It's Film Noir. It's Raygun Gothic. It's a Golden Age superhero story. It's a Silver Age superhero story. It's a Dark Age superhero story — some say it launched the Dark Age. It's Sci-Fi. It's Cyber Punk. It's The Pirate Jenny. It's Alternate History. It's Political. It's a Deconstruction of superheroes. It's a lot of things. It's Watchmen, and it's, according to some, one of the most influential pieces of literature ever.In 1983, DC Comics acquired the rights to the character lineup of the defunct Charlton Comics. In an effort to reintroduce these characters in a big way, DC approached veteran Swamp Thing scribe Alan Moore and asked him to write a story around these characters that was set in The DCU. Upon reading his initial outline, however, DC higher-ups changed their minds and asked Moore to either create new characters (and a new 'verse) or write a story that wouldn't render all of the characters completely unusable going forward. Moore chose to create new characters, and with artist Dave Gibbons doing illustrating chores, the classic Deconstruction of the superhero genre made its debut in 1986.Watchmen, Alan Moore's Magnum Opus, is a twelve-issue Mini Series (September, 1986-October, 1987) about an alternate reality where incognito vigilantes — inspired by a number of successful pulp style mystery-men — became a real event until the government outlawed it (the Keene Act); one actual superhero with real powers actually exists, due to a Freak Lab Accident, and helped the US win the Vietnam War. One of the "masks" — Edward "The Comedian" Blake, also a former American Black Ops technician — has just been murdered, and the mystery behind his death (who killed him, and for what purpose) drives the series from murder mystery to Super HeroDeconstruction to the revelation of a one-man Government Conspiracy.Watchmen isn't just considered to be one of the greatest comic books ever created, but also one of the greatest novels. It made Time Magazine's list of the 100 greatest novels since the magazine's first publication in 1923, the only comic included on the list.See also Film/Watchmen.There's also a prequel game, Watchmen: The End is Nigh, and a prequel series titled Before Watchmen that was released in 2012 and does not involve Alan Moore or Dave Gibbons. Both Moore and Gibbonsnote "As far as I'm concerned, what Alan and I did was the Watchmen graphic novel and a couple of illustrations that came out at the same time. Everything else - the movie, the game, the prequels - are really not canon. They're subsidiary. They're not really Watchmen.They're just something different." insist that the original Graphic Novel is the only real canon for the story, which they consider a one-off.Warning:Watchmen came out nearly three decades ago, so there will be untagged spoilers from this point forward.
The Alcoholic: Mothman (aka Byron Lewis) was eventually committed to a sanitarium due to his alcoholism.
Alliterative Name: Daniel "Nite Owl" Dreiberg. The Silk Spectre(s). Wally Weaver. Also the new presidential candidate, film star Robert Redford.
Allohistorical Allusion: Hell, if you look hard enough, just about everything in the whole book is a Historical In-Joke in one form or another. How about: "This is still America! People don't want a cowboy actor for president!" (Of course, the cowboy actor running for president in this particular universe is Robert Redford; in the movie, it was changed to a direct Ronald Reagan reference, probably because Redford hasn't been in a movie in a long time, but everyone knows Reagan.)
Most of the original superheroes die, retire, or go nuts after WWII, with a new generation popping up in the late fifties, mirroring the real life postwar decline of comics and the rise of the Silver Age.
A lot of other ones too. Nite Owl calls his Batman style gadget collection from the '60s "campy". In the real '70s, comics (arguably) entered the Bronze Age as Super Hero comics started to deal with political issues; in the Watchmenverse's Seventies, they are the issue
All There in the Manual: Lots of background information (supplied by Moore and Gibbons themselves) about the characters and their equipment can be found in the Watchmen Modules and Sourcebook for the now-defunct DC Heroes RPG.
Alternate History: Doctor Manhattan greatly changed the world, since he can synthesize normally rare elements and win wars single-handedly. Oh, and vigilante groups played their part (as mundane as their members may have been — The Comedian certainly made a mark or two on history).
Ambiguous Disorder: Rorschach exhibits weird eating habits, unusual syntax, dislike of physical contact, and obsessive focus.
The "holding a handshake too long" scene that demonstrates Dan's sexual tension for Laurie is mirrored later with confirmed bachelor Rorschach doing the exact same thing to Dan (though it could just as easily be due to Rorschach's complete lack of social graces).
Excessive use of purple pyramid imagery (easily confused with a pink triangle in the comic) is a purposeful visual reinforcement of Veidt's homosexuality. Because Moore and Gibbons chose their visual aspects very carefully, this is a subtle hint that really takes the "ambiguous" out of this trope, at least for Veidt.
Before Watchmen throws these aesthetics and cues out the window and shows Veidt in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman and is implied to be in another one later on, though early in story it is implied that he had sex with at least one man during his travels in Tibet, so they may have been going for bisexual rather than heterosexual. It should also be noted that Before Watchmen was written by a different author than Watchmen and so should not be used to make inferences about the intentions employed in the original story.
Nite Owl II. His name sounds Jewish, and, in daily life, he acts and thinks in a stereotypically Jewish way, like a character in a Woody Allen film.
Anachronic Order: Dr. Manhattan's backstory uses Non Linear Storytelling. He also uses his abilities to help Laurie reach a highly personal conclusion about her life, namely that Eddie Blake is her father.
The lock company "Gordian Knot," which is famous precisely for being cut.
The name Ozymandias. In spite of the "look on my works, ye mighty and despair" line, the source poem is actually about the fleeting nature of power (the line is carved on a pedestal and nothing beside remains). Ozymandias's great strategy for peace on Earth will fail... eventually.
And the Adventure Continues: Ends with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre coming out of retirement to fight crime together. Then there's The Stinger, implying that they may have to deal with the fallout from Rorschach exposing Ozymandias' crimes...
Animation Age Ghetto: In-universe, for pirate comics. Those written by Max Shea are described and shown as extremely dark and disturbing, and his horror-inducing skills are even a plot point, but a newspaper story about his disappearance refers to them as "children's pirate comics".
Anti-Climactic Unmasking: Deconstructed. Far before Rorschach was actually unmasked, the readers had been seeing him all this time as the sign-holder.
Anti-Hero: Probably all of the main characters, to a greater or lesser degree. Some of them try, though.
Anti-Villain: Ozymandias is trying to stop a nuclear apocalypse and create a lasting peace, but do his brutal methods justify the means?
Anti Nihilist: Possibly Rorschach, though he is far from the kindest or most humane example of this type of character. Faced with a world that he finds to be essentially meaningless, he chooses to see patterns that no other people can, and build his strict moral code from that. In other words, despite knowing that he lives in a nihilistic universe, he never, ever, gives up on his ideals. Even when it may have been better for all concerned.
Rorschach's prison analyst is a straighter example. Over the course of just four days, Malcolm Long's most famous patient succeeds in driving the good doctor over the Despair Event Horizon, effectively ruining his home life and previous optimism. The next time we see him, Malcolm's the first person to try breaking up a brawl right before Ozymandias' creature strikes New York, saying to his estranged wife that he has to help - because helping others is really the only thing that matters.
Dr. Manhattan becomes this in the end.
Anyone Can Die: Outside the second-generation hero group, the only named characters to survive are Silk Spectre I, Mothman (although he is in a sanitarium), the editor and assistant at the New Frontiersman office, and maybe Rorschach's landlady and her kids - depending on where they lived. Often, the deaths are right at their subjective moments of triumph, particularly at the newspaper stand at the end. And that doesn't even count the deaths of The Comedian, Rorschach, and arguably Dr. Manhattan (when he's vaporized).
