Who watches the Watchmen?

If anyone came up to me and asked me to choose a graphic novel to teach in a class full of kids who have never picked up a comic before in their lives, I’m not 100% sure Watchmen would be #1 on my list. Granted, it would depend on what grade level we’re talking about, but Watchmen is a work with enough layers in it that, off the bat, it could possibly scare some people away from further pursuing comic books ..Wait, I’m supposed to be arguing in favor of reading this, aren’t I? Okay, okay, let me try again: if someone who was a fan of literature, particularly gripping, true-to-life, and even dark literature walked up to me and asked me to choose a graphic novel to usher them into the world of comics.. Watchmen would be pretty damn high up on the list of recommendations, just short of Marvel’s “Civil War” and Frank Millar’s “The Dark Knight Returns”.

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Why should someone who doesn’t read comic books read Watchmen?

I’m sure some of my audience members are pretty tired of me raving about comic books, so let me explain to you why fans of reading should look into Watchmen as a true, legitimate “graphic novel”. First off, “graphic novel” to me is a political term. It’s a term we use to dress up the word “comic” in its Sunday best, so people won’t scowl at it and turn up their noses. And for the most part, I hate the term – but here, it truly applies. Watchmen has the length, the social commentary, and the critical acclaim to earn my calling it a “graphic novel”. Quoting Wikipedia, Watchmen was the only graphic novel to appear on Time‘s 2005 “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels” list. If you are put off of comic books because of the cartoony costumes, the bright colors, and the seemingly always light-hearted “good guys save the day” approach.. then Watchmen may just be right up your alley.

Watchmen could be successful utilized in history classes, philosophy classes, communications classes, and of course your literature classes. It contains more layers in it’s 12-issue initial run than any of the Twilight books stacked together. The very serious issues of nuclear war, ethical treatment of criminals, the degeneration of our society, and our tendency towards “hero worship” is all examined under a microscope, with plenty of graphic material to boot. The book tackles the main idea that, if we place all of our faith into a choice few people, who will police them? More importantly, how will we ever learn to solve our own problems? Though the discussion topic here is superheroes, this is something we do in our modern day lives. The President, Congress, the military – we expect these people to solve each and every problem we have without flaw. When will we instead rely on our own capabilities? The people we put up on pedestals are human too, so when we place all of our eggs in their metaphorical basket, they are destined to fail.

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The Characters, and why they aren’t your typical Supermen:

The heroes of Watchmen still don the occasional ridiculous costume (or in once instance, none at all), but the spandex and the bright colors are by no means the focus here. In an alternate history where vigilantism has been outlawed and the Cold War is still roaring strong, our heroes are above all human, and save one character, none of them are all that super. Each character has their own distinct personalities and flaws, and serves as a commentary on the society around them.

  • Dr. Manhattan was caught in an accident that involved molecular tampering – and was granted god-like power over matter as a result. He simultaneously exists in all spaces and times at once, and he constantly has to wrestle with whether he is still human. More importantly, if he should still care at all about these creatures that he should squash with the blink of an eye. He is essentially the living doctrine preventing WWIII, being one of the two heroes working under the U.S. Government.
  • The Comedian is a nihilist with a pension for killing the bad guys. Unlike his counterparts, he has discovered the meaning to life: there isn’t one! Life is just a big, dark joke, and the sooner people embrace that, the sooner they will be able to enjoy what little time they have on this meaningless dirtball of a planet. The Comedian’s pension for death has him as the 2nd of two heroes working under the U.S. Government.
  • Rorschach is a man with a deeply disturbed past who skulks the streets at night killing low-level scumbags: drug peddlers, rapists, killers. He is one of the only Watchmen to continue operating outside the law, and he never compromises. Ever. Like the ink blots he dawns on his face, the world for Rorschach is black and white. End of story.
  • The Nite Owl is an everyman with nearly limitless funds who serves as a Batman-type character (without the tragic past). He wrestles with a mid-life crisis unlike anyone has seen before: he hung up his cowl when the law asked him to, but now what does he have to do with his life? The Nite Owl as a persona is all that keeps him from being a boring, average everyman.
  • The Silk Spectre is the only female member of the Watchmen, having (begrudgingly) inherited the mantle from her mother. She is the lover to Dr. Manhattan, and is often snide and snappy with her fellow Watchmen, seeming to only want to lead a normal life.
  • Ozymandias is possibly the world’s smartest man, and one of the only Watchmen to retire before it was required by the government. He has utilized his intellect to start one of the most successful business corporations in the world, but how does a man who is smarter than everyone else on the planet connect to other people?

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So is there a point to all of this? Why should someone read this?

My bottom line is that Watchmen should be read because it’s a complex work. If it were a novel without the graphic part, I feel like it would fit right in with naturalist works like those of Jack London or Ernest Hemingway. Maybe that sounds crazy, but this novel tackles some heavy material. Compromise being the difference between life and death to a man who never compromises; World War 3 being prevented only by the presence of a single man in the entire world, mid-life crisis, abandonment issues from having no father or an abusive mother, and being the smartest / loneliest man on the earth. The outlook is bleak for these characters and this world. Is there even a point in trying to save a world that is so rotten to the core by human corruption and filth? What if you approach it like it is; just a big joke? These are the questions one is dealt when reading Watchmen, and they will weigh in heavily on your soul when you are through.

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Besides, doesn’t this seem more interesting than reading The Scarlet Letter or The Grapes of Wrath? If you can confront real-world issues in ways that don’t put real-world people to sleep, don’t you have a responsibility to do as much?

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Comments
  1. Elisabeth says:

    What great timing for me to read your post! I have been working on the syllabus for my summer graphic novel course and trying to figure out what teachers should read. Your blog post is going to be required reading on the syllabus!

  2. Belinda says:

    Extremely thrilled I came across this blog right now has made me
    happy quite frankly

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