The 1980s was a pivotal point for comic books and the medium as a whole. Even today’s modern elements seen in the ever-so-popular superhero television series and movies have their tonal origins from the period. During this, graphic novels began extremely popular. Though comic books and manga are all technically graphic novels, the term is separated from them because of its uniqueness. Graphic novels are larger and are more original stories in comparison to the thirty page monthly issue. Even when they adapt the characters from current comic stories, the graphic novel’s story is its own original work, and is usually not canon with the comic’s timelines.
One graphic novel did exemplify the medium while symbolizing the transition of the 1980s which is Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.”
“Watchmen” is absolutely definitive. It is a long, detailed, and colorful story about superheroes in a harsh yet believable alternate reality.
The respect for Watchmen is stellar. The comic enclaves and mainstream media alike have praised the story as one of the greatest pieces of literature of the 20th Century. The book was listed on Time Magainze’s list of the 100 best novels. It was the only graphic novel to be listed.
What makes Watchmen so unique is its completeness. The story is an origin, a history, a plot, and a finale. Other graphic novel stories about superheroes usually take an established character, and throw them into their plot. Watchmen does not do that. Watchmen has its own original characters who, for the most part, are plays on known comic book heroes, but with a realist twist. The story does have a lot of character where they develop thoroughly among interaction with the other characters, but the six main “adventurers” all have their origins and histories detailed within the novel.
Like stated before, each character is a realist version of the known comic book heroes. Dr. Manhattan is the scientific solution to Superman where flying is the least of his god-like powers.
Silk Spectre embodies all female superheroes by representing sexualized depictions of superhero women. Like Spider-man, she also represents the regular and human dilemmas that women are confronted with.
The iconic Rorschach is a combination of The Punisher and all non-powered heroes. Rorschach also allows the reader to insight into the mindset of costume vigilante, exploring their compulsive behavior, and their pseudo-extremist mentality.
Nite Owl, best resembling Batman, represents the spoiled behavior of some heroes who are wealthy with expensive and exclusive gadgets. He does the crime fighting more for the thrill that anything else.
Ozymandias is like Iron Man. He’s the hero that went public, and used his fame and fortune as his superpower. Unlike Tony Stark, this Adrian Veidt is regarded as the smartest man in world with a cold-calculated solution to saving it.
Lastly is the ever tragic Comedian. The Comedian is the harsh example of Captain America. He smiles at the horrors of war, but it horrified nonetheless. He fights in World War II, and in this reality’s successful Vietnam War. He sees the world as a joke, and his humor, unlike the Joker, is frosty cynicism. Though a major character, The Comedian is dead from the beginning of the story, but the story’s plot revolves around his death, and his character is explored through different flashbacks.
Watchmen takes place in an alternate history where people actually dressed up as costumed heroes and fought crime. Also, to their magnificence, there was also a super-man, but humanity defeats these heroes. Prior to the story main plot, police riots cause congress to pass legislation outlawing costumed vigilantes. The main characters are retired for the exception of those that continue to work for the government and Rorschach, whose obsessive determination causes him to continue outside the law and alone.
Dr. Manhattan plays an influential role in the alternative timeline. Unlike the red caped Kyptonian, Dr. Manhattan does not save cats from trees. He is utilized as walking nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union. Being able to manipulate atoms, he could disintegrate incoming missiles at the flex of his fingers. Dr. Manhattan was deployed to Vietnam where his god-like abilities caused the Vietcong to surrender in one week. The victory in Vietnam causes Richard Nixon to become elected president five times.
Dr. Manhattan is the startling example of what happen when a super-man exists. As quoted from the novel, “The super-man exists, and he is American,” the former scientists, Jon Osterman, swiftly became a government asset. Another government asset was The Comedian. Edward Blake the real Captain America which was a covert operative. He completed missions successfully in Vietnam and in the Iran Hostage Crisis, but he did so by evoking the ruthlessness and fury of war. He is the government’s hero, but not the people’s hero.
“Watchmen” best displays realism in the characters themselves. Each character has their own, very human dilemma. The main characters are second-generation costumed adventurers. The original heroes were from the 1940s reflecting the Golden Age of comic books. Silk Spectre and Nite Owl were heroes that took the mantle from their predecessors.
