- For the 2009 film adaptation, see Watchmen (movie). For the video game prequel, see Watchmen (game). For the HBO series adaptation, see Watchmen (TV series).
Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book limited series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Originally published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series from 1986 to 1987, it was later republished as a trade paperback, which popularized the "graphic novel" format. To date, Watchmen remains the only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award, and is also the only graphic novel to appear on Time magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present".
Watchmen is set in 1985, in an alternate history United States where costumed adventurers are real and the country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (the Doomsday Clock is at five minutes to midnight). It tells the story of a group of past and present superheroes and the events surrounding the mysterious murder of one of their own. Watchmen depicts superheroes as real people who must confront ethical and personal issues, who struggle with neuroses and failings, and who—with one notable exception—lack anything recognizable as super powers. Watchmen's conventional superhero archetype, combined with its innovative adaptation of cinematic techniques and heavy use of symbolism, multi-layered dialogue, and metafiction, has influenced both comics and film.
Alan Moore, who wanted to transcend the perceptions of the comic book medium as something juvenile, created Watchmen as an attempt to make "a superhero Moby-Dick; something that had that sort of weight, that sort of density." Moore also named William S. Burroughs as one of his "main influences" during the conception of Watchmen and admired Burroughs' use of "repeated symbols that would become laden with meaning" in Burroughs's one and only comic strip, The Unspeakable Mr. Hart, which appeared in the British underground magazine Cyclops.
Moore and Gibbons originally conceived of a story that would take "familiar old-fashioned superheroes into a completely new realm." Initially, Moore looked towards the defunct MLJ Comics line of superheroes for inspiration. "I'd just started thinking about using the MLJ characters — the Archie super-heroes - just because they weren't being published at that time, and for all I knew, they might've been up for grabs. The initial concept would've had the 1960s-'70s rather lame version of the Shield being found dead in the harbor, and then you'd probably have various other characters, including Jack Kirby's Private Strong, being drafted back in, and a murder mystery unfolding. I suppose I was just thinking, 'That'd be a good way to start a comic book: have a famous super-hero found dead.' As the mystery unraveled, we would be led deeper and deeper into the real heart of this super-hero's world, and shown a reality that was very different to the general public image of the super-hero. So, that was the idea."
Dick Giordano, who had worked for Charlton Comics, suggested using a cast of old Charlton characters that had recently been acquired by DC. However, the Charlton heroes were being slowly integrated into the normal DC continuity. Because Moore and Gibbons wanted to do a serious storyline in which some of the newly acquired characters would die and the world would be drastically altered by story's end, using the Charlton heroes was not feasible. Giordano suggested that Moore and Gibbons simply start from scratch and create their own characters. So while certain characters in Watchmen are loosely based upon the Charlton characters (such as Dr. Manhattan, who was inspired by Captain Atom; Rorschach, who was based upon the Question; and Nite Owl, who was loosely based on the Blue Beetle as well as Batman), Moore decided to create characters that ultimately would only casually resemble their Charlton counterparts.
Originally, Moore and Gibbons had enough plot for only six issues, so they compensated "by interspersing the more plot-driven issues with issues that gave kind of a biographical portrait of one of the main characters." During the process, Gibbons had a great deal of autonomy in developing the visual look of Watchmen and inserted details that Moore admits he did not notice until later, as Watchmen was written to be read and fully understood only after several readings.
- See also: Chapters in Watchmen.
The title Watchmen is derived from the phrase quis custodiet ipsos custodes, from Juvenal's Satire VI, "Against women" (c. AD 60–127), often translated as "who watches the watchmen?".
Juvenal was credited with exposing the vice of Roman society through his satires, and in a similar fashion, Watchmen examines the trope of the costumed adventurer or superhero by examining the human flaws of its "hero" characters in lieu of the traditional comic book focus on its characters' strengths. In Watchmen, Moore shows a "grittier" side to the conceived notion of the superhero.
The graffiti "WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN" appears scrawled upon walls throughout New York City during the story (though the complete phrase is never seen; the sentence is always partially obscured or cut out of the panel, or, in one case, is unfinished by the graffiti artist). The graffiti occurs following the proposition of legislation which would require registration acts, depicting the change of public opinion towards the practice of vigilantism. This viewpoint is exemplified by the character of the second Nite Owl, who asks, during an anti-vigilantism riot, "Who are we protecting [society] from?" The Comedian glibly replies, "From themselves."
