Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons
This series was written in 1986 and it changed superheroes to psychotic individuals. In this world, only one person has actual superpowers: Dr. Manhattan. Still, there has been a number of masked adventurers in this world. In fact, there has been so many heroes that in 1977 a law was created which made it illegal to be a costumed hero. Most heroes retired either then or earlier. Rorschach seems to be the only crime fighter still operating and the police is looking for him. US government employs Dr. Manhattan as a scientist and a living nuclear deterrent, and the Comedian as, basically, a hired killer.
The story starts when the Comedian is killed. He’s beaten and thrown out the window. The police investigate but don’t realize his identity as the Comedian. Rorschach is also investigating and deduces that someone is killing costumed heroes. He warns Dr. Manhattan and the former Nite Owl that they could be attacked, too. Then an assassin attacks the former hero Ozymandias and the press reveals that Dr. Manhattan’s powers might give the people around him cancer.
The world view in the story is pretty bleak and the world is on the brink of a nuclear war between US and the Soviet Union. The outlawed heroes are shown as very flawed. Rorschach is a psycho and his horrible childhood is revealed in one issue. Nite Owl seems to want to genuinely help people but he has his own psychological hang ups, too. Dr. Manhattan sees the past and the future at the same time, and has trouble distinguishing them. He also seems to care less and less about humans at all. The book has only two female heroes whose stories revolve around their relationships with men and sex. The aged Silk Spectre is reliving her glory days through her daughter Laurel, whose most distinguishing feature is that she’s Dr. Manhattan’s girlfriend. Ozymandias is a very successful businessman and his ads for various products are seen around the city on various panels.
The comic has also lots of interesting side stories. The most gruesome of them is a comic book about a man who was attacked by pirates and who tries to stay alive in a deserted island. Then he journeys home on a raft built from his dead crew mates. Apparently, that’s a children’s comic and one of the characters is reading it. The detectives who are investigating the Comedian’s death are also seen from time to time and so is a harassed Gazette editor and his bumbling assistant. Each issue also has extra material: chapters from the book ”Under the Hood”, various interviews, and articles.
This was a groundbreaking comic back then and I remember that I was hugely impressed then. It’s still a very impressive work that shows a coherent world and how masked vigilantes might be treated in the real world. Today there are a lot of comics which have been inspired by (or imitate) the gritty style of Watchmen.