741: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

by Gerard


741.5941: Moore, Alan and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics Inc., 1995. 416 pp. ISBN 978-0-930289-23-2.

Dewey Construction:

  • 700: Fine Arts
  • 740: Drawing and decoration
  • 741: Drawing and drawings
  • 741.5: Cartoon, caricatures, or comics
  • +941: Collection from the British Isles

741 is probably the most fun section in the entire Dewey classification. While it does contain dusty volumes on how to draw animals and forms, it also holds all the comics books in the world. That’s the funny distinction in literature these days. If the dominating feature of a work of fiction is that it’s drawn, then it’s taken out of the literature class and plopped into fine arts. Now, no one will disagree that premier graphic novels can be just as good as literary novels, but they are still separated into their own subsection of the Dewey. Now, on to my pick.

Oddly enough, in my entire library, I only own one book of comics, and it’s Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. You may remember that a movie version of this came out a few years back. I’ll try not to meander into a comparison of the comic and the movie, but sufficed to say, read this one if you can. This is a book-length collection of the original 1986-87 serialized DC comic.

In this universe, costumed vigilantes have existed since the late 1930s. They freely roamed the streets, trying to aid the police in their fight against crime. Flash forward two generations, and the world is a mess. Presidential term limits have been eliminated, and since Nixon used one of the superheroes to win the Vietnam War, he had led the country from his election in 1968 until at least 1985. The Keene Act, passed in 1977, forced many heroes to retire or face becoming outlaws. They’re only outlet is to work for the government.

Rorschach is one such outlaw. After learning of the murder of Edward Blake, who he quickly identifies as the superhero Comedian, he digs deeper and becomes paranoid that someone is out to assassinate all the heroes. He gathers and warns his old colleagues: Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, both retired; Dr. Manhattan, an omnipotent hero working for the government; and Ozymandias, a super-intellectual billionaire. The Comedian’s murder is laid against the backdrop of an impending war: Russia is invading Afghanistan, a move that would send the world into World War III.

While I won’t spoil any more of the details, it is worth noting that this universe is much more than meets the eye. It takes several readings to gather all the little details, and that it incredibly worthwhile. Moore also includes explanatory documents, such as the excerpts from the first hero’s autobiography, case files from the ongoing investigations, as well as other pieces on or by the other heroes. These help to save a lot of space that would otherwise be devoted to long expository dialogue. The shifts in time take a little getting used to, but the interweaving stories are very entertaining. There’s even as story with the story: while all the action is happening with the heroes and the world, a newsstand operator continually chats up an avid comic book reader, who reads a pirate tale that mimics the personal struggles of the heroes themselves. Very well done. If you haven’t read this one, do it—it is absolutely worth your time.