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Watchmen: Graphic Novel Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

''Watchmen'' is one of the most influential graphic novels. The story examines the superhero genre while also demonstrating the literary value of graphic novels. ''Watchmen'' proves that graphic novels can be more than just entertainment.

'Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?'

This quotation is taken from the Roman poet Juvenal: 'Who guards the guardsmen?' The quotation is more loosely translated to ask who watches the watchmen and plays a big part in the graphic novel Watchmen. This graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons explores the superhero genre and examines the place of the superhero: Who watches over their activities? The story begins with the mysterious death of the costumed hero known as the Comedian.

Rorschach, an unstable, violent, costumed vigilante, investigates the Comedian's death. With the passing of the Keene Act in 1977, masked superheroes who do not have government approval are outlawed. Thus, Rorschach's actions are not sanctioned and seen as criminal activity. He reacquaints himself with his lone friend, Daniel Dreiberg, who used to work with him as the hero Nite Owl. Although Daniel is not fully onboard with Roscharch's suggestions, he doesn't completely dismiss the idea that costumed heroes are being hunted.

Plan for Peace

When Dr. Manhattan, a blue-skinned god created by a nuclear accident, is discredited, and Ozymandias is nearly assassinated, Daniel gives more credence to Rorschach's theory. Daniel brings in Laurie Juspeczyk, formerly Silk Spectre and ex-girlfriend to Dr. Manhattan, to help Rorschach discover the identity of the killer. They eventually learn that it is Ozymandias behind the killings.

Ozymandias is the heroic name taken by Adrian Veidt. Adrian is a wealthy man due to his superior intelligence but also the marketing of his Ozymandias identity. He believes society needs a guiding hand to survive, and it will be his hand that guides them. Adrian seeks to remake the world in a more peaceful image after letting it fall into violence. Because of the chaos that will ensue if the world knows Adrian orchestrated these events, the other heroes concede to this plan--except Rorschach. Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach to keep him from telling the world the truth and thereby preserves the peace Adrian is trying to create.

Power

The theme of power resounds in each panel of Watchmen. Whether it is the constant threat of war between the United States and Russia or the gritty, violent actions of citizens against each other, the story examines the place of power and who should wield it. Without an authoritative influence, citizens will not intercede to help one another. Superheroes have been banned and are unable to act legally. Government agencies won't intercede.

Dr. Manhattan has the ability and power to reshape the world as he sees fit, but he doesn't feel it is his place or responsibility to do so, much like the attitude of a hero like Superman. Ozymandias, however, has no such qualms. He knows he is better than humans. His intellect and physical abilities are well beyond what humans can accomplish. Since humanity can't save themselves, he has decided he will take necessary action to do so.

This is the crux of this story: If someone like Ozymandias takes it upon themselves to decide what is best, who is there to stop him? In a world with super-powered individuals, there isn't one person. This story raises the question that if such a situation were to arise, who will stand as guard, and who will then watch over them? It's a difficult question to answer and one that Alan Moore leaves his readers to ponder.

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