Who watches the Watchmen? Well, DC Comics does, and so do the revolutionary comic's legions of fans. In fact, they love the classic Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons tale so much that Watchmen has remained in print since it was first released in 1986. In addition to the perennial graphic novel best seller, there was a Watchmen film, the Before Watchmen prequel comics, and soon there may soon be both an R-rated animated adaptation and an HBO series.
The DC Universe of the comics has also been in the midst of a Watchmen-centric revitalization during the current Rebirth initiative. The implications are that Doctor Manhattan altered reality in the DC Universe, and he's since seemingly manipulated the heroes behind the scenes. Plus, a character heavily hinted to be Ozymandias has also been seen over the last year (though CBR is pretty sure Mr. Oz is someone else). In November 2017, Johns and Gary Frank will begin to answer all the lingering questions of Rebirth with the 12-issue event series Doomsday Clock.
In addition to bringing the Watchmen into the DCU-proper, DC Comics has crafted the unique opportunity to celebrate a previously ignored part of the Watchmen legacy; namely, the Charlton Comics Action Heroes, Moore and Gibbons used as templates for the Watchmen characters. In continuity, DC has ignored the connection the Question, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker and Nightshade have to one of its most successful stories of all time, but by embracing the heroes' place in history, the publisher has a chance to really get people to buy comics starring them.
Who Are The Charlton Comics Action Heroes?
In the 1980s, longtime publisher Charlton Comics went out of business. Seeing some interesting characters for the taking, DC Comics bought the rights to the Charlton Comics Action Heroes: Captain Atom, The Question, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Nightshade, Thunderbolt, Judomaster and Sarge Steel.
Many of these characters were, in fact created by legendary artist/writer Steve Ditko, and they reflected heavily the era in which they were conceived. Captain Atom was a nuclear-powered superhero typical of the 1950s and '60s. The Question was a investigative journalist and vigilante. Ted Kord was Ditko's version of the Golden Age Blue Beetle, but without any of the superpowers. Nightshade was introduced as the shadow-wielding partner and love interest of Captain Atom.
Other, non-Ditko characters included Peacemaker, a government super agent who dealt with the ghosts of war, and Thunderbolt, a man who achieved mental and physical perfection. There was also the martial artist Judomaster, and the hardboiled detective Sarge Steel.
Alan Moore took interest in many of these characters, and used them in his original Watchmen pitch, feeling that he needed established heroes within a preexisting continuity to make the story most effective. However, when DC editorial saw his plans for its new intellectual property, the publisher convinced him to create new characters using the Action Heroes as templates.
The level of near-omnipotence Captain Atom possessed seemed to interest Moore enough that he used him as the basis for Doctor Manhattan. The characters' origins were similar, with the former a scientist who became accidentally locked inside an experimental rocket and was atomized when it exploded, and the latter a scientist who was locked in an Intrinsic Field Subtractor only to be atomized. In both cases, the experiences gave them superpowers, not the last of which was to reconstitute their bodies.
Ditko created the comic book character Mr. A in 1967, who was noted for his uncompromising principles and incorruptibility as a vigilante and journalist. By Ditko's own admission, the Question was created as a Comics Code Authority-friendly version of Mr. A. Moore used both characters as the basis for Rorschach, especially the character's unflinching dedication to the truth.
Blue Beetle was a non-powered superhero who used gadgets and an airship to fight crime, which inspired Moore to create Nite Owl. He used a combination of Nightshade, Black Canary and Phantom Lady as the basis for Watchmen's Silk Spectre. More also used Peacemaker as the template for the Comedian, and turned Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt into Ozymandias.
It's been about 30 years since Watchmen was released and the Charlton characters were first introduced into the DC Universe, and since then, the publisher has done relatively little to celebrate or take advantage of the connection these two groups share. As a result, the former Action Heroes have failed to find consistent success.