Watchmen | Study Guide

Alan Moore

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Watchmen | Chapter 12 : A Stronger Loving World | Summary



It is midnight on November 2, 1985. New York City is a picture of carnage: dead bodies are heaped upon one another, and blood runs through the streets. Laurie Juspeczyk and Dr. Manhattan teleport in from Mars to find giant tentacles snaking through the mess. Dr. Manhattan is almost jubilant—he had no premonition about the attack because "a squall of tachyons" (hypothetical particles that travel faster than light) are blocking his ability to accurately see different parts of time at once. The feeling of uncertainty about what comes next is exhilarating. Laurie, however, is completely horrified and on the verge of becoming sick. She asks Dr. Manhattan to "take it away." They teleport to where Dr. Manhattan thinks the tachyons are originating.

In Antarctica Adrian Veidt tells Dan Dreiberg and Rorschach he had a psychic's brain cloned, enlarged, and put into the gigantic octopus. The brain was filled with "terrible" information about a fictional alien world. When the octopus was teleported to New York, the brain broadcasted horrific images, messages, and sounds. Even people who lived nowhere near New York would be haunted by them for years to come.

Dr. Manhattan and Laurie arrive. Dr. Manhattan teleports himself inside the lair and tracks Adrian into a mechanical workroom, where he's lured into a "subtractor" with Bubastis, Adrian's genetically modified pet lynx. Adrian flips the switch, and Dr. Manhattan and Bubastis are blown to smithereens. He turns and comes face to face with Laurie, who shoots him. Adrian catches the bullet and kicks her to the ground. Moments later, Dr. Manhattan's enormous arm breaks through a glass wall and reaches for Adrian. He has put himself back together, and he's pretty upset Adrian thinks he could get rid of him so easily.

Adrian turns on his bank of TV screens. Every channel is covering the "alien invasion" in New York. Millions of people are dead, but Russia has withdrawn from Afghanistan and a peace summit in Geneva is imminent. Adrian lifts his arms in triumph and yells, "I did it!" The others reluctantly agree. Laurie, Dan, and Dr. Manhattan think nobody should know the truth behind the invasion, but Rorschach refuses to compromise. "Not even in the face of Armageddon," he says before leaving the lair. He isn't surprised when Dr. Manhattan follows him, nor when Dr. Manhattan blasts him to pieces.

Dr. Manhattan finds Dan and Laurie spooning next to the indoor pool in a post-coital nap. He walks across the pool and up the walls to Adrian's orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system). Adrian is eager to explain how he feels the weight "of that awful, necessary crime" and mourns every death. He hopes Dr. Manhattan can understand. Dr. Manhattan does, "without condoning or condemning." He leaves Earth for another galaxy.

Two months later Laurie and Dan visit Sally Jupiter in California on Christmas Day. They have disguised themselves as Sam and Sandra Hollis, and they're starting a new life together. Laurie tells Sally she knows who her father is, and she isn't upset with Sally for hiding it from her. "You never did anything wrong by me," she tells her mother.

New York City has been pieced back together. At the New Frontiersman, Mr. Godfrey tells Seymour to select something from the crank pile to run in the paper—they have two pages to fill and they can't write about Russia now that it's an ally. Seymour, wearing a smiley face shirt stained with ketchup, reaches for Rorschach's journal. The chapter ends with a lyric from the song "Santies" by musician John Cale: "It would be a stronger world, a strong loving world, to die in."


The focus of the first six pages of Chapter 12 is the unending mass of dead bodies resulting from the mutant octopus's arrival, but there are also subtle graphic elements that speak to the magnitude of Adrian's actions. The first is the clock on the chapter's "cover" and page 1. The clocks in Watchmen are all related to the Doomsday Clock, which represents how close the world stands to global catastrophe. Started in 1947, scientists update the Doomsday Clock every year. The closer its hands get to midnight, the more likely disaster is. The clocks at the beginning of each chapter in Watchmen have ticked steadily closer to the dreaded hour, and in Chapter 12 it has finally arrived.

Other indications of the magnitude of the disaster can be found in background signage. A Madison Square Garden sign boasts the band Pale Horse is performing with another band, Krystalnacht. "Krystalnacht" is a reference to "Kristallnacht," or "the Night of Broken Glass" in Nazi Germany. On November 9, 1938, Nazis throughout Germany took to the streets to destroy Jewish-owned businesses, property, and places of worship. They killed 91 Jews, and 30,000 Jewish men were imprisoned for no reason other than their ethnicity. Naming Pale Horse's opening act after this brutal event is author Alan Moore's way of calling out the senseless violence Adrian is willing to inflict on innocent people in the name of the greater good. ("Pale Horse," incidentally, is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as described in the New Testament of the Bible.) Another sign, this time for the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, is even more telling. In this sci-fi thriller, an alien comes to Earth to warn the planet will be destroyed if humans cannot learn to live peacefully with one another. This is Adrian's very plan.

Adrian has mixed feelings about the havoc he wrought in New York City. On one hand, he brought two superpowers back from the brink of mutual nuclear annihilation. On the other hand, he killed three million people. He feels enormously guilty about what he did to achieve his goals—even though he believes he had no choice—and Dr. Manhattan's parting words don't make him feel much better. When Adrian tries to justify his actions by saying "[i]t all worked out in the end," Dr. Manhattan points out "[n]othing ever ends." The world peace Adrian has managed to achieve is only a temporary fix. Power-hungry humans got themselves into this mess, and they will undoubtedly do so again. It is harder for Adrian to justify his actions when he realizes the results are not going to last.

Two separate instances of religious imagery in Chapter 12 portray Adrian and Dr. Manhattan as Jesus-like figures. The first is when Adrian shouts, "I did it!" upon learning of the success of his plan. Standing in front of a painting of Alexander the Great, Adrian lifts his arms in victory. This panel is drawn so that it looks like the sword and the staff in the painting are going through his hands. This is symbolic of Jesus's crucifixion, and it paints Adrian as a Christ-like figure who bore the sins of the world before making a difficult sacrifice to ensure the continuation of humankind. Dr. Manhattan has his own "Jesus moment" when he walks across the water of Adrian's swimming pool. It has already been established that Dr. Manhattan isn't human, but this depiction firmly puts him in the realm of the gods. The laws of Earth, even those of gravity, don't apply to him. When he leaves Earth a few pages later, he does so to create human life of his own. Professor Glass was speaking the truth in "Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers"—the man formerly known as Jon Osterman really has become a god.

The final pages of Watchmen leave the futures of the characters and the planet open-ended. Dan and Laurie are planning a return to crime fighting—thugs and cheats don't magically disappear with the arrival of world peace—and Adrian's plans are unknown. The most important part of the story's conclusion is the threat of renewed global tension. Rorschach put his journal in the mail before he learned the details of Adrian's plan, but what he has already documented is enough to send the authorities to Adrian's door. Will the public believe something printed in the New Frontiersman, which regularly mines its articles from "the crank pile"? Moore's text doesn't answer that question, but illustrator Dave Gibbons does. The last frame of the book recalls the very first: a yellow smiley face with a slash of red across one eye. It appears world peace isn't made to last.

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