By Corey Schroeder
Watchmen is a book you’ve probably heard of if you’ve asked the average comic book reader about their top five books. It was one of the first books to truly define a “graphic novel,” (a book, either stand-alone or collecting a series of single issues, that tells a single, bookended story) but more than that, it was one of the first graphic novels to tell an adult, psychologically realistic story that somehow also involved grown men dressing in strange costumes to fight crime. It still holds up today as one of the best ever written.
It takes place in an alternate 1980s where the advent of a single, superpowered individual dubbed Dr. Manhattan has given rise to not only a technological renaissance, but has effectively ended the Cold War in America’s favor as he makes nuclear weapons obsolete. Additionally, the days of masked vigilantes, who once fought crime across the country, has come almost completely to a close thanks to the Keene Act making them illegal. One of the few remaining, a brutal and unstable man named Rorshach, investigates a murder and uncovers a conspiracy that could spell catastrophe for the entire world.
The characterization is one of the things that stands out the most in this book, the comic is written by the legendary Alan Moore who crafts a world where the characters behave like real people with real lives, making it easy to quickly identify with, and ultimately care about, them. There’s very much the feeling that when the story isn’t focusing on them, the characters are still going about their lives. He’s also able to weave about three or four seemingly unconnected plots together in ways that seem absolutely obvious by the time the book wraps up, though I will admit that the “pirate comics,” read by a kid within the narrative, that punctuate several of the mid to late chapters can drag on somewhat and are less satisfying than the main plot thread.
The art, by Dave Gibbons, is equally incredible. Whether it’s the color palette of juxtaposing darkness and pastels or the attention to detail of almost every panel, there is ample reason to read and reread and even re-re-re-reread this book and notice tiny little things in the background.
Ultimately, Watchmen is one of the most respected and recommended books for a reason. The book maintains an amazing style as well as influencing artists and writers to this very day. It’s one of the most important books ever written and the world it created can still be seen in almost every superhero book on the shelf today. Learn your history, kiddies, read Watchmen.