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A 12-part comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

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The Evolution of Comic Books and the Origins of the Watchmen

  • Jan 3, 2009

First let me begin this review by saying that there are very few contemporary writers that I truly admire and respect for their artistic integrity and uncompromising ideas. And let me also inform you that there are not many books in recent years that I would call essential… but the graphic novel Watchmen by  Alan Moore is a mesmerizing exception.


I first came across the book when I was in summer camp and I was about thirteen-years old. At the time I was heavily into reading a bizarre combination of Greek myths, fantasy novels, comic books, and Shakespearean plays (mainly the tragedies). I suffered under the pretension that I was an intellectual because most of my peers were reading quaint young adult novels about adolescent romances and school troubles, while I was reading poetry, philosophy, and wanting to become a professional writer. Then I encountered a fellow camper with similar tastes and, dare I say, an even bleaker outlook on life than my own. It was this angry, self-doubting, pubescent punk that introduced me to  Alan Moore's classic 12-part series Watchmen… and I've never looked at comic books the same way again.


Watchmen is an amazing, epic series that commenced in 1986 and was published by the legendary  DC Comics. DC is best known for a trio of classic comic book heroes that were created in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. SupermanBatman, and  Wonder Woman are still a popular staple in the "DC Universe", mainly because they can evolve and adapt to better reflect the current social atmosphere.

"Because there is good and evil... and evil must be punished."

In the early 1960s, DC revived many of their best-selling characters in a series of slightly more sophisticated updates of their classic ‘40s comics. Meanwhile  Marvel Comics, at the time a hipper, edgier company, found great success with their new take on superheroes. As  Marvel began creating a cosmology of self-centered, morally conflicted, and neurotic characters, DC suffered from "Batmania". With the popularity of the ridiculously campy and self-satirizing  Batman series, starring  Adam West and  Burt Ward, on the rise  DC found itself losing readers. While  Marvel's characters were tackling sociopolitical and even spiritual issues spawned by the tragedies of the Vietnam War,  DC was being denigrated by their reputation as a simple, old-fashioned publisher of children's cartoons. But that changed when a group of socially conscious writers, artists, and editors came on board and began breathing new life into  DC's superhero pantheon. An era began of more topical comics, where people had no qualms with dealing with controversial issues. Civil rights, anti-war, and even anti-government stories began to proliferate at both  DC and  Marvel.

"Protection? Who are we protecting them from?"

By the early 1970s writers began to take notice that the average reader was no longer a five to ten-year old. College kids had discovered the new complexity of the comic book. The world of comics had entered a new age, where posters of superheroes were proudly hung upon the walls of student dormitories next to pictures of revolutionary figures like  Malcolm X and  Che Guevara. Comics were becoming part of the counterculture and paradoxically they also became more commercial than ever before.

Yet as tastes evolved and the hippie mentality of a "revolution of love" faded away, a new group of writers and artists emerged to remind the world that life wasn't all sunshine and flowers. The ‘70s were coming to an end, faith in the American government was dissipated after the deception and distrust of the Nixon years, and the consumerism and Cold War paranoia of the ‘80s were just around the bend.  It was in this decade of decadence and denial, of great artistic innovation and technological advancement that comics were forced to grow up… whether readers were ready to or not.

 "The light is taking me to pieces."

Just as there had been an "invasion" of British innovators in the rock 'n' roll music of the ‘60s, a similar "invasion" began happening in the comic book industry. European writers and artists were dealing with a wide range of social, political, economic, and religious problems within their ever-increasingly conservative cultures. Inspired by the rebellious attitude of punk rock and the writing of the beat poets and the hippies, some comic book creators began telling stories of dystopian futures that reflected their growing concerns with modern society. As these darkly pessimistic books began to gain in popularity,  DC Comics executives sat up and took notice. They began importing talented British writers and artists to the U.S., and here they began to reawaken the spirit of social activism that had been so prominent during the Vietnam era.


