Watchmen | Study Guide

Alan Moore

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Watchmen | Chapter 10 : Two Riders Were Approaching ... | Summary



Tensions are high as President Richard Nixon, Vice President Gerald Ford, and presidential advisors gather in a secure underground bunker. The country's defense readiness condition, or DEFCON, is at 2. The men sit and wait for Russia to make a move. President Nixon has his hand on the "nuclear football" the entire time.

Dan Dreiberg and Rorschach try to figure out their next move. They make a brief stop at Rorschach's apartment to get his spare costume, his "face," and the final draft of his journal. They run into Rorschach's landlady, Mrs. Shairp, who—falsely—announced on TV that Rorschach sexually assaulted her. They return to Archie's underwater hiding spot so Dan can continue running computer models in hopes of finding a pattern that indicates a "mask killer." Rorschach is impatient—he would rather talk to real people than rely on a computer. Dan loses his temper and chastises Rorschach for being so weird and inconsiderate. Rorschach immediately apologizes, and Dan is stunned a few moments later when Rorschach tells him he's a good friend. The air cleared, and Dan raises Archie to the surface so they can "visit the criminal fraternity."

The reunited crime-fighting duo end up at Happy Harry's Bar and Grill, where they stumble upon the man who hired Adrian Veidt's would-be assassin. He's a Pyramid Delivery freight handler, and he wanted in on the side action his coworkers were getting. Now his coworkers are dead, and he's terrified he'll be next. While Rorschach interrogates the freight handler, Dan inadvertently finds out Hollis Mason was killed by some knot-tops the night before. Rorschach intervenes before Dan can strangle the knot-top messenger. They leave the bar and decide to visit Adrian, hoping this new information will convince him to help them.

Halfway around the world, a large ship with the Pyramid Deliveries logo is at sea. Max Shea and Hira Manish leave the party on deck to canoodle in a storeroom where Shea accidentally uncovers a bomb on a timer. Moments later, the ship explodes.

Back in New York, Dan and Rorschach are surprised to find Adrian's building completely empty. They snoop through the office. While Rorschach goes on a tangent about the ancient Egyptian paraphernalia decorating the office, Dan hacks into Adrian's computer. He finds evidence that leads him to believe Adrian, who is currently hiding at his Antarctic lair, is behind all the attacks on masked crime fighters. After making a quick stop to send Rorschach's journal to the New Frontiersman, they fly Archie to Antarctica so they can confront Adrian. The chapter ends with a quotation from a Bob Dylan song.


Chapter 10's title, "Two Riders Were Approaching," is a reference to Bob Dylan's 1967 song "All Along the Watchtower," made iconic by Jimi Hendrix's 1968 cover version. The song, which is also quoted at the end of the chapter, tells of a conversation between a "joker" and a "thief" about an unnamed, impending catastrophe. The joker is panicking, looking for "some way to get out of here," and the thief attempts to calm him. The song takes on symbolic meaning when applied to the characters and plot of Watchmen. The joker is the Comedian, who goes into a downward spiral when he realizes what the thief, Adrian Veidt, is planning. The "princes" stationed at the watchtower represent political forces creating societal discord. The joker and the thief stand separate from them, as do the "two riders ... approaching"—Rorschach and Nite Owl. Dylan has never said explicitly what "All Along the Watchtower" is about, and music aficionados have debated inspirations from the Vietnam War to Armageddon, and everything in between. It is clearly a song about discord and rebellion, and by using it in the chapter's title and its ending quotation, Moore underscores the rising tension between world powers and the heroes themselves.

The situation with Russia has become increasingly worse since Dr. Manhattan's departure from Earth, which is illustrated by the DEFCON image at the beginning of the chapter. DEFCON, short for "defense condition," is a numerical system that describes the likelihood of war. A DEFCON level of 5 means absolute peace, while DEFCON 1 signals imminent aggression. DEFCON 2, as seen in Chapter 10 of Watchmen, means the United States government is actively preparing to engage in battle. The "football" President Nixon is holding is officially known as the "president's emergency satchel." Used by every president since John F. Kennedy, it confirms the president's identity and allows him to communicate with the Pentagon. Among other things, the satchel carries a menu of nuclear strike options. In real life an aide to the president carries the nuclear football, but illustrator Dave Gibbons depicts it as being chained to Nixon's wrist in the first few pages of Chapter 10. This highlights the notion that no matter how many advisors he has on hand, the final decisions about nuclear war are at the discretion of the president.

The imminence of nuclear war has brought Dan and Rorschach back together again, and their resurrected partnership illuminates the differences in their personalities. Ever the techno-wizard, Dan relies on computers to help him understand the intricacies of the situation while Rorschach prefers a more hands-on approach to gathering intel. Each of their strengths complements the other's weaknesses, which is what ultimately makes them a good team. Their personalities are also evenly balanced. When Rorschach is impatient, Dan remains calm; when Dan is about to blow, Rorschach keeps him in check. Their relationship has never been a close one—Dan only recently learned Rorschach's real name, and he learned it from the news—but it is based on mutual trust and respect. Their connection becomes even deeper after Rorschach apologizes for his "difficult" personality. In that moment Dan's longtime crime-fighting partner finally becomes his friend.

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