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Watchmen

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History

Watchmen is set in an alternate reality which closely mirrors the contemporary world of the 1980s. The primary point of divergence is the presence of superheroes. Their existence in this iteration of America is shown to have dramatically affected and altered the outcomes of real-world events such as the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard Nixon. In keeping with the realism of the series, although the costumed crime fighters of Watchmen are commonly called "superheroes", the only character who possesses obvious superhuman powers is Doctor Manhattan. The existence of Doctor Manhattan has given the U.S. a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, which has increased tensions between the two nations. Additionally, superheroes have become unpopular among the public, which has led to the passage of legislation in 1977 to outlaw them. While many of the heroes retired, Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian operate as government-sanctioned agents, and Rorschach continues to operate outside the law.

Publication History

"Watchmen" was a 12-issue maxiseries published from September of 1986 through October of 1987, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. The events of the story take place in 1985. The title takes its name from a popular translation of a latin phrase, "Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?":[1] "Who Watches the Watchmen?"

Although Alan Moore has stated he originally wished to use the old characters from MLJ Comics in the story, which were no longer being published at the time, he was unable to obtain usage rights. Dave Gibbons, who had worked there, inspired him to use the old Charlton Comics characters instead. However, Charlton had recently been bought by DC, and as they intended to introduce those characters into mainstream continuity, they were unavailable as well. As a result, Moore simply made his own new characters based on the Charlton characters (see the full list below).

A film adaptation was released in 2009.

Themes

The initial premise for the series was to examine what superheroes would be like "in a credible, real world". As the story became more complex, Moore said Watchmen became about "power and about the idea of the superman manifest within society."[2] The title of the series refers to the phrase "Who watches the watchmen?", although Moore said in a 1986 interview with Amazing Heroes he did not know where the phrase originated.[3] After reading the interview, author Harlan Ellison informed Moore that the phrase is a translation of the question "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", posed by the Roman satirist Juvenal. Moore commented in 1987, "In the context of Watchmen, that fits. 'They're watching out for us, who's watching out for them?'" The writer stated in the introduction to the Graffitti hardcover of Watchmen that while writing the series he was able to purge himself of his nostalgia for superheroes, and instead he found an interest in real human beings.

Bradford Wright described Watchmen as "Moore's obituary for the concept of heroes in general and superheroes in particular." Putting the story in a contemporary sociological context, Wright wrote that the characters of Watchmen were Moore's "admonition to those who trusted in 'heroes' and leaders to guard the world's fate." He added that to place faith in such icons was to give up personal responsibility to "the Reagans, Thatchers, and other 'Watchmen' of the world who supposed to 'rescue' us and perhaps lay waste to the planet in the process". Moore specifically stated in 1986 that he was writing Watchmen to be "not anti-Americanism, [but] anti-Reaganism," specifically believing that "at the moment a certain part of Reagan's America isn't scared. They think they're invulnerable." While Moore wanted to write about "power politics" and the "worrying" times he lived in, he stated the reason that the story was set in an alternate reality was because he was worried that readers would "switch off" if he attacked a leader they admired. Moore stated in 1986 that he "was consciously trying to do something that would make people feel uneasy."

Citing Watchmen as the point where the comic book medium "came of age", Iain Thomson wrote in his essay "Deconstructing the Hero" that the story accomplished this by "developing its heroes precisely in order to deconstruct the very idea of the hero and so encouraging us to reflect upon its significance from the many different angles of the shards left lying on the ground".[4] Thomson stated that the heroes in Watchmen almost all share a nihilistic outlook, and that Moore presents this outlook "as the simple, unvarnished truth" to "deconstruct the would-be hero's ultimate motivation, namely, to provide a secular salvation and so attain a mortal immortality".[5] He wrote that the story "develops its heroes precisely in order to ask us if we would not in fact be better off without heroes".[6] Thomson added that the story's deconstruction of the hero concept "suggests that perhaps the time for heroes has passed", which he feels distinguishes "this postmodern work" from the deconstructions of the hero in the existentialism movement.[7] Richard Reynolds states that without any supervillains in the story, the superheroes of Watchmen are forced to confront "more intangible social and moral concerns", adding that this removes the superhero concept from the normal narrative expectations of the genre.[8] Reynolds concludes that the series' ironic self awareness of the genre "all mark out Watchmen either as the last key superhero text, or the first in a new maturity of the genre".[9]

Geoff Klock eschewed the term "deconstruction" in favor of describing Watchmen as a "revisionary superhero narrative." He considers Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns to be "the first instances ... of [a] new kind of comic book ... a first phase of development, the transition of the superhero from fantasy to literature."[10] He elaborates by noting that "Alan Moore's realism ... performs a kenosis towards comic book history ... [which] does not ennoble and empower his characters ... Rather, it sends a wave of disruption back through superhero history ... devalue[ing] one of the basic superhero conventions by placing his masked crime fighters in a realistic world ..."[11] First and foremost, "Moore's exploration of the [often sexual] motives for costumed crimefighting sheds a disturbing light on past superhero stories, and forces the reader to reevaluate - to revision - every superhero in terms of Moore's kenosis - his emptying out of the tradition."[12] Klock relates the title to the quote by Juvenal to highlight the problem of controlling those who hold power and quoted repeatedly within the work itself.[13] The deconstructive nature of Watchmen is, Klock notes, played out on the page also as, "[l]ike Alan Moore's kenosis, [Veidt] must destroy, then reconstruct, in order to build 'a unity which would survive him.'"[14]

Moore has expressed dismay that "[T]he gritty, deconstructivist postmodern superhero comic, as exemplified by Watchmen... became a genre". He said in 2003, "[T]o some degree there has been, in the 15 years since Watchmen, an awful lot of the comics field devoted to these grim, pessimistic, nasty, violent stories which kind of use Watchmen to validate what are, in effect, often just some very nasty stories that don't have a lot to recommend them."[15] Gibbons said that while readers "were left with the idea that it was a grim and gritty kind of thing", he said in his view the series was "a wonderful celebration of superheroes as much as anything else."[16]


Plot

In the 1985 of an alternate reality where superheroes are real (though only one, Dr. Manhattan, has superpowers), one of the vigilantes, The Comedian, is brutally murdered. This causes one of his former colleagues, Rorschach, to investigate on his death, and uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes.

Points of Interest

New York City, Antarctica

Residents


Notes

  • No special notes.


Trivia

Trivia

Character Influences


See Also


Links and References

  1. Juvenal's Satire VI
  2. Whiston, Daniel. "The Craft". EngineComics.co.uk. January 2005. Retrieved on October 14, 2008.
  3. Plowright, Frank. "Preview: Watchmen". Amazing Heroes. June 15, 1986.
  4. Thomson, p. 101
  5. Thomson, p. 108
  6. Thomson, p. 109
  7. Thomson, p. 111
  8. Reynolds, p. 115
  9. Reynolds, p. 117
  10. Klock, p. 25–26
  11. Klock, p. 63
  12. Klock, p. 65
  13. Klock, p. 62
  14. Klock, p. 75
  15. Robinson, Tasha. "Interviews: Alan Moore". AVClub.com. June 25, 2003.
  16. Salisbury, p. 96

References

Absolute Watchmen
Watchmen
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This article features characters, items or events exclusive to the continuity of the "Watchmen limited series," or the Watchmen Movie. This template will categorize all articles that include it into the Watchmen category.

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