In a bunker, an aging President Nixon arrives with the nuclear football handcuffed to his wrist. Officers announce that tanks are gathering in East Germany. A CIA officer presses Nixon to make the first strike, but he resolves to be patient and wait.
The nuclear football is a remote system for the U.S. president to launch a nuclear attack, so this scene indicates that America is considering launching its nuclear weapons.
After hiding underwater in the airship, Daniel (dressed as Nite Owl) and Rorschach decide what to do next, beginning with obtaining Rorschach’s spare costume. Rorschach says they need to go back to the “underworld” and find information—World War III is less than a week away. Rorschach breaks into his old apartment and retrieves a suit from below the floorboards. His landlady opens the door, terrified to see him again. Rorschach wants to punish her for slandering his name, but sees that her kids are with her, tears streaming down their faces, and chooses to just leave instead.
Once again, Rorschach shows an unusual level of empathy when children are involved, suggesting that he does have some level of human compassion and sensitivity. The fact that Rorschach decides to forego retribution after the landlady slanders his personal honor suggests that his desire to protect hurt children, like he himself once was, even overpowers his moralistic desire for justice and retribution.
Adrian Veidt lands at his base in Antarctica, met by Bubastis the lynx and his private staff. He asks if the “delivery” went smoothly, and his staff assures him that it did. After donning his Ozymandias costume, he seats himself in front of a wall of TV screens, each playing different news stations and changing to new ones at random. Veidt calls it “information in its most concentrated form.” He notes that everyone is obsessed with the prospect of war, which always carries a sexual undercurrent. He orders his staff to invest money in erotic films for the short term and maternity goods and baby supplies for the long term.
Although Veidt publicly retired from his role as Ozymandias, he dons the uniform in private, suggesting that he still secretly carries on his vigilante work or at least uses the identity to guide his work in business. Veidt’s mention of the “delivery” hints at the conspiracy currently underway. His wall of screens and his ability to process information suggest not only that he is brilliant, but that he makes his fortune and does his vigilante work by interpreting social trends and strategizing wide-view, long-term solutions.
Rorschach and Daniel spend the day underwater in the airship, waiting for dark. Daniel runs computer scans, looking for patterns or clues. Rorschach is restless. They quarrel over whether everything is still tied to the mask-killer conspiracy, or if that’s a diversion to conceal something bigger. Frustrated, Daniel tells Rorschach that he’s difficult to get along with. Rorschach apologizes and offers a handshake, telling Daniel that he is a good friend to him. Daniel shakes his hand and seems touched. Night falls. The airship rises out of the ocean.
Daniel’s earlier sense that Rorschach is trying to make friends proves prescient. Although Rorschach carries the demeanor of a lone rogue individual, his offered handshake and apology suggests that even he recognizes his need for other people and social relationships. This again progressively humanizes Rorschach, depicting him as a dynamic (though conflicted) individual.
In the pirate comic, the survivor wades ashore, figuring he is less than 20 miles from his home. However, he knows that by now, his family must have been “slaughtered.” All that is left for him is revenge. Over a dune, he spies the town moneylender riding with his wife and imagines that the moneylender is a traitor, working with the pirates. As the man and woman ride down the beach, they scream—they’ve found the survivor’s corpse raft. The survivor takes a stone and rushes toward them, caving in the moneylender’s skull with one blow. The stone slips from his hand, so he strangles the moneylender’s wife. She fights hard and it takes the survivor a long time to kill her.
The survivor commits two awful murders while intending to do good, even believing that he is enacting just retribution—despite the fact that he has no evidence these two people did anything wrong. The survivor’s descent from heroism to villainy demonstrates how easily one can commit great evils, even while believing that they are doing good. The pirate comic’s arc foreshadows Adrian Veidt’s dicey ethical conflict as his plot unfolds over the next chapters, implicitly raising the question of whether Veidt is a great hero or a great villain.
On the street corner, the news vendor states that everyone can feel the world’s about to end. They’re skittish. Evangelists approach him and ask to buy a gazette, then offer him some religious literature. He angrily shoos them away. In the pirate comic, the survivor finds that killing is easy when death feels near. He ties the woman upright in her horse’s saddle, figuring that if two figures rode out of the pirate-occupied village, his enemies would expect two figures to ride back in. Soon, he will have his vengeance.
The pirate comic’s survivor’s observation that killing is easy when death seems near suggests that a desperate person—whether due to their own imminent doom or the end of the world—is capable of committing terrible acts they would not otherwise be able to stomach. This observation again foreshadows Adrian Veidt’s ethically questionable plot, which will soon be revealed to the reader.
Rorschach and Daniel visit Happy Harry’s bar and find a man, Roy Chess, who delivered the envelope with instructions for Veidt’s attempted assassination. Rorschach tortures him by crushing a glass into his hand until Chess says that everyone involved, all guys who work for Pyramid Delivery Company, have been getting killed off and he thinks he’ll be next. Meanwhile, a gang member tells Daniel that some other gangsters murdered Hollis Mason. Daniel becomes enraged and threatens to kill everyone in the neighborhood, but Rorschach convinces him to leave before doing anything rash. As Daniel calls the ship down, Rorschach tries to comfort him by saying that if they find the “mask-killer,” Daniel can avenge Hollis’s death.
