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Why the First Cowboy To Draw Always Gets Shot 398

cremeglace writes "Have you ever noticed that the first cowboy to draw his gun in a Hollywood Western is invariably the one to get shot? Nobel-winning physicist Niels Bohr did, once arranging mock duels to test the validity of this cinematic curiosity. Researchers have now confirmed that people indeed move faster if they are reacting, rather than acting first."
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Why the First Cowboy To Draw Always Gets Shot

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  • Unforgivable! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:01PM (#31026018) Homepage Journal

    They explained that in Unforgiven

    Wrter: "But what if he draws first?"

    Sheriff: "Then he'll miss. You see, you can only draw, aim, and shoot so fast. Me, this is about as fast as I can draw my gun and hit anything smaller than a barn. The guy that keeps a cool head, he'll come out standing."

    That was from memory and is obviously not word for word, but the gist is there. It makes sense to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pojut ( 1027544 )

      Agreed. Someone who draws first would (theoretically) be the one who DIDN'T think they could win, and as such would prolly be a little more nervous than the other guy.

      Just my opinion though...my apologies if that is way more stupid than it was in my head.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:26PM (#31026414)

        Just my opinion though...my apologies if that is way more stupid than it was in my head.

        No worries. The only thing you might need to apologize for is the use of the cringe-inducing pseudo-word "prolly" in an otherwise coherent, grammatically-correct, and typo-free post.

        • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:53PM (#31026802) Homepage Journal

          that's not a Troll, that was clever.

          Didn't you see what the parent did to the grand parent? Grand parent drew first, then parent responded with a more precise comment.

          I think grand parent is dead now, Jim, killed by the AC.

          • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:4, Informative)

            by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:46PM (#31027472) Journal

            All this blabbery is fine, except quick draw artists proved decades ago that there's no way in hell you can, in fact, outdraw someone by reacting to seeing them start first.

            • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:4, Interesting)

              by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm ... minus herbivore> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:05PM (#31029034) Journal

              As someone who has spent his life around guns, as well as spent many a day out shooting with a professional marksman (man you should have seen his competition pistol, seven changeable barrels and deadly accurate) the problem isn't the speed, it is the nerves.

              You see, when you are standing there staring at a man that could quite likely kill you it makes you more than a little nervous, and thus more likely to pull the trigger instead of squeeze. If you just jerk on the trigger like that it is more likely to go wild, and if you are nervous and trying for max speed you might even squeeze too early and have the shot go low. In those single action revolvers that gives your opponent plenty of time to drop you clean. Trying to outdraw that professional marksman I found that while I could pull faster in about 1 out of three tries, when you looked at his target and looked at mine my shots were all over the place and his were grouped right in the kill zone.

              So I would have to agree with the findings. In drawing a weapon, especially a pistol where it is easy to have a non kill shot or miss altogether, accuracy is FAR more important than raw speed. And as for quick draw artists, it was probably quite a rare occurrence to run into a Wild Bill or Wyatt Earp and much more likely to end up against the drunken cow hand with a bad attitude.

      • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:4, Informative)

        by JerryLove ( 1158461 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:14PM (#31027094)

        All things being equal: the one who draws first with the intent to shoot shoots first.

        "Who wins" falls into another hollywood myth: that people fall down when you shoot them. They don't neccessairily. They may be shot several times and still returning fire.

        On the other hand, as many police-shootouts will attest, actually hitting the target isn't all that common.

        So the study is interesting; but it has nothing to do with a firefight.

        • by pcolaman ( 1208838 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:41PM (#31027422)

          Apparently Jack Bauer was not factored into the equation. In less than 8 days (seasons) he has killed almost 100 people.

        • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:5, Informative)

          by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:58PM (#31027584) Journal

          "Who wins" falls into another hollywood myth: that people fall down when you shoot them. They don't neccessairily. They may be shot several times and still returning fire.

          People don't fall down when you shoot them unless you destroy the nervous system (headshot for you gamer types) or they fall down because of the shock of being hit.

          Shock is a variable factor and can not be counted on to stop someone. Some people will fall down screaming after being shot in the arm. Others will absorb multiple shots that ultimately prove to be fatal, yet continue to fight until their blood pressure drops low enough that they pass out. The 1986 FBI shootout [wikipedia.org] is a good example of this.