Among the many talented writers who made names for themselves were two innovators : Alan Moore, who specialized in anarchic storytelling with a distinctly philosophical slant and  Neil Gaiman, whose darkly humorous tales are often tinged with mystical themes. Both of these writers, along with many others, would inspire and influence their contemporaries, as well as future generations of comic book and graphic novel fans.

Dr. Manhattan is Born
As I have said earlier, whether readers were ready for it or not, comics were about to leave behind their domain as a medium for children and enter the cruel world of the adult. And it was  Alan Moore's masterpiece Watchmen that would be responsible for this momentous change.


 "At midnight, all the agents and superhuman crew, go out and round up everyone who knows more than they do."
-Bob Dylan in the song Desolation Row

The world of the Watchmen is set in a hellish alternate 1985, where Nixon is still President of the United States of America. In this alternate reality superheroes (or more accurately, costumed vigilantes) are not uncommon, though the government has outlawed them. But their existence is not purely beneficial and they are typically as dysfunctional, if not more so, than average citizens are. As the tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union grow to an unbearable level, a sociopath masked crime-fighter named Rorschach begins his own investigation into the murder of a fellow superhero (who was less than super as you will find out when you read the book) known as The Comedian. Rorschach's instincts tell him that the death of The Comedian is no random incident and he suspects an elaborate conspiracy against all heroes, but who if anyone is behind it?

"Shall not the Judge of the earth do right?"
-Genesis 18:25

While Rorschach stalks the streets of New York looking for answers, his former allies reminisce about their glory days as superheroes, before the government outlawed their brand of vigilante justice. Former heroes Nite Owl (a man named Hollis Mason was the first Nite Owl), a self-doubting and apathetic man whose real identity is Dan Dreiberg, and Silk Spectre (her mother was the first Silk Spectre), whose real identity is Laurie Juspeczyk, begin to question if their abilities as heroes are once again needed. As Laurie spends more time with Dan, she and her former boyfriend (if you can even call him that) Dr. Manhattan become more distant.

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Dr. Manhattan, formerly known as Jon Osterman, became the first superhuman superhero when, as a brilliant young science student, he was accidentally trapped inside of an intrinsic field test chamber and was de-atomized. Yet somehow Osterman's consciousness survived and he psychically manifests a new body for himself. Osterman now possesses the god-like ability to manipulate all matter, constructing or destructing whatever he chooses. Osterman's powers make him an international celebrity, a status to which he is ambivalent, and he is employed by the U.S. government to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War. But Osterman, now dubbed Dr. Manhattan (named after the Manhattan Project), becomes more and more detached emotionally, until finally he begins to disassociate himself from all of humanity.

"On Hallowe'en the old ghosts come about us, and they speak to some; to others they are dumb."
-Eleanor Farjeon in the poem Hallowe'en

Meanwhile Rorschach continues his vigilant quest, all the while society falls apart around him, reinforcing his fanatical apocalyptic religious beliefs.

Former superhero Ozymandias, a.k.a. Adrian Veidt, now an egotistical entrepeneur, who exploits his own celebrity for financial and political gain, is said to be one of the most intelligent men alive. So, naturally Rorschach distrusts him, as well as former hero Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, who vocally expressed his dislike of the violent and morally deviant Comedian.

"It would be a stronger world, a stronger loving world, to die in."
-John Cale in the song Santies

But as Rorschach and the other heroes come closer to the truth, as the mystery of The Comedian's death unfolds, it becomes grossly apparent that the "Watchmen" and their superhero fraternity was comprised of severely flawed individuals: rapists, murderers, racists, psychopaths, and opportunists.

In the end, an entire city is devastated, good people suffer or lay dead strewn across the carnage-filled streets of New York, the corrupt thrive as ever, and the greatest of heroes turn out be the greatest of failures.

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes."
"Who watches the watchmen?"

-Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347



The climax of Watchmen is delightfully nihilistic and shows Moore's dislike of neat-and-tidy happy endings. What he delivers is a darkly humorous and disturbing finale, which perfectly encapsulates the emotional reality of his psychologically flawed characters.

What Alan Moore gives us, as readers, is a pessimistic yet not inaccurate view of America's inability to take responsibility for itself. The main problem being that, on a whole, our nation is too quick to rely on heroes, icons, celebrities, and powerful political and religious organizations. Rather than being self-reliant, we surrender what little power we have to those who hunger for it the most. We lie back and complain about the woes of our world, but we are too lazy to take action. While self-appointed heroes prove themselves to be insecure and amoral, we are equally guilty as we are tainted by apathy and a reluctance to help ourselves and others. We glorify and vilify heroes and public figures, as we glorify and vilify all leaders, but when we cast down those leaders we fail to uphold their burden of responsibility. We fail, as they fail.
"No! My face! Give it back!" 
If there were a single message or moral to Alan Moore's story, it would have to be that we must all become heroes or else we are all naught but villains. There is no middle ground, no in-between, not so long as we are inert and submissive. The story also carries an anarchic message about relying on authority figures to protect us. Authority is often obtained by the enforcement of power and anyone capable of enforcing or asserting their power on another individual cannot be trusted. In this sense, Watchmen is about how we must abandon our tendencies to rely on external powers, be they religious, economic, or political organizations. The people who succeed, or seemingly succeed, within these organizations have only done so because they are corrupt and willing to exploit those weaker than themselves in order to possess even greater power.

Just as writer Alan Moore revolutionized the art of storytelling in comics with his vast interweaving narrative, so too did artist  Dave Gibbons raise the bar in the graphic storytelling medium. Gibbon's work on Watchmen is simple and understated. It recalls comic books of the ‘60s and yet it is very unique to its own time period. In the ‘80s, many comic book artists pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, greatly emphasizing sexual and violent content, but Gibbons never sunk to the amateurish level of exploitation that many artists of the era succumbed to. Instead his style reflects the world we live in and the world of the Watchmen, while colorist  John Higgins' unique use of colors creates a memorable secondary reality that is both very familiar and foreign.

In Alan Moore's brilliant Watchmen saga, he embraces certain themes that are reminiscent of other great works of literature. Watchmen is as detailed as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; as brilliantly convoluted in its non-linear narrative as Bram Stoker's Dracula; its political commentary and satire equal  George Orwell's 1984 and  Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; it's as dark and psychologically complex as  Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly; it's as contemplative and poetic as William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Yet it is as original as any of those works were when they were first published.
A Funderal for a Comedian
Rarely in comic books can a reader go through panel by panel and uncover layer upon layer of visual metaphors, hidden symbolism, and artistic and narrative motifs that are carried throughout. Yet this is common on every single panel and page of Watchmen, partly because of  Alan Moore's meticulous description of each scene, but also because of the unique inventiveness of  Dave Gibbons' artwork, which hearkens back to the comic book artists of the Silver Age.
It's not often that one goes out of their way to praise a colorist in their critique of a comic book or graphic novel, but  John Higgins' contributions to the overall look of Watchmen cannot go overlooked. Going completely against the grain, Higgins used secondary colors (greens, oranges, pinks, and purples) rather than primary colors (reds, yellows, and blues), which are more typical in the graphic medium. This unconventional approach was at first questioned because some felt that the color palette was unattractive, but Higgins explained that it was intended to reflect the reality of New York in the 1980s and the neon signs and garish wallpapers that were then popular.
"Future? What future?"
The Watchmen has been celebrated as a milestone in graphic literature, yet it has also caused controversy for its anarchic message and it portrayal of corrupt and unreliable institutions, whether they be political, religious, social, economic, or scientific. Watchmen is a work of pure genius, both irreverent and relevant. Irreverent in that it deconstructs the beloved icon of the American superhero and satirizes the worse aspects of the American society and government, and relevant in that it took a great progressive leap forward in the evolution of comic books and in that it dared to criticize the conservative political structure of the 1980s. It is this combination of irreverence and relevance that gives the book much of its appeal.