Although Daniel has always been a relatively gentle character, the stress of impending war and news of his friend Hollis’s random, meaningless death pushes him to threaten great violence. This demonstrates how even someone who believes they are a hero can slide into anger, wrath, and nihilistic violence. Rorschach’s attempt to comfort Daniel again suggests he is making the effort to reach out, form human attachment, and consider the needs of others, perhaps for the first time.
On a massive ocean liner, people drink and celebrate. Max Shea and Hira Manish fumble around in the dark below deck. They believe that all their work has been for some sort of movie production involving a human brain. Max looks for a light switch, but he pulls back a tarp to reveal a time bomb. The ship explodes and sinks into the ocean with all of its passengers.
Shea and Manish’s murder, along with everyone else aboard the ship, suggests that someone wants to keep them quiet. Whatever work they were part of apparently requires utmost secrecy to work, even at the cost of hundreds of lives.
Rorschach and Daniel visit Pyramid Delivery Company’s office, since the company seems tied to the attempt on Veidt’s life. The office is abandoned, but they find lots of Egyptian memorabilia on the walls and a chart tracking the rising nuclear threat around the world. Apparently someone has plans to destroy the world, but they cannot figure who. Daniel finds a computer terminal and guesses “RAMESES” as the password. He tries “RAMESES II” and the terminal unlocks, saying “Hello, Adrian.” With horror, Daniel realizes that Adrian Veidt is behind everything—Rameses II is the Egyptian name for Ozymandias. They leave to find Veidt, taking a stack of papers from a desk.
Adrian Veidt’s role as the mastermind of a criminal conspiracy embodies the novel’s complex ethical dilemma and its critique of traditional heroes. Where most comic books until Watchmen’s publication—including many that Moore worked on, such as Batman and Superman—focused on traditional, pure heroes fighting clearly evil villains, Veidt occupies an ambiguous role as either the world’s greatest hero or the world’s greatest villain, depending on the reader’s interpretation.
“Rorschach’s journal. November 1st, 1985.” Rorschach and Daniel are going to try to track down Veidt in his lair. Veidt is the most dangerous enemy Rorschach can imagine, and he does not expect to survive the encounter. Rorschach thanks his reader for their support and announces that he has no regrets. He “lived life, free from compromises.” He signs off and puts his journal into a city mailbox.
Rorschach’s pride in living a life “free from compromises” embodies his ethical stance. Within his strict moralist view of the world, staying true to one’s morals at all times is the highest virtue, higher than empathy, nuance, or any greater good.
On the street corner, the news vendor gripes about the end of the world, particularly since no one except the masked heroes asked for this fight. He sees Joey, who says that her girlfriend, Aline, is angry with her and they’re settling things tonight. In the pirate comic, the survivor and the dead woman ride down the street, under the gaze of what he thinks is a pirate sentry, but what is really only a scarecrow. Once past the “sentry,” he rides furiously toward his home, toward “vengeance.” Elsewhere, a postman delivers Rorschach’s journal to the New Frontiersman office, but Seymour just puts it in the “crank file.”
The pirate comic’s survivor misconstrues a scarecrow as a pirate sentry, foreshadowing his tragic misunderstanding of the whole situation. This foreshadowing also applies to Rorschach and Daniel’s pursuit of Adrian Veidt, since they will soon discover that they misunderstood Veidt’s intentions all along.
Rorschach and Daniel fly the airship to Antarctica, where Veidt’s fortress lies. They try to come in low, but the cold air freezes the airship’s engines and they crash-land in the snow. Unhurt, they unload their hover bikes and keeping making their way towards Veidt’s lair. Veidt watches them approach on his screens.
Veidt watches Rorschach and Daniel approach, suggesting that he knew they’d come for him. This further establishes Veidt as an all-knowing mastermind, even though he is technically as human as anyone else, which further blurs the lines between regular people and superheroes.
A series of clippings and pamphlets shows an overview of Adrian Veidt’s various merchandizing schemes. In a letter to a toy manufacturer, he proposes changing out super-villain action figures for characterized terrorists. In a letter to a perfume manufacturer, Veidt states that they should change their perfume branding from “Nostalgia” to “Millennium”: while “Nostalgia” is comforting in times of “upheaval,” eventually the world will settle back into peace and begin looking towards the promise of the future, rather than the safety of the past. An informational brochure outlines Veidt’s wellness programs, including his belief that anyone can become as remarkable as he is with the right discipline and training regimen.
Once again, this series of clippings contains nothing essential to the story, but rather fleshes out Veidt’s character. His request that his toy enemies be terrorists rather than super-villains suggests that he wants to move away from his identity as a costumed hero, and simply be seen as person who works for the good of all. Rebranding his perfume to something future-oriented shows that, contrary to predictions of an apocalyptic war, Veidt believes that earth and humanity have a bright and peaceful future ahead of them—and that he intends to profit from it.