The title, therefore, refers to the idea of superheroes, police, the government, or any group of people who assume the responsibility of protecting others from themselves. It does not refer to any group of characters within the Watchmen universe.
The maxi-series Watchmen is composed of twelve chapters. These chapters were originally separate issues of the limited series, which were released sequentially starting in 1986. Each chapter begins with a close-up of the first panel, originally the cover to each issue. Each chapter has an epigraph from classical or pop literature, which appears in abbreviated form early on, and acts as the chapter's heading or title. The quote is given in its entirety at the end of the chapter, summarizing the events that have just occurred.
Symmetry is a frequent structural theme in Watchmen, especially between each half of the twelve chapters. The most overarching example is the balance between the plot-driven chapters and the character studies. Chapters 2, 4, and 6 each focus on one of the six primary characters, and then 7, 9, and 11 on the remaining three. Chapter 2 elaborates on the life of the Comedian, the mystery surrounding his death, and his descent into nihilism, whereas Chapter 11 explains that his death resulted from another character's commitment to saving the world. Chapters 4 and 9 both reflect on past events from the surface of Mars, and culminate in opposite attitudes toward determinism. Furthermore, by Chapter 6, all of the heroes seem inactive, but some begin returning to public activity in Chapter 7. Most famously, the first and last panels of the entire novel feature the "blood over the eye of the smiley face" motif, more plainly than its variously oblique appearances throughout the book.
Watchmen also contains many fictional primary documents, which are appended to the end of every chapter (except the final one), and are represented as being a part of the Watchmen universe's media. Biographies of retired costumed adventurers, such as the retrospective Under the Hood by the retired first Nite Owl, are used to help the reader understand the chronology of events, and also the changes in public opinion and representation of costumed adventurers through the decades. These documents are also used to reveal personal details of the costumed adventurers' private lives, such as Walter Kovacs' arrest file and psychiatric report. Other documents used in this way include military reports and newspaper and magazine articles.
Watchmen's structure has been analyzed by many reviewers, with The Friday Review calling Watchmen "a complex, multi-layered narrative, populated with well-realized characters and set against a background that is simultaneously believable and unfamiliar."
When reading Watchmen, the reader is mostly presented with only an objective point of view, able to see all the characters' actions, facial expressions, and body language; but, in a move unusual for comic books of its time, Moore did not use any thought balloons to clarify his characters' thoughts, although several sections consist of long episodes that replay the characters' memories or include entries from diaries. The documents that are appended to the end of each chapter except the last, as well as media such as Rorschach's journal, help to elucidate characters' thoughts and feelings throughout the novel without mentioning them explicitly.
First person perspective is also used, albeit less frequently. Flashbacks are employed to help facilitate the reader's understanding of events occurring in the present, but also as a means of chronicling the differences in history between the Watchmen universe and our own. Thus, Dr. Manhattan's flashback to the Vietnam War highlights how both his and the Comedian's existence altered their world's history in comparison to our own.
"Watchmen Observations" notes that Watchmen uses a three-by-three panel structure and that there is little variation in this format. When necessary panels are combined or divided to create larger or smaller panels while retaining the grid structure, the effect is to "reduce the scope for authorial voice – the reader has fewer clues how he/she should react to each scene; also, they heighten the feeling of realism and distance the novel from standard action comics." Although the cast of Watchmen are commonly called "superheroes", the only character in the principal cast who possesses superhuman powers is Doctor Manhattan. In the comic, they refer to themselves as "costumed adventurers" or less frequently, considering its comparatively negative connotations, "masked vigilantes".
As stated above, the cast of Watchmen was initially based upon old MLJ Comics and then Charlton Comics characters. The Comedian (Edward Blake) is based on the Peacemaker. Doctor Manhattan (Jon Osterman) is derived from Captain Atom, while the first and second Nite Owls (Hollis Mason and Dan Dreiberg) are based upon the Blue Beetle. Thunderbolt serves as the inspiration for Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt), while the Question and Mr. A do the same for Rorschach (Walter Kovacs). Finally, the first and second Silk Spectres (Sally Jupiter and Laurie Juspeczyk) are roughly analogous to Nightshade, but only in that they are female. Moore has stated that the Silk Spectres are more directly inspired by elements of Black Canary and Phantom Lady.
