At Midnight, All the Agents... is the first chapter in the twelve-chapter series Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. It was released in September, 1985, and was reprinted in March, 2000 as a 'Millennium Edition Reprint' that was sold for $2.50 instead of the standard $1.50.
"At midnight, all the agents and superhuman crew go out and round up everyone who knows more than they do."
—Desolation Row by Bob Dylan
- Dan Dreiberg
- Jon Osterman
- Laurie Juspeczyk
- Adrian Veidt
- The Comedian
- Detective Steven Fine
- Detective Joe Bourquin
- Edward Blake's Apartment
- New York
- Rockefeller Military Research Center
- Nite Owl's workshop
- Happy Harry's
- Mason's Auto Repairs
- See also: Rorschach's journal.
Opening in Eddie Blake's apartment, Detectives Fine and Bourquin discuss the murder. Considering the size of the man, Detective Fine presumes there must have been two attackers and also determines that by the sturdiness of the glass that Blake must have been thrown out, making his opponent(s) rather large and strong. They decide to cover up the death to avoid interference from Rorschach.
Nevertheless, that night Rorschach enters the apartment by use of his grappling hook gun. He searches through the drawers and closet to find a hidden switch that opens up a compartment with a large assortment of items, including a silenced MAC-10 machine gun, a combat knife, a leather costume, and a picture of the Minutemen. Rorschach realizes that Eddie Blake was the true identity of the legendary masked adventurer, the Comedian.
Dan Dreiberg is visiting Hollis Mason at the latter's home above Mason's Auto Repairs where they discuss their time as Nite Owl in what Dreiberg calls a "late night beer session." He walks to his own apartment to find Rorschach has already broken in and was helping himself to cold beans. They walk down the stairs to his workshop to discuss the death of the Comedian. Dreiberg suggests an ordinary burglary or a political killing from Marxist Republics in South America, but Rorschach mentions a 'mask killer' theory, in that someone is trying to pick off costumed heroes.
Rorschach enters Happy Harry's bar to gather information. He talks to Happy Harry who doesn't seem to know anything about it, then tortures a man who mocks him named Steve, breaking two of his fingers. No one seems to know anything about the murder of Edward Blake.
Rorshach next visits Adrian Veidt at the billionaire's office. Veidt also suggests a political killing, possibly the Soviets, but Rorschach assures him otherwise, and mocks Veidt for setting up a company to sell posters, diet books and toy soldiers based on himself, calling him a 'prostitute'. Rather unaffected, he discusses his retiring from adventuring before the Keene Act was passed.
The last people Rorshach warns are Jon Osterman and Laurie Juspeczyk both of whom reside at the Rockefeller Military Research Center. Manhattan recalls that the C.I.A. suspects the Libyans were responsible for Blake's death, but isn't concerned himself, explaining that he sees life and death as "unquantifiable abstracts." Initially intending to warn them of the presumed mask killer, he ends up arguing with Laurie about the behaviors of the Comedian. Due to upsetting Laurie, Jon transports Rorschach outside the facility.
Laurie calls Dan Dreiberg to see if he would meet her at Rafael's for dinner. Laurie discusses her regret for adventuring and her relationship with Jon, then they talk about an old villain that only pretended to be a super-villain to get beaten up, and together they laugh about the days when they were once costumed crime fighters.
The most notable of the early symbolism is Comedian's badge, which can be seen soaked in blood on the front cover. This motif can be seen on the first page of the first issue, just the same as the last page of the last issue. It was worn by the Comedian who Rorschach claimed "understood. Treated it like a joke, but he understood," when referring to society and the way people were. The motif, with its smiling face soaked in blood, has always served as the joke not able to be seen by most.
At night, before investigating Eddie Blake's murder, Rorschach picks up the blood stained badge from the gutter. When going to warn Dan Dreiberg about the incident, he gave the badge to Dreiberg who asked 'This little stain, is that bean juice...' to which Rorschach replied 'That's right. Human bean juice.' While talking about back when they were partners, Dreiberg says 'those were great times...whatever happened to them?' to which Rorschach replies 'You quit' and left. Dreiberg is then sitting on a crate next to his costume, staring at the badge. Later, while talking with Laurie Juspeczyk, he sets the badge on the terrace of the rooftop of Rafael's where they're standing. They joke about past villains and Laurie says 'That felt good. There don't seem to be so many laughs around these days.' Dreiberg replies 'Well, what do you expect? The Comedian is dead.'
Starting the trend for the rest of the series, the last page of the issue shows a clock set at approximately 11:48, twelve minutes from midnight. The rest of the page is completely black.
After Rorschach leaves Adrian Veidt's office to warn him about the 'mask killer', it can be seen on his desk, under his Action Figures, a copy of the New York Gazette with the headline 'Nuclear Doomsday Clock stands at five to twelve warn experts'. Set during the time of the Cold War, when fear of nuclear attack haunted American lifestyle, the Doomsday Clock can be seen as a very fitting theme.
"Who Watches the Watchmen?" was a phrase set about before the Keene Act was set in place, which describes the publics anger toward the costumed vigilantes at the time. It was spray-painted on walls across the city, and in this chapter it is first seen as graffiti on the garage door of Mason's Auto Repairs as Dreiberg is walking out from another 'late night beer session' with Hollis, alone and retired. Later, while walking through a graffiti-filled alleyway, Rorschach walks past another one of these symbols.
Pale Horse is a supposed band in the Watchmen reality, and their title derives from the story in the Bible, Revelations vi, 7-8, "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."
As Dreiberg leaves Mason's Auto Repairs, 'Pale Horse' can be seen spray-painted on the side of the stairs, on the garage door below "Who Watches the Watchmen?", and a poster of the band on an alley wall as he walks away. In the same chapter Rorschach walks down an alley where there is a poster that reads 'Madison Square Garden: Pale Horse', which links both of them in a sense as 'Death', bringers of Hell. This relation may be spawned by their partnership, but they are linked together again in the same sense in Chapter X: Two Riders Were Approaching..., titled 'Two Riders Were Approaching...' in which Rorschach and Dreiberg are seen riding alongside each other once again. 'Krystalnacht' was the title of the concert, based on the 'Night of Broken Glass', properly spelled Kristallnacht, a 1938 anti-Jewish pogrom in which residents of Nazi Germany and Austria attacked Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues, killing many Jews and destroying a great deal of property.
Rorschach passes a poster that shows President Nixon, and under him reads 'Four More Years'. Other graffiti that Rorschach passes include an anarchy symbol, as well as a peace sign.
Released with the first issue were the first two chapters of Under the Hood, the autobiography of Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl and one of the first masked adventurers. Moore likely included these excerpts to explain why these men would dress up like super-heroes and fight crime by showing how particularly normal of a person Hollis Mason was, and then detailing how he became the Nite Owl.
Chapter I details his relationship with his father and the time he spent in Moe Vernon's auto repair shop. Hollis introduced Moe Vernon to go through with describing the saddest thing he had ever seen. In Chapter II Hollis discusses his grandfather and the absolute values he learned, then about his coming to New York in which he described his hatred for its people when he first saw them, much like Rorschach throughout this issue. Also contributing to his later crime-fighting behaviors were his work for the New York City police and his love for comic books. The final trigger was the newspaper headline, "Hooded Justice".