Watchmen has been a frequent topic in my articles, but I thought it was time I actually gave a full on appraisal for why I think it’s so good. There’s a lot to cover and I’m going to do it in brief but in a greater level of detail than when I have previously recommended it.
Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 in which Nixon had been continuously re-elected after using Doctor Manhattan to win the war in Vietnam and make it the 51st State. Watchmen plays heavily on cold war tensions that were running high at the time, and the threat of Nuclear War between Russia and the United States of America. After a former superhero known as the Comedian is murdered, vigilante Rorschach goes on an investigation to discover what happened and how all of these retired superheroes are still linked.
What I particularly like about Watchmen is that it’s primarily a mystery novel as opposed to a stereotypical superhero comic. The dark subject matter was something that was very new at the time, but it also served to satirise the genre. Doctor Manhattan was a far more realistic take on a superman type character, someone that was so powerful that he was practically a God, and as such lost his touch with humanity. Rorschach was quite a realistic take on a street level superhero, someone who was clearly mentally unwell from the horrors he would have to see. Even characters such as the Comedian, who was killed off within the first chapter of the book, gets a huge amount of development and explores the idea that superheroes would not necessarily be nice people, that some ‘heroes’ were actually terrible, violent people who just used vigilantism as an outlet for their psychotic tendencies.
The story itself is a very strong one with a lot of twists and turns that keep the reader very much engaged throughout, however something Watchmen does that truly makes it shine is that it goes beyond being just a comic book. It used the last pages of each issue (which would have ordinarily been used for add space) to include newspaper clippings and excerpts from Hollis Mason’s biography “Under the Hood” which helps to bring you into the world and give the sense of a much bigger universe. There was also the comic within the comic, Tales of the Black Freighter, a pirate comic (as superheroes are not in comics due to them being a real world thing) that’s plot points and themes closely parallel the stories of the characters in Watchmen.
The line between good and evil in Watchmen is blurred immensely, and no character is wholly good or bad in the story. The ending of the book, while seemingly positive has a dark undertone as its final panel makes it clear that things could go very, very wrong once again. What I love about the book is that you’re left wondering if the antagonist was truly right or wrong in his chosen decision.
It’s a comic that I can’t recommend enough, and while I don’t believe there is such a thing as the greatest comic of all time, I do agree that Watchmen is the Citizen Kane of comics. Some may find it preachy, but I don’t think so at all. It is certainly pessimistic, but it brings everything from a great narrative, great artwork, incredibly well developed characters and a very engrossing world into one fantastic graphic novel that is, without a doubt, Alan Moore’s magnum opus. I still cannot recommend it enough.