First Published 1986-1987 12-issues


Every now and then a siesmic event will occur causing an upthrust which forever changes a flat, featureless plain into a rugged, jagged, rocky mountain range. This is what occured on the comic book landscape in 1986 with the publication of DC Comics, The Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Comic Book ReviewEdit

The Watchmen Review

by Alii Nui

The Watchmen was one of two DC series in 1986, The Dark Knight Returns being the other, which redefined what a comic book could be. It was the year the graphic novel came into its own, a self-conscious term which attempts to elevate the comic book into literature. The awkward term isn't needed. Well-written comics have always been literate.

While The Dark Knight Returns focused on the gritty realism of Bruce Wayne's private struggle for his own soul, The Watchman exploded the theme to encompass two groups of costumed vigilantes and the world in which they exist.

Their world, set in an alternate reality, explores the pathology of being a masked crime fighter. The author, Alan Moore, proposes that such people are some sick puppies. Attention and money whores, sociopaths, political reactionaries, fascists, racial and sexual bigots, along with over-compensating socially inept nerds.

The one true super being, shamelessly exploited by the military, has no desire to be a superhero.

Flashy and pretty to look at, these are not nice people. They aren't even good people. To a person, all are unbalanced and self-absorbed, despite their stated purpose of 'protecting' society.

The original group, The Minutemen, formed in pre-World War Two America are brought together not out of a sense of enhancing their ability to do good by forming an alliance but as a publicity stunt. They have an agent. They have a photographer. They battle criminals because they like hurting people, Eddie Blake, or out of a sense of megalomaniacal self-righteousness, Hollis Mason and Ursula Zandt. They do it to get their face and name in the papers and newsreels. One does it, Sally Juspeczyk nee Jupiter, solely for money and publicity to build a career in the entertainment industry. One, William Brady, is the mascot for a department store.

At first, the public is startled and thrilled. The media promotes the fad of the masked crime fighter as new grist for the mill. But, the fun doesn't last long.

Ursula Zandt, the lip-stick lesbian, The Silhouette, is expelled from the group before being slash-murdered with her lover by a nemesis. Dollar Bill is gunned down, rendered helpless by a costume mishap. Eddie Blake, The Comedian, attempts to rape the pain-slut, Silk Spectre/Sally Jupiter. He, in turn, is beaten to a bloody pulp by Rolf Muller/Hooded Justice, the first masked vigilante. Hooded Justice, who uses Silk Spectre as his beard, is a closeted gay man in a relationship with Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis, a rabid racist. Byron Lewis/Mothman is an alcoholic crazy man.

As Yeats so succinctly put, the center does not hold, things fall apart. And, so do the Minutemen. No one really misses them. The public has gone off in pursuit of new shiny things.

Sometime later, Nelson 'Nelly' Gardner attempts to form a new crime fighting group, Crimebusters. The Comedian, who during the intervening years had murdered Gardner's lover, Hooded Justice, shreds the idea. None of the others present, Nite Owl (2.0)/Daniel Dreiberg, Doctor Manhattan/Dr. Jonathan Osterman, Rorschach/Walter Kovacs, Silk Spectre (2.0)/Laurie Juspeczyk, nor Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt really take to the idea either.

However, it is this group around which the story spins.

Dan Dreiberg is a rich uber-geek along the lines of Gotham's Batman and Metropolis' Clark Kent. Of course, owls eat bats, so his masked identity is an inside joke of Moore's. Dreiberg, although amiable is also a nerd of painful extent. Jon Osterman, the lone super being in the tale, can manipulate matter at the quantum level. His abilities eventually distant himself from human society. He's also a statutory rapist, taking up with the young lass Laurie. Laurie, daughter of Sally, a neurotic mess has both gigantic mommie and daddy issues. Although she's been lead to believe her father was Hooded Justice, she's actually Eddie Blake's kid. Walter Kovacs, mentally and physically abused as a child, is psychotic. Adrian Veidt, rich, charismatic, the smartest man alive and the fastest is all ego and super-cooled confidence, inwardly sneering at the lesser beings around him.

None of these people should be entrusted with safely delivering a pizza within thirty minutes or less, yet, the safety of the world will eventually fall to them. And, their world is one in which Richard Nixon has held on to power through multiple elections, his administration bringing the Earth to the crumbling cliff-edge of Nuclear War.

It was this Nixon who recruited both the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan to win the Vietnam War for him. And, its this Nixon, backed by the awesome power of the super being, to press the Soviet Union time and time again.

During this time masked avengers have been outlawed. Only Rorschach thinks this is a bad idea. He's become a complete outlaw murderer. Only Drieberg will have anything to do with him. But, it is Kovacs, in his best Mike Hammer riding that express train to crazy town persona, who puts all the pieces together of what is actually going on.

This comic series could so easily have decayed into soap-opera lead, particularly the domestic scenes between Jon and Laurie, or Laurie and Sally, or Laurie and Dan. But, in contradiction to Yeats, the narrative center does hold. Despite the tangents in the tale, and there are many, the story presents what feels like a real occurrence, a documentation of events.

And, it changed costumed crime fighters from circus-garb sterling good-guys, stuck forever in the tidy segregationist Military/Industrial Complex 1950's, promoting Truth, Justice, and the American Way, into people with bad breath, shitty attitudes, and tragic flaws.

It revealed so-called superheroes as damaged people hiding behind their masks. And, that's a good thing.