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Watchmen | Chapter 3 : The Judge of All the Earth | Summary



A white news vendor pontificates on the state of the world while a black teenage boy sits on the ground and reads a comic book, The Black Freighter. The Doomsday Prophet buys his daily New Frontiersman and tells the news vendor today will be the end of the world.

At the government research facility, Laurie Juspeczyk and Dr. Manhattan are making love when she realizes he has cloned himself. Two Dr. Manhattans are in the room with her, and one is working in the next room. Dr. Manhattan tries to explain himself by saying he doesn't know what "stimulates" her anymore, but she is far angrier about his inability to give her his undivided attention than his bedroom games. She leaves in a rage. Meanwhile, Dr. Manhattan's former lover, Janey Slater, is being interviewed by a reporter from the Nova Express. She is going public with her terminal cancer, which she believes Dr. Manhattan caused.

Laurie goes to Dan Dreiberg's house just as a locksmith is finishing the installation of a new lock. She tells him she left Dr. Manhattan. Dan tries to console Laurie, but she doesn't want to wallow in her unhappiness. She walks him to Hollis Mason's house. On the way, they are cornered in an alley by a group of knife-wielding thugs. Laurie and Dan make quick work of fighting them off, then go their separate ways. When Dan arrives at Hollis's house, he learns Dr. Manhattan went ballistic during a live television interview that evening.

Dr. Manhattan's meltdown was sparked by Doug Roth from Nova Express, who insinuates Dr. Manhattan is responsible for the cancer that killed or is killing his associates, including Moloch and Janey. Dr. Manhattan is blindsided; he had no idea Janey was ill. An army intelligence official tries to abort the interview, but the mob of reporters won't give up. Dr. Manhattan teleports everyone and everything out of the television studio, even the TV cameras. After a quick visit to the research facility, where he sees a soldier painting a radiation warning on his door, Dr. Manhattan teleports himself to Mars by way of Arizona.

The next day Laurie goes to the research facility, where she is accused of putting Dr. Manhattan under the "emotional stress" that led to his departure. Meanwhile, Rorschach breaks into Dan's apartment and wakes him up with a newspaper and the news of Dr. Manhattan's disappearance. "Two of us gone. All within a week," Rorschach says. Back at the news kiosk, the news vendor receives a new shipment of newspapers with the headline "Russians Invade Afghanistan." He tells the teenager to take The Black Freighter, which he's been reading for two days, and gives him the hat off his head. "I mean, we all gotta look out for each other, don't we?" he asks as the kid edges away.

In Washington, DC, President Nixon and his advisors study various nuclear war scenarios, each worse than the last. On Mars Dr. Manhattan looks at old photographs of himself with Janey. The chapter ends with a quotation from the book of Genesis: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"


Important graphic details foreshadowing future events are peppered throughout the pages of Watchmen, and two on the first page of Chapter 3 should be explicitly noted. The first is the blue poster featuring the face of a blond man. It reads "Missing Writer." The whereabouts of missing writer Max Shea are discussed tangentially by the news vendor and various television reporters throughout the rest of the novel. The reader doesn't yet know what role Shea will play in the book's plot, but his frequent mentions are no accident. Whatever leads Rorschach is chasing will somehow intersect with Shea. The second important detail on the first page is the back cover of The Black Freighter, which contains an ad for "The Veidt Method." The Veidt Method's details haven't yet been explained, but the method itself is of little importance. What really matters is the word Veidt. The Veidt Method was devised by business mogul and retired vigilante Adrian Veidt. The ad appears in this scene to demonstrate Veidt's vast influence. He appears in only a handful of chapters, but his many product lines (including Nostalgia perfume, which is also advertised in this chapter) make his presence felt throughout.

The comic-within-the-comic, The Black Freighter, is also a constant presence in the novel. It tells the story of a lone shipwreck survivor who is chased by a band of bloodthirsty pirates. Watchmen and The Black Freighter tell different stories in different genres, but Moore parallels events in the two comics. For example, the teenager is reading a passage in the comic about how "[t]he freighter's murderous onslaught had surprised [them]" when new issues of Nova Express arrive. The cover story accuses Dr. Manhattan of causing cancer in his friends and acquaintances. It, too, is extremely surprising. Moore uses passages from The Black Freighter to increase the tension the reader feels as the plot of Watchmen advances.

The Black Freighter's narrator brings to mind another character searching for something at sea: Captain Ahab of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick. Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons were both inspired by the novel, in which Captain Ahab undertakes a relentless hunt for a huge and evil white whale; Moore once said he hoped Watchmen would become "the Moby Dick of comics." There are several other allusions, or indirect references to people, places, things, or ideas, throughout the book's 12 chapters and realia sections. In Chapter 3 these include the following:

  • Nova Express, the liberal newspaper that breaks the story about Janey Slater's cancer, is also the name of William S. Burroughs's 1964 science fiction novel about the concept of control and how language shapes it; the Nova Express newspaper in Watchmen controls society's views through language.
  • The Gordian Knot Lock Company, which Dan Dreiberg keeps hiring to replace his broken locks, is named for an ancient legend. In 333 BCE, Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great came upon a wagon once owned by King Midas's father, Gordius. The wagon's yoke was tied with a mass of complex knots. Alexander was desperate to untie the knot, but it didn't budge, so he grabbed his sword and cut it in half. Using the Gordian Knot Lock Company isn't Dan's best idea—the company's name implies its locks can be opened. Like Alexander, Rorschach doesn't care how he gets into Dan's apartment—he just does it.

The chapter's ending quote from Genesis 18:25 is in reference to Dr. Manhattan. As a superhuman with the ability to alter atomic structure, he is the closest thing to a god on Earth. It is he who is the final judge of humankind—he alone has the power to decide whether humans live or die. Dr. Manhattan isn't entirely in touch with the morals of humanity, but he does do what he believes to be "right" according to logic. Until Doug Roth's pointed questions on national television, Dr. Manhattan believed he was doing the right thing by staying on Earth so as to protect it from its inhabitants. Now he worries that his presence has been more harmful than good, which has him questioning everything about his existence. This is explored further in the next chapter.

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