Arc Words: "Who Watches the Watchmen?" There are also a few visual motifs.
Artifact Title: In-universe, Eddie Blake continues to operate under the nom de guerre "The Comedian" long after he discards the wisecracking jester gimmick that he used in the 1930s. The name takes on a different meaning later in his career, though, as it references his nihilistic worldview and his belief that higher ideals are a joke.
Milton Glass: At the time, I was misquoted. I never said the Superman exists and he's American. What I said was "God exists, and he's American." Now, if you're starting to feel a crushing sense of religious terror at the concept, don't be alarmed. It indicates only that you are still sane.
Big Damn Heroes: Subverted. They're thirty-five minutes too late to make any difference.
Black and White Insanity: Rorschach claims that Black and White Morality is his moral outlook on life, symbolized by his mask which contains both black and white fluids that never mix into gray. His last words to Dan are "Never compromise. Even in the face of Armageddon, never compromise."
When reminiscing about their crimefighting days, Laurie and Dan wind up talking about a guy who pretended to be a villain because he was a masochist who wanted costumed heroes to beat him up. Laurie asks what finally happened to him.
When Dan and Laurie arrive to rescue him, he hardly bats an eye at their presence and asks to use the restroom, to their bewilderment. What they don't know is that he's following Big Figure, who he proceeds to kill off-screen.
Bury Your Gays: After being kicked out of the original Watchmen for her sexuality, the Silhouette was then murdered along with her lover by a former nemesis. It is strongly implied that Hooded Justice was gay, and did not meet a pleasant end. Joey and her ex suffer the same fate most of New York does.
Captain Metropolis, a Golden Age hero apparently opposed to the civil rights movement — his secret homosexual relationship with Hooded Justice notwithstanding. He really isn't a bad guy, though both Dollar Bill and Nite Owl are probably more intrinsically heroic.
Also Dollar Bill, where both the attitude implied by and the actual cape in his costume got him killed.
The entire lead cast, since DC wouldn't let Moore use the Charlton Comics characters he originally wrote the story for. The full list: Nite Owl is Blue Beetle, Rorschach is The Question, Ozymandias is Thunderbolt, Silk Spectre is Nightshade, The Comedian is Peacemaker, and Doctor Manhattan is Captain Atom. Moore would later admit that it was probably better this way.
Dr. Manhattan is also a Captain Ersatz for Gold Key's Doctor Solar. Compare Manhattan's original costume in the novel to Solar's; also, both are passive research scientists working on a remote nuclear research base who end up as tools of the government. Note also that Solar spent his first few issues in a new frontier style suit, tie, and Raybans; very sartorial and possibly lampshaded in references to how Manhattan made the double breasted suit a major fashion look.
Some of Minutemen are also Captain Ersatzes for non-Charlton superheroes. Mothman, Comedian and Hooded Justice were MLJ/Archie Comics' the Fly, Black Hood and Hangman, respectively (a carryover from one of Moore's earlier ideas for a superhero murder mystery). The Comedian's status as a patriotic hero is a holdover from this, inspired by Archie's Shield - evidently there was some combining of characters going on. And, as Moore admitted, the original Silk Spectre was based on the Fox Feature Syndicate version of the Phantom Lady.
Silk Spectre also has a little bit of Black Canary in her makeup, especially as the daughter of a superheroine who takes on Mom's mantle.
Captain Patriotic: Subverted to hell and back by The Comedian. He begins crafting a persona like this late in his career, wearing flag-printed body armor as he helps quell riots in New York and eventually fights at the front lines of the Vietnam War. He looks like a patriotic superhero to the average citizen, but the whole gimmick is really just his way of mocking the high ideals that most superheroes claim to uphold. In reality, he's an amoral sadist who believes that ideals are a joke, and he only fights crime as a way of venting his violent urges.
Cardboard Prison: Averted. Hollis made a point of mentioning in his memoirs that the supervillains thwarted by the Minutemen tended to stay thwarted.
Cassandra Truth: One of the knot-tops, Derf's girlfriend, accurately predicts the events of the false alien attack, alluding to a "big flash" and a "shockwave", but because she's on KT-28's, nobody even listens to her.
Rorschach is quite correct in his belief that the Comedian's murder was part of a larger conspiracy, but due to his insanity nobody takes his rants seriously until it's far too late to make a difference.
Defied by Rorschach when listening to Moloch's story about the Comedian breaking into his apartment. He noted that it was completely unbelievable. So it must be true.
Celibate Hero: Rorschach, who is disgusted by sex due to trauma received from seeing his prostitute mother at work, and is possibly asexual.
Celebrity Paradox: Both dealt with and averted. DC Comics apparently did exist in the Watchmen 'verse, but the complications caused by real costumed vigilantes have led to superhero comics falling out of popularity. Superheroes that are cultural icons in our world have long since fallen into obscurity by the events of the story, which is why nobody notices the similarities between Nite Owl and Batman or between Rorschach and The Question. Since DC's superhero books have presumably been out of circulation for decades, this also conveniently avoids questions about who wrote For the Man Who Has Everything and Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?
Character Development: Most of the major characters change or are revealed to be different from how they initially appeared at the beginning.
Rorschach's journal, which sets up the plot twist in the final frame.
Silk Spectre finding a gun on a dead New Yorker with which she later shoots Ozymandias.
Rorschach turns out to be that guy we've seen holding the The End Is Nigh sign and buying New Frontiersman.
The missing artists and writers, obliquely referred to throughout, are responsible for Veidt's squid monster.
And the 'Institute For Extra-Spatial Studies'.
The excerpts of the Black Freighter comic we've been reading were written by the same man who wrote the Squid's psychically telegraphed fake Back Story. Said Comic Within A Comic also becomes more clearly understood as a metaphor for Ozymandias and his plan when we reach the end of the comic. Really, people can probably go on nearly forever here.
In Chapter 11, Dan expresses disbelief that Veidt could have actually planned his own assassination attempt, citing the unpredictability of the shooter as his evidence. Veidt responds by saying that he would have had to just catch the bullet. Guess what he does in the next chapter.
The names of several companies sound like slightly florid names common to comic books. They're all owned by Veidt through dummy corporations.
Cigarette of Anxiety: Silk Spectre II tried to light one of these on Mars. Dr. Manhattan extended her air supply so she could light it.
Civvie Spandex / Coat, Hat, Mask: Rorschach's "costume" consists of his mask, plus a hat, trenchcoat, a purple pinstriped suit, and leather gloves. Silk Spectre 1's costume is essentially just lingerie, and Silk Spectre 2 is a bathing suit with a chiffon cover, a belt, and heels.
Cliff Hanger: Will New Frontiersmanpublish Rorschach's journal, implicating Ozymandias for the New York City monster attack?
The Comics Code: Never happened because the government didn't want to condemn comic books due to one of their greatest agents being inspired by comics. As a result, EC Comics was never crippled and became DC's main competitor instead of Marvel.
Complete The Quote Title: Not only does this series takes its title from the famous quote attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal ("Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"/"Who watches the watchmen?"), but also the name of every single chapter is a piece of song lyrics/other famous quotes. The full quotes are found at the end of each chapter.
Chapter I: "At Midnight, All the Agents..." (from the song, "Desolation Row", by Bob Dylan).
Chapter II: Absent Friends (from the song, "The Comedians", by Elvis Costello).
Chapter IV: Watchmaker (from the quote, "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking... The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.", by Albert Einstein).