In the final view, Watchmen is too complex to summarize, just as our world cannot be summarized. It succeeds in telling a story so complex, both thematically and structurally, that it defies all categories, stereotypes, and genres. It is truly a transcendent work of art.
"Everything's all right."

Watchmen Hardcover Edition cover Chapter II, Page 6, Panels 2, 5 & 8 Trade Paperback Edition 2 cover Chapter XII, Page 23, Panel 7 Egocentric Denial Chapter IV, Page 10, Panel 4 Chapter XII, Page 27 Chapter II Chapter IV, Page 19 Chapter I, Page 6, Panel 1 Chapter I, Page 24, Panels 5, 6 & 7 Chapter IV, Page 27 Chapter I Chapter XII, Page 32, Panel 7 Rorschach's Philosophy Chapter II, Page 17 Watchmen Alternate Cover 4 Chapter II, Page 3, Panel 1

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September 05, 2010
Excellent review good Count, I have actually read this two or three times now. It has been a while since I have read these, but I did just get done rereading Marvel's Civil War series and all the Batman sets that inspired the new "Under The Red Hood" animated film film.
September 05, 2010
Why thank you. I need to review some more graphic novels and comics.
March 23, 2010
Wow--intense and detailed review! I really enjoyed reading this. I have not read the comic, but I did see the film. I remember being disappointed with parts of it, maybe because I was completely unfamiliar with the Watchmen world. I'm intrigued by a lot of the philosophy, details, and history you put into this review, which has inspired me to try the comic. I'm adding it to my Goodreads shelf now.
March 23, 2010
It's definitely the kind of book that a certain type of people will like more than others. The same with the film, although this is vastly superior to the film in every conceivable way. You have to have a certain pessimistic (some might say realistic) view of the world and of people in general.
March 23, 2010
Yeah, I'm not sure where I fall anymore these days. I used to be such an optimistic person, but recently, personal troubles have gotten be down. I don't think there's anything wrong with being pessimistic or realistic, but I found with me it makes me unmotivated to change. I think it depends on the mindset of the person. I was always a dreamer as a young girl because I lived a relatively rough childhood. It were my dreams that kept me striving for something better no matter how dismal things seemed.

As far as the book being better than the movie, that's great to know! That makes me want to read it more. I really do appreciate when the books outshine the visual film adaptations. I have found some books which I didn't enjoy as reading materials, but later made decent enough movies. These are usually few and far between, though.
March 24, 2010
Yeah, the only times I can think of where I preferred a film to the source material on which it was based were "The Wizard of Oz", "The Graduate", and "Jaws".
March 24, 2010
I'm having a bit of trouble remembering some myself. The only one coming to mind was "Memoirs of a Geisha." I did not like the book, but I did enjoy the film, despite its flaws. The visuals brought the book to life more than the writing ever could.
April 27, 2010
I didn't care for the film and haven't read the book. Personally, I had issues with the fact that they used a primarily Chinese cast to play Japanese characters. What, Japan didn't have any actors of the caliber they were looking for? That's just wrong. And I was also bothered by the way Japanese culture was portrayed, since geisha weren't the equivalent to a prostitute, and they over played the sexual aspect of it.
April 27, 2010
As far as the casting complaint, I've heard that one as well. I'm not sure what the reasons for it were, maybe just because they wanted some well-known names since I believe "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" had already come out by that point. Perhaps they were playing off the hype of the other film...? Also, an actor wouldn't be good if they couldn't portray certain roles even if they don't represent that culture or type of person, like Leo in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" or the film "The Other Sister." I would have to rewatch and think a lot about whether that aspect changed my thoughts/viewing about the film. It's been a long time since I've watched it.

