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Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Posted by RB Kollannur on August 13, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 10/08/2012

RB Kollannur

Publisher – DC Comics; Year of Publication – 1987; Pages – 424; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 892

What if, for the greater good of humanity and by extension the world, we have to sacrifice the lives of a million human beings to save another billion lives? It is not an easy question to answer for it most certainly will bring to mind Hitler and his blitzkrieg as he killed many for the “greater good” of his people. But then you think of the Indian armed forces where we have over million people sworn to defend the remaining one billion with their lives. Not an easy question to answer, correct?

“Watchmen” is another of the iconic graphic novels by Alan Moore, author of V for Vendetta which I reviewed earlier, wrote in the eighties. The novel is about a group of costumed superheroes without superpowers, but not like Batman and Ironman who use their immense wealth to make them super. One is a good detective with a good instinct for crime, though slightly psychotic in character (Rorschach), another is just super smart but then he decided to retire young and become rich instead (Ozymandias), another merely following her mother’s footsteps (Silk Spectre) and then there is the Nite Owl, who has one totally rad ride shaped in the form of an owl, but that’s pretty much it. There were more, but somebody is killing them off one by one.

Set in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War, the nuclear race is very much on and so is nuclear armament. War is certain had it not been for the presence of another super hero, Dr. Manhattan, who has the power to change even matter. Rorschach is hell bent on finding who is killing all the super heroes and as his investigation progresses, it becomes apparent that the killer plans to get rid of Dr. Manhattan as well, plunging the world into an extinction threatening world war. It is up to Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre to unravel the conspiracy before the entire world is doomed.

The novel explores each of its super hero characters deeply, especially Rorschach whose psychotic paranoia is intensely studied. Under the Hood, one of the eleven articles added to supplement the novel, “written” by one of the super heroes in the novel, is a story of inspiration and identifies why he chose to become a masked vigilante. There is also a story within the story, Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic book with a very dark theme of gore and murder, apparently meant to impress the children of the Watchmen universe.

The book can form a reality check for a world that has seen an overdose of superhero movies lately. How would the world perceive an everyday man who dons the mask to fight injustice in society? Would they be accepted and commended or hunted down like the criminals they chase? But then there is also another even more disturbing thought – Who watches the watchmen?

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One Response to “Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons”

  1. […] Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Published on […]

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