Secret Origins Of The Watchmen!
by Larry Clow
Watchmen ushered in the era of grim ‘n’ gritty comics, what with its depictions of rape, murder, and impending nuclear doom. But before all that, the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan and all the rest were denizens of a more innocent comic book era—well, at least, their predecessors were. The origins of the cast of Watchmen can be found in the line of superhero comics published by Charlton Comics in the late 1960s.
Alan Moore’s initial proposal for Watchmen involved taking the heroes from Charlton’s line of comics and plucking them down in his grimly paranoid dystopian future of out-of-control Cold War tensions and societal angst. After having just spent a decent amount of money on acquiring the rights to the characters, DC editor Dick Giordano asked that Moore use original characters rather than the Charlton heroes for Watchmen. Moore eventually came around to this idea and created a new set of heroes modeled loosely on the Charlton characters.
It worked out well for Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, in one way or another. Watchmen is a classic of the comics medium and will probably turn out to be one of this year’s highest-grossing films. It cemented Gibbon and Moore’s reputations forever (of course, disputes between Moore and DC over ownership rights of Watchmen lead to Moore’s very public ongoing conflict with the publisher). The only characters things didn’t seem to work out for, though, were the Charlton heroes. Spared the ignominy of death and dysfunction at the hands of Moore, they went on to be…well, either dead, dysfunctional, or off the radar all together. Here’s where they are now.
The Comedian – The cynical mercenary whose death kicks off the action in Watchmen, the Comedian was loosely based on the Peacemaker, a Charlton hero who was, as his title suggests, ultra-committed to peace. But because peaceful action heroes are boring, the Peacemaker was the sort of pacifist who wanted peace so badly that he put on a costume and fought for it (with non-lethal weapons, of course). Incidentally, the Peacemaker’s tactics call into question the true intentions of adult film stars across America. In any case, after joining the DC Universe, Peacemaker didn’t do much of anything. In the late-1980s, he became a supporting player in Checkmate! and apparently died while fighting Eclipso. Apart from a few guest appearances throughout the ’90s, Peacemaker didn’t return to action until 2006, when he became a supporting player in the latest Blue Beetle series. Which brings us to…
Nite Owl – Armed with an array of owl-themed gadgets and vehicles, Nite Owl bears more than a passing resemblance to Batman. However, he’s mostly based on the Blue Beetle, and, more specifically, the Silver Age incarnation of the Beetle. Out of all the Charlton heroes, Blue Beetle fared the best after joining the ranks of the DCU. Ted Kord, the Beetle’s alter-ego, was welcomed into the revamped Justice League, became best buddies with Booster Gold and was a reliable, likable B-list hero. That is until 2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis, in which Ted managed to figure out former Justice League sponsor Max Lord was actually a super-villain. For his hard work, Ted was rewarded with two shots to the head, a grim death that wouldn’t have been out of place in Watchmen but was way out of whack with the rest of DC’s comics. The Beetle’s exoskeleton was picked up by Jaime Reyes, who adopted the Blue Beetle identity in 2006 only to have his new series canceled in 2009 (though he recently joined the Teen Titans).
Dr. Manhattan – Otherwise known as “that blue naked dude”, Dr. Manhattan was based partially on Captain Atom. In the Charlton comics, Captain Atom was Allen Adam, a scientist working on an experimental rocket that, unsurprisingly, exploded and granted Adam super nuclear powers. By the time he made it to DC in the 80s, Captain Atom’s origin was altered slightly. This time around, Air Force officer Captain Nathan Adam was framed for a crime he didn’t commit and forced into undergoing a military experiment involving a nuclear bomb and an alien ship. Much like his predecessor, this experiment gave him super nuclear powers (although this time, he got a sweet shiny silver suit out of the deal). And much like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom became a dependable second-string DCU hero for most of the late ‘80s. During 1991’s Armageddon: 2001 crossover, Captain Atom was slated to become the despotic villain Monarch; when advanced word of this plot twist leaked, though, DC’s editors changed the story around and Captain Atom remained himself. After about 15 years, Captain Atom did become Monarch in DC’s roundly-disappointing Countdown to Final Crisis weekly series. But that was only after he got blasted into the Wildstorm superhero universe, got blasted back into the DCU, and went crazy for reasons unknown. After an epic battle in Countdown, Captain Atom/Monarch exploded, killed an entire planet, and hasn’t been seen since.
Rorschach – The ultra-violent, sharply-dressed vigilante whose investigation of the Comedian’s death propels Watchmen forward, Rorschach has his roots in two of comic artist Steve Ditko’s creations. Rorschach was inspired partially by The Question, a.k.a. Vic Sage, a crusading reporter by day and an equally-crusading vigilante by night with a fedora and a blank face who first appeared in Charlton’s Blue Beetle #1 in 1967. At the time of The Question’s creation, Ditko was an adherent to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy and used The Question as a platform for espousing Rand’s individualistic, morally-absolute philosophy. After leaving Charlton in the late ’60s, Ditko created Mr. A, a purely Objectivist hero (though just as nattily attired as The Question – though instead of a blank face, Mr. A wears a steel mask that looks like an expressionless face) with no compunctions about using lethal force against wrongdoers. While Mr. A has been left untouched since Ditko last visited the character in 2000, The Question remains a player in the DC Universe. When DC acquired the character in the ’80s, writer Denny O’Neil stripped the hero of his Randian beliefs and introduced elements of Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy into the title. The Question still smoked like a chimney, though, a vice that led to the lung cancer that killed him in DC’s 2006 weekly series 52. The Question’s fedora was picked up by Rene Montoya, a former supporting character in the Batman titles. A hard-drinking ex-cop, Montoya eschewed meditation and Zen koans for ass-kicking and tussles with weird religious cults.
Ozymandias – Of all the Charlton heroes acquired by DC, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt—the inspiration for Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt—was the least used. Created by artist Peter Morisi, Cannon was raised in a Tibetan monastery and reached the pinnacle of mental and physical perfection after years of study. He just sort of fought crime, a fairly standard superhero occupation that Cannon continued throughout his years at Charlton and, briefly, during a 12-issue mini-series at DC. But Cannon proved uneasy to fit into the DCU—after all, Batman already used the techniques of Eastern mystics on his way to becoming the smartest, strongest human on the planet, and so Cannon didn’t have much of a role to fill. Ownership rights to Peter Cannon eventually reverted back to Morisi, and the blonde-haired crime fighter hasn’t been seen since the late ’90s.
Silk Spectre – Both Sally Jupiter and her daughter, Laurie Juspeczyk, capered about under the superhero moniker Silk Spectre. Unlike the rest of the Watchmen, Silk Spectre had no counterpart among the Charlton characters. Visually, Silk Spectre most closely resembles Phantom Lady, the curvy, way-underdressed member of the Freedom Fighters, a group of World War II-era heroes. Phantom Lady was one of the first female comic book heroes and first appeared in 1941. Over the years, her powers and alter-egos have varied, and the only consistent aspect of her character is that, as time wears on, her costume gets smaller and her boobs get bigger, a problem that none of the other Charlton heroes have had to contend with.