Who Watches the Watchmen?

Moore, Alan. Gibbons, Dave. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 1995.

"This is the book that changed an industry and challenged a medium. If you've never read a graphic novel, start with WATCHMEN. And
even if you have, it's time to read it again" (Back Cover).

Imagine a watchmen.jpgworld where the Cold War never ended, and the United States is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
A world where superheroes exist, but are in retirement or working for the government because freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed. Welcome to the alternate history of Watchmen. The graphic novel tells the multi-layered stories of two overlapping groups of superheroes, the latter group including:

· The Comedian -“He always thought he’d get the last laugh” (Moore, 3). His murder sets off the plot of the novel. He has been described as ruthless, cynical, and nihilistic, and yet capable of deeper insights than the others into the role of the costumed hero” (Reynolds 106).

· Dr. Manhattan – the victim of a tragic accident involving a "Intrinsic Field Subtractor” during which he gained incredible superpowers, a glowing blue skin tone, and a near omni-presence, but lost the ability to relate to the people in his life.

· The Nite Owl – The second night owl to his predecessor Hollis Mason, he is a middle aged, retired, impotent masked hero with a heart of gold.

· Ozymandias – another retired hero, but Ozymandias is more ambitious than the Nite Owl. A genius, he runs his own enterprises. Gibbons said that “one of the worst of his sins [is] kind of looking down on the rest of humanity, scorning the rest of humanity."

· Rorschach – Known for his white mask with constantly shifting ink blots, which can be seen to represent his black and white moral views that take many strange shapes, but never mix together into grey. Rorschach is still a true vigilante, still fighting crime alone despite its being outlawed. Most of the novel is told from his perspective.

· The Silk Spectre II – Daughter of the first silk specter. Had a long relationship with Dr. Manhattan, and later with the Nite Owl. She struggles to set herself apart from her predecessor.

The superheroes have fallen out of the public's favor and are either in retirement or work for the government, until the murder of one of the government sponsored superheroes calls them back into action. Is someone out for the hooded heroes? Moore weaves together intriguing back stories, unconventional action sequences, science fiction, and satire into a masterpiece of a graphic novel that investigate the ironies of the human race.
Sections of the main story are layered with selections from memoir excerpts, magazine articles, pirate comics, academic journals, police reports, and magazine interview profiles. The sense that the novel encompasses an entire alternate universe is painstakingly constructed throughout.

Watchmen originated from a story that Moore proposed to DC Comics, featuring characters that the company had bought from Charlton Comics. As Moore's proposed story would have left many of the characters unusable for future stories, managing editor Dick Giordano convinced the writer to create original characters instead, which resulted in the Watchmen characters today. Watchmen is considered to be a classic and quintessential graphic novel, and was named one of Time Magazine's Top 100 Novels of All Time. Watchmen has won critical acclaim in many public arenas, and is a fan boy favorite. After several attempts to adapt the series into a feature film, director Zack Snyder's Watchmen was released in March 2009.

Recommendations for Teachers
the-watchmen-babies-15411-1236292714-6.jpg Watchmen can be used as a valuable tool within the classroom. That being said, it is important for teachers who are considering using to be aware that it contains scenes with graphic violence, sexuality, controversial politics, homosexuality, and unreliable narrators. Seriously, it contains just about every controversial or offensive topic you can think of: sex, rape, nudity, murder, graphic violence, homosexuality, prostitution, animal cruelty. A teacher would need to carefully explain the use of irony and to encourage the students to question the perspectives portrayed within the novel. Parents should be asked permission before their children read the novel. Some people think it is only appropriate at the college level. Use your own discretion.

One theme that students could examine is the concept of justice. They can look at Rorashac's view of justice. He believes in "eye for an eye", or retributive justice, while Dr. Manhattan is indifferent to justice of any kind. This book could also be used to supplement history lessons, or books that take place during the cold war era. This book is an excellent alternative for students who may not be interested in a more traditional novel.

About Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Alan Moore: Author

Alan Moore is a very interesting character. With his striking resemblance to Hagrid for those Harry Potter fans out there, Alan Moore is not your traditional author…or your traditional anything for that matter. Not exactly the best example for schoolchildren, he himself was expelled from grammar school for being what he later described as “one of the world’s most inept LSD dealers.That didn't stop him from being a wild success in the literary world. Today, he professes to being a vegetarian, a practicing magician, and an anarchist. His other notable works include V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Dave Gibbons: Illustrator
Dave Gibbons may seem tame compared to his contemporary, but he is just as talented. He has illustrated such renown strips as Harlem Heroes, Dan Dare, and Rogue Trooper. Gibbons also worked on the popular Doctor Who strip, and in 1982, began his long association with DC Comics with the Green Lantern series.


Alan Moore interviewed by LJ Pindling of Street Law Productions; he gives advice to budding artists.

An exclusive behind-the scenes interview with Watchmen director Zack Snyder and legendary illustrator Dave Gibbons.


Watchmen - The Graphic Novel

Watchmen - The Film:

Graphic Novels:

Related Information:
  • The Cold War - Put some context with the story by brushing up on the Cold War.

Reviewed by Kelly Boston.