Watchmen #1

September, 1986

WHAT IF SUPERHEROES REALLY EXISTED? What if costumed vigilantes changed the course of our history? And what if someone was brave enough to write a story about them? The answer to the last question is simple: you’d end up with something like Watchmen, the first serious attempt by comic artists to deconstruct the superhero genre.

Watchmen was a 12-issue series published by DC that was set outside the normal DC Universe. No Superman or Wonder Women existed here. In this world, the heroes of yesterday are retired, dead, on the run from the law, or kept under careful surveillance by governments eager to exploit their powers. A half-insane hero called Rorschach (he hides his face behind a mask of shifting shapes) decides that someone is trying to murder the remaining heroes, and so he searches for the truth. As the plot progresses, he and his former teammates learn of a plan that will bring world peace by killing millions of innocent people, and they’re horrified to discover it’s the handiwork of a former superhero who has taken his mission to save the world to its logical extreme.

Originally, writer Alan Moore had planned to use heroes from the defunct Charlton Comics lineup, which DC had bought the rights to several years before. However, DC editor Dick Giordano vetoed that idea, arguing that using such heroes as the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question, and the Peacemaker would ruin their commercial potential (and, indeed, they would go on in the 1980s and ’90s to play key roles in the DC universe). At his request, Moore came up with a whole new set of heroes who were obviously based on his original choices, making the message of the series all the more potent.

Watchmen won rave reviews and much media attention, making celebrities out of Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. Its moral and structural complexity makes it more than just a comic book — more than any other, it deserves to be called a graphic novel, since it is in fact a novel with pictures. The underlying themes, the foreshadowing, the symbols, the metaphors, the characterization — no comic mini-series before Watchmen had even attempted any of these to such a degree, and, arguably, none have ever since.

From The 100 Greatest Comics of the 20th Century By Mitchell Brown


Did you know…

In the world of the Watchmen, comic books do exist, but the most popular genre is pirate stories, a fact used to interesting effect throughout the series.

“Who watches the Watchmen?”, a slogan often uttered by the civilian population in the series, was first written down by the ancient Roman poet Juvenal.

Although fans have clamored for a sequel, both Moore and Gibbons have insisted that no such work will ever be produced. Not By them at least they say.