The Avengers, The Justice League, Suicide Squad, Fantastic Four…superhero teams seem to be everywhere these days! Their battles look impressive on screen, but insurance experts estimate that the fight between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel was more destructive than a nuclear bomb, with over 1 million civilians injured, 250,000 missing, and 129,000 dead! If the ‘heroes’ can’t protect everyone, should they be allowed to fight at all? This is one of the questions posed by Watchmen (BOOK ZONE 741.5973 MOO) possibly the deepest, darkest superhero story.
Shortly before World War II, papers in New York report that kidnappers and muggers are being foiled by strange men and women in masks. An advert is posted by Hollis Mason, a NYPD officer, who fights crime under the alias Nite Owl- any heroes who want to team up should contact him immediately! The Minutemen- Nite Owl, Captain Metropolis, Silhouette, Silk Spectre, Hooded Justice, The Comedian, Dollar Bill and Mothman- name themselves after the 4-minute warning system that signals the launch of a nuclear weapon. For a while, they protect New York from gangs that hide themselves behind silly masks and costumes. But their real lives clash with the ideals of the time- Silhouette is outed as gay and quickly expelled, and Mothman, who objected to the war, gets charged with “un-American activity”. Dollar Bill is killed when his cape gets caught at a bank raid (The Incredibles’ “NO CAPES!” rule is almost certainly a reference to Watchmen!) and Silk Spectre reluctantly retires to raise her daughter Laurie. It wasn’t until the 70’s and the outbreak of the war in Vietnam that costumed heroes appeared in New York again. This time around, the team is comprised of the aging Comedian; Laurie, now 16 and known as Silk Spectre II; Nite Owl II (Dan Dreiberg, ornithologist), Ozymandias (Adrian Veight, a billionaire inventor) and Rorschach (a very, VERY angry hobo!) They are sometimes joined by Doctor Manhattan, a giant blue man with superhuman strength and unrestrainable, terrifying mind powers. Although he is dating Laurie, he can barely relate to normal people- since he is able to see the past, present and future, human life seems incredibly pointless, violent and short. The Comedian, who served in Vietnam, is of the same opinion. Neither of them are suited to the role of superhero!
The American public begin to view the costumed crime-fighters as vigilantes: normal men and women who disregard the law and the best interests of the public, in order to carry out their own violent kind of justice. Riots prompt the government to introduce the Keene Act, which requires all masked heroes to make their identities public. All our heroes immediately retire- except for Rorschach, who retreats into the shadows, making good on his motto “Never Compromise”. By the 80’s, Adrian is the only ‘hero’ who remains in the public eye- his company Veight Industries is a world leader in cheap renewable energy, thanks to lots of help from Dr Manhattan. When the Comedian is found dead on the pavement outside his apartment, Rorschach has to convince Dan, Laurie and the others to get back into uniform and help investigate- and though they don’t admit it to themselves, it feels really good to put a mask back on. Slowly they uncover a conspiracy that threatens to kill millions, with the aim of saving billions of lives. Our heroes have the chance to save the world by sitting back and allowing a ‘villain’ carry out his complex scheme. Can they turn away from everything they’ve fought for? And can they all agree to keep the villain’s plan a secret?
From superhero to businessman- Adrian Veight, AKA Ozymandias, has his own line of action figures!
Watchmen contains more than the traditional comic. Each chapter includes ‘bonus material’: excerpts from Under the Hood, the original Nite Owl’s autobiography; another comic, Tales of the Black Freighter, which mirrors the events of the main story; a social worker’s notes on teenage Rorschach; magazine articles featuring Silk Spectre and her publicist husband; and an academic article called Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas, written by Nite Owl II. All these excerpts help create the alternate world where Watchmen is set- a world where America won the Vietnam War and superheroes made the hottest celebrities. There are thousands of references to real-world events as well as famous comic book heroes (resemblances to Superman and Batman are intentional) Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons has hidden symbols throughout each chapter that emphasise the series’ overall themes. Author Alan Moore would send Dave Gibbons pages of instructions to make sure that he covered every detail! Some aspects of the comic- particularly the ending!- can seem a little silly to readers who aren’t familiar with the comic book stereotypes that Alan Moore is subverting. The film adaptation is changed slightly for this reason, though it is a very faithful adaptable overall and clearly a labour of love for director Zack Snyder. Find it in the DVD LOBBY 791.43
You can read the pirate comic Tales of the Black Freighter, as read by the characters in Watchmen
Graphic novels are slowly being recognised as ‘real’ works of literature, and the Information Store has some of the most critically acclaimed. Blankets by Craig Thompson (BOOK ZONE 741.5 THO) and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (NORFOLK HOUSE 741.5944) are both coming-of-age stories written in the graphic novel format. Blankets is a small-town American story of first love and family trouble, while Persepolis is an autobiographical account of the author’s life in Europe following a revolution in her homeland Iran. There are plenty of great stories to be found in our graphic novel section, even if you aren’t a fan of superheroes!
Blankets is a surprisingly sweet story about depression, writing and religion
If you are a fan of superheroes, never fear! Our Quick Reads section has a whole shelf dedicated to the Flash, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern- and like all our Quick Reads, they are specially designed for readers who might struggle (or get bored!) with longer books. For something a little different to the all-American superhero, check out our Manga section- these stories, written in Japan, are often slightly stranger and more imaginative! The Rough Guide to Manga (BOOK ZONE 741.5 YAD) is a good introduction, but you can dive right in with Vampire Knight (QUICK READS 741.5952 HIN), Naruto (QUICK READS 741.5952 MIL) or Gunslinger Girl (QUICK READS 741.5952 AID)