is also drawn with smooth edges (and some of the words are bolded) in the flashback to the Crimebusters meeting, before Rorschach really went off the deep end. Dr Manhattan's speech bubbles are drawn in blue, suggesting that his voice is just as alien as his appearance.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": It's suspiciously easy for Nite Owl and Rorschach to break into Ozymandias's computer, although this was probably deliberately arranged by Veidt to lure his colleagues to Antarctica and spare them from his scheme — and to give himself an audience to gloat to, what's the point of outwitting your fellow superheroes if they don't even know it?
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Everything starts with the demise of the Comedian.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Deconstructed. Hooded Justice disappeared probably to avoid getting accused as anti-American thanks to him being a former Nazi sympathizer.
  • Posthumous Character: The Comedian's death is what starts the story. His backstory is the focal point of chapter 2.
  • Primal Scene: Young Walter Kovacs walks in on his mother with one of her "clients," which leads to child abuse and just one of the many events that psychologically damaged him.
  • Purple Prose: The narration caps in Tales Of The Black Freighter, the Comic Within A Comic, which seems to be a tribute to the narration style of H. P. Lovecraft.
  • Prevent the War: Ozymandias fakes an alien attack on New York to prevent a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR.
  • Prophet Eyes: Doctor Manhattan has completely white eyes with no visible pupils, and it's hard to tell where the iris starts.
  • Psychological Projection:
    • Rorschach has a talent for this, projecting those characteristics on to others that he unknowingly possesses himself.
    Rorschach: Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders?
    • Rorschach's frequent insinuations about how All Women Are Lustful, and how Ozymandias as a Sell-Out is similar to a prostitute, solely out of his own bitterness about his mother being a prostitute.
    • Rorschach's comment near the end about how he must not let the Egyptian decor at Veidt's office overpower his logic, unaware that his own logic was coloured by his mask-killer theory simply because Eddie Blake at the time of his death happened to be the Comedian.
  • Rape as Drama: Part of Silk Spectre I's backstory is how the Comedian tried to have his way with her.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • Laurie's mother Sally was almost raped by the Comedian, but later ends up becoming close to him and having an affair which results in Laurie's conception. Sally is torn because she knows objectively she should loathe him.
    • Subverted by Rorschach, who simply notes that he can’t speculate on the Comedian’s “moral lapses." This enrages Laurie. Ironically, he has no problem with murdering rapist thugs on the streets.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: In-universe. Movie critic mistakes real footage of Silk Spectre I fighting crime for very bad stunt work.
  • Red Herring:
    • Dan's prototype exo-skeleton, which comes across as a sure-fire Chekhov's Gun, never gets used, and is left behind when Dan evacuates his basement. That he leaves it, and only it, is actually the payoff: it's a joke on how utterly stupid and useless the exoskeleton was in reality.
    • Hollis wears the exact same brown sweater as the killer does in the opening sequence, and he's often drawn with only his arms showing. He has zero involvement in the crime.
    • An in-universe example: Veidt, upon hearing Rorschach's "Mask Killer" theory, secretly orders a hit on himself as supposed proof to Rorschach of his theory, in order to distract him from his real plan.
  • The Red Stapler: In-universe example. Dr. Manhattan wears a double-breasted suit when he is revealed to the world and Wally Weaver mentions that people are discussing its fashion significance. Sure enough, double-breasted suits are the norm in 1985 and are worn by Adrian Veidt, Rorschach (both in civilian life and in costume) and anyone else seen wearing a suit after 1960.
  • Reduced to Dust: As the heroes approach Ozymandias' hideout, Dr. Manhattan is caught in a trap: an intrinsic field remover that reduces him to atoms. This doesn't stop him in the least, as he explains after reforming himself a few seconds later, since experimenting with his intrinsic field was the first thing he did after the accident that gave him his powers.
  • Redundant Rescue: When Nite Owl and Silk Spectre go to free Rorschach from prison. When they find him, he has already broken out of his cell, killed some of the people in his way, and is on the way out.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The ending. The world is at the very cusp of nuclear war, with each side waiting for the other to goad them into mutually assured destruction. Then a squid teleports into New York City and blows up, leaving everyone on Earth asking what the hell just happened.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: Dr. Manhattan, increasingly disconnected, allows both the U.S. Government and Ozymandias to use his technological powers For Science!. Ozymandias also qualifies if the reader sympathizes with him...
