Superheroes. Every decade treats superheroes with a different attitude than the one before. The blockbuster adventures from Marvel and DC of this decade have evolved out of the tense realism of the 00’s, which itself came about as a result of the frantic juvenilia of the 90’s. From their birth in the pages of pulp comics, superheroes have changed, acting as a mirror of American society.
Superhero literature has many milestones along its way, but one that towers above the others is Alan Moore’s graphic novel, “Watchmen.” Taking place in a world where superheroes are real, “Watchmen” explores what sort of effect vigilantes and super men would have on society. And what sort of people would lie under those masks.
“Watchmen” is a comic, but it is also the comic that proved how powerful comics can be. Its story is as deep, as intricate, and as stirring as Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. The cast, comprised of original superheroes based on the classic caped crusaders and men of steel, is as varied as our own use of the superhero genre has been. We can watch the progression of “Watchmen’s” heroes from starry eyed crimefighters to stern eyed soldiers to jaded cynics and, finally, to their own uncertain futures. Each character, from the everyman Night Owl to the complicated brute the Comedian to the uncanny Dr. Manhattan, is as alive and memorable as yourself.
Alongside “The Dark Knight Returns,” “Watchmen” is considered to be responsible for ushering in the “Dark Age” of comics, a period in the 80s and 90s when comics became more violent, brooding, and cynical. But this is unfair. Yes, “Watchmen” is a story with heavy subject matter and morally frightening questions, but it is not a story of brooding, pointless, violence. It is a story of trying to find answers to questions that we, in a world without superheroes, must face alone with only the power in our own arms and minds. In that way, it is a story about, not superhumans, but humans.
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