The novel opens with the October 1985 murder of retired New York Cityer Edward Blake. An introductory narrative and investigation by a pair of police detectives yields nothing conclusive: Blake, formerly affiliated with the United States government, might have been murdered by Communist Russians, but this could be suicidal considering America's current superiority in the arms race; also, Blake kept himself in excellent physical shape, raising the question of who could have overpowered him in the first place. The detectives conclude that, above all, they want to keep the murder quiet, for fear of attracting the attention of the last "costumed adventurer", the vigilante Rorschach.
Rorschach does investigate, however, and discovers that Blake was also a costumed hero: The Comedian, one of only two costumed adventurers who accepted government patronage under the Keene Act, which otherwise forbade costumed adventuring from 1977 onward (hence Rorschach's status as a vigilante). Believing that Blake's murder is part of a greater plot to eliminate "masks", as Rorschach calls them, he warns others: Jon Osterman, also known as Dr. Manhattan (the other government-sponsored hero and the linchpin of American nuclear superiority); Dr. Manhattan's lover, Laurie Jane Juspeczyk (the second Silk Spectre); Daniel Dreiberg (the second Nite Owl and Rorschach's former partner); and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias, reputedly the smartest man in the world, who retired in '75 and built a commercial empire).
Within the fictional context of the story, the United States and the Soviet Union have been edging toward a nuclear war since the 1959 nuclear accident that transformed Osterman into the super-powered Dr. Manhattan. Manhattan had disrupted the mutually assured destruction doctrine by possessing the power to neutralize most of the Russian nukes in mid-air. With this trump card in hand, America has enjoyed a distinct strategic advantage, allowing it to defeat the Soviet Union in a series of proxy wars, including victory in Vietnam. Richard Nixon used this success and, unmarred by Watergate (in a flashback, the Comedian alludes to having assassinated Woodward and Bernstein), encouraged a repeal of the 22nd Amendment, removing presidential term limits, allowing him to serve an unprecedented fifth term in office during the events of Watchmen.
Dr. Manhattan's existence has accelerated the nuclear arms race and dramatically increased global tension. In seeming anticipation of global war, American society has assumed a general sense of fatalism about the future. Signs of this in daily life range from "Meltdowns" candy to graffiti inspired by the Hiroshima bombing to the designation of many buildings in New York as fallout shelters.
As Rorschach continues his investigation, he is framed, captured by the police, jailed and subjected to psychiatric examination. Meanwhile, Adrian Veidt is attacked by a gunman in a public assassination attempt that he survives.
Dr. Manhattan, though supremely powerful, suffers from a decreasing ability to relate to normal humans. He accidentally upsets his lover, Laurie, and she leaves him. Soon afterwards, evidence comes to light that a number of his co-workers, including his former girlfriend Janey Slater, have come down with terminal cancer. Manhattan feels that he poses a threat to others and exiles himself to Mars, in a chapter revealing that he experiences time in a non-linear fashion. His break with the U.S. government prompts Soviet opportunism in the form of an invasion of Afghanistan (a delayed version of the real-life event), greatly aggravating the global crisis and prompting Nixon to consider nuclear reprisals.
These events are colored by commentary from a bevy of secondary characters, such as a teenage reader of the Tales of the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic, the newsstand vendor from whom he purchases said comics, the psychiatrist evaluating Rorschach, the police officers from the first chapter and others.
Dan Dreiberg, who harbors an initially unrequited attraction to Laurie, offers her room and board. When a tenement building catches fire, the two resume their costumed adventuring ways to save its residents. Dan has begun to believe in Rorschach's theory that an unidentified assassin is attacking former costumed adventurers and he insists they break Rorschach out of Sing Sing Penitentiary. Unfortunately, the news that formerly retired adventurers have gone rogue leads to the hate-crime killing of the still-retired first Nite Owl.
Dr. Manhattan briefly returns to Earth to bring Laurie to Mars, as a discussion between them which he has foreseen is scheduled to take place at this time. In this conversation, she begs him to return to Earth and save humanity, an effort in which she is successful. This discussion also turns Laurie's life inside-out: She realizes that the Comedian, whom she hated for attempting to rape her mother, was later her mother's consensual lover and, in fact, Laurie's own biological father.