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: Laurie convinces Jon/Dr. Manhattan to have a better view on humanity, although it's more along the lines of unpredictable / predictable than good / bad.
  • The Reveal: The Comedian was murdered by Adrian Veidt because he discovered something that he wasn't supposed to know about. That "something" is that Veidt is planning to end the Cold War by killing millions of people and fooling the world into believing that Earth has been invaded by aliens.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The very first page has a pretty big one. Rorschach's monologue includes a line about "good men like my father or President Truman", which comes across a lot differently once you know Rorschach's backstory. It turns out that he's actually the illegitimate son of a prostitute, and doesn't even know who his father is—but he invented an elaborate fantasy about his father being a secret agent. Harry Truman was also his childhood idol because he ordered the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Upon rereading the book, the line comes across as a very telling Establishing Character Moment for Rorschach, establishing that he's a seriously delusional man with the moral compass of a child.
  • Rich Idiot With No Day Job: Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II, with the twist that as Dan Dreiberg, he doesn't fake idiocy but instead pretends to be a harmless intellectual. After he retires, it's not so much an act...
  • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: A few instances. Richard Nixon himself is still President in 1985, having managed to win the Vietnam War and avoid the Watergate Scandal. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are dead, and their names have long since been lost to history. And in the last chapter, we learn that the former actor Robert Redford is a Democratic presidential candidate.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Read the in-universe article snippet of The New Frontiersman, and you'll notice that the newspaper is actually sniffing surprisingly close to the actual conspiracy. It recognizes that Doug Roth's behavior suggests bias and that he might have been subverted, and even thinks that it might have something to do with the disappearances of scientists and artists. Both of these conclusions are right—but not for logical reasons; the writer reached those conclusions because they simply decided to search for any evidence that their ideological opponents were bad, and then blamed it on them wholeheartedly.
  • Ron the Death Eater: In-Universe Rorschach suspects that a lot of claims about the Comedian's amoral behavior are instances of this. Sadly, he's wrong. It's implied that he simply doesn't want to accept that someone who inspired him could have actually been such a scumbag.
  • Running Gag: Dan's lock keeps getting broken due to Rorschach invading his apartment.

    Tropes S-Z 
  • Scenery Porn: Dave Gibbons' drawings of Mars surface are simply gorgeous.
  • Self-Imposed Exile: Doctor Manhattan teleports away to Mars when he believes his superpowers have inadvertently caused cancer in people close to him, both to isolate himself and because he's increasingly unable to relate to humanity. This turns out to have been Invoked by the Big Bad, who caused the cancer in order to provoke an emotional breakdown and take Dr. Manhattan out of the action.
  • Senseless Sacrifice:
    • Ozymandias uses Bubastis as bait to lure Dr. Manhattan into the Intrinsic Field Subtractor. This however fails to kill Manhattan. Ozymandias next turns on the news and shows his plan worked, which wins Manhattan over. Ozy could’ve done this in the first place and spared Bubastis.
    • As with any large scale catastrophe, it takes a great deal of time for news broadcasters to relate a verifiable, official "report," as myriad accounts are still coming in. It would take even more time for the news of the New York disaster to not only reach the various politicians, generals and whatnot, who would then have to communicate with others to come to that tenuous accord that brought a halt to hostilities. All that would not happen in the several second period that saw Dr. Manhattan teleport to Karnak, and proceed to confront Ozymandias. Manhattan was hardly in a mood to "chill for a few minutes" while the party waits for news reports to settle. But Adrian's flight and subsequent attempt to kill Manhattan, coupled with Silk Spectre's thwarted assassination attempt and Manhattan's recovery (along with accompanying speech) bought Veidt just enough time for the news of the cease fire to break.
  • Sequencing Deception: With Chapter 11: "I did it 35 minutes ago." Also a subversion, as there are clocks all over the place in both the Karnak scenes and New York scenes so people paying careful attention wouldn't be surprised.