          There are only two surefire ways for a bullet to stop someone. It can destroy/disable the nervous system or it can cause enough blood loss that they physically can't keep functioning. The former is problematic because it's exceedingly difficult to hit such a small target when the adrenaline is pumping and your life is on the line. The latter is problematic because even if you destroy the heart or sever a major blood vessel, they will still have at least 15 seconds of willful activity before they are stopped.

          There's a reason why police officers are trained to shoot center of mass and to keep on shooting until the person goes down. Remember that the next time you see a headline like "Cops shoot man 12 times".

          • by Anonymous Coward

            "Cops shoot man 12 times" Of course, when you hear that the 11 shots were made by an officer kneeling down and holding face down a Brazillian electrician, those facts you bring up become a lot less relevant.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            Shot twelve times, let me just remind you of innocent bystanders and the effective lethal range of un-aimed bullets. Each and every shot presents an additional risk of shooting some innocent bystander, a child, someone's grandmother, a father blithely working in a building down the block or a mother in her kitchen. Twelve shots in completely unacceptable in an urban environment.

            Aimed accurate fire, one shot and one shot only and, if they are not absolutely certain of that shot and, under no other circums

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Lord Kano ( 13027 )

            The open secret of terminal ballistics is that the best way to stop a person is to hit them with the biggest fastest moving bullet that you can. To be more specific, it is to create the larges wound channel you possibly can and to introduce as much kinetic force as possible, that's most easily estimated by bullet diameter and speed. In the Strasbourg tests the hottest .357 magnum loads tested were less effective than the hottest .45 ACP. That's why states tend to have minimum bore requirements when hunting

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PRMan ( 959735 )
        This happens in hockey all the time. If the shooter makes the first move, it's usually a save. If the goalie makes the first move, it's generally a goal.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          If I ever get into a western style gun fight, I want it to be with you. As long as I get to be the shooter in your analogy. I will happily move first and let you throw your body in front of my bullet.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:19PM (#31026290)

      So Han Solo Did shoot 2nd! heh :D

    • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ViViDboarder ( 1473973 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:20PM (#31026312)
      This is the opposite of what the article is saying...

      The article says that the first person to draw will be the last one to pull the trigger, but the one reacting (drawing second after seeing the first person draw) will draw and pull the trigger quicker but they are less likely to get a hit.
      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        This is the opposite of what the article is saying...

        Yes, it is. It's an alternative explanation.

      • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:43PM (#31026666)
        Actually, in the last paragraph it concluded that the increased reaction speed wasn't great enough to offset starting later. The research team believes that Bohr, the man who conducted the first experiments on the subject and won every time when drawing second, was simply much better than his opponent.
        • The one who moves first is 'moving' (in place). That bit of action focuses the eye of a responder and gives them a better visual target than the first guy has. If you stand absolutely still when someone shoots you, you don't present as good a target as if you are moving your arms or making some motion (but not large enough motion that it would throw off the other person's perspective of your center of target.

          It's like bull fighting -- if you stand still with the red-cape, the bull may or may not go at you

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      Seems odd, and just a tad self serving, for Unforgiven to have an explanation for a cheesy writer's ploy designed to keep the good guy's body as intact as his halo.

      Almost as odd as spending time researching this.

      Perhaps they will do a follow up on how there can be a huge running firefight with automatic weapons and virtually no cover, and yet nobody from either side gets hurt.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Guess you never bothered to see this fantastic film, huh? William Munny sure as hell didn't have a halo.

        Little Bill Daggett: You'd be William Munny out of Missouri. Killer of women and children.
        Will Munny: That's right. I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I'm here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did...

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:45PM (#31026696) Homepage Journal

        Seems odd, and just a tad self serving, for Unforgiven to have an explanation for a cheesy writer's ploy

        It's obvious you never saw the movie. There was a damned good reason it got all those Oscars. It was realistic and believable, a VERY well written flick. Few movies at all are as good.

        As a nerdy bonus, Saul Rubenik played the writer; he was on an episode of ST:NG.

        As a double bonus, it has hookers.

        • by Sechr Nibw ( 1278786 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:56PM (#31026856)
          Jayne: "Don't much see the benefit in getting involved in strangers' troubles without a upfront price negotiated."
          Book: "These people need assistance. The benefit wouldn't necessarily be for you."
          Jayne: "S'what I'm sayin'."
          Zoe: "No one's gonna force you to go, Jayne. As has been stated -- this job's strictly speculative."
          Jayne: "Good. 'cause I don't know these folks. Don't much care to."
          Mal: "They're whores."
          Jayne: "I'm in."
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by scottv67 ( 731709 )
          >As a nerdy bonus, Saul Rubinek played the writer; he was on an episode of ST:NG.

