After Hours

Why Watchmen is the ultimate geek comic book

Geekend contributor Jerry Taylor thinks Watchmen forever changed the world of comics and set new standards for the classic nine panel page format.

We asked several Geekend contributors to write about the game, movie, comic, and book an aspiring geek must play/watch/read. This is the third installment in the series.

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Watchmen cover courtesy of DC Comics

Writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins forever changed the world of comic books with the publication of Watchmen in 1986. Set in a world of where history was changed in 1938 when masked heroes arose to first battle criminals. Heroes 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 and his quantum-based powers has given the United States a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, which has increased tensions between the two nations. Eventually, superheroes grow unpopular among the police and the public, which has led to the passage of the Keene Act 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.

When The Comedian is murdered in his NYC apartment and the police choose not to investigate, Rorschach steps from the shadows to investigate. Rorschach believes he has discovered a plot to terminate all of the remaining heroes and sets out to warn his former colleagues. And thus, begins the tale....

You can download and read the first chapter at http://dccomics.com/media/excerpts/1462_1.pdf for a free preview of this Hugo and Eisner award-winning novel.

Comics use text, ambiguity, symbolism, design, iconography, literary technique, mixed media, and stylistic elements of art to build a subtext of meanings within the work. Watchmen set new standards for the classic nine panel page format with multiple links and allusions to other panels of the novel, as well as, being used to reinforce action in a particular panel. This only become apparent after having read the novel several times. Tales of the Black Freighter, a pirate comic within the main comic that is read by a young man at a NYC newsstand, provides a counterpoint to several of the Watchmen characters.

This tale is an admonition to those who would place their total trust in either heroes or leaders. With no supervillains in the world, the characters are forced to deal with more intangible social and moral concerns that are generated from their own personality and experience. The reader begins to question the ultimate motivation of these characters. This sophisticated piece of art tells a story that can only be told in a comic book, as the Watchmen movie by Zach Snyder so aptly demonstrated.

I welcome your thoughts and comments about Watchmen as the ultimate geek comic.

(Note: After we publish all installments of the series, we'll feature some members' geek profiles with their "ultimate" selections.)

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