[*Warning of spoilers for the comic series Watchmen (1986-1987)!]
For those who don’t know, Watchmen is a comic series created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and originally published by DC Comics in 1986 to 1987. Its narrative revolves around an alternate history of our world’s own. The main difference is a god-like being named Doctor Manhattan and several non-powered costumed humans. However, the narrative is so complexly detailed that it makes it arguable whether any of the Watchmen characters are heroes.
What is not as arguable is that many see Walter Joseph Kovacs, alias Rorschach, as a protagonist (despite being a bigot and sexist). Yet I propose that all the characters found in Watchmen get to play at being protagonists, but all of them are also either supporting characters, or in the case of Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) and Rorschach, antagonists.
This begs the question: Is there a pure protagonist in the original series Watchmen?
To figure this out we must think of what leads the over-arcing plot. Now a lot of those who read Watchmen will probably point to the threat of nuclear war as the leading plot point, and while that is a major plot point, it is more related to commentary. Instead, I posit that what leads the overall narrative is the relatively minor character Nelson Gardner, alias Captain Metropolis, or rather his calling the meeting of the Crimebusters in 1966. This is because the events in the original Watchmen series would not occur without Adrien Veidt hearing the Comedian’s commentary. Said commentary mainly boils down to the idea that their short-term goals don’t help end any of the world’s problems. There is also the fact that Ozymandias actually declares his plan began at that meeting (Watchmen #11 ). Also this scene is one that every one of the main characters keeps having flashbacks or references to.
Now, what makes Captain Metropolis possibly the only pure protagonist is that so little happens to dilute his attempt to positively affect the Watchmen’s world. He also does not antagonize any other character, or for that matter commit any questionable actions in this original series. Finally, his calling the meeting is what the narrative keeps revolving around.
Therefore with everything leading to, or from, this point in the narrative, it seems a rarity in comic books has occurred in that a minor character (Captain Metropolis) is the most important to a story’s plot.