Holy guacamole, Watchmen! Without you, superheroes would still talk like that, and even worse, they’d have nothing important to say. Along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Alan Moore’s Watchmen (published first as a limited series in 1986 and then as a graphic novel in 1987) has revolutionized the world of caped crusaders.
Most people look back on the '80s and shake their heads. What were people thinking? Not Alan Moore, though. Not only did he manage to completely miss the decade style-wise (seriously—dude looks like this in pretty much every picture ever taken of him), but he based Watchmen in the '80s as well. In a decade filled with one-hit wonders (hello, Dexys Midnight Runners), Alan Moore stood strong as a one-man wrecking crew, critiquing the era as it swirled around him (cyclone of shoulder pads anyone?), and doing so in a way that remains relevant and fascinating to audiences today.
In 2005, Watchmen became the only illustrated book to make it onto Time Magazine’s “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels.” That’s no easy feat. And in 1988, it received a Hugo Award, which is like an Oscar for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy crowd. But Watchmen is more than guys and gals somersaulting around in costume for good and evil. It’s also about psychology—both individual and collective—and in it Moore plumbs the depths of human relationships. When your main character goes by Rorschach, and has inkblot tests for a face, you know the writer is more interested in brains than brawn.
So raise your inner geek flag high, sit back, and watch what happens when superheroes turn out to be real.
Why Should I Care?
You ever wonder what happens when your dentist has to go to the dentist?
How about when a famous chef is shopping at the mall, and needs a quick bite to eat?
Who makes sure IRS employees pay their taxes on time?
Who counts the poll workers’ votes during an election?
Where do teachers learn how to teach?
Who makes sure your principal follows the school rules?
In other words, who watches the watchmen? That question is both Alan Moore’s epigraph for Watchmen and the very last line of the book, so it must be majorly important.
Okay, we know there’s no team of superheroes coming to bail us out, whether they call themselves Minutemen, Crimebusters, Avengers, or X-Men. But what if, right? And if superheroes were real, wouldn’t they have flaws just like us?
Wouldn’t they live in a world full of greed, fear, homophobia, and more? Yes, yes, they would. If superheroes were real, some of them would grow up in broken homes, and others would be bullied by their peers. Some would be orphans, others the children of immigrants. Sure, they might end up wearing masks and tights to cover up their pain, but don’t we do the same sorts of things, just in more subtle ways?
All the same, there’s more to Watchmen than sad violin music. You know how life can be so unbelievable that the only thing to do is shake your head and laugh? Well, that’s the zoomed-in smiley-face staring at you on Watchmen’s front cover. If you’re going to read one graphic novel that isn’t Maus, better make it this one.