          One episode of ST:NG? How about his role as one of the main characters in the series "Warehouse 13"? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1132290/ [imdb.com]

          I watched each episode of Warehouse 13 closely to see if there was a "Duck of Death" stored in the warehouse...how's that for nerdy?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Seems odd, and just a tad self serving, for Unforgiven to have an explanation for a cheesy writer's ploy designed to keep the good guy's body as intact as his halo.

        Nobody -- nobody -- in that film wore a halo, and the sheriff quoted above was not the good guy.

        Of course, neither was the protagonist...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Blakey Rat ( 99501 )

        Perhaps they will do a follow up on how there can be a huge running firefight with automatic weapons and virtually no cover, and yet nobody from either side gets hurt.

        The GI Joe cartoon in the 80s frequently had full-on military battles-- with aircraft, artillery, armor, missiles and lasers-- and nobody got hurt, ever.

        Even as a kid, I didn't buy it. "Oh come on, EVERY jet pilot's parachute opens? EVERY tank crew abandons the vehicle before it blows? No way!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wurble ( 1430179 )
      I used to think that was true insight into the reality of the world. After seeing Unforgiven, I viewed all the scenes of quickdrawing and such from old westerns as Hollywood bs impossiblities.

      Then I saw some of the things guys like Bob Munden and Jerry Miculek can do. Jerry Miculek can draw and fire 5 shots on target in under 1 second. I've seen Bob Munden split a playing card in half by shooting the thin edge FROM THE HIP. That means no aiming, just draw and fire from the hip. I've also seen an exhi
      • Also keep in mind that as amazing as those guys are they didn't do those tricks under the pressure of their lives on the line.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mosb1000 ( 710161 )

        That's nothing, the guys at Myth-busters lit a match [aol.com] by shooting a bullet that just barely grazed the top of it. I'd like to see someone do that shooting from the hip!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jollyreaper ( 513215 )

      They explained that in Unforgiven

      Wrter: "But what if he draws first?"

      Sheriff: "Then he'll miss. You see, you can only draw, aim, and shoot so fast. Me, this is about as fast as I can draw my gun and hit anything smaller than a barn. The guy that keeps a cool head, he'll come out standing."

      There was an interview with someone who'd been in a few gunfights and come out the winner. He said he was not that great of a shot but simply did not panic when he had to shoot someone for real.

      You can test out this phenomenon in real life quite easily. Find someone who can consistently sink 3 pointers and tell him the next basket has $25k riding on it. More than likely he'll muff the next shot now that he knows something is riding on it. If he can put that out of his mind and take the next shot like he did

      • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:06PM (#31027008)

        This was my one experience with it in paintball.

        It came down to me and one person from the other team.

        I and a single shot gun and he had a machinegun. But to be cute, they let him use a second machinegun from a dead person on his side.

        I was behind a 3' tree. He was running towards me rambo style with both guns going from his hip.

        I *calmly* leaned out one one knee, took aim, and shot him with one shot in the chest from about 25'-30' away and then leaned back behind the tree so some stray ball wouldn't hit me.

        He probably fired 10 shots while I took my one but they were all at the tree and over my head and off to my right into the bushes.

        I have no gun experience and don't play tons of paintball. And I'm about as big as a barn.

        • Re:Unforgivable! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by JMandingo ( 325160 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:34PM (#31029278)

          A bunch of buddies of mine played paintball in the woods, and after months of nagging I bought some cheap used equipment and joined them. My buddies were high school jocks, and one of the guys they played with had been in the army. The army guy sized me up and made a snide comment, and when they picked teams I was picked last and ended up on the team opposite him. That very first game I personally knocked their entire team out.

          In the months that followed I played with them many weekends, and everyone soon acknowledged that I was the deadliest player there. I has shot real guns previously I was as accurate a shot as I could be with my cheap paintball marker. More importantly I have read a lot of WW2 books and I have played a lot of first person shooter games and I had a good layman's understanding about suppressing fire and flanking. Often I would let the rest of my team rush in first to draw fire while I moved around the edge a bit to study the other team's positions. Many of my kills were a single shot from the side or from behind at very close range while the target was otherwise distracted. Even when a match was down to one on one, once I got the opponent to duck behind cover I could approach their position obliquely, keeping him suppressed with bursts of fire, until I had the angle to get in a kill shot.