Chapter XII: A Stronger Loving World (from the song, "Sanities", by John Cale).
Complexity Addiction: Used cleverly. Ozymandias makes his scheme far more complex than it really needed to be in order to slow down Rorschach's investigation. If there weren't so many Red Herrings, then Rorschach could have figured it out much sooner and may have been able to stop Veidt.
Corrupt Politician: Nixon is on his fourth term, Woodward and Bernstein were murdered in a garage, and the Comedian is saying nothing.
Crapsack World: Where do we start? Alternate History 1985 on the brink of a nuclear war with an apathetic quantum physics god on the side of America who doesn't care about humanity anymore? America winning the Vietnam War and making Vietnam an American state? New York filled with crime and falling apart, with an Ax-CrazySociopathic Hero roaming the streets? A US President who is heavily implied to be using his right-hand superhero to take out his opponents? Ozymandias attempted to fix this at the end of the series with the squid monster, which eased tensions between the Soviets and Americans, but it is implied that the peace might not last for very long.
Crazy Enough to Work: Send a giant squid to attack New York to prevent the world's superpowers from nuking everybody? Heh, why not?
Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Played with; Dr. Malcolm Long is certainly affected and his notes and sessions with Rorschach in technical terms does go further in breaking through Rorscharch's facade than others before. Yet he is so moved by Rorscharch's story, that he becomes depressed and disgusted at his middle-class life compared to the horrors that Rorschach has faced in the past, ultimately realizing that he in his own way must do what he can to help people...and then being annihilated by Ozymandias.
Crystal Ball Scheduling: All over the place. Tales of the Black Freighter runs throughout the whole story, Doctor Manhattan's interview parallels Dan and Laurie being attacked by muggers, Ozymandias "mounting the bar"...
Cyanide Pill: Plays a part in the attempt on Adrian Veidt's life and his conspiracy.
Adrian Veidt reaches into the mouth of his would-be assassin to get at his cyanide pill. More accurately, he feeds it to the hitman to clean up that loose end. The whole thing was staged to throw suspicion off Veidt.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: Ozymandias in executing his master plan. He only reveals his master plan to the heroes AFTER he's had time to enact it. He even lampshades their expectations of Evil Gloating and Large Ham tropes one would normally expect for your standard fare villains.
Darker and Edgier: One of the main progenitors of the trope, though not strictly adhering to it itself. While it does take place in a Crapsack World and some of the chapters (especially Chapter 6) express a very negative outlook on life, this is balanced by the fact that the characters still manage to find hope in their circumstances and ultimately emerge from the experience having benefited from it. Moore actually regretted that the comic helped to popularize Darker and Edgier.
Dating Catwoman: A villain named Twilight Lady had a crush on Nite Owl II. Dan accuses her of having had a "fixation" and having been "sick", but there are clear suggestions it's something of a hypocritical excuse, what with his own moderate costume fetish and the fact that he kept her picture and has a dream about her before it turns into one about Laurie. Still a bit of a deconstruction.
Death by Disfigurement - Rorschach throws boiling oil into a fellow prisoner's face after he announces his intention to stab Rorschach.
Death by Origin Story: Subverted and played straight with Rorschach. When his mother died all he said was "Good". But it was the event when Kitty Genovese was killed and despite multiple people hearing and seeing this event did nothing did he decide to become a vigilante.
The Ace: Ozymandias. So, you are an intelligent, handsome, charismatic person with peak human physical prowess. You've made a hell of a lot of money all by yourself, and you're clever enough to realize that crimefighting does not change anything, and yet, out of good intention, you still wish to make the world a better place. So what do you do? Commiting mass murder with faking an Alien Invasion as part of a Genghis Gambit. And what pushes you to do this is your idealism.
Ascended Fanboy: Nite Owl II. Yeah, he managed to follow the footsteps of his idol, but he does not have any life or motivation besides to be a masked vigilante, and when this is taken away from him, the highlight of his life becomes listening to his predecessor's reminiscing about the glorious past.
The Cape: Most of the Minutemen. Despite their good intentions, the members included bigots, glory hounds and even an attempted rapist. They also deconstructed the trope-naming garment itself, since Dollar Bill's cape led directly to his death.
The Determinator: Rorschach. He is uncompromising and he still fights crime after vigilantism was proscribed. Yet he is abrasive, his black-and-white world view clearly viewed as unhealthy and insane, and when he is confronted with the wrongness of his world view, he quickly becomes vulnerable, not to mention it is his determination that gets him killed.
Diabolical Mastermind: Moloch. You would guess that a crime lord with style ends up quite rich, right? In reality by the time he is a fragile old man, he is lonely, poor and suffers from cancer, not to mention that gets shot for being an inconvenience. Not to mention that the criminal underworld really soon deems this trope as a ridiculous eccentricity.
Legacy Character: both Nite Owl II and the Silk Spectre II. Just as Dan, Laurie does not have any life besides vigilantism, she does not have any connection or relationship besides the customed heroes, and this lifestyle was forced on her by her own mother.
Single Issue Psychology: The main thing which it attacks is the use of this to define comic book characters. Ultimately none of the characters, even single-minded Rorscharch can be boiled down to "one bad day" typical of comic heroes and villains. Everyone has multiple shades and aspects that are never fully understood, even by the characters themselves.
Sociopathic Hero: while it quickly becomes clear that instead of being a Captain Patriotic, the Comedian is one of these, we just learn latter that even acting like a sociopath has its drawbacks - his brutality alienated everybody from him on the scale that he cannot form a human relationship anymore. While he clearly wants to reconcile with his daughter, he is incapable of that, at first because he is awkward in relationships and than because Laurie despises him for his attempted rape of her mother. And when he is desperate because of Ozymandias' plan, where does he go? To one of his former enemies', where he breaks down sobbing, instead of another vigilante.
Superpower Lottery: Dr. Manhattan is a nigh-omnipotent, nigh-omniscient being, and the only one who has any superpower whatsoever. Yet he is so unmotivated and detached that he lets himself to be a puppet of government, he is one of those characters who can be manipulated very easily, and he has really hard time using his own powers not just for others', but for his own good.
What Measure Is a Non-Super?: In the series, we often find that ordinary police officers are more than capable of defeating Rorschach by going all Zerg Rush on him where Batman for instance is always able to defeat and escape multiple police officers and mooks in comics, likewise Dr. Malcolm Long is cut from a different and altogether more heroic cloth than the usual simplistic brand of psychotherapy typical of superhero comics.
Deconstruction Crossover: The original script, which used various Charlton Comics heroes instead of original characters.
Different World, Different Movies: The existence of superheroes led to superhero comics not being popular, so most of the comics known from our world don't exist. Instead comics about pirates are very popular.
Double Entendre: Hollis Mason's trophy has the words "IN GRATITUDE" written on the base. After it's used to beat him to death, the blood covers the space.
Double Standard: Silhouette is kicked out of the Minutemen after being exposed as a lesbian. Two of the male members of the team were also homosexual (and in a relationship with each other) but did not ever get called out for this.
To be fair, Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice's relationship was never confirmed at the time and only speculated on after the fact, whereas Silhouette was genuinely outed.
Dye or Die: The Silk Spectre II and Night Owl II, at the end of the comic.
Dysfunction Junction: Nite Owl has retreated into study, Dr. Manhattan is amoral to the point of being inhuman, and many other ex-heroes are wracked with neuroses — being mentally unbalanced is apparently a prerequisite to being a superhero. Which would make some sense.
