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Watchmen – Adapting The Unadaptable

August 1, 2016
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Watchmen – A look at the “unfilmable” work of Alan Moore that deconstructed the entire comic book medium.

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Watchmen is an American comic-book limited series published by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987, and collected in 1987. The series was created by aBritish collaboration consisting of writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins. Watchmen originated from a story proposal Moore submitted to DC featuring superhero characters that the company had acquired from Charlton Comics. As Moore’s proposed story would have left many of the characters unusable for future stories, managing editor Dick Giordano convinced Moore to create original characters instead.

Moore used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and to deconstruct and parody the superhero concept. Watchmen depicts analternate history where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. In 1985, the country is edging toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most former superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and moral struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement.

Creatively, the focus of Watchmen is on its structure. Gibbons used a nine-panel grid layout throughout the series and added recurring symbols such as a blood-stained smiley face. All but the last issue feature supplemental fictional documents that add to the series’ backstory, and the narrative is intertwined with that of another story, an in-story pirate comic titled Tales of the Black Freighter, which one of the characters reads. Structured, at times, as a nonlinear narrative, the story skips through space, time and plot. In the same manner, entire scenes and dialogue have parallels with others through synchronicity, coincidence and repeated imagery.

A commercial success, Watchmen has received critical acclaim both in the comics and mainstream press, and is considered by several critics and reviewers to be one of the most significant works of 20th-century literature. Watchmen was recognized in Times List of the 100 Best Novels as one of the best English language novels published since 1923, and placed #91 on The Comics Journals list of the top 100 comics of the 20th century.

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