If you haven’t read Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, you need to because it will expose the contemporary super-hero murder mysteries like Powers and Identity Crisis as shortsighted, insignificant stories. Murdered super-heroes can only mean one thing: Armageddon.
I worked in comic book specialty shops from 1990 to 1995. The Watchmen covers always stood out among all the other comics surrounding it alphabetically by publisher from Warlord to Wonder Woman. I never read them because they were expensive, too wordy and I wasn’t impressed with Gibbon’s art style. I was always more in the mood for Jim Lee’s X-Men and Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man (I read Grendel and Shade the Changing Man too, so don’t think I’m a complete poser).
My local library had the Watchmen Absolute collection hidden among all the Peanut and Garfield collections (Dewey Decimal System is wierd). You cannot rest this volume on your lap if you value your legs and expect blood to travel through them, it’s heavy. Patton Oswalt compared New York’s Veritas restaurant’s wine list to the Watchmen Collection on Late Nite with Conan O’Brien and no one in the audience got the reference. I didn’t like how he blew off the statement, never discount what comes out of your geek mouth. I read the whole collection (I may have skipped some of the issue appendices in prose, long paragraphs and all don’t mix with comic book reading mindset) laying sideways on my home office couch, propping up my head with a soon cramped arm and Watchmen beneath me.
The Watchmen 12 issue mini series impressed me with its social consciousness, meta story telling and homages and parodies of super-hero archetypes.
The side story centered around a New York newsstand made you care about the underlying themes of apathy, racism, acceptable losses, paranoia and the common man’s helplessness against the machinations of the world’s super powers. I admit to skipping all the Treasure Island panels, hungry to advance the main plot. I’m sure they were important as a subtext to the "real world." Pirate comics replacing super-hero books was a funny comment in a world with real heroes removed from fantasy and thus mass consumer interest.
Moore’s liner notes reveal his original intent for the main characters Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl II as Captain Atom and Blue Beetle, respectively. I always thought they represented Superman and Batman, alien super weapon and urban-gadget-man.
Dave Gibbon’s artwork looks great on the heavy stock matte paper (gave me a nasty paper cut on my right middle finger during issue 11) at full comic artboard size. I imagine DC photographed the original artwork anew because the art couldn’t look this good blown up from the reduced mass-market comic size. His achievement shows in the character designs of two generations of heroes and illustrating a complete world. His consistent art communicated emotion, despair fear and love.
Moore and Gibbons succeeded in creating a new, independent continuity that lives and breathes in this 12 issue collection in all its artboard size majesty. Like all great works of fiction Watchmen leaves you hungry for more world background, character detail and new interpretations. Would derivative side stories further chronicling the adventures of Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl II and the rest distill or enhance this legendary work? I’m leaning toward the former. It would make an even worse movie. Just let it be these 12 comics.
"Who makes the world?" — Dr. Manhattan