Meanwhile, the reunited duo of Rorschach and Nite Owl prowl the New York underworld, searching for hints on who commissioned the hit on Veidt. The trail leads to none other than Veidt himself, who has been orchestrating events all along. The company which commissioned the hit, owned by Veidt, also employed every associate of Dr. Manhattan's that had developed cancer.
Rorschach and Nite Owl travel to Veidt's Antarctic fortress, "Karnak", to confront him. In a lengthy monologue, Adrian explains his early worship of Alexander the Great, which later turned to admiration of Rameses II (whose Greek name was Ozymandias); his realization that the current arms race and disregard for the environment would lead to cataclysm by the 1990s; his belief that someone must save the world, and that only he could do so; and finally, that the crux of his plan is to teleport a genetically engineered telepathic monstrosity into New York City, a process that will kill the monster and cause it to emit a massive psychic shockwave that will kill half the city and drive many of the survivors insane. Adrian believes that America and Russia, perceiving an extraterrestrial threat, will abandon their arms race and unite in defense of their planet.
The Comedian, Veidt also reveals, was killed because he happened to stumble upon the island where the creature was being bred; the murderer is revealed to be Veidt himself. Finally, Ozymandias establishes that he is not prey to one major weakness of arch-villains: the tendency to ramble about their plans before they are executed. At the end of his explanation he reveals that the monster has already been teleported as intended. At 11:25 PM Eastern Standard Time, the monster arrives in New York, creating a cataclysmic shockwave which kills millions, among them most of the secondary characters.
Laurie and Dr. Manhattan arrive in the devastated city and then teleport to Karnak, where Veidt watches the news and exults as his plan comes to fruition. Only these five former costumed adventurers know the truth of the matter, as Veidt has killed everyone else who knew anything incriminating about the project. Dan, Laurie and Jon agree to keep silent, sickened by the deaths of millions of New Yorkers but willing to countenance it for the sake of averting nuclear holocaust. Only Rorschach, who does not believe that the ends justify the means, refuses to comply, and he prepares to return to America. Jon attempts to dissuade him, but Rorschach makes it clear that he will not compromise and demands that, if Jon wishes to stop him, Jon must kill him too. Jon does, then returns to Veidt's fortress.
After destroying Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan talks briefly to Veidt. He plans to leave Earth for the time being to go to another galaxy for unknown reasons (when asked about his newfound respect for life, he hints that "perhaps I'll create some"). Professing his guilt and doubt, Veidt asks Manhattan for closure: "I did the right thing, didn't I? It all worked out in the end." Dr. Manhattan, standing within Veidt's mechanical model of the solar system, smiles and replies: "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends." He then disappears, leaving the entire mechanical model of the solar system framed by a residue appearing distinctly similar to an atomic mushroom cloud.
The ending of Watchmen is ambiguous about the long-term success of Veidt's plan to lead the world to Utopia. Prior to confronting Veidt, Rorschach had mailed his journal detailing his suspicions to The New Frontiersman, a far right-wing magazine he frequently read. The final page of the series shows a New Frontiersman editor contemplating which item from the "crank" (to which Kovacs' journal had been consigned) to use as filler for the upcoming issue. The final line of the story is that of the editor's superior, indifferent as to which piece from the crank file is selected. He tells his subordinate – who has been established as not particularly bright – "I leave it entirely in your hands."
The subject of anti-veneration explores superheroes who are treated as veritable gods to be worshiped at one point (with Dr. Manhattan taking on the literal manifestation of a deity) and then are deconstructed in order to reveal flaws, which makes them less worthy of hero worship in the eyes of the public. In one of the epistolary essays at the end of each chapter, Osterman's former mentor, Milton Glass, repeats his first reaction to a newspaper reporter on learning of Dr. Manhattan's transformation: "God exists, and he's American"—a thought Glass confesses to be terrifying. (Interestingly, he reports being often misquoted as, "The superman exists, and he's American.") Nonetheless, heroes can still be worthy within the valetism form of hero worship as theorized by essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle and expressed in Watchmen. Carlyle developed a concept of hero worship that was meant to overlook human flaws, as he contended that there was no need for "moral perfection."
