I am almost embarrassed that it has taken me this long to get around to this classic comic series. I had of course heard about it for years, but it took the amazing trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation to prompt me to pick it up. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Watchmen is a self contained superhero comic series that came out in 1986. Along with Maus and the Dark Knight Returns, it revolutionized the comic book industry of the 1980′s and paved the way for the darker, more adult graphic novels we have today.
Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985. The superheroes are very down to earth, in fact only one can claim what we would consider ‘real’ superpowers. The rest are the second generation of masked vigilantes. When we join the story, few are still actively fighting crime largely due to an anti-vigilante law passed in 1977. The plot moves effortlessly between the past and present. Minor details in the panels hint at the differences between our world and theirs such as America winning in Vietnam and Nixon running for three terms. Moore is examining what effect superheroes would have had on things like the cold war. Technology is more advanced than in our world largely due to the one real superhero, Dr. Manhattan who can manipulate matter and energy on an atomic scale.
This is a much grittier world than what we normally find in superhero comics and the frank sexuality and violence is not for the squeamish. Think more Miller’s Sin City than Iron Man. Check this out as a groundbreaking adult comic with a labyrinthine plot and amazing artwork packed full of hidden gems and detail. For example in chapter 5, Fearful Symmetry, each page mirrors one later in the chapter in both layout and content, when you reach the middle the mirror images intersect. Mirrored image motifs are hidden in many of the panels, for example the half visible Aoxomoxoa Grateful Dead poster in two different panels. Each chapter has a similar motif that can be found in many of the panels and each tie into the larger story and mystery.
The movie comes out in March 2008 and you can find the trailer here.