I’m VERY late in posting this piece I wrote for Tor.com about the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons story Watchmen.
It’s impossible to overstate Watchmen‘s influence on modern comics, but I fear that most took the wrong lessons from the story. Rather than follow its formal experiments or fully embrace its themes, too many creators zeroed in on the violence and nihilism embraced by some of the characters and confounded that with the story’s maturity. The current Geoff Johns-penned DC Comics events continue this error, blaming Watchmen for 30 years’ worth of superhero stories about grumpy sadists and not crappy storytelling.
In this piece, I try to draw attention to what I feel is Watchmen‘s underlying ethic: life is precarious and we should care for each other.
Nearly all of the cynical worldviews represented in the book play out in the same way: established, then explored, but ultimately revealed as untenable. Rorschach adheres to the most objective black and white binary between right and wrong and proclaims, “Not even in the face of Armageddon, never compromise,” but wears on his face the most subjective of psychological tests. Likewise, Doctor Manhattan dispassionately pronounces that individual human lives are insignificant, but constantly broods over the events of his own life, before and after his nuclear-powered apotheosis.
No matter how much the characters of Watchmen adhere to a morality that devalues human life, they all find themselves deeply affected by and clinging to other people.