Rorschach, of all people, comments on how almost all the heroes he knows have severe mental issues, although he naturally doesn't realize the irony.
Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders?
In Nite Owl 1's account of the Minutemen, they were, in his words, a bunch of screwed up people who ran about in costumes for kicks and possibly sexual pleasure.
It's played pretty quietly for Laurie's whole background. As a minor, she dates a man over twice her age, and resents authority figures trying to control her life, despite living with an omnipotent man who couldn't care less about her. Some would say that she has daddy issues.
The AOXOMOXOA poster, "RR" (Rum Runner - think pirates) neon sign, Rorschach's napkin blots and monogram, and other mirror images in the artwork are the key cluetipping you off about the 5th chapter being a palindrome.
Keep an eye out for the round yellow bloodstained electrical outlet in the same scene, mirroring the identical looking smiley in the first chapter.
Watch very carefully the trash can in the background outside Gunga Diner in the 5th chapter, and you will find out the identity of both Rorschach (whom you follow around in first person without his mask in the same chapter) and the company that handled the frame-up (Pyramid).
Earn Your Happy Ending: It's hard to say whether or not their apparent happiness will last, but Dan and Laurie seem to have pulled off a surprisingly happy ending for themselves.
Eldritch Abomination: Given a distinctly 'meta' spin — this is a "fake" Eldritch Horror, and yet one with a pretty impressive body-count. Otherwise pretty true to what's supposed to happen when a Great Old One wakes.
Veidt starts explaining his motives to Dan, while he effortlessly repels Rorschach's attack.
Dr. Manhattan is able to work on a lab experiment while two copies of himself have a threesome with Laurie. She's very offended.
Expy: When Alan Moore began work on the book, the plan was to use all of the characters DC purchased from Charlton Comics, but editors ultimately put the kibosh on that, so he had to create new ones.
The Comedian is an expy of Peacemaker.
He also looks a lot like Bucky in his Minuteman days who somehow grew into a wise-cracking, cigar smoking, woman beating version of Captain America, with a bit of Wildcat and a pinch of Nick Fury, not to mention The Killing Joke Joker.
Hollis Mason/the first Nite Owl is an expy of the first Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett.
Dan Dreiberg/the second Nite Owl is an expy of the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord.
There are also elements of Superman, a fact even commented on by characters in the story. His origin as a simple meek scientist caught in a science experiment echoes that of The Incredible Hulk and other Marvel origins, putting a quantum spin to their I Love Nuclear Power origin stories.
Ozymandias is an expy of Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.
Though there's also a bit of Reed Richards, Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne in him.
Moore also puts in elements of Batman noting that "he would be considered a nutjob in real life", and in another interview he clarified Rorschach as "Batman without theexcuses".
There's more than a little of Travis Bickle in his journal entries, too. (Also confirmed by Moore.)
Silhouette is an expy of Nightshade.
Sally Juspeczyk/the first Silk Spectre is an expy of both Dinah Drake Lance/the first Black Canary and the Phantom Lady.
Laurie Juspeczyk/the second Silk Spectre is an expy of both Dinah Laurel Lance/the second Black Canary and the Phantom Lady.
Eye Scream: Rorschach shoving a burning cigarette into some kid's eye in his backstory.
Fictional Document: "Tales of The Black Freighter", a pirate comic used as counterpoint to many scenes. Also, most issues of the original had a back-up piece consisting of excerpts from other fictional works, most notably Under The Hood, Hollis Mason's tell-all book about the original Minutemen, and Super Powers and the Superpowers, a criticism of US military policy during the age of Dr. Manhattan.
Filler: One of the weirdest examples of filler in the history of the term. According to That Other Wiki Moore and Gibbons were contracted for a 12-issue run of the comic, but the plot that Moore had envisioned would take up, at most, six. He decided to get around by this by devoting several chapters to closely examining the characters and the world in which they live. However, as Moore began to write the series, he realized that "the plot itself is of no great consequence ... it just really isn't the most interesting thing about Watchmen."
Fridge Logic: Chapter 11 actually manages to lampshade this, qualifying as an in-universe use of the trope. When Veidt reveals that he hired his own assassin in order to cast suspicion away from him, Dan expresses disbelief, and asks what would happen if the assassin shot at him instead. Veidt replies that he would have just had to catch the bullet. Dan's reaction is priceless, and the look on Veidt's face is just awesome. The fact that he actually does catch a bullet in the next chapter, in spite of his own doubt, makes it even better. Also, it's worth noting that he managed to block the bullet with a heavy lamp when the assassin did shoot at him.
Gaining The Will To Kill: Rorschach's origin flashback shows his - up until that point, he had only beaten criminals up and tied them up for the police. But after finding that a kidnapped child had been chopped up and fed to the kidnapper's two Alsatians, he begins to kill villains as necessary.
Gambit Roulette: Plays straight, lampshades, and then almost immediately subverts this trope.
Generic Graffiti: "Who Watches The Watchmen?" though this is never truly shown in full; we just have to assume it's always the same.
This has become an Ascended Meme in its own right, where it's almost a rarity to find a comic book graffiti page without it.
Germanic Depressives: Osterman, after turning into Doctor Manhattan, realizes that past and future are the same thing, and everything is preordained. From that point on, he sounds very sad and depressed in his inner monologues. He doesn't show it, of course, as preordination demands that he plays his different role.
Germanic Efficiency: Ozymandias. He is superhumanly efficient and successful at practically everything he does. Including his final villainous masterplan.
A God I Am Not: Doctor Manhattan, despite what the Vietnamese and many others think.
Godwin's Law: Used correctly by Rorschach of all people, who responds to the rebuttal of a potential suspect because he's a vegetarian with pointing out Hitler was also vegetarian.
Used somewhat correctly: Hitler wasn't a vegetarian, he got that reputation because he had a very touchy stomach, and his doctor - one of the few people he listened to - kept tweaking his diet (along with his mood-altering drugs, which were mostly amphetamines by the end of the war). Mind you, in Watchmen's alternative universe, who knows?
Good Cop/Bad Cop: Nite Owl and Rorschach, respectively. However, this gets reversed when Nite Owl, angered over the death of Hollis Mason, goes overboard during an interrogation and Rorschach has to reign him in.
Gory Discretion Shot: Savagely averted in the movie. Played straight in the comic more often than you might remember.
Used to great effect in Tales of the Black Freighter, as the protagonist strangles the woman on the beach. All we see throughout the scene are the horses, watching.
Grey and Gray Morality: Rorschach kills criminals who could just as easily be arrested, but he also saves a woman from potentially being raped or mugged. Ozymandias destroys half of New York in an elaborate ruse to save the world. It's not as simple as saying that some of the characters are perfectly good or evil.
Hannibal Lecture: Rorschach's revelation of the origin of his odd philosophy ends up convincing his shrink to see the world his way (...or to relate a little, at least).
Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Several of the original Minutemen were dragged in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hooded Justice refused to participate and vanished without trace. To the story's modern day (1985) nobody knows who he was.
The Comedian's is the most famous, with his sobbing confession to Moloch.
Rorschach gets two, first after the child murder that prompts him to become Rorschach full time, and the second when realizing he could either prevent armageddon or he could serve the truth, but not both, shattering his black-and-white worldview. He chooses the latter, knowing that it would force Manhattan to put him out of his misery.
Laurie gets two as well, first when she realizes that the Comedian is her father by way of a willing and loving affair with her mother, whom he once tried to rape; her mother gets one of her own when Laurie says she knows who her father is, and the second when she realizes that everyone she's seen for the series run other than the heroes themselves is likely dead due to Veidt.
