- Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins
Story - I'm sure we all know the basic story of Watchmen, famous superhero The Comedian is murdered by a mystery assailant, and the unhinged right-wing vigilanted Rorschach investigates the death, discovering a possible conspiracy that involves all the superheroes of their world, Nite-Owl, Ozymandias, Silk Spectre and the only individual with actual powers, Doctor Manhattan. And whilst this is a good pitch, a good story, it doesn't really do justice to what Watchmen is about. The book is an analysis and deconstruction of the superhero concept, This is Stan Lee's heroes with a feet of clay taken to the next level, heroes with no feet at all they're so unstable. Moore uses this mystery to poke around the history of a world just a few awkward steps from our own, with Rorschach's travels taking us all over the world and all over the characters. The way Moore integrates flashback into the story is flawless, with each piece feeling like a puzzle slowly forming, but it is not only the mystery that is forming, but a whole fictional reality. Throug the flashbacks and also the supplementary text articles, Moore and Gibbons create a world that is more real in 12 issues than the Marvel and DC Universes are in over a 1000. The structure of the thing is just pitch-perfect, whether it be the constant nine-panel grid, or the more experimental parts, like the opening panel from each issue being the same as the cover, the symettrical chapter, or the Doctor Manhattan issue or the much contested Pirate segments, it's very different from the standard comicbook structure, and yet also familiar, and this is what Watchmen is, familiar, but different, and all the better for it. Famously of course, the characters were initially intended to be the Charlton Comics characters that DC had bought but not used, Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, etc, and this similarity is a great way to show how different and special Watchmen is, we know what the Blue Beetle and Question are supposed to be like, but when Moore shows us what they would really be like in the real world, it creates some of the first fully dimensional superheroes, and a sense of ambiguity about the piece. Rorschach is ostensibly a hero, but he is a right-wing nutjob, Doctor Manhattan is cold and unfeeling, and Nite-Owl can't get it up. That's just the tip of the iceberg, every character, however minor has a real presence, whether it's Sally Jupiter, Hollis Mason or the group of ordinary people who congregate around the newsstand, such as the psychiatrist or the lesbian taxi driver, they all seem real and important. There is a sexual subtext to the book, especially with the 1940s super-team the Minutemen, most of whom seem to have become superheroes to get kicks, rather than fight crime. But all of this is left mainly unsaid, was Hooded Justice a violent homo-sexual? It's hinted out, but never explained, which is perfect. Most comics have an unhealthy urge to explain everything, that accident that happened? That was actually machinated by Luthor! Your miscarriage? It was the work of the Green Goblin! Mwahahaaha! Watchmen is not like that, just like in the real world things are left incomplete, as Doctor Manhattan says, nothing ever ends, and neither does Watchmen, it survives multiple readings, and is one of the classics of the medium.
Art - I mentioned the 9-panel grid, and it's here that Gibbons shines, every page is do detailed, it's a very difficult undertaking and it really pays off. His style is realistic, but also capable of conveying the fantastic, which is perfect for a book that juxtaposes the two. Gibbons also moves in and out of different styles, the photographs in the text pieces look different to the narrative, and the pirate comics look different, but it is unified, it is the same world. John Higgins' colours are also deserving of note, the book's colour's look different than most, but each choice is correct for the scene, with red skies and dark streets.
Best Line - It's hard to think of one, really, but I'll pick a favourite that I can remember in my head - 'Offered french love, swedish love, but not, american love. American love like coke in green glass bottles, they don't make it any more' If you can find it on Youtube, you can find Moore reading this scene, it's chilling.