  • Shoot the Builder: The scientists Ozymandias hired to make his psychic-squid "alien" were invited to a work's-end celebration on a boat rigged to explode. Taken even further, in that the person hired to bomb the boat was then assassinated, and then the assassin hired for that job, and so on and so forth. The villain really wanted to leave no witnesses.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Not for the main characters and plot, just all the supporting characters. The prison therapist's personal life ends when the squid comes, just like all other customers of the newspaper vendor. The missing artist was killed by Ozymandias, or on his orders, and no one noticed. The Comedian was killed as part of a coverup, but the reason was discovered too late to prevent anything.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the background of issues #11 and #12, you can see The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) playing in a movie theater in the background. Ozymandias' plot to prevent nuclear war bears some similarities to the movie itself, where nuclear war is prevented by aliens coming to Earth, and telling the planet to put aside their differences, or be wiped out, essentially.
    • Wylie's Gladiator is visible on Hollis Mason's bookshelf.
    • The entire "Tales of the Black Freighter" comic-within-a-comic is inspired by The Threepenny Opera and the song "Pirate Jenny" (a.k.a. "The Black Freighter") in particular.
    • Dreiberg's owlship is named Archie in reference to the owl in The Sword in the Stone.
    • The child kidnapper murdered by Rorschach named his dogs Fred and Barney.
    • Hollis Mason's Nite Owl I costume is very similar to [1] The Phantom's costume, and his dog is even named "Phantom."
    • Towards the end, there is a TV advertising the start of The Outer Limits episode "The Architects of Fear." The basic premise of the villain's plan is almost identical to that episode. Although Alan Moore claims it was a coincidence they were similar, he deliberately added the Shout-Out upon discovering the similarity. DC editor Len Wein, who is most famous for creating Swamp Thing, tells a different story: Moore admitted to stealing the plot from The Outer Limits; when Wein pushed him to change it to something original, Moore refused, and Wein quit the book over it. Years later, Wein has had the last laugh: in writing the Before Watchmen Ozymandias series, Wein had Veidt get the whole idea from "The Architects of Fear."
    • On a rather absurd note, Moore has confirmed that Rorschach's blunted speech patterns and dull monotone were inspired by cult comic book hero Herbie Popnecker, A.K.A. the "Fat Fury."
    • Dr. Manhattan's physical appearance is basically a naked Rogue Trooper. Dave Gibbons was one of Rogue's co-creators in addition to Watchmen.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Deconstructed. The main thing which it attacks is the use of this to define comic book characters. Ultimately none of the characters, even the single-minded Rorschach, can be boiled down to the "one bad day" typical of comic heroes and villains. Everyone has multiple shades and aspects that are never fully understood, even by the characters themselves.
  • Small Steps Hero: Deconstructed hard. Captain Metropolis founded the Minutemen because he thought their street level heroics would make a grander difference by setting a good example and tried again, with Ozymandias' support, when the earlier team split up. As the Comedian pointed out, such heroics are worthless when the entire planet is facing nuclear annihilation and in the end, when the Cold War becomes violent and the world is destroyed, nothing will matter. Ozymandias comes to believe this, which kicks off his Start of Darkness.
  • The Smurfette Principle:
    • Silk Spectre II is the only female Superhero of the second generation. Furthermore, her central importance to the plot is that of her role as a woman, being a kept-girlfriend to Dr. Manhattan and then the love interest of Nite Owl II. However, this is a deconstruction, so it may be intentional to demonstrate the usual roles female characters played in the comic book genre ten to twenty years before "Watchmen."
    • The WWII era group originally had two females (Silk Spectre I and The Silhouette), but the latter was kicked out when it became known she was a lesbian. (As at least two males were known among the group to be closeted homosexuals, the commentary on sexism is definitely intentional.)
  • So Crazy, It Must Be True: Rorschach believes Moloch's story about the Comedian's visit.
    Rorschach: Funny story. Sounds unbelievable. Probably true.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Rorschach and the Comedian. Deconstructed; while it quickly becomes clear that instead of being a Captain Patriotic, the Comedian is one of these, we just learn later that even acting like a sociopath has its drawbacks — his brutality alienated everybody from him on the scale that he cannot form a human relationship anymore. While he clearly wants to reconcile with his daughter, he is incapable of that, at first because he is awkward in relationships and then because Laurie despises him for his attempted rape of her mother. And when he is desperate because of Ozymandias' plan, where does he go? To one of his former enemies, where he breaks down sobbing, instead of another vigilante.