As far as the culture...THAT I take issue with! The problem originated with the book!! It's one of the main reasons I didn't like the book. It was supposed to be based off the life of a geisha, but it was written by a white man who was told things in confidence by said geisha. He warped stuff she said to make money! I don't remember if she sued him or not, but she did write her own autobiography to refute the crap he said in his fictionalized book. It's called "Geisha, a Life" by Mineko Iwasaki. As you can expect, it was much better than either the book or movie "Memoirs of a Geisha," and it accurately portrayed the culture. For some reason, it didn't bug me as much on the big screen because I don't ever trust movies as being factually accurate, but when a book claims to be inspired by true events and it spins it such a way...argh...that gets me angry and annoyed! Also, I think I just like the film because it was more emotionally engaging than the book, which fell flat.
April 27, 2010
No, I agree that actors should be able to play outside of their own race or their own characteristics, but I think it's unnecessary and quite frankly racist to choose not to cast actors of a specific culture or ethnicity to play a particular part when they are more suited to it. I don't know, the whole thing was problematic from my perspective. Plus, it was one of those films that was so over-hyped in the trailers. Whenever I see a trailer that repeatedly says how the filmmakers or actors were nominated for awards for other films that they'd done, I almost always lose interest. People tooting their own horns doesn't go by me very well.
April 28, 2010
I do think Hollywood is racist. They are trying to make a "quick buck," and they will shit on people's cultures to do so. I'm sure they wanted certain actors to hype the film, hence the reason for saying they were nominated for awards because of roles in other well-known films.
February 01, 2010
Absolutely spectacular review. I have not read the graphic novel yet, but have seen the film, and every review that I read makes me more anxious to read it. I always enjoy your lengthy, in-depth reviews. It shows that you actually take something from what you read. Thanks!
February 01, 2010
No, thank you. I hadn't realized that you had read many (or any) of my reviews and it's always nice to know that people enjoy what I write.
As for "Watchmen", what did you think of the film?
February 02, 2010
Well, I found "Watchmen" to be better than most films that Hollywood releases these days. Several of the actors played their parts excellently, and I thought that the film's overall atmosphere set the mood very well. I also loved the fact that, in this film, there are no definitive "good" and "bad" guys; the superheroes themselves are often immoral, acting in ways that would be considered by many to be wrong. And yet, the people in this film are still dependent upon these heroes for help and safety. I hadn't read the graphic novel, and so didn't realize (until I read Woopak's review) that the graphic novel is so much deeper than the film. That aside, I thought that the film was very good, but I have a feeling that the graphic novel will be much, much better.
February 02, 2010
The book is much better than the film, though I still enjoyed the film very much. Based on your comments regarding the moral ambiguity of the "heroes", I think you will like it. There's also a lot more with Dr. Manhattan, so you can expect more metaphysical and philosophical meditations in the book, which are quite fascinating. I don't want to get a step ahead of myself here, but judging from your interests on your profile page, I bet you'd like most of Alan Moore's writing. "V for Vendetta" and "From Hell" are both excellent books (the films were rather good too) if you want to do further reading.
February 02, 2010
I've heard of "V For Vendetta", but have not read it or seen the film. I will probably read the graphic novel first. Thank you.
October 09, 2009
Holy smokes! I liked the manner with which you retouched this review! made it seem more awesome!
October 09, 2009
Danke. I've been re-editing and updating a lot of my older stuff to spice it up a bit. The quotes and the added info on the writer, artist, and inker helped. Did you actually read the whole thing over again? LOL!
October 10, 2009
ok...I'll take a look again. LOL
March 31, 2009
Good Review
April 18, 2009
:) Thanks.
February 24, 2009
I've just heard that they changed the ending of the film at the last minute. I hope that's a good thing and it will mean that the film will be more faithful to the book... if not, screw 'em!
May 21, 2009
Well, the film didn't totally suck, but screw 'em anyhow! The book will always be superior to the movie.
February 22, 2009
Thanks for posting this! I'm even more intrigued now to see the movie.
January 13, 2009
Great review/essay. I would recommend a good novel about the comic book industry: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. this book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001 and is a good read. It is about two boys who become important in the early comics industry.