Along these lines, Rorschach dismisses what he terms as "moral lapses" when discussing the Comedian's past acts of sexual assault. These Carlyle-inspired ideas are depicted throughout Watchmen, as Ozymandias, during a discussion with Rorschach, refers to the Comedian as "a Nazi." To further exemplify this issue of superheroes as fascists, the far right-wing publication New Frontiersman appears to be the most ardent supporter of masked vigilantism with one headline reading, "Honor is like the Hawk: Sometimes it must go Hooded."
Apocalypticism and conspiracy theory are elements of both plot and mood in the series. The threat of nuclear annihilation is ever-present throughout the novel. According to an interpretation by director Darren Aronofsky, "the whole motivation for Ozymandias is the impending doom of the world." The plot is driven by a central conspiracy. Rorschach is obsessed with conspiracy theories, and appears to derive much of his thinking from the New Frontiersman. Aronofsky argues that Watchmen's treatment of the subject was pioneering, but has since "become so 'pop' because of JFK and The X-Files, it's entered pop culture consciousness, and Rorschach's vision is not that wacky anymore."
Conspiracy theories invoke a lack of control on the part of characters like Rorschach and lead to the examination of other themes in Watchmen, such as determinism. Gregory J. Golda describes the relationship between the philosophy of determinism and Dr. Manhattan, who "lives his now-immortal life with a perception of time and events as unchangeable. He becomes the symbol of determinism" and "lives his own life under this illusion of determinism[,] failing to see that there was a superior intellect that could outsmart even an 'all knowing' being." As a reference to the watchmaker analogy that determinism uses to describe God, Dr. Manhattan — who will become a kind of God — initially grows up as a watchmaker. It is often Dr. Manhattan who discusses issues of determinism and free will, as when he explains to the second Silk Spectre, "We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings."
Megalomania is also addressed in Watchmen, but not with conventional "villains". Instead, Ozymandias is presented as an idealist who looks to the past for inspiration so that he may better use his prodigious intellect to help mankind. At first idolizing Alexander the Great, he later relates himself to Ramses II (and adopts his Greek name Ozymandias) and the golden age of the Pharaohs.
A final theme that is addressed throughout the novel is human morality, particularly in the contrast between absolutism, consequentialism and moral relativism, and each of the masked adventurers seems to have a different take on how to behave in this regard. At the extreme end of absolutism is Rorschach. Rorschach is the pinnacle of this philosophy; he believes that all criminals should be punished for their crimes and often treats radically different types of criminals in very similar ways (for example, he executes both a serial rapist and a common mugger). He denies the impact of culture and context on his actions (a repeated mantra of his which appears several times during the book is "Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise."). As Ozymandias puts it: "I believe he's a man of great integrity, but he seems to view the world in very black and white, Manichean terms."
At the other extreme in moral relativism is the Comedian. While the Comedian's own moral code is cast into severe doubt throughout the novel (Doctor Manhattan describes him as "deliberately amoral", whereas Rorschach merely questions his "moral lapses"), he seems to be almost nihilistic at times. However, his tendencies are clearly demonstrated at the first meeting of the Crimebusters in 1966, when he explains why attempting to destroy organized crime rings is of no consequence: "inside thirty years the nukes are gonna be flyin' like maybugs..."
However, at the finale of the novel, Ozymandias' views on morality are firmly established, and seem to be justified by their outcomes: Despite requiring the murder of three million New Yorkers and a hundred or so talented artists and scientists from around the globe, the deception of the entire world, and many other highly questionable acts, he has convinced most of the other main characters to accept the outcome of his actions. The parallel between his actions and the conclusion of the Black Freighter story serves to weaken this interpretation. In addition, the ambiguous ending, wherein the New Frontiersman may or may not publish Rorschach's journal revealing the conspiracy, leaves the reader wondering whether or not Ozymandias has actually accomplished his goal or merely postponed an inevitable Armageddon – a point reinforced by Dr. Manhattan's enigmatic comments made before his departure. In the end, Moore leaves the morality of the characters open to reader interpretation.