  • Something Else Also Rises: That flamethrower going off during Dan and Laurie's sex scene.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: This is used to demonstrate the damages of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, when Dr. Manhattan isn't there to prevent it.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • Jon, an aspiring watchmaker who was told to forgo the business due to the atomic bomb, has the accident that leads to his Physical God status because his first girlfriend's watch was stepped on by a fat man.
    • There's a very clever one in Fearful Symmetry. The pirate-themed Rum Runner sign has two Rs back to back so they resemble a skull. It fits the symmetry theme, but there's another thing you might not have noticed unless you know Cyrillic: the sign says Yar!note 
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Dr. Manhattan is powerful enough to be considered divine, but resents being perceived this way. He says something like "I don't think there is a God, and if there is I don't think I'm anything like Him."
  • A Storm Is Coming: Chapter ten's usage of the last lines of All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan.
  • Story Within a Story: Tales of the Black Freighter is a comic book within the Watchmen universe. Some of its pages are presented to the reader, and depict a castaway journeying back home to warn his city about an impending pirate attack.
  • Story-Breaker Power: Ozymandias uses tachyons to interrupt Dr. Manhattan’s omniscience. Otherwise, he would’ve figured out Ozymandias’s plot much earlier … and there would have been far less story.
  • Stripperiffic:
    • An odd Lampshade Hanging, in which Silk Spectre uses it as a warped justification for Attempted Rape. It's also noticeable that the costume was only very Stripperiffic by 1940 standards, as it's a very short backless gown with stockings. Further lampshaded when her daughter/successor complains about how ridiculous her own costume was. Unlampshaded when she puts the costume on for her new boyfriend and doesn't stop wearing it for the rest of the series (though there wasn't time to get a new one).
    • Dr. Manhattan's progressively-diminished costume provides a Stripperific clue as to how far back in his personal timeline each of his flashback appearances lies. The fact that he's first seen buck-naked, and is only later seen in skin-tight bodysuits or Speedos, may be a bit of a joke on this trope.
  • Strawman News Media: Neither the left or the right press come off very well here; the New Frontiersman is so rabidly right-wing that it's pretty much a print version of Breitbart, while the Nova Express is so ludicrously left-wing they're willing to risk World War III to get rid of superheroes. Hector Godfrey and Doug Roth respectively calling each other klansmen and communists doesn't really seem too far off.
  • Superheroes Wear Capes:
    • Deconstructed (like everything else) with the character of Dollar Bill. He was a former football player hired by a bank when they realized that having their own personal superhero on payroll was a great way to cash in on the masked vigilante craze. The costume was designed by the marketing department, who were going for style over practicality and thought that the cape added visual appeal. It ended up getting caught in a revolving door while he was trying to stop a robbery, at which point one of the robbers shot him point-blank in the chest.
    • Nite Owl I's original costume had a cape, but when he failed to master the art of walking around his own house with it on without the cape catching on things, he got rid of it.
  • Superpower Lottery: Deconstructed. Dr. Manhattan is a nigh-omnipotent, nigh-omniscient being, and the only one who has any superpower whatsoever. Yet he is so unmotivated and detached that he lets himself become a puppet of government, is one of those characters who can be manipulated very easily, and has a really hard time using his own powers not just for others', but for his own good.
  • Super Registration Act: The Keene Act banned superheroes' activities, with most of them being forcibly retired, a select few being hired by the government, and a few others acting clandestinely.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The central premise of the story:
    • What becomes of people who dress up in costumes but 1: They have no proper training or resources, 2: They're all at least a little unbalanced, and 3 (most importantly): They are taking the law into their own hands in a world just as full of political and social complexities as the real world? They die. They go insane (presuming they weren't insane already). Or they become monsters.
    • The Minutemen has many of the prejudices of that time period. Hooded Justice is a nazi supporter until the start of the Second World War, Captain Metropolis has racist opinions of black and hispanic people, the Comedian attempts to rape Silk Spectre on the basis that he thought she wanted it because she wore a Stripperific outfit, and Silhouette is thrown out of the group when she's discovered to be a lesbian.
    • The first Nite Owl was a police officer during his day job, so he actually was properly trained and had official authority if he chose to use it. This is why he's the Only Sane Man among either generation of superheroes.
