“I did it 35 minutes ago”
Watchmen #11, August 1987
What happened? We’d never enjoyed an extended superhero Whodunnit? like Watchmen before, and it all built up to this: the final confrontation between dogged everyman hero Nite Owl and his psycho sidekick Rorschach, and an ex-teammate who’d now revealed himself to be the Big Bad, the super-rich Adrian Veidt. Our two sorry heroes think they’ve stopped his scheme to prevent seemingly inevitable nuclear war by providing the whole planet with an external menace to fight: a cooked-up alien invasion. Trouble is, the plan involves murdering half New York. “When were you planning to do it?” our heroes ask. “Do you seriously think I’d explain my masterstroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome?” comes the answer. “I did it 35 minutes ago.”
Why was it shocking? Superheroes have never been shown to be quite so impotent before. Here they bumbled along, uncovered some things, but were never remotely close to winning – in the end, the only thing they’ve done is fail to prevent the villain from saving the world.