Walter Kovacs was born in 1940 to an unwed mother in New York City. He was removed from his mother's home at age 13 and took work in a garment factory at 16. In 1964 the highly publicized murder of a young woman propelled him to become a masked vigilante. As the crime fighter Rorschach, Kovacs stopped robberies and apprehended thugs, often alongside fellow crime fighter Nite Owl. Kovacs became known for violence during a gruesome kidnapping case—a case that triggered his decision to become Rorschach full time. Rorschach is most comfortable in his crime-fighting outfit: trench coat, gloves, porkpie hat, and black-and-white full-face mask. He continues practicing vigilantism even after the Keene Act prohibits it. Disgusted by sex and greed and suspicious of women, Rorschach holds to a right-wing moral code that prevents him from compromising where the truth is concerned.
Big, blue, and incredibly naked, Dr. Manhattan is the not-so-secret weapon in the United States' ongoing nuclear tensions with Russia. In 1945 after his father convinced him to study atomic science, a freak accident at Gila Flats in Arizona obliterated his body but not his conscious mind. He put himself back together atom by atom and developed the ability to engage with objects at the atomic level. Unlike humans, Dr. Manhattan can see all facets of time at once. He knows what's going to happen before it happens, yet he does nothing to prevent even the worst events from occurring. This is difficult for his human friends to understand, but he no longer identifies as human and is not concerned about morality.
Dan Dreiberg is obsessed with birds. He studies them endlessly—particularly owls—and earns extra money writing the occasional article for ornithology magazines. Dan has never had a steady career; after his father died, he received a large inheritance and had no idea what to do with it. That changed when he approached his childhood hero, Hollis Mason, about becoming the next Nite Owl. Hollis gave his blessing, and Dan put his bank account and technological mind to work, creating an armada of owl-themed gadgets, vehicles, and costumes. His crime-fighting days ended with the passage of the Keene Act, but Dan desperately misses being a vigilante. He comes alive when he's Nite Owl, shedding his shy and bookish exterior for that of a confident leader, willing to risk anything for his friends.
Laurie Juspeczyk didn't choose to be a costumed vigilante. The daughter of Silk Spectre (Sally Jupiter) and stepdaughter of publicist Laurence Schexnayder, she was born into the business. Her parents divorced when she was young, and Laurie stayed with her mother. She joined the second generation of vigilantes when she was only 16, which is when she met Dr. Manhattan. They fell in love and moved in together when she was 20. Laurie wasn't particularly attached to crime fighting, so she wasn't upset when the Keene Act passed. She has a hard time empathizing with other vigilantes—she can't understand why anyone would choose such a complicated, messy life—and really gets along only with her former and current boyfriends, Dr. Manhattan and Dan Dreiberg. Though she hates to admit it, Laurie doesn't really mind fighting crime again, although the impractical costume definitely has to go.
Orphaned by age 17, genius Adrian Veidt gave away his large inheritance so he could be a self-made man. He followed in the footsteps of his hero, Alexander the Great, and traveled the world, seeking guidance in uniting a divided society. After returning to the United States, Adrian took on the mantle of Ozymandias and began fighting crime alongside Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, and Nite Owl. He soon realized it wasn't enough for him, and he retired from vigilantism two years before the Keene Act passed. Adrian used the good will he accumulated during the heyday of masked crime fighters to build a commercial empire. Now extremely wealthy, he can develop and fund his long-term plan to eradicate the evils plaguing humankind; this involves killing one co-vigilante, banishing another, and enlisting help from a gigantic octopus. Adrian ultimately achieves his goal of world unity, but he alone feels the weight of every life lost.
Born in 1924, Edward Blake was just a teenager when he joined the Minutemen as the Comedian. His status within the group plummeted after he tried to rape Sally Jupiter; although Sally eventually forgave him, others, like Hollis Mason, never did. Despite his reputation— or perhaps because of it—the Comedian continued to do vigilante work after the Minutemen dissolved. Named for his hunch that the world's governments were playing one big joke on humanity, the Comedian became even more disillusioned during the Cold War. He remained convinced nuclear war with Russia—and therefore the world's end—was imminent. As his outlook became darker, so did his appearance. In place of the clownish green costume he wore with the Minutemen, he began wearing leather pants, American flag–inspired sleeves, and a yellow smiley face pin. As a government employee, he was exempt from the Keene Act, and he continued fighting crime until his murder in October 1985.