    • In his autobiography, he casually mentions that once the "costumed hero" phase hit its peak, most costumed villains simply gave up entirely or became regular criminals because, honestly, what's the point?
    • In the same autobiography, it's briefly mentioned that all the costumed criminals who didn't give up or move on to less glamorous crimes simply ended up in jail and stayed there. No Cardboard Prisons here.
    • Dollar Bill was killed ignobly after his cape got caught in the revolving door at a bank. The robbers then simply walked right up to him and shot him point blank.
    • After the antagonist reveals his scheme to Nite Owl II and Rorschach, Nite Owl tries to talk him out of it, only for the antagonist to inform him that the only reason he told the pair about it in the first place is because he already set it into motion, and it's too late for them to stop him.
      "Do it"? Dan, I'm not a republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my masterstroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.
    • The issue after the one with the above example makes clear that, genius or not, you cannot kill a near-omnipotent being who can walk across the surface of the sun, and literally rebuilt himself after being disintegrated. You can turn the public against him by framing him for spreading cancer, or catch him off-guard by developing a way to block his foresight powers, but you're just as much a threat to his life as a termite would be.
    • Despite all the effort that the antagonist goes through to pull off his plan, it's heavily implied that it will still fail in the long run, and the world will be even worse off for it. Especially since Rorschach mails his journal—which details his investigation into the Comedian's death and the antagonist's involvement in it—to a magazine publisher. Turns out that it's not that easy for one man to completely change the course of history singlehandedly.
  • Take That!: Adrian mocks the “oiled muscleman with machine-guns” and “pastel bears, Valentine hearts” as a “juxtaposition of wish fulfillment violence and infantile imagery, desire to be free of responsibility.”
  • Teleportation Sickness: Others besides Dr. Manhattan tend to find his teleporting them unpleasant, some rioters even suffering heart attacks when he puts them back home.
    • Though Manhattan's narration points out that this was due at least partly to the shock of suddenly finding themselves back home.
  • That Man Is Dead
    Dr. Manhattan: "I no longer wish to look at dead things."
    Rorschach: "It was Kovacs who closed his eyes but it was Rorschach that opened them again."
  • That Wasn't a Request:
    Dr. Manhattan: Pay attention. You will all return to your homes.
    Protester: Oh yeah? And what if we don't, ya big blue fruit?
    Dr. Manhattan: You misunderstand me. It was not a request.
  • There Are No Therapists: Deconstructed. Psychotherapy was new in the post-World War II world but lack of understanding of psychological care causes Mothman's breakdown. Dr. Long (Rorschach's shrink) shows how impossible it is to understand the mind of a "hero."
  • This Is Gonna Suck: A writer celebrating a job well done creating a psychic-squid beast as "special effects for a movie" actually a weapon that will be used to depopulate New York City and blamed on a non-existent alien invasion decides to have a quick nookie with a coworker down in the hold. He finds a bomb. His last moments are squeezing her closer for comfort, and falteringly reassuring her that everything is fine.
  • Title Drop:
    • Ozymandias gives one for the whole comic:
    Ozymandias: Even read JFK's intended speech? "We in this country, in this generation are, by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom."
    • The chapter titles also title dropped with little quotations at the end of each one.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Deconstructed with the Comedian. He is originally kicked out of the Minutemen for being this — not for being an Anti-Hero or Heroic Comedic Sociopath, but for trying to rape his teammate, Silk Spectre. He is then invited back to join the Crime-Busters, but he himself torpedoes the group.
  • Token Minority Couple: An odd variation, wherein Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre, the only super-powered hero and the only female hero in the latest years of the fad, respectively, end up together. They are also, notably, the only two heroes who never actually chose to be so.
  • Token Super: Doctor Manhattan is the Trope Codifier, winning big on the Superpower Lottery and ending up as the only hero in the Watchmen continuity to have powers, which are god-like. The rest of the Watchmen are all Non Powered Costumed Heros.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The prisoners in the jail Rorschach was sent to. No matter WHAT he does to any of them, they are determined to get at him.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Doctor Manhattan is extremely distraught to discover that the radiation emitted by his physical avatar gave his friends cancer. This was actually a ploy by Ozymandias, who gave them cancer himself.