Penciller, inker, and letterer Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins are credited with giving life to the various characters in Watchmen. They employed a variety of innovative techniques, a style that contained elements of the Golden Age of Comics and a deliberate attempt to inject realism. Gibbons, who had worked with Moore on previous occasions, including a notable 1985 Superman story (Annual 11, "For the Man Who Has Everything"), avoided convention in his work and developed a storyboard-like style to present the dialogue written by Moore. Nearly every panel includes significant details of the story-line or visual motifs (such as triangles and pyramids) with themes important to the plot. Gregory J. Golda describes the artwork as "both a tribute to the Gold and Silver Age style[s] of super hero comics." He also writes that there "are symbols embedded in this work that require a book to fully discover." Gibbons used other cinematic techniques such as having two main characters somewhat obscured by their surroundings and background characters in order to avoid the usual extreme focus upon the primary characters prevalent in most comic book art. Moreover, Watchmen rarely uses motion lines to indicate motion, another technique often utilized in the comic book industry. In Watchmen, motion lines are only used to indicate small actions, and are not utilized in fight scenes. Instead, Gibbons uses "posture and blood" to highlight the motion and movement of the characters, which "[adds] to the feel of realism and [limits the] authorial voice". Also missing are the written, onomatopoeic sound effects that are a traditional comic book storytelling technique.
Gibbons described his design of the characters as his own, derived from Moore's character notes. Moore credits Gibbons with coming up with many of the signature symbols in Watchmen, including the iconic smiley face, which was "derived from behavioral psychology tests. They tried to find the simplest abstraction that would make a baby smile." Contrary to popular opinion, Gibbons contends that Rorschach's subtle body language and not his Rorschach test-inspired mask are the real indications of his mood. In addition, John Higgins' coloring technique was to rely upon primary colors, again indicative of the Golden Age style, rather than a wider color selection.
Gibbons, who had no formal art training, notes among his inspirations Norman Rockwell, who was sometimes described as an illustrator with an idealized portraiture style, and Jack Kirby. The art, while deriving inspiration from various predecessors including Will Eisner and Wally Wood (also named by Gibbons as major influences), is at once original in its execution and can be seen as a precursor to later realistic comic book artists such as Alex Ross.
There are many references to clocks and watches throughout the story, as Jon Osterman being trained initially as a watchmaker analogy, Janey Slater's watch (which causes the test vault accident), the street watch seller (who dies holding a watch showing 11:25), the many watches showing "11:25" shortly before the "alien" teleport, the destroyed watch on the cover of Time magazine, and Veidt's mechanical model of the solar system. Adrian Veidt's teleportation technique uses tachyons, hypothetical particles with space-like four-momentum and imaginary proper time. There are also almost as many clocks set to 11:55, a reference to the setting of the Doomsday Clock. In addition, the recurring smiley button also resembles a clock face, with the blood stain appearing as a hand on the 55-minute position.
There are many ads for and even one discussion about the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Adrian Veidt mentions the fact that Richard Nixon was in Dallas on the day President John F. Kennedy was murdered. This actually happened. In the same occasion, someone comments on Washington Post journalists Woodward and Bernstein being found dead, resulting in the Watergate being violently avoided in the universe of Watchmen, where Nixon was re-elected many times over.
Kitty Genovese, whose story is told by Rorschach, was a real-life person. Interestingly, in another Alan Moore work, V for Vendetta, Stanley Milgram's infamous conformity experiments are explicitly referenced, which are considered by many psychologists to be a major influence on Darley and Latane's later experiments concerning the bystander effect (which were inspired by the behavior of Kitty Genovese's neighbors witnessing her rape and murder).
Nova Express, Adrian Veidt's magazine which accuses Dr. Manhattan of causing cancer, is the title of a novel by William Burroughs. Burroughs' "cut-up" technique is mentioned by Veidt when watching multiple TV screens.
The Black Freighter and the last lines of Rorschach's opening monologue reference the song Pirate Jenny (Seeräuberjenny) from Brecht's Threepenny Opera.
A pivotal scene where Rorschach handcuffs a man to a post, gives him a hacksaw, and then burns the man to death seems to be taken directly from the 1980 Australian film Mad Max, where the hero, Max Rockatansky, does exactly the same thing in the last minutes of the film.
Watchmen was published in single-issue form over the course of 1986 and 1987. The miniseries was a commercial success, and its sales helped DC Comics briefly overtake its competitor Marvel Comics in the comic book direct market. Watchmen also received several awards spanning different categories and genres including: Kirby Awards for Best Finite Series, Best New Series, Best Writer, and Best Writer/Artist, Eisner Awards for Best Finite Series, Best Graphic Album, Best Writer, and Best Writer/Artist, and a Hugo Award for Other Forms.
