It may seem hard to imagine today, but back in 1985, nobody was particularly familiar with the idea of superheroes with human emotions, psychological problems, or anything other than square jaws and simple morals. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen helped change all that. It’s a story about ordinary people who, by design or accident, decide to wear costumes and fight crime. The resulting alternate future turns the superhero genre on its head, questioning the validity of caped crusaders in a realistic world spanning 50 years.
Watchmen is an extraordinary piece of work. It is designed to be read at least twice – there’s no way you could get the most out of this in one reading, as so much is built up before we have a chance of noticing it. On first read, you may find yourself smacked in the face by an awesome ending. Second time through, you’ll wonder how you could have missed all those clues.
Every cut in the action is linked to the next scene, often with overlapping dialogue and meaning. Symbols, from pyramids to the famously defaced smiley, pervade the artwork, providing visual references to the story’s themes. Images as simple and everyday as falling objects are laden with depths of meaning by a process of association and repetition, so that reading the book and piecing everything together is a blatant intellectual challenge to the reader. Pulling together the strands of the book as you read through is as satisfying as completing the last clue in a crossword or placing the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
The book is aimed at people who are familiar with the superhero genre, as there’s a lot of stuff in here that those with little knowledge of the medium will be forced to ignore. Because the book deconstructs the genre, a working knowledge of it is essential. This means it isn’t particularly accessible to the beginner and, despite its deserved classic status, it would not be an easy starter for someone unused to the form.
Looking for Watchmen the movie? Check out our Watchmen movie review!
Other titles by Alan Moore:
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