  • Trespassing to Talk: Rorschach frequently invades the residence of people he wants to talk to, be it his friends and enemies. In one case, leaving a Right Behind You message in the victim's fridge.
  • Trophy Violence: A gang of Top-Knots beat Hollis Mason to death with one of his own trophies.
  • Twilight of the Supers: All but three costumed heroes are forcibly retired by the Keene Act, two with government sanction and the third illegally.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Subverted, as Laurie is disturbed by Manhattan cloning himself in the bedroom — and eventually enraged when she sees another duplicate still working in the lab.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: Used repeatedly, especially at scene changes between Tales of the Black Freighter and the main plot. For example, it cuts from the newsstand owner talking about how newsvendors are tough survivors, to a shipwreck survivor standing on a beach crying. Or from Nite Owl saying "It'll be like coming home," to the shipwrecked man finally arriving on the mainland. "I could be no more than twenty miles from Davidstown. I was home."
  • 2-for-1 Show: The pirate comic-within-a-comic tells a full story from beginning to end, and mirrors many turning points in the overall story.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: Background conversations, or banter coming from a nearby TV, which are also relevant to the main scene. The Black Freighter also sometimes mirrors some of the smaller events happening around the newsstand where it is being read. This is a trademark of Watchmen.
  • Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain: Rorschach is quite homely and short, both of which are mentioned in-story at least once. Also, he smells bad, dresses scruffily and has terrible table manners. He's a Noble Bigot, a rape apologist, a Straw Nihilist ... but, then again, Rorschach only kills dangerous criminals. Ozymandias, is attractive in a sort of fey, Bishounen way and Wicked Cultured. While Rorschach and Ozymandias are both Well Intentioned Extremists, Rorschach never hurt an innocent person throughout the whole story, whereas Ozymandias killed over three million innocent people with the intention of saving billions from nuclear war. This kind of pushes Rorschach into an Anti-Hero while Ozymandias is more of an Anti-Villain, so this mostly plays the trope straight.
    • Possibly zig-zagged at the end. While Ozymandias may have saved the world, it may only be temporary and thus unnecessary (making Rorschach's exposure of Ozymandias' plan more of a deserved justice). If it was a true success, then maybe Rorschach's actions will instead lead to nuclear war all over again.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Even though it started The Dark Age of Comic Books, this comic really reads, in retrospect, like a deconstruction of the very things it inspired.
    • Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and the Comedian are all the exact kind of grim, dark anti-heroes that arose in the 90's but this is not portrayed as a positive thing at all. Rorschach and the Comedian are sociopathic lunatics who are hated and feared by many, and Manhattan is a fatalistic and emotionless person whose behavior causes his personal life to fall to pieces. Moore's point was that neurotic and complex human shades would make superheroes relatable but also unstable and non-functional, while his copycats just saw it as an attempt to make superheroes cool.
    • Indeed the most functional and effective characters in the entire story are more or less the ones who are most like the classic Silver Age characters. Dan Dreiberg, the Boring, but Practical Blue Beetle knock off, is a far better detective than Rorschach, and it's his equipment that busts Rorschach out of jail and takes them to Antarctica. Likewise, Ozymandias is more or less a classic pulp Doc Savage type character, whose Charles Atlas Superpower is not subject to any Deconstruction at all, and is used for drama when it makes him an utterly undefeatable villain (on whom Rorschach cannot land a punch).
  • Übermensch: Arguably one of the themes of the work. Just about all the "costumed" characters show some shades of it, but especially Rorschach and Ozymandias, who unflinchingly do what they think is right, even if it means running a bit counter to societal norms. Notably, these two characters' moral principles still run entirely counter to each other.
  • The Unfettered: The Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, and Ozymandias are all willing to stoop to any low to get what they want or do what they feel needs to be done.
  • Unstuck in Time: Dr. Manhattan becomes briefly disoriented because of tachyons. "Excuse me, Rorschach. I'm informing Laurie ninety seconds ago... I-I'm sorry. It's these tachyons."
    • If you flip the two pages of the graphic novel back and forth when he says this, Manhattan is in the same position on both pages, in the same pose, saying the same thing, highlighting his non-linear perception of time.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • After the Comedian's death, Rorschach approaches Veidt with the possibility of a serial killer targeting former heroes, completely unaware that Veidt killed the Comedian for unrelated reasons. A single panel shows Veidt contemplating Rorschach's suggestion, and then Veidt begins killing masks in earnest as a Red Herring.
