If you are a fan of modern day Marvel and DC Comics, you might not know what to make of Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbon’s original 12-chapter philosophical parody of Super Heroes. This is told almost exclusively through 9-panel pages of a comic book. To understand the context, you might even need to brush up on your 1950’s era Cold War history. But upon reading those first few pages, you learn to appreciate the art. A scene of two men on the sidewalk. One cleaning up a pool of blood and the other holding up a sign stating, “The end is near”. Each of the 9 panels zoom farther and farther away until your left with a view of a detective looking some twenty-something stories down through a broken window. Someone was thrown out of a condominium in beloved New York. But why? You see “The Watchmen” isn’t really a comic book story at all. It is a Noir told in nicely shaded tones of color but with much more dialog boxes than your average graphic novel. But where to begin?
Of course you have to start at chapter 1. The beginning of a mystery that doesn’t unfold until the last of the few chapters. Someone is out to get all of the former super heroes. That’s right. If you were expecting action packed super strength and lasers beaming at otherworldly invasions, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead you will find the retired members of the “Crime Busters”. The Watchmen’s version of the Avengers, who turned in their capes and cowls in cooperation with the “Keen Act” of 1977. A bill passed by fictional senator John David Keene which outlawed any form of vigilantism by costumed adventurers. Except for those few who worked under the government.
Now just who was a part of the lucky few vigilantes allowed to continue their operations? Eddie Blake, better known as the “Comedian”, was a crime fighter who specialized in the armed forces. He served in the Vietnam War. Cracking skulls and taking names. You see to him, the only way to live was by seeing the humor behind everything. Everything from stopping the bad guys by any means necessary, to killing a pregnant prostitute in Vietnam who wanted Eddie’s help with the financial burden that would have resulted from childbirth. His symbol is a bright yellow button with a smiley face. Did I mention the subtle stain of blood? How fitting. And of course, he is the first of the retired “heroes” to be murdered. Thus, spurring the investigation by “Walter Kovacs” who is better known as “Rorschach”. Yes, he wears a mask with an inkblot on his face. Other than that, he dons your typical trench coat and hat that is commonplace with private detectives. He too, was part of the “Crime Busters”. The group of super heroes which doled out vigilante justice before being outlawed. Rorschach really gets his hands dirty. Your first taste of gritty violence occurs when he breaks the pinky and index finger of someone in a bar who simply rubbed Rorschach the wrong way. This victim in the end knew nothing about the Comedian’s death. Poor Rorschach was left disappointed by what he considered a waste of time. Are you still convinced this is about super heroes? Now do not mistake my writing as a criticism. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique piece of storytelling. I just want to be true to the subject matter at hand. So, brace yourself, the journey is just beginning.
Jon Osterman or “Dr. Manhattan” is another hero who works with the government. But he does not fight wars or take down mad scientists. Instead he performs research into Nuclear Physics. He is in fact the closest thing you will find to a real super hero with super powers in this story. This is because of a freak accident where he accidentally traps himself in a test chamber. The purpose of the resulting experiment was to remove the intrinsic field from a concrete test block (block fifteen). Dr. Manhattan is disintegrated by particle cannons and presumed dead. But then the unexpected and, never really explained, happens. His circulatory system reassembles and walks through the kitchen of his former workplace. Followed by his partially muscled skeleton and lastly his pale light blue skin in a blast of ultraviolet that leaves onlookers sunburned. Dr. Manhattan can literally do anything. To be more specific, he can manipulate matter at the sub-atomic level and has near total clairvoyance. This means he can whip up a breakfast smoothie without lifting a finger every morning and knows the future past and present all at the same time. He usually only mentions what’s to come when dealing with the detachment from his girlfriend Laurie Juspeczyk aka the Silk Spectre. But we’ll get to her in a second. Did you see that coming? Because Dr. Manhattan did. And that’s exactly how he informs you of the specific timing of what’s going to occur next.
Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk) is the daughter of Sally Jupiter aka the original Silk Spectre. No real super powers here but they both fought criminals and were each part of a team. Sally being a part of the “Minutemen” and Laurie a member of the “Crime Busters”. Laurie doesn’t know who her real father is throughout the majority of the duration of The Watchmen. A clever plot twist makes the ultimate reveal quite the surprise. Sally is much older and beyond her years when Watchmen takes place. Her role is not as prominent as her daughter Laurie. Who steals much of the spot light because of her romantic relationship with Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan being able to do almost anything tries to spice things up in bed one night by making a carbon copy of himself and attempting to make double the love with his partner. Laurie doesn’t take to well to this. In fact, she always felt distant from Dr. Manhattan because of how much he invested in his research. So much so that he had in fact made carbon copies of himself prior to his attempt at innovating in the bedroom, so he could make love with Laurie while continuing his research uninterrupted. Upon learning this Laurie feels underappreciated. At this point she is not sure what to believe was real in their relationship. The drama does not end there. Laurie takes off into the night and visits her old friend Daniel Drieberg aka the Nite Owl.
Now there are two Nite Owls in The Watchmen universe. The first being Nite Owl I (the first) and the second one being Nite Owl II (the second). I know. What a shocker. Just know that the second Nite Owl is younger and was inspired so much by the first that he took up his mantle. Now Nite Owl (the second one, who I will be referring to from here on out) relied on his technological know-how and background in aeronautics to set himself apart from the other caped crusaders. He commandeered the Owlship, a feat of engineering which could travel underwater, fly, and spew out flames as well as gun fire. Nite Owl was the son of a rich banker. And through his father’s inheritance was able to fund and build his own tech. Nite Owl and Laurie end up sparking a kindling of flame when reminiscing their days as heroes. They put on their old costumes and what might have led to a role-playing fantasy in the sac, turns into a night on the prowl where they command the Owlship and save civilians trapped in a burning apartment building. Now once back to safety and far away from the prying eyes of the NYPD or anyone else who might investigate the circumstances surrounding their mission, they make sweet love under moon light. This is all part of a greater and much more complex web of relationships that really drives the narrative forward. This story is not so much about fending off evil villains or performing awe inspiring feats with super abilities but more about life as a former super hero. A realistic take on what would really happen if someone tried to operate above the law. An argument proven beyond a reasonable doubt that super heroes cannot exist in the real world.
Now a story wouldn’t be complete without a climax. This plot thickens as Russia edges closer and closer to Nuclear Warfare with the United States. Dr. Manhattan being the only one who could guarantee victory for the Stars & Stripes has fled to Mars. While every other super hero had an attempt made on their lives, Dr. Manhattan was just too powerful to try and assassinate. He was instead tricked and manipulated into leaving the judgmental and accusatory atmosphere of earth. The culprit behind such a scheme is none other than Adrian Veidt. Better known by his super hero moniker “Ozymandias”.
Ozymandias aptly named himself after the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. For his vision was that of a unified world. But how could one man bring nations together in the midst of a nuclear arms race? An elaborate hoax which would persuade the people of earth to rally together against a common enemy would come to fruition. An enemy that was fabricated. You see Ozymandias was also inspired by Alexander the Great. And this challenge was the modern-day version of the Gordian Knot. But just how did he cut it? That is an article for another day. But I will tell you this. It involves genetic engineering, psychic shockwaves, and a death toll in the millions. On second thought, this story might have just enough turmoil and commotion to keep die hard super hero enthusiasts interested from start to finish. Did I mention that Ozymandias is the smartest man on earth? Makes sense that he could pull off such an elaborate scheme. And boy does it make for some good reading.
As they appear in The Watchmen Movie from left to right: The Comedian, Nite Owl II, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk), and Ozymandias
To this day The Watchmen has been the subject of more discussion and serious literary deliberation than any other comic book in history. It was not until The Watchmen went to print and was marketed as a graphic novel that bookstores and public libraries began devoting a brand-new section of shelves to super heroes. The legacy this narrative left behind can still be felt even today. So, I applaud you simply for reading this breakdown and succinct review. I can only hope that this inspires you to delve into the pages of the most philosophical 12 issue comic book of our generation. That you will become well versed in this unique medium of storytelling and appreciate all it has to offer. From of all of us here at Metahuman Entertainment, keep the meta-movement strong.