Manhattan has one when, y'know, he's about to die.
Veidt ends with one. Believing he's saved the world, he crows about it to Manhattan, who reminds him that nothing ever ends. The cryptic advice clearly troubles him greatly.
Dreiberg gets one when he finds out his idol and friend dies due to Dreiberg coming out of retirement, and people confusing the two Nite Owls. His Berserk Button gets mashed so hard the Ax-Crazy Rorschach tells him to calm down.
Hero's First Rescue: The highlight of Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre's first night out in costume in ten years.
Hero with Bad Publicity: Nearly everyone, at some point. For example, Manhattan's reputation is ruined by a concocted story accusing him of giving cancer to anyone near him.
He's Back: Both Dan and Laurie can attest to this.
Hitler Was A Vegetarian: Though in this case used to refute a logical fallacy rather than commit one; the implication is not "because Hitler was a vegetarian, all vegetarians are evil", but rather "because Hitler was a vegetarian, it's not safe to say that vegetarianism automatically means one is a saint".
Hourglass Plot: Rorscharch and Ozymandias exchange positions at the end. The latter calls the former a right-wing loony and the former regards him as a liberal hypocrite. As a young man, Rorscharch wrote gushingly about Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the wisdom of Well-Intentioned Extremist thinking. But he's appalled when Ozymandias comes around to it, and does it for real.
How We Got Here: Everything about the Comedian is this trope. After all, he's an omnipresent character... who was killed at the begining of the story.
Humans Are Special: Dr. Manhattan initially disagrees with this sentiment, and overall considers the existence of life to be an overrated phenomenon. He changes his mind when he learns that the Comedian was Laurie's father, and decides that such an incredibly improbable circumstance not only makes Laurie's life miraculous, but also the lives of every other human being.
Dollar Bill was hired by a bank, who thought having their very own masked man was a great gimmick. They designed his costume to be as attractive to the public as possible. This had tragic consequences when his cape got stuck in the bank's revolving door, and the bank robbers he was chasing shot him.
Nite Owl II once tried to use the bathroom while on a stakeout. Taking off and putting on his costume took so long that the drug dealer he was tracking got away. He redesigned the costume the next day.
Inkstain Adaptation: Rorschach's antisocial, conspiracy-theory-indulging nature has found its way into modern characterizations of The Question, of whom he is an Expy. In a Take That scene, a Question comic written shortly after the book's release had him read Watchmen, attempt (unsuccessfully) to emulate Rorschach's methods, and ultimately conclude that Rorschach sucks. Ironically, this view that Rorschach sucks aligns quite well with Alan Moore's original vision for the character, that he would be a completely unlikable sociopath instead of the unexpected popularityhe experienced.
Innocent Bystander Series: It's told partly from the perspective of the normal police officers investigating the deeds of so-called (and one actual) superheroes.
Insane Troll Logic: "Time is an illusion, therefore watches are worthless" may seem internally consistent, but with a bit of Fridge Logic, makes Jon's dad look like a victim of this trope.
In Spite of a Nail: The timeline diverges way back in 1938, but Nixon is still elected president in the same year, the break-in at the Watergate Hotel still happens, and Woodward and Bernstein still investigate it, though the Comedian kills them and it's never exposed.
Actually, a close look at the details of the comic hints that the timeline might have diverged a lot earlier than in 1938, when the first costumed hero appeared. In the world of Watchmen, the famous Heinz slogan is not "57 Varieties", like in our world, but "58 Varieties". Also, apparently The New York Times doesn't exist at all, it's been replaced by the fictional "New York Gazette". In our world, both the coining of the "57 Varieties" slogan and the founding of The New York Times took place decades before 1938, so the implication is that there were subtle differences between our timeline and the Watchmen timeline long before the costumed heroes entered the scene. With "58 Varieties", it's theoretically possible that the new slogan simply replaced "57 Varieties" sometime after 1938 (perhaps Dr. Manhattan synthesized another variety of ketchup?), but New York Gazette already existed in 1938, as Hollis Mason's autobiography mentions the paper reporting the initial exploits of Hooded Justice.
JFK still dies on November 22nd 1963 in Dallas, but it is implied in the book, and actually shown in the movie continuity, that the Comedian kills him.Before Watchmen shows that the Comedian was actually loyal to the presidency.
Also, the paper reports imply that Kennedy had a chance of survival — in the real world, his head was blown open and he had no chance. Either this was a paper acting off bad information, or the assassination went slightly differently in the comic timeline.
In Watchmen, superhero comics died off after the 'real thing' started emerging — instead, horror and drama comics are all the rage, D.C. and E.C. mainly publish stories about pirates, and Timely/Atlas Comics does not appear to have become Marvel Comics, as it did in our world. It is implied in one article that Frederick Wertham's anti-comics campaigns were ignored due to the propaganda value of American costumed heroes being promoted in print; ironically, this prevents the genericisation of the American comics industry that happened after Wertham in real life, and the superhero genre eventually dies a natural death.
World history is not altered that much until the appearance of Dr. Manhattan. There is nothing to indicate that World War II is significantly changed, and some of the heroes fight in the war as normal soldiers.
The Soviet Union still invades Afghanistan, although six years later than in the real world.
Devo is also mentioned to have formed in Ohio in the late 1970s.
The Mikhail Gorbachev of the Watchmen 'verse is seemingly far more combative and hawkish than his real-world counterpart.
But that might just be a Take That to Thatcher from the politically leftist Moore.
Informed Flaw: Rorschach describes the patrons of Happy Harry's bar as "human cockroaches" obsessed with "heroin and child pornography". Yet on the two occasions he goes in there, they never seem to be doing anything criminal. The first time, despite his Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, nobody has the faintest connection to the murder he is investigating. The second time, all he needs to do is ask, and they reveal who he is looking for immediately. Similarly, the knot-top that Nite Owl victimizes in revenge for Hollis Mason's death is not connected to crime and gives Nite Owl information on the perpetrators. Another sign of Rorschach's warped worldview, perhaps?
Rorschach dismisses Comedian's crimes (including attempted rape and the murder of a pregnant woman) as "moral lapses" of a hero, when the two crimes that drove him to be Rorschach were the rape of a woman and the murder of a child.
It's implied that he believes that those accusations are wholly invented or at least significantly exaggerated. He specifically doubts the accuracy of Hollis Mason's Under the Hood.
Also, when he was a little kid, Rorschach absent-mindingly writes a school paper about why dropping the atomic bomb at the end of WWII was justified to prevent any further deaths. As an adult Rorschach is horrified to discover that this is exactly the kind of philosphy that Ozymandias uses to justify his actions.
Nuclear physicist Jon Osterman accidentally locks himself inside a disintegration chamber minutes before it's due to activate. When he begs to be let out, his supervisor Dr. Glass tells him that the automatic door lock can't be overridden once the countdown has started: "It's...it's a safety feature." The last four words are set in tiny print, indicating that Glass is all too aware of the situational irony.
It Began with a Twist of Fate: If Jon hadn't forgotten his girlfriend's watch in the lab, he wouldn't have gone back to get it, get locked inside the experiment chamber, be ripped apart, and be reborn as Dr. Manhattan.
It's Personal: The brutality of the Comedian's murder is likely fueled by Ozymandias' humiliating defeat when they first met years before. It's also implied that the Comedian murdered Hooded Justice, ostensibly because HJ was a communist agent (in fact he had Nazi sympathies) but actually in revenge for the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown HJ gave the Comedian for trying to rape Silk Spectre.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: It's a murder mystery told in elaborate framed pictures with crosscutting dialogue and crosscutting flashbacks, all leading up to The Reveal.