          Then one weekend came where a bunch of serious "speedball" players joined us. My tactics weren't any good against them, because they could not be suppressed. They would use cover VERY well. They knew to return fire regardless of being under fire, exposing only the nose of their gun and just enough mask to get one eye down the sight. They were vigilant about constantly scanning for movement, so I could not flank them without running through a hail of paint balls first. Their expensive guns had long range were very accurate. That day was humbling.

  • BANG! (Score:4, Funny)

    by stillnotelf ( 1476907 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:02PM (#31026020)
    Does that mean the first poster gets shot? Wait, why am I bleeding...?
  • by TwiztidK ( 1723954 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:02PM (#31026036)
    This must be why people can think up a comeback before I'm finished with the original joke.
  • Bad summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by RealErmine ( 621439 ) <{ten.elohdrow} {ta} {ecremmoc}> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:06PM (#31026084)
    Did the submitter or editors read the story? At the end they plainly state that even though the second "shooter" reacted faster, they could not make up the difference in time.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      "It's not the first man to draw who wins. It's the first man to hit his target."

    • Re:Bad summary (Score:5, Informative)

      by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:26PM (#31026410)

      This is pretty important, and follows the police and self-defense literature I've read. It's a real concern for officers who might have a gun pointed at a suspect who draws and fires.

      Previous studies have shown that even though the officer should have an advantage, if they actually process what is being drawn instead of just firing, the suspect who began with a gun at their head wins most of the time. Reading some of those studies provided a whole new perspective on all of the horrible "cop accidentally shoots a kid with a toy gun" moments.

      • Re:Bad summary (Score:4, Informative)

        by Weedhopper ( 168515 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:43PM (#31026668)

        Gun at their head? This is a massive procedural mistake and an error of the first order.

        I've taught several different types of courses to different LEOs. If the target is close enough to touch you, you will simply not have enough time to react to hit your target. A lot of officers don't understand this until it's demonstrated to them with simunition.

      • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @11:09PM (#31030478) Homepage Journal

        I have cop relatives. On more than one occasion, I've heard said that police are trained not to draw their weapon unless they intend to use it.

        And when you think about it, it makes little sense for an officer to draw a gun and make an armed criminal *more* nervous. That is, unless he intends to put a bullet in the criminal.

        Think about the typical cop-criminal standoff in the movies. Both point their guns at the other, but no one fires. Why?

        1. The cop can't arbitrarily shoot someone, so he can't fire until fired upon (*according to cop-movie semantics.)
        2. The criminal doesn't want to get shot by the cop. But since the cop hasn't fired yet, the criminal (who is pre-disposed to shoot cops) can now take more time to aim and get a shot that will most likely be lethal instantaneously.
        3. Having both drawn their weapons, the cop cannot de-escalate the situation without the criminal's consent; the cop is betting the criminal will somehow be more easily persuaded to relinquish his weapon with a gun pointed at him.
        4. The criminal now holds all the cards. The cop - by not firing - has signaled to the criminal that he can take his time, aim well, and squeeze off the opening round.
        5. The police officer will not even hear the criminal's weapon fire before being struck by the bullet.

        In short, a cop gains no tactical or situational advantage by drawing his weapon but not firing. In real life, the movie standoff doesn't end with the criminal laying down his gun; it usually ends up much worse.

  • Is that your six gun in your pocket or did you just shoot first?
  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:09PM (#31026138)

    The mythbusters need to test this!

  • by koan ( 80826 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:11PM (#31026174)

    Basically if you have trained and know your weapon you fire faster if you don't think about it, it's a reflex thing and I have personally experienced the accuracy portion of this, meaning; if I know my rifle I can shoot without little or no thought/concentration and I am generally more accurate.

  • 1645 called. (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:11PM (#31026180) Homepage

    Miyamoto Musashi established this phenomenon quite well in 1645. Book of five rings [wikipedia.org].

    Feudal Japan called, they want their news back.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oodaloop ( 1229816 )
      God forbid the scientific community should research something a samurai once said.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by DarthVain ( 724186 )

        Hey, if a samurai wants to tell me something, I damn well listen!