Laurie Juspeczyk is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre of the 1940s, Sally Jupiter. As the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter was regarded more as a sex symbol than a crime fighter. Though she never modeled, her outfit made her a pin-up girl instead of an inspiration. Like any woman, pregnancy was a real concern, and it caused her retire. She raised her daughter to follow in her footsteps even though she never really wanted to. Laurie disdains the fact she never had a chance a normal life. She sustains a twenty year relationship with Dr. Manhanttan which is later followed with Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl. She is annoyed by the fact that her whole life is surrounded by superheroes. When she realizes that The Comedian, a man who once raped her mother in their youth, was actually her father and conceived in another consensual encounter, she understands that she is actually the product of costumed adventurers, and was never going to escape it. She eventually accepts this fact allowing her to move on.
Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl, has an issue with nostalgia. He kept living in the past. Even while he was active in the 1960s and 70s, his methods were clichéd and campy. He was effective, but his abilities stemmed from his inheritance. He was able to be successful because he had money and gadgets. He wasn’t as raw or visceral as his partner Rorschach. Because of this, it was easy for him to retire, but he still long for the thrilling adventures. This flaw was exposed during an attempted sexual altercation between him and Laurie. He is unable to perform at first. It wasn’t until him and Laurie decide to put on their costumes and illegally/heroically save children from a burning building is he able to gain confidence in sex.
Though awkward and embarrassing, “Watchmen” highlights the real dilemma of superheroes that readers and fans tend to ignore. Dr. Manhattan is the glowing, blue super thing that see atoms, walks on water, and teleport to Mars. How can he relate for feel compassion for humans and their trivial matters? I guess it’s easy for Clark Kent because he’s also a blue-eyed, handsome white man, and Dr. Manhattan barely wears any clothing.
It’s the same with Rorschach. Rorschach is best described as the serial killer superhero. He does kill criminals, especially heinous ones, but he does it solely as the executioner. Rorschach doesn’t make money unlike the police or soldiers, and how he makes his income is not stated in the story, but he does live in less than admirable conditions, and isn’t the cleanest individual. Like many who are mentally disturbed, the young Walter Kovacs had a rough childhood living in poverty and having an abusive mother. Rorschach lives and breathes the criminal underworld. His goal in life is to punish the wicked. He so fixated on that, he forgets to see the good in people which causes some trouble with his friends. He forgets about himself ignoring his hygiene and even his grammar. He radically and almost insanely lives by his code: “Never compromise. Even in the face of Armageddon,” but his code and his behavior exemplifies obsession that a lot of the non-powered and vengeful heroes have like Batman, Daredevil, and the Punisher. Even at his bitter end, Rorschach never surrendered.
“Watchmen” offers a last harsh lesson of reality in the form of Ozymandias’ master plan to save the world. Adrian Veidt, the smartest and wealthiest man in the world, performs a plan which in involves the Unites States and Soviet Union just about ready to exchange nuclear weapons, confuse his investigators in believing in someone out to kill costumed heroes, make Dr. Manhattan leave Earth, create a giant squid monster and make it travel from another dimension, and finally murder millions of people in New York. To be honest, I prefer the ending from the 2009 Zack Synder movie. Anyways, his plan does succeed. It creates a delusion that an extraterrestrial horrifies New York City and the world. It causes the US and USSR to cooperate in peace relations, and at the expense of millions of lives, Ozymandias saves the world.
The main character all witness Ozymandias scheme, but all of them painfully agree to keep quiet in order to preserve the false peace. Rorschach, honoring his code, is the only one disagrees. He is killed for doing so. It’s the reality he had to face, and to some analysis, it was his way of accepting the peace.
“Watchmen” is a timeless piece of literature, and is one of Alan Moore’s many excellent pieces. Many debate between this story and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (I prefer the latter because of Batman). However, because of the complete originality and brutal realism, book critics paid their tribute. The best way I like to categorize “Watchmen” is as a graphic novel for anyone to read. You don’t have to be into superheroes or comics to enjoy this story. Like “The Great Gatsby” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Watchmen” is wonderful American story that everyone should enjoy.