The reason for this is that Veidt was playing to Rorschach's paranoia, letting Rorschach believe there was a maskkiller by making one. Otherwise, Rorschach might have spent more time looking into the Comedian's ramblings to Moloch, and found the real plot in time to stop it.
Just Between You and Me: Justified. He did it 35 minutes ago. Also, Dan and Rorschach are his former comrades, and he thinks he can convince them that he did the right thing. He succeeds with Dan.
Kick the Dog: Rorschach, on several occasions, and at one point taking this trope to its literal logical extreme. The Comedian has his moments too, particularly nearly raping Sally Jupiter and shooting his own would-be Asian Baby Mama.
The Killer Becomes the Killed: After he cracks, Rorschach becomes a vigilante who murders criminals; after the Keene Act, he becomes a fugitive vigilante who murders criminals. Technically this is continued when Manhattan eventually kills Rorschach, although it's not an example of the trope.
Knight Templar: Rorschach, and Ozymandias, in a more typical example of the trope.
Know When To Fold Them: When Ozymandias dramatically reveals his evil plan, one by one the heroes accept that he is right and that the only way they can prevent the plan's success is by revealing it to the general public... which will save no one and possibly destroy the world. Rorschach, however is a deontologist and so believes that people should be told the truth, no matter the cost. Naturally, he announces this. His death is swift.note though he pretty much invited the others to kill him because he also knew deep down that revealing the plan would do more harm than good, his absolute system of morals meant he would have to do it anyway.Everyone else Knew When To Fold Em — they get to go home and mope.
Let's You and Him Fight: Referenced and played with, like most Comic Book Tropes in Watchmen. Ozymandias and The Comedian do this when they first meet, but it's revealed that The Comedian recognized Ozy, but attacked him anyway, using the excuse that "For some reason it happens a lot when costumed crimefighters meet for the first time."
Logic Bomb: Possible explanation for why Rorshach told Dr. Manhattan to kill him. A little bit of Fridge Brilliance here. He realized how hypocritical it was to approve of Truman's decision to bomb Japan, but not for Adrian to bomb New York, despite both being done with the same intentions.
Mars Needs Women: Inverted with Laurie and Dr. Manhattan (while he is shown to reciprocate, she initiated).
Match Cut: Pretty much the closest possible equivalent in print. Used mostly during the flashbacks at the Comedian's funeral.
Meaningful Background Event: A man holding an "End Is Nigh" sign is frequently seen on the streets. His name is Walter Kovacs a.k.a. "Rorschach".
In Watchmen no 5, "Fearful Symmetry", at page 6, panel 3, Rorschach mentions that if Moloch wants to send him a message, he could do it by "leaving him a note at the trash can in front of the Gunga diner, between the 40th and the 7th." At page 12 panel 9, and again at page 17, page 8, we see a character checking out that trash can. That means that the reader could have figured out Rorschach's identity before The Reveal at the end of the issue. The Dramatic Irony is that Bernie give us this monologue:
"You never know, never know what awaits you. Everything we see is the surface.There is a lot of garbage that we donít even notice. Until itís too late."
Meaningful Name: Ozymandias, which suggests the final fate of his "better, more loving world". His last name, Veidt, comes from German actor Conrad Veidt, whose appearance in The Man Who Laughs directly inspired the character design of The Joker.
Also Jon Osterman: "Oester" is a pagan fertility festival that was replaced by Easter.
Oster also is originally Saxon for "Rising," which makes Jon Osterman the "Rising Man" — appropriate for the world's first true superhuman.
Rorschach turned out to be one on a meta level, to Moore's chagrin, though plenty of fans do see him for the disturbed sociopath he is.
Mind Rape: The effect that the "monster" has on survivors, even halfway around the globe.
Moral Myopia: A young Rorschach wrote a paper defending the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguing that the deaths of all those civilians are acceptable as it ended World War 2. However, when Ozymandias destroys New York City to create world peace, Rorschach finds this unacceptable. This was likely done deliberately by Alan Moore as Rorschach represents a right-wing philosophy that Moore does not approve of.
Morality Kitchen Sink: Each of the major characters is based around a different system of morality, and the conflict between these different moral outlooks drives much of the story. The Comedian is a Nihilist who sees the world as nothing but a joke, and just doesn't care about right or wrong, Rorschach is an Objectivist and a moral absolutist, incapable of seeing the world in any terms other than Black and White, Dr. Manhattan is so alienated from the human experience that the very concept of morality escapes him, and Ozymandias follows a Utilitarian moral code, in which even the most evil acts act be justified if they serve the greater good.
Motifs: Everywhere. There are some motifs that appear throughout the story (like the bloodstained smiley or the doomsday clock counting towards midnight), and some that appear primarily in one chapter (like "two riders" in various forms during chapter 10).
The bloodstain on the smiley vs. the minute hand on the doomsday clock.
The butterfly / Rorschach blot / large bloodstain / Hiroshima shadow.
In every chapter that involves cross-cutting between two sets of events, the dialogue in every single panel refers back to the dialogue in the previous (cross-cut) panel, and the image usually refers back to the image on the previous page. For chapter 5, "Fearful Symmetry" they made the entire issue a palindrome.
Mirrored images, especially in chapter 5 "Fearful Symmetry" (a line from Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright).
The two riders / Pale Horse in chapter 10, "Two Riders Were Approaching" (a line from All Along The Watchtower).
Muggle Power: A theme of the story is what is the point of non-superheroes and non-powered heroes and villains in a world transformed by Dr. Manhattan's presence. Moore takes this further, by showing common civilians having problems as compelling and important as that of the masked heroes.
In his introduction for the Absolute Edition and other interviews, Moore stated that the normal human characters like the newspaper seller, the boy selling comics, Dr. Malcolm Long and his wife, were more interesting to him than the superhero characters and that for him, Watchmen was a work where he finally outgrew any lingering nostalgia superhero characters held for him.
Narm: In-Universe and Deconstructed - In the original Night Owl's autobiography, Under the Hood, he reminisces about "the saddest thing he can think of", and tells the story of the time him and his father's employer on the edge of a complete breakdown broke the news that his wife was cheating on him, but despite of this being a great personal tragedy for him, they couldn't help but laugh hysterically at him, as he was wearing plastic breasts and was playing "Ride of the Valkyries" on the record player in his office. They immediately apologized to him afterwards, but their reaction is still what ultimately drove him over the edge, and he committed suicide the same day.
Never Was This Universe: See the In Spite of a Nail entry above. Besides the "58 Varieties" and "New York Gazette" examples, there are also other minor differences between our world and the world of Watchmen ó such as the existence of a man with actual psychic powers ó that seem to be unrelated to the costumed heroes or Dr. Manhattan, therefore suggesting that world of Watchmen was never ours to begin with.
Rorschach's investigation into the Comedian's death involves warning the other former heroes of a potential mask-killer. Ozymandias then fakes an assassination attempt on himself as a Red Herring to convince the others it's true. He initially only planned to do away with Dr. Manhattan, and killed the Comedian solely because He Knows Too Much.
Nineties Anti-Hero: Rorschach and The Comedian are progenitors of this trope, albeit not strictly embodying it themselves. On record, Moore despises the fad for "Darker and Edgier" heroes whose ultraviolence is justified by some half-assed attempt at Watchmen-style deconstruction; the other big-noted superhero work of 1986, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is probably a more representative proto-example of "Nineties Anti-Hero" comics.
