Before you judge the inclusion of a graphic novel here, know that this is over 400 pages of powerful, unique storytelling that happens to be in the graphic novel format. When it came out in 1985, it was one of the first stories that took a different look at superheroes and comic books. Without Watchmen, there would be no Dark Knight.
The story takes place in an alternate 1985 America, where we won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is still president. There are no humans with super powers, only masked crime fighters—adventurers—who help clean up the streets. After the Keene Act, vigilantism is declared illegal, and the heroes retire or go to work with the government. One of these is Edward Blake (the Comedian), whose less-than-honorable ways have made him a successful soldier-for-hire. Another is Dr. Manhattan, the only person with real super powers. Dr. Manhattan works for the U.S. government, and keeps a check on the approaching Soviets by tipping the balance of power in America’s favor.
The story opens with Rorschach, an illegal crime fighter with an heightened sense of justice, searching for answers in the murder of Edward Blake. He uncovers a plot to kill the former adventurers in an attempt to remove Dr. Manhattan, and perhaps to have world-conquering implications.
There are many layers to this excellent story: the comparison to this America to the actual 1985’s America; the story-within-a-story about the Black Freighter; the question on what heroes do when they are done saving the world; and, the most interesting to me, Rorschach’s moral justice versus the other characters. The character is perhaps one of the most compelling characters, both good and depraved in the same man. His mask is Rorschach inkblots, black and white with no place for gray.
If you are interested in the graphic novel format, I’d suggest giving this a go. It is a real page-turner.
Here’s a trailer for the movie version that came out in 2009. It’s a pretty good movie, albeit quite violent.