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Watchmen | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Keene Act of 1977

It is October 1985 in a dystopian United States. The Cold War is going strong, Richard Nixon is still president, and masked crime fighters are a thing of the past. Once championed by the government and the public alike, their existence was outlawed by the (fictional) Keene Act of 1977, which prohibits vigilantism—law enforcement undertaken without legal authority—and "costumed adventuring." The United States government makes exceptions for Dr. Manhattan, a superhuman created during a radiation accident in the 1950s, and the Comedian, a ruthless and seemingly heartless mercenary. The Comedian is kept around to fight wars, while Dr. Manhattan's mere presence keeps Russia in check. Dan Dreiberg, formerly known as Nite Owl, has retired from vigilantism, as have Dr. Manhattan's girlfriend, Laurie Juspeczyk (formerly known as Silk Spectre II), and business mogul Adrian Veidt (formerly known as Ozymandias), "the smartest man in the world." Only Rorschach, a trench coat–wearing loner disguised by a black-and-white full-face mask, continues fighting crime.

Death of the Comedian

Everything changes after the Comedian's brutal murder. Rorschach notifies his former crime-fighting compatriots about the possibility of a "mask killer" on the loose. Dan, Laurie, Dr. Manhattan, and Adrian aren't convinced the Comedian's crime-fighting persona is related to his death, but Rorschach starts his own investigation in the police's shadow. A week later Dr. Manhattan is accused of causing his former lover Janey Slater's terminal cancer. After a falling out with Laurie, effectively breaking his last tie to Earth, he teleports himself to Mars. Two days later Adrian is nearly assassinated in his own office. The would-be assassin bites down on a cyanide pill before Adrian can figure out who sent him.

Rorschach follows up on a lead with Moloch, a retired criminal and the Comedian's archenemy. Moloch, coincidentally, may be one of the people who got cancer from Dr. Manhattan. Moloch admits the Comedian came to visit him before his death, but the Comedian was so drunk and incoherent Moloch couldn't understand what he was talking about. Moloch swears he knows nothing. Later that day, however, Moloch contacts Rorschach to set up another meeting. It's a trap: when Rorschach shows up at Moloch's apartment, Moloch is dead from a bullet in the forehead. The police are waiting outside; they unmask Rorschach and take him to jail.

Mask Killer

Rorschach put a lot of people in jail during his decades of vigilantism, and all of them are eager to pay him back for it. This panics Dan, Rorschach's former crime-fighting partner and reluctant friend. Dan and Laurie, who has left Dr. Manhattan and moved into Dan's house and bed, don their old costumes and help Rorschach break out of jail. They return to Dan's house, where Dr. Manhattan is waiting for Laurie. Dr. Manhattan takes Laurie to Mars so they can talk about their relationship and the fate of the world. Dan is crushed, but he and Rorschach continue with their plan and depart in Dan's owl ship just as the police break down the door. They retrieve Rorschach's space costume and "face," and then they hit the streets to see if they can learn more about the man hired to kill Adrian. At a bar they meet the man who hired the assassin. He works for Pyramid Deliveries, and he's scared he's going to be the next victim.

Armed with this new information, Dan and Rorschach go to Adrian's office, ready to bring him into the fold. He's not there, so they snoop around, and Dan hacks into his computer. It turns out Adrian, whose office is resplendent with ancient Egyptian replicas and symbols, owns Pyramid Deliveries. He also owns the company whose employees supposedly got cancer thanks to Dr. Manhattan. They were unknowingly exposed to radiation, which later was blamed on the superhuman. Dan finds it hard to believe, but he's pretty sure Adrian is the "mask killer." He and Rorschach fly the owl ship to Adrian's hideout in Antarctica, stopping briefly so Rorschach can mail a package.

Master Plan for World Peace

Adrian is not entirely surprised to see his fellow masked men. He easily disarms them and lays out his master plan for world peace, which involves a gigantic exploding octopus and the deaths of millions of people. Dan thinks Adrian is nuts, but it turns out he's telling the truth. He teleported the octopus to New York 35 minutes ago. Bodies and blood fill the streets when Laurie and Dr. Manhattan arrive in the city just after midnight. Dr. Manhattan is having trouble looking into the future, and he thinks the problem stems from somewhere in Antarctica, so he teleports himself and Laurie there; soon he figures out Adrian is behind the disaster and tries to chase him down, only to be blown to bits by a piece of radioactive machinery. He puts himself back together moments later.

News broadcasts from around the world reinforce what Adrian tried to tell everyone: he did what he did for the world's greater good. Warring countries are standing down, and a peace summit is in the works. Most of the superheroes agree it's best to keep the truth behind the "alien invasion" a secret. Rorschach dissents, believing people deserve to know the truth. Because of this Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach; then he leaves the galaxy. Dan and Laurie start a new life together. Adrian isn't seen again. In a small newsroom in a recently rebuilt New York City, an editorial assistant reaches for Rorschach's journal.

Watchmen Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Edward Blake, aka the Comedian, is murdered.

Rising Action

2 Flashback: The Comedian tries to rape Silk Spectre.

3 Dr. Manhattan leaves Earth; Russia invades Afghanistan.

4 Rorschach is arrested and unmasked.

5 Flashback: Rorschach kills two dogs and a kidnapper.

6 Dan and Laurie help Rorschach break out of prison.

7 Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, is murdered.

8 Laurie realizes the Comedian is her biological father.

9 Adrian Veidt kills his assistants.

10 Dan and Rorschach confront Veidt at his Antarctic lair.


11 A gigantic octopus lands in New York City, killing millions.

Falling Action

12 Dr. Manhattan and Laurie arrive in Antarctica.

13 All except Rorschach agree Veidt's plan was for the best.

14 Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach.


15 Dan and Laurie assume new identities and leave town.

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