Notably, Miller's no fan of it, either. Both authors were trying to take superheroics to their logical conclusion, rather than make dark and edgy look cool. Misaimed Fandom didn't quite get it, and it was nearly 20 years before it turned around.
No OSHA Compliance: The intrinsic field substractor experiment is actually introduced as having 'new safety features'. Like time locks for the entrance door that close the experiment at a set time (rather than, like most time locks, refusing to open until a fixed time after closing) without any human interference or even presence in the control room, with no checks to see if any personnel is inside the chamber at the time, with no warning given to any personnel in the chamber before closing, with no way whatsoever to open it after closing and with no way to stop the Disintegrator Ray after the door has closed. Pro-tip for any Evil Overlord whose nemesis keeps escaping from their Death Trap: Hire these guys as safety consultants for your evil lair.
Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Ozymandias is a misunderstood villain. He single-handedly kills off half of New York City in order to avert a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union that would destroy the world. However, Moore makes it clear that both he and Rorschach are extremists in their own ways. The only characters Moore unabashedly show in a positive light are Laurie and Dreiberg, both of whom only wanted to prevent more death. Everyone else ends up dead, exiled, or riddled with guilt and uncertain if they didn't just make things worse.
No Pronunciation Guide: Juspeczyk is pronounced "yoo-spe-chik" in Polish; it is not clear how she would pronounce it in America, although Sally's choice of "Jupiter" as a stage name gives a hint. Rorschach provides a half-failed aversion - it's given as "raw shark", which will work for most English people, and Noo Yawkers where the comic is set, but not to most American accents.
Nostalgia Filter: Lampshaded by Silk Spectre in both the novel and movie, where she comments on how the future seemed bleaker and the past increasingly blissful despite all the glaring, gritty flaws. Including what happened between her and the Comedian.
Not in Front of the Kid: Rorschach starts to tell off his landlady for telling lies about him to the media, calling her a whore; she pleads with him not to say that in front of her kids. "They don't know." Rorschach pets that particular dog, because he can see a parallel between her kids and his childhood - except he was not shielded from his mother's profession.
Not So Omniscient After All: Dr. Manhattan starts out as a omniscient Non Linear Character. During the storyline, something happens that makes him temporarily lose his omniscience while still being a Non Linear Character.
The Omnipresent: Doctor Manhattan, as is to be expected. He experiences all time simultaneously, and has no trouble sleeping with his girlfriend using a handful of bodies, while a dozen more work on science with Veidt.
Omniscient Hero: Adrian Veidt. He has everything so well figured out that the morality issue is reduced to whether or not the goals he achieved was worth all the lives he sacrificed. However, two of the last few scenes make the whole thing ambiguous, leaving it to the reader/viewer do decide if the trope is played straight or subverted.
In the same story, Dr. Manhattan himself would fit the trope perfectly if it wasn't for a certain loophole that effectively makes him lose his omniscience halfway through the story. Before that point, he is so omniscient that it bores him, but the readers/audience are spared from sharing that boredom since he's a side character rather than the protagonist.
Only Sane Man: Rorschach certainly thinks he's this, as did the Comedian in a way. Hollis Mason fits this trope a little better, since he's one of the few characters who isn't up to his ass in mental problems.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Rorschach loses his rough voice when his face isn't covered by his mask. The difference is enlighted by the form of his speech balloon. This subtlety isn't featured in the movie.
Out-Gambitted: Everyone seems to forget that, despite his death, Rorschach left his journal full of sensitive information to the press. Determining that this was probably the safest course of action to keep to his principles. The future was uncertain anyway.
They didn't forget because they never knew in the first place. Dreiberg through Rorschach was checking for incoming mail, and didn't realize he was actually sending a package out.
Painting the Medium: Rorschach's speech bubbles are drawn differently from other characters when he has his mask on, and none of his words are ever bolded for emphasis like others characters' are. This could be taken to signify his distinctive speech style, which in the book is described as a Creepy Monotone (and in the movie is a harsh growl), but that would imply that in the comic he speaks more normally without the mask, which doesn't seem likely given his blank stare and elliptic sentences. The bubble is also drawn normally and some of his words are in bold in the flashback to the Crimebuster's meeting, as it took place before Rorschach really went off the deep end.
The Password Is Always Swordfish: It's suspiciously easy for Nite Owl and Rorschach to break into Ozymandias's computer, although this was probably deliberately arranged by Veidt to lure his colleagues to Antarctica and spare them from his scheme.
Reality Is Unrealistic: In-universe. Movie critic mistakes real footage of Silk Spectre I fighting crime for very bad stunt work.
Red Herring: Plenty. For example, Dan's prototype exo-skeleton, which comes across as a sure-fire Chekhov's Gun, never gets used, and is left behind when Dan evacuates his basement. That he leaves it, and only it, is actually the payoff: it's a joke on how utterly stupid and useless the exoskeleton was in reality.
Hollis wears the exact same brown sweater as the killer does in the opening sequence, and he's often drawn with only his arms showing. Moore and Gibbons are sadists.
An in-universe example: Veidt, upon hearing Rorschach's "Mask Killer" theory, secretly orders a hit on himself as supposed proof to Rorschach of his theory, in order to distract him from his real plan.
The Red Stapler: In-universe example. Dr. Manhattan wears a double-breasted suit when he is revealed to the world and Wally Weaver mentions that people are discussing its fashion significance. Sure enough, double-breasted suits are the norm in 1985 and are worn by Adrian Veidt, Rorschach (both in civilian life and in costume) and anyone else seen wearing a suit after 1960.
Redundant Rescue: When Nite Owl and Silk Spectre go to free Rorschach from prison. When they find him, he has already broken out of his cell, killed some of the people in his way, and is on the way out.
Reed Richards Is Useless: Averted utterly, as the Vietnam War was won because of the influence of supers, and technology made by supers has changed the world's economy and outlook.
Refuge in Audacity: The ending. The world is at the very cusp of nuclear war, with each side waiting for the other to goad them into mutually assured destruction. Then a squid teleports into New York and blows up, leaving everyone on Earth asking what the hell just happened.
Reluctant Mad Scientist: Dr. Manhattan, increasingly disconnected, allows both the US Government and Ozymandias to use his technological powers For Science!. Ozymandias also qualifies if the reader sympathizes with him...
Restored My Faith In Humanity: Laurie does this for Jon/Dr. Manhattan, although it's more along the lines of unpredictable / predictable than good / bad.
The Reveal: Usually minor ones spaced throughout, but highly concentrated in chapter 11.
Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II, with the twist that as Dan Dreiberg, he doesn't fake idiocy but instead pretends to be a harmless intellectual. After he retires, it's not so much an act...
Averted by Ozymandias, who gave away his inherited wealth as a teenager to prove that he could succeed alone.
Depending on when he started his plan, the above about Ozzy may have been as much part of the plan as anything else. After all, giving away all your money makes you quite the philanthropist and making your own fortune makes you quite the rags-to-riches story people love.
Ron the Death Eater: In-Universe Rorschach suspects that a lot of claims about the Comedian's amoral behavior are instances of this. Sadly, he's wrong. It's implied that he simply doesn't want to accept that someone who inspired him could have actually been such a scumbag.
Scenery Censor: Generally averted with Doctor Manhattan's nudity, but not always. There are a couple of pages in chapter three that look like something out of Austin Powers.