January 13, 2009
I am blown away at your review. Well done. I had heard about the movie coming but had no idea how important the comic was. Also, I appreciated the DC Marvel comparison as I was unaware of the history. Thanks
January 05, 2009
Dear God in heaven can you ever write. Excellent work. Talk about in depth, although comic history can be so involved and convoluted I'm sure we only got the Reader's Digest version here.
1 2 Next
More Watchmen (graphic novel) reviews
review by . March 30, 2009
First, two things we need to establish up front.    1). This is the first "graphic novel" I have ever read, and the first comic book since a smattering of "Archie" comics in the 60s and MAD magazines in the 70s.     2). I have not yet seen the movie based on Watchmen, although from the trailers I instantly recognize the characters.    I am not going to overstate my enthusiasm like a newly-converted fan. Damon Lindelof (creator of the TV …
Quick Tip by . June 03, 2012
I just finished this book and this is one of the absolute best pieces of literature I've completed, regardless of the medium.  The best strengths The Watchmen has going for it are that it has really well-developed characters and shows that solutions to potential catastrophies aren't in black-and-white.       While this and Batman:  The Killing Joke are the only Alan Moore comics I've tackled so far, it's books like these that are making …
review by . June 30, 2010
Watchmen is an absolutely fantastic graphic novel by acclaimed author Alan Moore. Watchmen revolves around a group of minutemen who fancy themselves as superheroes. Unlike regular superheroes such as Superman and Spiderman, the Watchmen are hardly what we usually consider superheroes. Quite the opposite - most of them hold extreme right wing views bordering on Nazism and one of them even revels in murder and almost rapes another watchmen.      The story is one of the most original …
Quick Tip by . September 18, 2010
One of the greatest comic book series of all time, bar none.
review by . June 06, 2010
Watchmen is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. I personally enjoyed reading the graphic novel after watching the movie. I feel there is a lot of literal elements in the novel that can be taken from each character. I would recommend this novel to anyone that likes super heroes or a good piece of literature. The setting of this novel is interesting because it establishes a what if things had gone differently during the cold war scenario and then runs with. I liked …
Quick Tip by . July 29, 2010
Delightful and prescient exploration of the superhero mythos. Asks whether we really want anyone above the law.
Quick Tip by . July 16, 2010
A complete product of its time, "Watchmen," is something that should be experienced in it's Graphic form, rather than in motion.
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Good but Negative. Maybe you agree with me, the book is good, is intelligent, is unusual. But at the end of all it made me very unhappy. It presents you a pessimist meditation.
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
If you haven't read this and even kinda liked the movie it's a must read.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Astonishing, riveting, a feast for eye and mind, a tale not easily forgotten. The film did it justice, but the original is deeper and more visceral. Unreservedly recommended.
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About this book


Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book limited series created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins. The series was published by DC Comics during 1986 and 1987, and has been subsequently reprinted into a collected graphic novel. Watchmen originated from a story proposal Moore submitted to DC featuring superhero characters that the company had acquired from Charlton Comics. As Moore's proposed story would have left many of the characters unusable for future stories, managing editor Dick Giordano convinced the writer to create original characters instead.

Moore used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and to critique the superhero concept. Watchmen takes place on an alternate history Earth where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. The country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement.

Creatively, the focus of Watchmen is on its structure. Gibbons used a nine-panel grid layout throughout the series and added recurring symbols such as a blood-stained smiley. All but the last issue feature supplemental fictional documents that add to the series' ...

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ISBN-10: 0930289234
ISBN-13: 978-0930289232
Author: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
Genre: Superheroes, Comics & Graphic Novels, Political and Social Satire, Dystopian
Publisher: DC Comics
Date Published: 1986-1987
Format: Graphic novel
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