Watchmen is listed among a trifecta of ground-breaking works released in 1986. I read it while I was participating in the Coursera MOOC on comics & graphic novels. Based on the lectures, I can see how it might have been ground-breaking. There really is some magnificent graphic work - such as the overall front-to-back symmetry in chapter 5, Fearful Symmetry. But I doubt I would have seen any of that without listening to those lectures - in fact, I probably would have given up had it not been for insights gained from the lectures. Overall, it left me feeling flat. I've never been enamored with the superhero genre, so that might be part of it, but the storyline just felt ponderous. And sexist. On the positive, there have been times in the past week where I was able to pick up on pop-culture references that I never would have gotten before. Not sure it was worth it, though...
(I did at times wonder if it served in part as inspiration for The Incredibles - at least the "superheroes forced out of work" part, because the overall feeling of this was way more bleak.)
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen shows an alternate history where the country is dangerously close to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Justice was once kept in this world by a group of costumed vigilantes—superheroes without the special powers—who have since retired. However, when one of their former numbers is killed, the group finds themselves pulled back into their superhero lives to investigate.
Moore and Gibbons makes full use of the graphic novel medium—it’s not just a story enhanced by pictures, rather the visual aspects move the plot in ways that words cannot. The 2009 movie, though not perfectly loyal to the plot, is certainly worth watching—especially for the shots that are exact replicas of the comic’s panels.
The book can be a bit dense, especially for those expecting the typical superhero comic read, but it is worth taking your time and noticing the details on every page. Watchmen is the perfect example of how graphic novels can be more than just comic books.
Watchmen totally earns its rep as possibly the greatest graphic novel of all time. There's just so much depth, so many layers, so many things you catch in re-readings. Mixes prose chapters with panels perfectly. And Gibbons does subtle but terrific things with panel organization.