    • Rorschach again, when he leaves his journal for a tabloid to discover, including all his incriminating evidence against Veidt and his new utopia. Whether the editors will actually take it seriously, or the paper's readers will believe it is uncertain as well.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Ozymandius has a pet genetically modified lynx, Bubastis.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Ozymandius' plan involves killing a lot of people under the belief that doing so will make the world a better place.
  • Visual Pun: When the Hooded Justice walks in on the Comedian's assault of Sally Jupiter, the eye slots on his mask are colored red; the Hooded Justice is literally seeing red.
  • Virtuous Vegetarianism: Dan discusses Ozymandias, marveling at how such a great man could do something so evil. He even remarks that he's a vegetarian. Rorshach then points out that Hitler was as well.
  • We All Live in America: This graphic novel ostensibly takes place in America with American characters, but one character mentions "having a lock fitted." An American would say "having a lock installed."
  • Weak Boss, Strong Underlings: Big Figure, the mafia boss that threatens Rorschach in prison, barely comes up to the waist of the two thugs he's with. Rorschach easily overpowers him and dunks him into the toilet.
  • Wham Line: Nite Owl and Rorschach try to convince Ozymandias not to carry out his plan to destroy New York, only for the latter to reply "I did it thirty-five minutes ago."
  • Wham Shot: The opening pages of issue #12 are an extended one. Half the cast has died horribly. It's implied that Laurie and Osterman are the only living things in New York City.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Inverted. Typically, one of the Five-Man Band has mediocre abilities, yet everyone from the Minutemen and the would-be Crimebusters fall under this trope when you consider that Dr. Manhattan is a God with a Story-Breaker Power by comparison.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Super?: Deconstructed. In the series, we often find that ordinary police officers are more than capable of defeating Rorschach by going all Zerg Rush on him, where Batman for instance is always able to defeat and escape multiple police officers and mooks in comics; likewise Dr. Malcolm Long is cut from a different and altogether more heroic cloth than the usual simplistic brand of psychotherapy typical of superhero comics.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Everybody, but most pronounced in the scene where the Comedian calls out Dr. Manhattan for not doing anything to save his (the Comedian's) Asian Baby Mama despite knowing exactly what would happen. Ironically, it cements Dr. Manhattan's view that they're essentially the same.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: The first Night Owl and Silk Spectre prefer talking about their Glory Days.
  • Who Shot JFK?: It's hinted that it might have been the Comedian.
  • Would Harm a Senior: Elderly Hollis Mason gets murdered by some punks on Halloween night.
  • World of Badass: Both played straight and deconstructed. The heroes are seriously screwed up people, yet surprisingly capable of kicking ass when needed.
  • Written Sound Effect: Played with. Fight scenes are silent, but there is a wide and surprising variety of onomatopoeia for "dialogue", such as the Comedian drinking ("nk nk nk") or Rorschach eating ("Ronch ronch ronch/Cronch cronch cronch" for sugar cubes and "Schlorp... chlorp... lep..." for raw baked beans).
  • You Are Too Late: Rorschach and Nite Owl arrive at Ozymandias' base thirty-five minutes after the latter had already put his master plan into motion.
  • You Bastard!: If you believe Ozymandias was right, you're okay with killing several million people and lying to the entire world to trick it into peace. If you believe Rorschach was right, you believe that Ozymandias's scheme should be revealed to the world in the name of justice, even if it means sending the world back to the brink of nuclear holocaust.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Ozymandias poisons his assistants, and congratulates them for helping create a new utopia (as they are either dead or dying), then lets their bodies be hidden by snow cover. Later, he tells the others that his assistants accidentally killed themselves. He also blows up the artists who helped create the monster.
    • Big Figure has one of his mooks kill another when Rorschach ties the unlucky mook's hands to his cell door, obstructing the others from coming in to get him.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Airships are far more common, because Dr. Manhattan can synthesize enough helium to make them cost-effective (and safer than hydrogen-filled airships would have been).

"Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."


Video Example(s):


Watchmen- What Happened?!

The horror of Adrian Veidt's squid attack is put to screen.

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