Study Guide

Watchmen

Watchmen Introduction

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.

What is Watchmen About and 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.

Watchmen Resources

WEBSITES

Alan Moore Would Tell You Not To Click Here
But if there’s a homepage for Watchmen, this is it.

The Magazine For All Things Moore-ish
Based in Northampton, England, Alan Moore runs this mag with his signature style.

A PhD In Comic Books, Coming Soon To A University Near You
You can write your thesis on Watchmen? Sign us up, please.

I Can Haz Watchmen
This blog has links to all sorts of funny, random, viral stuff.

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

Watchmen: Zee Movie (2009)
Thanks to director Zack Snyder, lovers of super slo-mo can finally witness a live-action Watchmen on the silver screen.

Arrrr! Tales from the Black Freighter (2009)
No longer do you have to choose between zombies and pirates. Made to accompany the feature film, this direct-to-video animated short will satisfy Watchmen purists who enjoy a little carnage in their lives.

The Motion (sick) Comic (2008)
Thanks to Dave Gibbons’ original artwork and the fact that one narrator performs all the voices, this project turns out to be one weird hybrid: part cartoon, part book-on-tape, part storyboard. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s authentic Watchmen, word-for-word.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

The Bearded One Speaks
Click here for a transcript of Moore’s interview with fellow comics writer, Kurt Amacker.

Mr. Moore, The President Is Calling
Barack Obama asks Alan Moore to write his official biography in this satirical piece from The Onion.

A Little Hero-Worship Is Fine, Just Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid
Here’s a quick behind-the-scenes look at the man, the myth, the legend that is Alan Moore.

What About The Illustrator?
This interview with Dave Gibbons sheds some light on Watchmen and his working relationship with you know who.

VIDEO

Best Opening Sequence Ever. Period.
Really, what else is there to say? Note the use of “The Times They Are a–Changin” by Bob Dylan, the singer-songwriter who inspired the titles for Chapters I and X.

Yay! Saturday Morning Cartoons!
This adaptation is Alan Moore’s favorite, no joke.

OMG, Is This Movie Based On A Book?
Not even the screenwriter knows for sure.

Moore’s Law
If you can get used to his accent, anything is possible.

AUDIO

Warning: Snarky Film Critic Ahead
Listen to this radio review for a professional’s take on Watchmen.

We’re All Ears
An archive of memorable lines from the 2009 film.

IMAGES

Illustrators Don’t Work For Peanuts
Charlie Brown and the gang play dress-up.

This Guy?
Congratulations, you’ve survived 400 pages inside Alan Moore’s head.

The Original Lineup
Minutemen portrait, 1940.

New Kids On The Block
The Crimebusters, looking tough in 1966.

Bart Simpson And Alan Moore
Causing trouble, picking on Milhouse, you know, the usual.

Charlton Heroes, The Inspiration For It All
DC Comics wouldn’t let Moore use these guys for his story, so he and Gibbons had to make their own.

Give Us A Rough Sketch
This is Dave Gibbons’ early attempt at the Watchmen look.