In 1983, DC acquired Charlton comics. With it, they also acquired their catalog of superhero characters, many created by Steve Ditko. Alan Moore (an admirer of Ditko despite their polar opposite politics), saw an opportunity to use these characters for a story he'd been eager to write: a superhero murder mystery.

The DC Editor at that time, Dick Giordano, liked Moore's pitch, minus one detail — the use of the Charlton characters. If Moore used them as planned, then there was no way they could be incorporated into the mainstream DC Universe. As a solution, Moore created analogs. The result was Moore & Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, which needs no introduction. While the Watchmen cast grew beyond simple stand-ins for the Charlton characters, the shared roots are still clear.

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Updated on October 12th, 2023 by David Harth: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen transcended its roots as a story that owed a lot to Charlton Comics to become a book that is considered among the greatest of all time. Watchmen has inspired DC to create other works based in that universe. Some have roots in Charlton Comics, and others are original creations. Watchmen itself also stars several characters who blend original concepts with clever nods towards established properties.

10 The Minutemen Are Pastiches That Come From Multiple Sources But Are Mostly Original

Watchmen's Minutemen as depicted in Alan Moore's graphic novel

The Minutemen are the original team of superheroes from the 1940s that inspire the Crimebusters. The Minutemen comprised Captain Metropolis, Hooded Justice, Silk Spectre I, Comedian, Nite-Owl 1, Dollar Bill, Mothman, and the Silhouette. Most of those characters take their inspiration from Golden Age DC and Marvel superheroes, and others are more original. Silk Spectre I is more based on Black Canary than Nightshade. Captain Metropolis combines Superman iconography with Captain America, as well as other more generic patriotic heroes of the day. Moore also made some characters queer seemingly as a sly reference to Fredric Wertham's Seduction Of The Innocent, a book that claimed superhero comics made the kids who read them homosexual and used heroes like Batman and Robin as examples of secret homosexuals.

What's really interesting about the Minutemen is how later DC creators took ideas from established characters and put their own spin on them. For example, Mothman's mental issues were mirrored by Ted Knight, the first Starman, in James Robinson and Paul Smith's The Golden Age. Writer Darwyn Cooke created John Henry for The New Frontier, a character who looked a lot like Hooded Justice. The Minutemen played off the different heroes who were around in the Golden Age, rather than becoming one-to-one character pastiches.

9 Moloch's Origins Are Much Harder To Parse Out

Moloch getting startled by Rorschach in Watchmen

Moloch is the only "supervillain" in Watchmen. Looking back over Charlton's history, there's no concrete inspiration for Moloch, but there are several DC villains who seem to inspire him. There's also a mythological source. The name Moloch comes from the Bible and is the name of a demon who was known for kidnapping children. Seeing as how Moloch ran a "vice den" that certainly had prostitution — a business that often uses kidnapping to replenish its ranks — the name makes sense.

As for DC villains, it's been speculated that the Joker, a villain that was inspired by clowns and vaudeville, is partly an inspiration for Moloch. Other possible inspirations include villains like the Wizard and Abra Kadabra. Abra Kadabra is an interesting choice. Since he came from the far future, he wasn't actually a magician and used technological wizardry to simulate magical powers. Add in that Abra Kadabra also dressed like a stage magician, and this is more than likely the inspiration for Moloch.

8 Marionette And Mime Are Descendants Of Punch And Jewelee

Marionette and Mime standing beside each other in Doomsday Clock

Doomsday Clock tried to be Watchmen, down to the ponderous way it was written by Geoff Johns. Johns and artist Gary Frank crossed over the DC Multiverse and the universe of Watchmen, and while the story wasn't exactly well-regarded, it has its moments. Among the story's highlights were the villains Marionette and Mime, a criminal duo who enthralled readers whenever they were on the page. Marionette seemed like she was more of a Harley Quinn rip-off, and Mime's use of invisible weapons and dedication to the job made him a quiet but deadly villain.

However, Marionette and Mime were actually based on Charlton villains, Punch and Jewelee. These two villains first appeared in Captain Atom #85 (by Steve Ditko, David Kaler, Rocke Mastroserio, and Herb Field), which makes it à propos that Doctor Manhattan was the one to apprehend Marionette and Mime in Doomsday Clock. Like many other Charlton characters, Punch and Jewelee eventually came over to the DC Universe. There, they fought Captain Atom, joined the Suicide Squad, and had a baby together.

7 The Kid From Rorschach Used Western Hero Iconography But Was Mostly Original

Rorschach and his sidekick in DC Comics

Tom King and Jorge Fornes's Rorschach is easily the most well-regarded Watchmen sequel, mostly because it wasn't about Watchmen except in a tangential sense. It took place in the same universe and had a character who dressed as Rorschach in it. Oher than that, it was more about how conspiracies can radicalize people. The book also delivered a heaping helping of real life comic creators and pastiches of real life creators in the book. For example, Frank Miller is a rather important character to the whole story and his actions in the book can be looked at as a meta examination of Miller's impact on comics and the damage it did.

Will Myerson, an obvious pastiche of Question creator Steve Ditko, takes on the mantle of Rorschach in the book to help in an assassination of presidential candidate Senator Turley. He also works with a young woman named Laura Cummings, who dresses in a cowboy get-up and calls herself the Kid. The Kid is based on multiple Western heroes from Marvel and DC, although she's seemingly most inspired by Marvel's Two-Gun Kid judging by her costume and DC's Cinnamon, a woman who ended up being a reincarnation of Sheira Hall.

