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Watchmen | Chapter 2 : Absent Friends | Summary



Laurie Juspeczyk is in California visiting her mother, Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, who lives in an assisted-living community. Laurie tries to hide the fact that Dr. Manhattan is at the Comedian's funeral, but Sally knows all about it from reading the newspaper. Laurie can't understand why her mother doesn't hate the Comedian for trying to rape her years earlier; Sally says, "[Y]ou're young. You don't know. Things change." She shows Laurie old "Tijuana Bibles," or pornographic comics from the 1930s and 1940s, of which she is the subject. Laurie is disgusted, but Sally finds them flattering.

The panels about Sally and Laurie are interspersed with scenes from the Comedian's funeral in New York. Dr. Manhattan, Dan Dreiberg, Adrian Veidt, and a retired villain named Moloch all attend. Their thoughts are shown as flashbacks, presented in chronological order.

  • 1940s: The Comedian makes unwanted sexual advances toward Sally. She fights him, but she's not strong enough to ward off his punches and kicks. Hooded Justice walks in and beats up the Comedian, who makes a snide comment about Hooded Justice's sexual proclivities.
  • Circa 1966: Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) is at the first meeting of the Crimebusters, which includes Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre II (Laurie), Captain Metropolis, Rorschach, and the Comedian. Captain Metropolis is eager to create an organized group of masked crime fighters, the first since the Minutemen disbanded in 1949. The Comedian doesn't see the point because "inside 30 years the nukes are gonna be flyin' like maybugs." The meeting unravels.
  • Early 1970s: The United States has won the Vietnam War. In a Vietnamese bar, Dr. Manhattan looks on as a visibly pregnant Vietnamese woman tells the Comedian he can't just walk away from his unborn child. She smashes a bottle in his face, and he shoots her. Dr. Manhattan reprimands the Comedian, who points out that Dr. Manhattan didn't do anything to stop him. "You don't really give a damn about human beings," he tells the perplexed blue superhuman.
  • 1976: Nite Owl (Dan Dreiberg) and the Comedian are holding off a horde of New Yorkers who appear to be rioting against the superheroes themselves. The Comedian tells Nite Owl he's heard rumors about a new law on the horizon, but until then they are "society's only protection." Nite Owl asks who, exactly, they're protecting the citizens from. "From themselves," the Comedian says.
  • 1985: A week before his death, the Comedian breaks into the apartment of Moloch, his former nemesis. Drunk and crying, he rants about a "joke" gone too far. The Comedian goes on and on about how the bad things he's done are nothing like what's coming. He mentions a mysterious island and artists and scientists, but Moloch has no idea what he's talking about.

After scaring Moloch into sharing the final flashback, Rorschach goes to the Comedian's gravestone. He ruminates on the violent ends that come to those who practice violence. The chapter ends with a lyric from Elvis Costello's song "The Comedians."


Chapter 2's flashbacks show the lack of camaraderie between the masked vigilantes of the 1930s, '40s, and '60s. They work as individuals or pairs rather than as a cohesive unit. This is particularly true for the Comedian, one of two vigilantes who were members of the Minutemen and the would-be Crimebusters. In this chapter, the only time the reader sees him attempt to connect with another vigilante is when he tries to rape Sally. He wants her body, not her companionship or professional partnership. He refuses to join the Crimebusters not only because he thinks nuclear war is imminent but because he doesn't think his fellow crime fighters are capable of handling America's problems. The Comedian doesn't trust any of the other vigilantes, even Dr. Manhattan, whom he suspects is losing touch with humanity and becoming a "flake." So, when he comes across terrifying information about the future of the United States, he doesn't turn to the "good guys"—he goes straight to his former enemy, Moloch, who is so ill he can't do anything.

What the Comedian has always predicted—the end of the world—appears finally to be coming to fruition. Although he's terrified of the future, he doesn't do anything to stop it. This, coupled with his insistence there's no use fighting small-time crooks and thugs when nuclear war could happen any day, is evidence of his fatalistic outlook on life. Fatalism is the philosophical idea that some things, like social inequality and war, are preordained and therefore unchangeable by humans. The Comedian sees no point in working together to quell societal disruptions since nuclear war is going to end the world anyway. Likewise, he has little use for meaningful personal connections with those engaged in the same line of work. He feels the greatest connection to the man he spent so much of his career chasing; he identifies more with criminals than with heroes.

This brings up questions readers might ask throughout Watchmen: What makes a hero? Who decides who is good and who is bad? The Comedian is characterized as one of the "good guys" because he fights "bad guys" for the U.S. government. That doesn't necessarily make him a good person. He revels in riots and takes great pleasure in killing people in Vietnam. He even kills his girlfriend and their unborn baby without a second thought. Though he is technically a hero, he's also depicted as morally corrupt. The Comedian helps further the novel's theme of flawed heroes, a response to the moral superiority and unattainable perfection of comic book heroes before the mid-1980s.

One of Watchmen's most important graphic elements is the yellow smiley face, which the Comedian pins to the left shoulder of his costume. It first appears in the flashbacks about Vietnam, and it eventually comes to represent the Comedian's belief that world politics are just one big unpleasant joke. The little yellow smiley face was created in 1963 by graphic designer Harvey Ross Ball, who made it for the State Mutual Life Assurance Company, which used it in morale-boosting ads targeted toward its employees. The icon didn't become widely recognized until 1971, when the owners of a Philadelphia Hallmark store added the words Have a Happy Day to the image. More than 50 million buttons were sold that year. Even American soldiers on the ground in Vietnam wore the pins, albeit with irony. The Comedian adopts the symbol as a pointed jab against a society that championed optimism during some of the darkest times in global history.

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