Watchmen 101: Know your superheroes

Not a comics geek but plan to see the movie? Read this first.

THE SOURCE

"Watchmen," published in 1987, was written by notoriously difficult comics legend Alan Moore (who wanted to create "a superhero 'Moby-Dick' ") and drawn by Dave Gibbons. Richly challenging artistically and thematically, it won a Hugo Award and is often Exhibit A when fans argue comic books can be art.

THE FILM

After years of failed attempts and a last-minute studio lawsuit, Zack Snyder ("300") has made a version that runs nearly 3 hours. And he still had to cut stuff out.

THE PREMISE

In an alternate version of our world, it's 1985 and Richard Nixon is still president. America has become fed up with costumed, self-styled heroes and passed a law banning them, although the government employs/controls Dr. Manhattan, the only character in "Watchmen" with genuine powers. The United States and Soviet Union are inching toward nuclear war, and someone is stalking and killing former heroes.

THE MAIN CHARACTERS

The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan): A cynical perversion of Captain America. He wears the smiley-face button that, spattered with his blood, is a recurring motif.

Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman): The obligatory hot femme fatale. But she has issues, including a complicated relationship with Dr. Manhattan.

Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup): A nuclear accident gave him unlimited, God-like powers, but he has become detached from humanity. He's also bright blue and naked.

Ozymandias (Matthew Goode): Brainiac businessman who retired from being a superhero and made a mint off his own action figures.

Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson): Batman-ish character, only more self-doubting. Friends with Rorschach and Spectre.

Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley): Disturbing, obsessed vigilante with a creepy ink blot mask, he's also paranoid enough to see danger most clearly.

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