6 Doctor Manhattan Is Based On Captain Atom

A split image of Doctor Manhattan and Captain Atom from DC Comics

Watchmen may be more grounded than most superhero stories, but there is still one character with actual superpowers. Doctor Manhattan (once Jon Osterman) was a physicist who got atomized then reborn as a god. Manhattan experiences all of time simultaneously. That, plus his power, has alienated him from humanity. He's also the US' ultimate nuclear deterrent, fitting the Cold War zeitgeist which hangs over Watchmen.

Manhattan's origin is taken from the original Captain Atom, Allen Adam (created by Joe Gill & Steve Ditko); Atom's fusion-based powers make his existence a more direct allegory for nuclear weapons. The modern, DC-native Captain Atom, Nathanial Adam, has in turn taken recursive inspiration from Doctor Manhattan.

5 Ozymandias Is Based On Thunderbolt

A split image of comic characters Ozymandias and Thunderbolt

"Look on my works, ye mighty and despair," once wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley of a king named Ozymandias. Watchmen's Ozymandias, Adrian Veidt, intends to make that promise once again. Inspired by the telekinetic Peter Cannon/Thunderbolt (created by Peter Morisi), Veidt lacks the powers of his basis. However, Ozymandias makes up it for with his genius intellect, near-superhuman athleticism, and a lethal mix of self-assuredness and ruthlessness.

Thunderbolt is the only Charlton character to inspire Watchmen who wasn't created by Ditko or Joe Gill. He's also the only one who never found renewed purchase in the DC Universe. However, Ozymandias' character — a billionaire industrialist who considers himself the apex of humanity and whose narcissism has destructive consequences for the world — has no doubt influenced post-Watchmen takes on Lex Luthor.

4 Rorschach Is Based On The Question

A split image of comic characters Question and Rorschach

Personality-wise, Rorschach has more in common with Travis Bickle than any superheroes, but the Question was his direct inspiration. Ditko and Ayn Rand originally created a character known as "Mr. A," a masked detective and dispenser of Objectivist justice. For Charlton, Ditko created Vic Sage/The Question, a watered-down Mr. A acceptable to the Comics Code Authority.

Alan Moore used these characters to create Rorschach, but owing to his opposite politics, turned Rorschach's paranoia and refusal to compromise into childlike naivete rather than principle. He also intended Rorschach as "what Batman would be in the real world." True enough, rather than an industrialist like Bruce Wayne or an investigative reporter like Vic Sage, Walter Kovacs is an unemployed drifter. Like much of Watchmen, Rorschach's influence has been recursive. Whenever a mainstream DC book, show, or movie calls for a Rorschach stand-in, expect the Question to rear his masked head.

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3 Nite-Owl Is Based On Blue Beetle

A split image of Nite Owl and Blue Beetle

Though his costume, tendency to plan ahead of time, and his basement lair all invoke Silver-Age Batman, the primary inspiration for Nite-Owl lies elsewhere. Specifically, a different gadget-reliant hero: the Blue Beetle. Dan Dreiberg is based on Ted Kord, another Ditko creation. Dan is the second Nite-Owl, after the original Hollis Mason.

The fact Nite-Owl assumed his identity from a predecessor calls to mind Kord's status as the 2nd Blue Beetle. Ted had succeeded the original Dan Garrett (created by "Charles Nicholas Wotjowski," a pen-name for multiple creators at Fox Comics). Dan's owl-themed crime-fighting airship, Archie, also bears more than a passing resemblance to Ted's flying vehicle, The Bug.

2 The Silk Spectre Is Based On Nightshade (Plus The Phantom Lady And Black Canary)

A split image of Silk Spectre, Nightshade, Phantom Lady, and Black Canary

The most prominent woman of the Charlton characters was Night Shade. Introduced in Captain Atom by Ditko and David Kaler as a sometimes love interest for the title character, Eve Eden was a government spy in possession of the power to manipulate shadows. Despite her presence in the original pitch, Night Shade fell by the wayside as Moore and Gibbons crafted Watchmen's female hero: the Silk Spectre.

Like Nite-Owl, the Silk Spectre is an inherited identity, passed down from Sally Jupiter to her daughter Laurie. The inspiration for this wasn't one of Charlton's characters, but one native to DC: Black Canary. The Black Canary identity was used in the Golden Age by Dinah Drake, then by her daughter, Dinah Lance. For Sally's Silk Spectre, Moore & Gibbons also drew on Eisner & Iger's Golden Age heroine, The Phantom Lady.

1 The Comedian Is Based On Peacemaker

A split image of The Comedian and of Peacemaker

Every murder mystery needs a victim, and for Watchmen, that's Edward Blake, aka the Comedian. Before Watchmen, the pitch's original Charlton-inspired title was "Who Killed The Peacemaker?" Peacemaker, aka Christopher Smith, was an agent of peace but a dispenser of violence. His adventures put hi into conflict with many foreign dictators. Though Smith wasn't a Ditko creation (instead, he sprang from the minds of Joe Gill and Pat Boyette), his moral absolutism (peace at any cost) still makes him feel right at home with the other Charlton characters.

Peacemaker's role enforcing peace (or an American definition of that concept, at least) across the globe no doubt inspired the Comedian's tour in Vietnam, something significant to the plot. After all, Watchmen presents America's triumph in that war as one of the biggest ripples that superheroes' existence had on the timeline. The Suicide Squad, which fittingly portrays Peacemaker infiltrating the island nation Corto Maltese along with the rest of that team, has given the character a resurgence in exposure. Beforehand, his inspiration for the Comedian was his most noteworthy role in comic history.