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Page history last edited by Rebecca Sader 11 years, 11 months ago

Creators: Writer: Alan Moore, Illustrator/Letterer: Dave Gibbons, Additional Colorist (2005): John Higgins

Original Date(s) of Publication: Originally published as WATCHMEN 1-12, 1986-1987

Publisher: DC Comics


 Featuring costumed "adventurers" with no super powers (except Dr. Manhattan), Watchmen is acknowledged as the superhero comic book that deconstructs the superhero genre. Because of Watchmen, comics began to feature significantly darker stories and psychologically more complex and flawed superheroes. Alan Moore claims he created Watchmen in an effort to write "a superhero Moby Dick; something that had that sort of weight, that sort of density"(Eno, 1).  


Plot Summary

Watchmen begins in 1985, in an alternate history where the United States won the war in Vietnam with the help of Dr. Manhattan, a superhero with superpowers. Because Dr. Manhattan is a superior military weapon for the United States, tension is extremely high between the U.S. and Soviet Union and nuclear war is likely to occur. The other super-heroes in the story are costumed adventurers without super powers who act as a group of governmentally sactioned vigillantes until their growing unpopularity forces the government to force them into retirement. The story opens with the death of Edward Blake, a government employed super-hero known as The Comedian. Rorschach, a rogue super-hero, suspects there is a plot to kill all the super-heroes and warns his fellow heroes: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl), Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre), her lover, Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias). 

     When Dr. Manhattan is accused of causing cancer, he leaves Eath and retreats to Mars. Once his absence becomes known, the Soviet Union invades Afganistan and nulear war is imminent. Rorschach is framed for the murder of Morloch, a former supervillain, and Ozymandias narrowly escapes an assasination attempt. The Silk Spectre is transported to Mars where she convinces Dr. Manhattan to return to Earth to help the Watchmen discover who is trying to destroy them. Nite Owl and Rorschach discover evidence that implicates Ozymandias in the plot and they go to his compond in Antartica to confront him. When confronted, Ozymandias explains his plan to prevent nuclear war. He plans to convince the world that an alien invasion has killed half of New York City by using a telepathic monster he created to kill the people using psychic terror. He argues that the fear of a common enemy will unite the planet and stop the nuclear confrontation. Ozymandias confesses to killing The Comedian, arranging for Dr. Manhattan's associates to contract cancer, framing Rorchach for murder of Morloch, and to staging his own assassination attempt. 

     Dr. Manhattan and the Silk Spectre arrive at Antartica but the the Watchmen are too late. Ozymandias has already attacked New York and he shows them the news reports from across the world that seem to validate his belief that the world will unite against the perceived threat of alien invasion.  The Watchmen agree to remain silent, except for Rorschach, who refuses to compromise and declares that evil must be punished. Because he cannot convince Rorschach to remain silent, Dr. Manhattan vaporizes him before leaving the planet while Nite Owl and Silk Spectre assume new identities and go into hiding.    




Significant Features

Watchmen is told non-linearly, with flashbacks to the previous costumed adventureres the Minutemen. The comic also has a minor character reading a pirate comic, Tales of the Black Freighter that is illustrated within some of the panels. The comic has pages of excerpts from various other non-comic types of text:  excerpts from the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason's, autobiography, reports about Dr. Manhattan, reprints of articles about the Tales of the Black Freighter comic book from the 1950's, and an article about owls written by Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl). The overall effect of embedded texts, non-linear plotlines and realistic appearing articles makes the text feel more "real". As the first deconstruction of the superhero genre, Watchmen expands outside the story with its structure as well as outside the superhero genre with its flawed characters.   



Publication History / Historical Context


Watchmen was published in a very interesting time, politically. In 1985 the Iran-Contra Affair, the Tower Commissions investigation of the government's involvement in covert operations and the American fear of secret government actions were in the news. The United States and the Soviet Union were not overtly hostile, but the United States was becoming more conservative under the presidency of Republican, Ronald Reagan. It could be argued that Moore was  ironically appropriate including on the last page in Watchmen the Juvanal quotation "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes" (Who watches the watchmen?) which also was the epigraph of the Tower Commission report on the Iran -Contra incident. 


Impact / Influence 


The influence of Watchmen is phenominal and can not possible be listed in such a short space. Watchmen changed the way heroes are written and stories are told in superhero comics. Watchmen opened the superhero genre to encompass unheroic heroes, psychologically damaged heroes, and complex, grim unresolved plots. The work is credited with ushering in a new, darker and less heroic superhero who suffers with existential angst. 


Critical Reception 


Watchmen was a critical and popular success. It won a Hugo Award for the best science fiction or fantasy work in 1988.

Watchmen was ranked in the Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century by The Comic Journal.

It was named one of the All Time greatest Novels by Time magazine in 2005 and one of the Best 50 Novels of the Last 25 Years by Entertainment Weekly,

 Watchmen is the only comic book to ever receive these awards. 





  1. Cooke, Jon B. "Toasting Absent Heroes" interview with Alan Moore. Comic Book Artist #9. http://www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/09moore.htlm. 
  2. Eno, Vincent , El Csawza. Strange Things Are Happening. vol.1,no.2 May/June 1988. accessed Feb.7 2012.
  3. Eury, Michael. "Dick Giordano:Changing Comics, One Day at a Time." http://www.twomorrows.com
  4. Grossman, Lev. "Watchmen All Time 100 Novels." Time. Oct. 16, 2005. accessed Feb 8, 2012.
  5. Itzkoff, Dave. "Behind the Mask." The New York Times. Nov. 2o, 2005. accessed Feb. 6, 2012.
  6. Moore, Alan, Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: D.C. Comics. 1986-1987. 
  7. Thomson, Iain. "Deconstructing the Hero". Comics as Philosophy . McLaughlin, Jeff ed. Biloxi: University of Mississippi Press. 2005.
  8. Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation. Baltimore; Johns Hopkins, 2001.  


Further Reading



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