        I certainly don't argue with him, or he might just stab me right in the scientific method.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wiredlogic ( 135348 )

        Actually the Japanese have developed a number of intellectual concepts around the timing of your and your opponents actions. It is worthwhile to investigate them since they had a combative culture based around one on one confrontation that lasted for hundreds of years. There was a lot of philosophical musing about how to succeed at this. With regards to timing there are three terms frequently used to describe an engagement. They sometimes go by different names but the ones I'm familiar with are:

        • Go no sen -
  • Before he died, Wyatt Earp was interviewed where he admitted he was no where near the fastest draw - but he pointed out that being accurate with your first shot was by far the most important criteria

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      In other words..... Practice.

      If you blew through 12 boxes of rounds by shooting at cans from a holstered position, you would be better than 90% of the other cowboys out there at a pistol duel.

      if you did it on a regular basis you could easily win every one you were in.

      • The biggest mistake is to draw. You only need to pull the weapon out of the holster if you intend to aim with the sights. Otherwise, you can just shoot from the hip and cut a lot of unnecessary motion out of it. At close range it probably doesn't matter that much anyway.

        • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:11PM (#31027048)

          If you can shoot accurately from the hip. People who participate in quick draw competitions practice this. Otherwise its a wasted shot.

          You've also got to size up your opponent. There are times when a first, wild shot will psyche them out, so they'll miss. And then there's your equipment. If you can get multiple shots off fast, a first, low probability shot is worthwhile. You can correct your sight picture and fire again. Old cowboy guns were largely single action pistols. Re-cocking and firing a second time was difficult.

          And if your opponent is holding his piece sideways, it means you've got all the time in the world. Because he can't shoot worth shit.

  • It's also an issue of fast vs accurate. Drawing your gun quickly and snapping off a shot may make a bang but your goal is to hit the mark. Taking a smidge more time to actually get a kill shot can make a big difference.

    It also helps to have the script writer and director on your side as well as your name on the marquee...
    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      The person who draws first has just as much opportunity to be Fast and Accurate as the person who draws second.

      So while true, your explanation really does not really help explain anything about the movies or real life.

      The movie bad guy usually has 10 or 20 notches on his gun, so why did he not learn that the Bang does nothing?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        "The movie bad guy usually has 10 or 20 notches on his gun"

        But that explains all! No wonder the bad guy misses the mark with such a notched unballanced gun!

  • by The Famous Druid ( 89404 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:13PM (#31026212)
    The guy who draws first is the agressor, we can't let the agressor win.

    That's the same reason that the guy on the roof of the saloon, aiming to shoot the someone in the back, always gets shot just as he's taking aim, and falls impressively to the street. Snipers and back-shooters are bad guys.
    • by Rennt ( 582550 )
      Its more of a trope then a lesson - the audience already knows that bad guys shoot first. If you go breaking conventions like that you better have a damn good reason, or you're going to loose the audience.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 )

      I always thought it was because if the guy who drew first usually won, then there'd be no point to those dramatic stand-offs where everyone waits for someone else to draw. They'd just be giving the other guys a chance to kill them. The bad guy would draw immediately.

      And only sometimes is it implied that the good guy wouldn't draw first. It's just there's the stand off that has to happen.

  • Corollary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Trip6 ( 1184883 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:58PM (#31026896)

    Did you ever notice that if a movie shootout occurs between a guy with an Uzi and a guy with a handgun, the guy with the Uzi always loses?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Buelldozer ( 713671 )

      Probably close to true in real life as well unless the Uzi wielder has had training and extensive practice. Uzi's, like most automatic weaponry, fall victim to muzzle climb. In a nutshell unless you know WTF you're doing anything past your 2nd or 3rd round is going to be seriously off target.

  • Han shot first (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:11PM (#31027056)

    ...but Greedo drew first, so I guess the effect extends to space ruffians too.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:32PM (#31027342)
    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a better example of the real reason - it's the bad guy who gets shot. Lee Marvin (bad guy of course) baits James Stewart (good guy of course) into a gunfight. As Stewart draws his gun, knowing Marvin would win the gunfight, John Wayne (hero of course) shoots Marvin from across the street
  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Friday February 05, 2010 @06:22AM (#31032874)

    Somewhere on the way this story changed from telling this:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18463-draw-the-neuroscience-behind-hollywood-shootouts.html [newscientist.com]

    to saying the opposite. Perhaps people didn't read it closely enough?

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN