The Comedian's badge, also known as The Button, is one of the most iconic and recognizable images from the Watchmen comic with its yellow smiley face and blood spatter,. The symbol appears on the cover of the very first issue, and throughout the series.
The smiley face image seen throughout the book comes from a badge worn by the Comedian. It is unknown how the Comedian (Eddie Blake) first acquired the badge. In his days as a member of the Minutemen, he wore a different symbol attached to his belt buckle: a purple-red grinning face resembling a comedy mask from ancient Greek theatre. By the time Nelson Gardner attempted to recruit Blake into his new organization, the Crimebusters, Blake was wearing a new uniform without any sort of badge.
The more familiar smiley badge became a part of the Comedian's uniform at least prior to 1971, when he wore it at the V.V.N. Day celebrations that marked the end of the Vietnam War. He wore it consistently from that time until 1985.
In 1985, Blake was wearing the badge on his night robe when he was attacked in his apartment. When Blake was beaten about the face, blood from his nose and mouth stained the badge in its familiar pattern: a single line of blood across the badge's right eye. When Blake was thrown out of the window, the badge flew free of his clothes and was washed into the gutter. It remained there until Rorschach came across it the night after the murder, on October 12th.
Rorschach subsequently gave the badge to Dan Dreiberg when he came to inform Dreiberg about Blake's death. Dreiberg removed the blood and kept the badge with him, even when he went to dinner with Laurie Juspeczyk at the restaurant Rafael's. At Blake's funeral, Dreiberg dropped the badge into Blake's grave, on top of the coffin.
After Kid Flash attempted to force his way back inside the DC Universe, Batman noticed a mysterious object glimmering in a dark corner of the Batcave, where an energy bolt from the tear in reality had struck. Inspecting it, he discovered something lodged in the rockface, and chipped it loose. It was revealed as the Comedian's Pin.
Later, Flash arrived in the Batcave to speak to Batman on the events that had transpired, and found him running tests on it. Batman revealed that he initially believed it to have been left behind by his arch-nemesis, the Joker, but quickly found it was giving off a unique radiation signature unlike anything they were familiar with. Recognizing that something very big was at work but knowing very little about it, they agreed to keep it to themselves until they knew more.
Several months later, after forensic testing proved inconclusive, the Button reacted to the Medusa Mask, an artifact belonging to the villain Psycho-Pirate, who was the only holdout from before the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Batman was struck by unusual energy and experienced visions of an alternative version of his father, wearing his own version of the Batman costume. The radiation spiked and he immediately contacted Flash to discuss the situation. Flash, busy protecting his home city from invasion, said he would arrive in one minute.
Unfortunately, Reverse-Flash was also interested in Batman, as the alternative version of his father had slain him in that timeline. After a short battle, Batman was incapacitated with critical injuries. Reverse-Flash inspected the Button and was transported away. When he returned a few seconds later, he was fatally injured, with half of his body disintegrating. He claimed to have seen God before dying.
Noticing the Button had disappeared and knowing that Reverse-Flash was a time traveler, the duo embarked on a mission across the dimension of Hypertime to locate both his place of death and the Button. While they did locate him, they were unable to prevent him from rushing to his demise, and the Button was lost to them. His assailant is revealed as Doctor Manhattan, who picks up the Button before departing. It is next seen floating through space, the dried blood becoming fresh once again, before twisting into the battered shield of Superman.
At some point after this, the Button came into the possession of Lex Luthor.
The blood stain on the Comedian's badge resembles an arrow, pointing from the center of the round smiley face into the upper left quadrant. One interpretation is that the stain represents the minute hand of a clock, pointing at 12 minutes to the hour, particularly in an implied connection to the Doomsday Clock, which represents how close the world is to "catastrophic destruction". Alternatively, or simultaneously, it can symbolize a flaw or taint on superficial appearances that everything is well: in the same way the blood stains the happy smile, the new world order is stained by the uncertain foundation of the blood and falsehood it was built on.
The badge's symbol also appears many other times during the story, often at important junctures. A list of these appearances follows.
- Chapter I, page 5: When Rorschach fires his grappling gun, the hook and resulting smoke trail resemble the pattern of the blood splatter
- Chapter II, page 7: When Hooded Justice prevents Blake from raping Sally Jupiter, Blake bleeds on his yellow jumpsuit in the same position he wears the badge at the time of his death. The smiley face itself does not appear.
- Chapter II, page 14: When Blake is slashed across the face by the pregnant Vietnamese woman, some of his blood falls on the smiley badge, mimicking the familiar pattern.
- Chapter II, page 17: In the last panel you can see the pattern of the liquid splatter on the Owlship.
- Chapter III, page 18: A plug socket on a curbside recharge point for electric cars slightly resembles a yellow face with black eyes. There is a shadow at the top left, in the approximate position of the blood on the Comedian's badge.
- Chapter IV, page 19: On the close-up of the Comedian on the final panel on the page, a drop of his sweat falls onto the same place of the badge as the blood droplet does.
- Chapter V, pages 7 and 22: A religious poster featuring Buddha with a yellow sun behind his head is spattered with a spot of blood. The blood marks the sun in the same position as the blood on the badge, and also covers the Buddha's left eye. The poster first appears on page 7 in the home of Mrs. Hirsch after her husband kills their two children, Clare and Dominique, and again later on page 22 in the police office.
- Chapter V, page 15: In the scene where Ozymandias is beating his would-be assassin, some blood flies in front of the yellow flower on Ozymandias' lapel, making it resemble the smile button. The position of the flower on Ozymadias' lapel is the same as the position of the badge on Blake's lapel at the time of his death.
- Chapter V, pages 20-21: The yellow shark that is stabbed in one eye by the protagonist of Marooned (from Tales of the Black Freighter) comes to resemble the smiley badge.
- Chapter VI, page 25: The shape of the dogs' blood on Rorschach's chest resembles that of the blood splatter on the badge.
- Chapter VII, cover and pages 1 and 4: While the second Silk Spectre is going through Dreiberg's basement, the Nite Owl goggles, which are covered with dust except for a patch she wiped off which mimics the blood spatter, reflect the front of the Owlship, which mimics the smiley face.
- Chapter VII, page 3: Dreiberg pictures the Comedian's bloody badge when he remembers Rorschach's warnings about a "mask killer".
- Chapter VII, page 13: Drieberg is cleaning the steam off of his right lens of his glasses. In the left lens you can see a smiley face with the left eye darker, representing the blood splatter.
- Chapter VII, page 18: When Dreiberg looks at the moon out of his window, two water droplets in the position of a pair of eyes and a cloud in the position of a mouth makes it resemble a smiley face. Dreiberg wipes condensation off the window over the moon, in the position of the blood spatter on the Comedian's badge.
- Chapter VII, page 28: After rescuing innocent victims from a tenement fire, the Owlship occupied by Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre is shown flying against the yellow moon, with smoke rising up from beneath on one side. The ship's portholes resemble the eyes of a face, the clouds resemble a smiling mouth, and the rising smoke over the left porthole resembles the blood spatter. In an earlier frame, the smoke from Laurie's cigarette cuts across Dan's goggles in a similar fashion.
- Chapter VIII, page 12: On Halloween night, Hollis Mason carves a jack-o'-lantern which strongly resembles a smiley face. A smattering of pumpkin pulp is spread across the face of it, repeating the pattern.
- Chapter VIII, page 28: When Mason is killed, the blood smeared across his face in his Minutemen photo is similar to the stain on the button.
- Chapter IX, page 8 (and repeated on page 24): When Laurie Juspeczyk relates her earliest memory to Jon, a splash of water from the broken snowglobe marks the eye of one of five-year-old Laurie's teddy bear slippers.
- Chapter IX, page 21: As Laurie throws her Scotch into the Comedian's face, a drop of it falls onto or in front of the badge's left eye.
- The Galle crater on the Argyre Planitia of Mars, which resembles a smiley face, appears on page 27 of Chapter IX. The position of debris from Dr. Manhattan's clockwork tower, beneath the face's left eye, is reminiscent of the blood-spatter pattern.
- On the cover art of Chapter X, the radar has two lines coming down to make the eyes and a corved reflection of light along the bottom to make the mouth, with the scanning beam making the trajectory of the blood stain.
- There is a clear patch on the side of Veidt's vivarium, shown on the cover of Chapter XI, through which a butterfly, a ladybug, and several plants are visible. This clear patch is a perfect replica of the shape of the blood spatter.
- Chapter XI, page 16: The smiley face can be seen in Veidt's plate. Morsels of food make the eyes, with Adrian's fork representing the blood splatter.
- Chapter XI, page 28: When the "alien" is teleported to New York, and the world turns to white, the comic book boy and the newspaper stand attendant incinerate together, and their silhouettes meld together to form the blood stain.
- Chapter XII, page 1: Near the top of the Pale Horse concert sign is a blood smear identical to that on the smiley face.
- Chapter XII, page 6: The outlet of a "spark hydrant" on the ground has a splatter of blood which, combined with the two outlet holes for eyes and lower curve for the smiling mouth, bears a striking resemblance to the smile.
- Chapter XII, page 24: Following Rorschach's disintegration by Dr. Manhattan, the vaporous blood rising from his remains intersects with an icicle hanging from a circular entrance to Veidt's fortress, a hoverbike in the foreground, and a slightly curved line inside the entrance, resembling the smiley face.
- Seymour, an assistant working for the New Frontiersman newspaper, habitually wears a green T-shirt with a yellow smiley face. On page 32 of Chapter XII (the final page of the novel), Seymour spills ketchup from a hamburger on his shirt, which stains the smiley face in just the same way that the original badge was stained by the Comedian's blood.
The symbol may have been referenced in the episode of The Simpsons entitled 'New Kids on the Beach', when an employee of Mad Magazine is shown wearing a t-shirt adorned with a smiley face stained with sauce.