Watchmen is a revolutionary piece of literature. It is technically a comic book, some prefer to call it a graphic novel. There is a negative connotation that goes along with that. Graphic novels are frequently presumed too childish and fantastic to actually teach any insightful lessons or even make you ponder them at all. Watchmen is a graphic novel that transcends this undue criticism of comic books. It is, “One of the first instances ... of [a] new kind of comic book ... a first phase of development, the transition of the superhero from fantasy to literature." (Klock, pgs. 25-26)
Alan Moore’s story offers an immersive and complex plot that raises all sorts of moral questions. It is an extraordinary work of literature that occupies a well deserved spot on TIME’s list of 100 Greatest Novels. Since Watchmen’s publication, many more authors involved in the comic book medium have created similarly respectable works, inspired by Moore’s down-to-earth story-telling.
Watchmen is set in an alternate version of 1985 where Nixon never resigned and had somehow repealed the 22nd Amendment. He is in his 3rd term as president when the story begins. Most of the events in the book take place in New York City. Cold War tensions are high between the U.S. and Russia. The only deterrent to Nuclear War is the presence of Dr. Manhattan. He is basically an omnipotent being (though he explains he is not a god), once human, who is fortunately on America’s side. Jon Osterman, as was Dr. Manhattan’s real name, was a member of the Watchmen, a disbanded group of masked vigilantes. The group was split up after the U.S. government passed the Keene Act, making vigilantism officially illegal.
Fear, a recurring theme in the story, caused the passing of the Keene Act. Citizens of the United States evidently were more fearful of the heroes protecting them, than they were of what they were being protected from. After a few years, the retired Watchmen are disturbed to learn that one of their fellow heroes, The Comedian, is murdered. The story then unfolds, starting out as a murder mystery, then turning into a global conspiracy. Along the way, the reader is familiarized with each Watchmen’s past, as well as their current existence.
Here is where Alan Moore shows creative genius. His detailed explanation of each Watchmen leaves no room for one single protagonist. The reader is exposed to each Watchmen’s way of thinking, and must decide for themselves who they support or relate to most. Out of the six Watchmen (Ozymandias, The Comedian, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan), I credit Rorschach as the true protagonist of the story.
The Watchmen are constantly faced with moral dilemmas; forced to make difficult choices against their consciences. To me, Rorschach performed most admirably, discerning between right and wrong. He was the uncompromising hero of the story. In opposition to Rorschach, was Ozymandias. I strongly disagreed with his thinking and found him to...