Watchmen by Alan Moore

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 3 minutes

A slick, gritty superhero story from the Godfather of graphic novels – Have-a-go heroes form together to put a stop to the crime of an alternative New York… or so they intend.

Released as a limited series between 1986 and 87, Watchmen was later re-released as a trade paperback graphic novel, helping to popularise the format further.

As of writing, Watchmen is the only graphic novel to win the prestigious Hugo Award, as well as being the only graphic novel to be featured in Time magazine’s 2005 list, ‘The 100 best English Language Novels from 1923 to the present’.

Fitting into the superheroes genre, Watchmen offers much more than the usual tame worlds of Marvel Cinematic Universes. Sure, it might be unfair to compare a graphic novel to a series of films, but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.

There’s much more going on here than you’d first perceive.

Watchmen, the title, comes from Juvenal’s Satire VI phrase ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes’, seen in Against women and is interpreted as ‘who watches the watchmen?’

Juvenal is known for revealing the problems with Roman society through satirical writing, much as Watchmen examines the role of costumed superheroes and the human’s flawed to portray them. This is the side that leads to a much darker story, something not seen in comics up until this point.

Watchmen refers to the notion of superheroes, and those who protect civilians (police, governments, etc.) and not a single group of characters.

Watchmen by Alan Moore
An example of the excellent work done by Dave Gibbons in creating a muted noir look.

Who Watches The Watchmen?

The majority of the story is told from an objective third-person perspective with panels showing all of the characters and their actions. Alternate views are shown through Rorschach’s journal; these are biased towards his understanding, or lack of in most cases, but are necessary to create a greater character depth.

First-person views are also dispersed throughout.

Alan Moore’s known for his gritty, hard-hitting graphic novels; V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke, From Hell, and of course, Watchmen.

Without giving too much away, the plot concerns the murder of Blake, a former affiliate of the US government, but it could also be treated as a suicide. As Blake was in excellent physical shape, the question of who could have overpowered him is a mystery.

The detectives investigating conclude that regardless of the situation, they want to keep a tight-id on everything, through fear of attracting the attention of Rorschach, a costumed vigilante.

The main plot is motivated by Rorschach’s obsession with the conspiracy theories concerning Blake, which are further fed by the revelation that Blake was also a former member of the ‘Watchmen’.

One of Moore’s excellent skills is creating characters that are both credible and well-written. He builds up their profiles to such great heights, as most superheroes are, but then proceeds to knock them straight back down with all their flaws.

Watchmen is an excellent comic book, offering so many levels of complexity, especially concerning the human psyche.

Rorschach, for example, is sent to prison where many of the criminals are there because he put them away. During his time, he’s interviewed by a psychologist, Dr Malcolm Long, who believes he can help acclimatise him back into society. However, Rorschach’s explanations of his actions make Long question his own views.

Closing Thoughts

Watchmen is a fantastic graphic novel.

If you’ve read any of Alan Moore’s previous work and found it interesting, then definitely try Watchmen.

For those of you looking for something a little different from the usual Marvel / D.C. Universes, also try your hand at this. There’s so much character development, plot lines and mystery you can’t help but adore it.

Oh, and the artwork by Dave Gibbons is nothing short of astonishing.

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