as more and more news regarding hbo’s upcoming adaptation (or “remix,” as showrunner damon lindelof puts it) of watchmen continue to surface, fans have greeted the news with piqued interest and often a dash of trepidation. the original twelve-issue limited series (not graphic novel; watchmen was on a monthly-ish release schedule from dc comics) is often considered one of the comic book medium’s sacred cows, and with good reason.
writer by alan moore with art by david gibbons and john higgins, watchmen was (and still is) seen as a masterwork. the series tackled tough realizations when it comes to applying superheroes to a real world aesthetic, while also grappling with some tough melodrama that challenged the reader’s own morality.
the big idea
in short, watchmen asked impossibly big questions, and the answers to them were not easy. what makes the series truly brilliant is that it’s satire of the fifty years of comics that proceeded it, causing watchmen to work on two levels: one is for the uninitiated, the non-comic reader who just likes heady stories. the other is for readers who have a working knowledge of the tropes and iconography of superhero comics. it's on this second level where watchmen truly transcends the medium by turning it up on its ear.
now, superhero deconstruction stories were nothing new when the first issue of watchmen was released in the september of 1986. in fact, moore already had a dry run at this with his reimagining of miracleman (nee marvelman), and frank miller had just tossed batman out on the highway from a speeding mack truck with the dark knight returns earlier that same year. (1986 was a good time for dc comics, you guys.) but what set watchmen aside from its predecessors and contemporaries was the prism through which it was presented.
there was a laser focus with the construction of watchmen. everything, from the limited color palette to the six by six panel layout, was rolled out with deliberate precision. each page of every issue was built on invoking a sense of nostalgia from readers who were familiar with the medium, while feeling completely alienated by the political, social and theological subject matter that pushed its way to the surface. watchmen was speaking a familiar language, but with words never heard before.