Scenery Porn: Dave Gibbons' drawings of Mars surface are simply gorgeous.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Not for the main characters and plot, just all the supporting characters. The prison therapist's personal life ends when the squid comes, just like all other customers of the newspaper vendor. The missing artist was killed by Ozymandias, or on his orders, and no one noticed. The Comedian was killed as part of a coverup, but the reason was discovered too late to prevent anything.
In the background of issues #11 and #12, you can see The Day The Earth Stood Still playing in a movie theater in the background. Ozymandias' plot to prevent nuclear war bears some similarities to the movie itself, where nuclear war is prevented by aliens coming to Earth, and telling the planet to put aside their differences, or be wiped out, essentially.
Includes explicit mention of an episode of the original Outer Limits with a similar basic plot.
Wylie's Gladiator is visible on Hollis Mason's bookshelf.
The entire "Tales of the Black Freighter" comic-within-a-comic is inspired by The Threepenny Opera and the song "Pirate Jenny" (a.k.a. "The Black Freighter") in particular.
Possibly a coincidence, but the Owlship looks uncannily similar to Seleno the Electric Dog, a primitive robot built during WWI as a testbed for a torpedo guidance system.
Hollis Mason's Nite Owl I costume◊ is very similar to The Phantom's◊ costume, and his dog is even named "Phantom".
For that matter, towards the end, it features a TV advertising the start of The Outer Limits episode "The Architects of Fear". The basic premise of the villain's plan is almost identical to that episode. Although Alan Moore claims it was a coincidence they were similar, he deliberately added the Shout Out upon discovering the similarity.
Silk Spectre II is the only female super-hero of the second generation. Furthermore, her central importance to the plot is that of her role as a woman, being a kept-girlfriend to Dr. Manhattan and then the love interest of Nite Owl II. However, this is a deconstruction, so it may be intentional to demonstrate the usual roles female characters played in the comic book genre ten to twenty years before "Watchmen".
The WWII era group originally had two females (Silk Spectre I and The Silhouette), but the latter was kicked out when it became known she was a lesbian. (As at least two males were known among the group to be closeted homosexuals, the commentary on sexism is definitely intentional.)
Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: This is used to demonstrate the damages of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, when Dr. Manhattan isn't there to prevent it.
Stealth Pun: Fits in nicely with Fridge Brilliance: Jon, an aspiring watchmaker who was told to forgo the business due to the atomic bomb, has the accident that leads to his Physical God status because his first girlfriend's watch was stepped on by a fat man.
There's a very clever one in Fearful Symmetry. The pirate-themed Rum Runner sign has two Rs back to back so they resemble a skull. It fits the symmetry theme, but there's another thing you might not have noticed unless you can read Cyrillic: the sign says Yar!
Stop Worshipping Me: Dr. Manhattan is powerful enough to be considered divine, but resents being perceived this way. He says something like "I don't think there is a god, and if there is he's probably nothing like me".
Stripperiffic: An odd Lampshade Hanging, in which a character uses it as a warped justification for Attempted Rape. It's also noticeable that the costume was only very Stripperiffic by 1940 standards, as it's basically a very short backless gown with stockings.
Further lampshade hanging when her daughter/successor complains about how ridiculous her own costume was. Unlampshaded when she puts the costume on for her new boyfriend and doesn't stop wearing it for the rest of the series (though there wasn't time to get a new one).
And let's not forget Dr. Manhattan, whose progressively-diminished costume provides a Stripperific clue as to how far back in his personal timeline each of his flashback appearances lies. The fact that he's first seen buck-naked, and is only later seen in skin-tight bodysuits or Speedos, may be a bit of a joke on this trope.
Superheroes Wear Capes: Deconstructed (like everything else) with the character of Dollar Bill. He was a former football player hired by a bank when they realized that having their own personal superhero on payroll was a great way to cash in on the masked vigilante craze. The costume was designed by the marketing department, who were going for style over practicality and thought that the cape added visual appeal. It ended up getting caught in a revolving door while he was trying to stop a robbery, at which point one of the robbers shot him point-blank in the chest. Aside from Captain Metropolis and the second-generation Nite Owl, none of the other superheroes wear capes.
Nite Owl I's original costume had a cape, but when he failed to master the art of walking around his own house with it on without the cape catching on things, he got rid of it.
This deconstruction was carried over into the CGI animated film The Incredibles with heavy nods to Watchmen.
Super Registration Act: The Keene Act, with all that followed. Only a few refused to sign it, but it appears there's not a lot of superheroes around anymore.
Teleportation Sickness: Others besides Dr. Manhattan tend to find his teleporting them unpleasant, some rioters even suffering heart attacks when he puts them back home.
Though Manhattan's narration points out that this was due at least partly to the shock of suddenly finding themselves back home.
Twisted Echo Cut: Used repeatedly, especially at scene changes between Tales of the Black Freighter and the main plot. For example, it cuts from the newsstand owner talking about how newsvendors are tough survivors, to a shipwreck survivor standing on a beach crying. Or from Nite Owl saying "It'll be like coming home," to the shipwrecked man finally arriving on the mainland. "I could be no more than twenty miles from Davidstown. I was home."
Two For One Show: The pirate comic-within-a-comic tells a full story from beginning to end, and mirrors many turning points in the overall story.
Two Scenes, One Dialogue: Background conversations, or banter coming from a nearby TV, which are also relevant to the main scene. The Black Freighter also sometimes mirrors some of the smaller events happening around the newsstand where it is being read. This is a trademark of Watchmen.
Unbuilt Trope: Even though it started The Dark Age of Comic Books, this comic really reads like a deconstruction of the very things it inspired. Rorschach, Dr. Manhatten, and the Comedian are all the exact kind of grimdark anti-heroes that arose in the 90's but this is not portrayed as a positive thing at all. Rorschach and Comedian are sociopathic lunatics who are hated and feared by many and Manhatten is a fatalistic and emotionless person whose behavior causes his personal life to fall to pieces.
Possiblyzig-zagged at the end. While Ozymandias may have saved the world, it may only be temporary and thus unnecessary (making Rorschach's exposure of Ozymandias' plan more of a deserved justice). If it was a true success, then maybe Rorschach's actions will instead lead to nuclear war all over again.
The Unfettered: The Comedian, Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach. Ozymandias.
Unstuck in Time: Dr. Manhattan becomes briefly disoriented because of tachyons. "Excuse me, Rorschach. I'm informing Laurie ninety seconds ago... I-I'm sorry. It's these tachyons."
If you flip the two pages of the graphic novel back and forth when he says this, Manhattan is in the same position on both pages, in the same pose, saying the same thing, highlighting his non-linear perception of time.
What the Hell, Hero?: Everybody, but most pronounced in the scene where The Comedian calls out Dr. Manhattan for not doing anything to save his (the Comedian's) Asian Baby Mama despite knowing exactly what would happen. Ironically, it cements Dr. Manhattan's view that they're essentially the same. But for the biggest example, see the YMMV page.
This is essentially Rorschach's entire mode of operation.
You Bastard: If you believe Ozymandias was right, you're okay with killing several million people and lying to the entire world to trick it into peace. If you believe Rorschach was right, you believe that Ozymandias's scheme should be revealed to the world in the name of justice, even if it means sending the world back to the brink of nuclear holocaust.
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Ozymandias poisons his assistants, and congratulates them for helping create a new utopia (as they are either dead or dying), then lets their bodies be hidden by snow cover. Later, he tells the others that his assistants accidentally killed themselves. He also blows up the artists who helped create the monster.
Big Figure has one of his mooks kill another when Rorschach ties the unlucky mook's hands to his cell door, obstructing the others from coming in to get him.