Watchmen received praise from those working within the comic book industry, as well as external reviewers, for its avant-garde portrayal of the traditional superhero. Watchmen became known as a novel which allowed the comic book to be recognized as "great art", rather than a lowbrow or unsophisticated genre. Time magazine, which noted that the series was "by common assent the best of breed [sic]" of the new wave of comics published at the time, praised Watchmen as "a superlative feat of imagination, combining sci-fi, political satire, knowing evocations of comics past and bold reworkings of current graphic formats into a dystopian mystery story." Don Markstein of Toonopedia wrote that, "What The Maltese Falcon did for detective stories and Shane did for westerns, Watchmen did for superheroes. It transcended its origins in what was previously considered a lowbrow form of fiction."
Watchmen's status as a seminal book in the comic book field was recently boosted when acclaimed comic book author Stan Lee, responsible for creating the majority of Marvel Comics' most successful characters, called it his "all-time favorite comic book outside of Marvel." A review by "Revolution SF" goes on to say that Watchmen is "one of the most important stories in comic book history". Moore himself acknowledged that the plot closely resembles an Outer Limits episode called "The Architects of Fear". According to him, while he was around issue 10, he came across a guide to cult television that featured this episode and was surprised by its similarity to his already planned ending. A belated nod to "The Architects of Fear" is made near the end of Watchmen . He also accepted responsibility for the proliferation of "dark" comic stories, featuring classic characters, that followed Watchmen. In his review of the Absolute edition of the collection, Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times wrote that the dark legacy of Watchmen, "one that Moore almost certainly never intended, whose DNA is encoded in the increasingly black inks and bleak storylines that have become the essential elements of the contemporary superhero comic book," is "a domain he has largely ceded to writers and artists who share his fascination with brutality but not his interest in its consequences, his eagerness to tear down old boundaries but not his drive to find new ones."
Originally published as twelve individual issues, Watchmen was later reprinted as a graphic novel (ISBN 0-930289-23-4). As it was released, it is often referred to as a maxi-series, as it contains a set of directly related issues that take place over a long publication period. A special hardcover edition was produced by Graphitti Designs in 1987, containing 48 pages of bonus material, including the original proposal and concept art. On October 5, 2005, DC released Absolute Watchmen (ISBN 1-4012-0713-8), a hardcover edition of Watchmen in the DC Comics series, to celebrate its upcoming 20th anniversary. The book featured a slipcase as well as restored and recolored art by John Higgins at Wildstorm FX, under the direction of Dave Gibbons. The new book also included the bonus material from the Graphitti edition, marking the first time this material has been widely available. Another hardcover edition (ISBN 1-401219-26-8) is to be released November 4, 2008. Recently, the first issue was released on iTunes, though instead of a static image contained inside a panel, it is a fully animated episode with voiceovers.
DC announced in August 2008 that, in response to demand resulting from the Watchmen film's teaser trailer, the company has printed more than one million copies of the trade collection during 2008 – an unprecedented number for a trade paperback collection.
Two days before Watchmen came out in theaters, a DVD of the comic was released. It was entitled Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic. It is broken up into 12 episodes and runs for 325 minutes. Also when it was released, it included a pass for $7.50 movie tickets to see Watchmen. As of now, it has expired and only serves as a collectible.
The DVD of the documentary feature film The Mindscape of Alan Moore contains an exclusive bonus interview with the artist Dave Gibbons, elaborately detailing the collaboration with Alan Moore.
- Doug Atkinson's annotations
- Toonopedia on Watchmen
- Taking Off the Mask - Analysis by Samuel Effron
- Spanish article about the comic, its authors and its repercussions
- Alan Moore interview
- Watching the Detectives: An internet companion for readers of Watchmen.
- Original Alan Moore interview regarding his decision to leave DC Comics for Top Shelf.
- An article (in French) by Renaud Pasquier & Clotilde Thouret "Watchmen : à deux voix" in the journal Labyrinthe #25 "La bande dessinée : ce qu'elle dit, ce qu'elle montre", 2006.
- Comics as Philosophy book chapter on Watchmen and existentialism
- Watchmen chapter plot summaries
- Watchmen at Wikipedia
- Watchmen at Wikia's DC Database