The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibson is considered to be one of the top ten graphic novels (Time). The narrative has twelve chapters (in picture panels) interspersed with reports of different kinds. The non-comic narratives are: Holis Mason’s autobiography (Under the Hood), Professor Milton Glass’s report (Dr Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers), Ch 5 of the Treasure Island Treasury of Comics, prison and psychological reports of Rorschach, Drieberg’s “Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas (Journal of the American Ornithological society), excerpts from the newspaper (New Frontiersman), news articles, fan mail and interview about Sally (Silk Spectre), Viedt’s correspondence on figurines of Ozymandias, and interview with Veidt (“After the Maquerade”).
Themes: time, patriotism, technology and modernization, freedom, identity, and gender roles. Postmodernist: Narrative texts, parody, no connection with the chaarcaters, simulation of superheroes, and breakdown of grand narrative.
The Watchmen has two time frames: the old superheroes and a young generation who grew up idolizing the earlier group. The superheroes are as follows: the Comedian (Edward Morgan Blake), Doctor Manhattan (Dr. Jonathan “Jon” Osterman), the Nite Owl (Hollis Mason and Daniel Dreiberg), Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt), Rorschach (Walter Joseph Kovacs), and the Silk Spectre (Sally Jupiter and her daughter, Laurie Juspeczyk). These characters were originally based on the Mighty Crusaders.
The plot deconstructs the superhero concept, focusing on what happens after the cape and the mask are discarded. In the alternate history of the novel, superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s and helped the US to win the Vietnam War. In 1985, the country is edging toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed. So most former superheroes are in retirement (Silk Spectre) or working for the government (Ozymandias, Comedian, and Doctor Manhattan).
The plot begins with the murder of Blake. Rorschach suspects a conspiracy and warns his retired comrades: Dan Dreiberg (formerly the second Nite Owl), the superpowered and emotionally detached Doctor Manhattan and his lover Laurie Juspeczyk (the second Silk Spectre), and Adrian Veidt (once the hero Ozymandias, and now a successful businessman). When Manhattan is later accused of spreading cancer to his friends and colleagues, he exiles himself to Mars. Laura and Dan began a relationship and Laura makes Manhattan see that the earth is worth saving, after he teleports her to Mars.
Meanwhile, Rorschach and Nite Owl uncover Veidt’s conspiracy. Veidt had planned the murder of Blake, his own attempted murder, Manhattan’s allegations. Also, Veidt successfully executes his plans of an alien invasion on New York in the hope that all the nations of the world will unite against a common enemy, which actually happens.
Review in NYTimes.
Moore Alan and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 1987.