Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ landmark series Watchmen – justifiably – is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest comic books of all time. With DC’s revisiting of the series, Before Watchmen, hitting stores starting in June, we thought we’d revisit the original series, and take a look at the ten best, most memorable moments in the maxi-series.
Oh, and a couple of ground rules: we’re not including the between chapters material for consideration; or, for that matter, The Black Freighter chapters as those provide contrast for the main story. We’re also expecting that nobody will disagree with any of this list, because everybody agrees about Watchmen all the time. Oh, and spoilers for the entire series, though let’s be honest, you probably know all of this already. Let’s go!
10. The Prison Break
There’s a number of bravura sequences in the book, but one of the only times we truly get to see the characters being superheroes is when Silk Spectre and Nite Owl break Rorschach out of prison. It’s exciting, complex staging, and one of the few times you know exactly who to root for.
9. Rorschach Unmasked
Captured and beaten, Rorschach has his precious mask taken off. And as he screams, “No! My face! Give it back!” all the people surrounding him can ask is who he is. Because really, without the mask? He’s nobody. A heartbreaking moment that, for us, at least, gave the book its literally human heart.
8. Rorschach’s Journal Returns
At the very end of the book, Rorschach’s journal – which presumably contains the complete details of Ozymandias’ plans – turns up in the mailbox of a crackpot newspaper. Does this mean that Ozy’s master plan will be revealed? And if so, will it change anything? This closing sequence has started decades of ongoing debates.
7. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre Totally Do It
Be honest, you remember this sequence, too... Even though it's probably the least sexy sex scene in all of comics (on purpose, mind you).
6. Comedian Kills In Vietnam
The moment we realized the Comedian was irredeemable wasn’t when he attempted to rape the original Silk Spectre. Nope, it’s when he gut-shot a Vietnamese woman who said she was carrying his child, and didn’t seem to care. Terrifying, and it makes the reader recontextualize everything we’ve previously learned about the slain “hero.”
5. Doctor Manhattan’s Creation
Probably one of the most famous images in all of comics is the exploding – and reassembling – skeleton and flesh of Doctor Manhattan, as he becomes something more than human. And the sequence following, as he turns up again and again, before reappearing as the naked blue dude we know and love, plays expertly on the idea of the “fun” of a superhero origin story.
4. Doctor Manhattan And Silk Spectre Get Their Asses To Mars
In an effort to explain the world from his perspective, Doctor Manhattan takes the human Silk Spectre to Mars… And shows her the stunning golden structure he’s created there. Not only that, but the conversation that follows tackles nothing less that what it means to be a human being – and successfully, at that.
3. Squids In The City
It’s the pay-off everyone remembers, right? The giant “space squid” that destroys Manhattan, the streets filled with tentacles and dead bodies. There’s two related moments we’ll get to in a second, but these panels and pages show comic book destruction unlike anything that had been seen before.
2. Doctor Manhattan Kills Rorschach
We will never, ever forget the weeping Rorschach, mask off, telling Doctor Manhattan to kill him, screaming, “DO IT.” And then moments later, he’s turned into nothing more than an inkblot on the snow. Heartbreaking, agonizing, and in a strange way, one of the few heroic moments in the book.
1. “I did it thirty-five minutes ago.”
There is no more memorable phrase, more jaw-dropping moment in Watchmen - and maybe in all of comic books – than Ozymandias’ uttering the above phrase. Our heroes come to stop him from destroying New York, he details his plan, and then reveals he wasn’t monologuing before enacting his plan… He already did it. There was no way of stopping him, it was already too late. And just like that, no villain’s speech or plan in any comic, movie, or TV show ever worked as effectively again.