Watchmen, by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Joe Higgins (1986).
Watchmen is a textbook example of genre deconstruction. According to TVTropes “deconstruction means to take apart a trope so as to better understand its meaning and relevance to us in Real Life. This often means pursuing a trope’s inherent contradictions and the difference between how the trope appears in this one work and how it compares to other relevant tropes or ideas both in fiction and Real Life.” (The Other Wiki only had a very boring article about Derrida.)
Moore and Gibbons explore the implications, as well as parody, transform and turn on their heads multiple tropes and milestones of the superhero genre. In the early Forties, a small group of civilians decide to don a cape and an eyemask and beat small-time criminals, inspired by comic-books. A nuclear accident in the Fifties results in the creation of Dr. Manhattan, an omnipotent superhuman, and this leverage causes the US to win the Vietnam war. Later, in 1977, vigilantes are outlawed following a massive law enforcement strike. In 1985 Rorschach surreptitiously investigates the murder of The Comedian, suspecting someone is hunting down former vigilantes.
I’m not at all versed in superhero lore, so I’m sure I missed out on a lot, but here are some things I absolutely loved. One of the first ideas that gets torn to pieces is the fight for justice and freedom. Transplanting the Manicheist, black-and-white overly simplistic ethics of classical superheroes gives you fascists like The Comedian or Rorschach as a result. The violent persecution of small-time petty criminals does nothing to prevent the root of all evil, and some of the vigilantes realise this, some others don’t and some others don’t care. In the end, none of the heroes are real heroes at all, so maybe what Sally Jupiter and Ozymandias did was nobler than what Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian did: is it really better to wage war against the Second World or exploit your popularity as an actress or an industrial tycoon? Neither option had to do with justice and good in the end. In the other hand, the existence of someone with superhuman powers such as Dr. Manhattan’s would mean total alienation to the rest of the world, like it’s the case here.
There’s also less solemn, more meta deconstruction, such as discussion of capes and costumes, that awkward feeling when the vigilantes were dressed up but the goons weren’t, the guy who had a kink of getting beaten, that gloriously ridiculous evacuation of the burning building, and last but not least, Rorschach repeatedly trying to stab the super villain with a fork while he was parsimoniously explaining his master plan.
The panels are arranged in neat 3×3 grids that are expanded if necessary, and following the action is very easy. The juxtaposition of dialogue, narration and excerpts from “Tales of the Black Freighter” works effectively and is easy to understand due to the distinctive bubbles and boxes. The drawings by Gibbons are beautiful and expressive, and the colouring by Higgins I found elegant. Gibbons is definitely up to the challenge posed by Moore and his drawing style is just as insightful (I love details such as Nite Owl’s paunch in 1985). I’ve also heard there are a lot of tiny details scattered on the backgrounds and waiting for a re-read, so I will definitely read this again in a few years.
The Spanish edition in a single volume is gorgeous and richly printed, the only problem it has is that it’s huge and very inconvenient to read unless you’re sitting at a desk.