Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins’ 1987 twelve issue maxiseries, Watchmen is widely regarded as the greatest graphic novel of all-time, and with good reason. It pushed the boundaries of what a mainstream comic could be and presented the very niche subgenre of “superhero deconstruction fiction” to a worldwide audience for the first time ever. The series went on to win a Hugo award (an award that was formerly relegated to prose work), find a spot in Time Magazine’s “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” list, and get turned into a major motion picture. The mark left by Watchmen is so deep in comic culture, that is has become the fulcrum that most modern comics rest upon. To call the series seminal is almost an understatement.
Watchmen, however, is not ironclad. It has been the subject of countless parodies (some of which are fully embraced by the creators), critical analyses nit-picking its merits, and memes. Lots and lots of memes. Now that writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank have picked up the dusty reins of the series and decided to kick that horse toward the future (and the larger DC comic universe) with Doomsday Clock, Watchmen seems as topical as ever.
15 JAR JAR MANHATTAN
Does Jar Jar Binks get a bad rap? Well, no. It is pretty safe to say that all the vitriol lobbied at the CGI dunce of the Star Wars prequel trilogy is pretty much justified, at least for adult fans of the series. To be fair, the motion capturing technology used by George Lucas was ahead of its time back in 1999, but the slapstick comedy the character revelled in has a very short shelf life.
This fun little crossover meme posits the notion of Jar Jar becoming the victim of the intrinsic field experiment test chamber malfunctioning instead of Jon Osterman, thus giving us Dr. Binks. This thought haunts our dreams now. “Weesa all da puppets, Miss Laurie. Meessa just a puppet what see da strings.” Ugh.
14 HAIL HYDRA
It would be a gross understatement to say that many comic book fans were not totally impressed with the revelation of Captain America revealing himself as a Hydra agent last year. To many readers it came across as a cheap move, one that was only thrown in for shock value. And while the twist did have its supporters, Marvel was quick with damage control in their equally divisive event series, Secret Empire.
The whole ordeal, which was spawned by one iconic panel from Captain America: Steve Rogers #2, gave way to a slew of memes of every character from Daredevil to Captain Crunch proclaiming their loyalty to Hydra. But one of the silliest is the four-panel comic strip above of Dr. Manhattan in his ponderous spot on Mars.
13 GET FUNKE
One of the greatest running gags in television history can be found in Arrested Development and is perpetrated by David Cross’ character Dr. Tobias Funke, the quirkiest character in a show populated exclusively with quirky characters. The gag is simple enough: Tobias decides to try out for The Blue Man Group and takes it upon himself to actually pain himself for the audition.
Unfortunately, the paint is semi-permanent and becomes a great sight gag. Even after Tobias gets over “blueing himself” the remnants of his paint job keep popping up in the background of the show in the form of blue paint stains on clothes and walls. While this meme mashes up this gag with the "Analrapist" joke from the show, the steadfast, yet unearned confidence Tobias exudes is hilarious coming out of Dr. Manhattan.
12 MAGIC TOUCH
Now that the Watchmen are making their way into the larger DC Universe in the limited series Doomsday Clock, many of us are wondering just how far Dr. Manhattan’s powers can go. Do they have any real limit? After the events of Flashpoint, “The Button,” and the DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot, there is a huge case to be made that he might be the most powerful character DC (and just comic books in their entirety) that we have ever seen.
But what we love about Dr. Manhattan most (besides his devil may care attitude about clothing) is his ability vaporize just about anything just by touching it. Whether it’s Rorschach, the Vietcong, Eobard Thawne (man, that dude loves to die) or just a random tree, Manhattan’s penchant for dematerializing organic matter never gets old.
11 SQUID TIME
One of the bigger issues many fans take up with Watchmen is the Hail Mary final act by Ozymandias in the attempt to advent the Cold War from going hot and causing the world to spiral out of control and into a nuclear holocaust. While Adrian’s reasoning is sound on some level (if killing millions of people for any reason is ever sound, that is), his methods are…questionable.
Alan Moore was clearly playing with genre tropes of comics and science fiction he loved in his youth when he wrote Watchmen. But the sudden introduction of a giant Lovecraftian squid monster to annihilate a major American city seems a little out of left field. While its inclusion was there to pay homage to the strange tales and the works of Jack Kirby that Moore admired, it just didn’t stroke some fans the right way.
10 PARTY LIKE IT'S 1985
The final issue of Watchmen are filled with grizzly images of mass destruction in New York City. They are presented in splashes panels and two-page spreads that are both gorgeous and horrifying thanks to Dave Gibbons stark line work and John Higgins minimal news strip, color palette. With the Doomsday Clock striking midnight in one of the more iconic images from this section of the series, readers can’t help by see parallels between the description and huge New Year’s Eve bash.
You could almost erase all the blood and fire and weird, scary squid monster from the pages, and it would look like the aftermath of a killer party. The only thing that’s missing is a guy in sunglasses chugging Gatorade on his way to brunch.
9 HOME STRIP
There is something universally liberating about stripping certain items of clothing when you get home after a long day at work. For some reason, being in comfy bed or chair are places where we naturally want to reject pants all together. Some people get the safe sensation from removing under garments, socks, and various accessories.
In the case of Dr. Manhattan, he takes the idea of clothing optional to a whole new level. One could argue that he has simply transcending the notion of pants and shirts and what have you as he is on a higher plain of understanding the universe and all its vast wonders. But we think that maybe he’s just comfortable that way. Why not go naked if you can do what he does? How else is anyone going to see your blue shine?
Sometimes we get the hero we deserve instead of the hero we want. In the case of Rorschach, he’s the hero who kind of rides that line in really uncomfortable ways. He’s the guy we think we want, until he does or says something terrible. Maybe it’s the fact that he looks cool that we give him a pass and shove in closer to the latter choice.
Hodor from HBO’s Game of Thrones was the hero we needed, wanted, but did not want to let go. Rorschach spends pages upon pages of monologues and hand to hand brawls during the 12 issues of Watchmen. We dive into his background and see what makes him tick, and when he dies in the final issue of the series, we are not struck with the some palpable shock we were when Hodor sacrifices himself. You don’t need big words to convey big ideas.
7 NO PANTS ARE THE BEST PANTS
Near the end of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan gets a bit cocky in his godly powers. He knows what he is and what he can do to the people around him. This knowledge spawns a certain level of apathy toward human beings in general. It also spawns some great lines of dialogue from the character.
But in this comic strip by Joseph Dunn, there is one obvious issue when it comes to taking Dr. Manhattan seriously, and that is his complete and utter disregard for clothes, particularly pants. Maybe he is above the idea of covering yourself. Why would it matter if you can construct your body in any manner you wish. You would have zero humility. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has stopped caring.
6 THE SOUND AND THE FURY
This might sound crazy, but one of the things Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen did better than the comic book was convey the veracity and fighting capabilities of the titular superhero team. Say what you will about his narrative construction or his strange predilections and fetishized view of certain aspects of human anatomy, Snyder knows how to shoot action.
When Rorschach gets into scraps, you feel the desperation of every move and the blunt impact of every strike. The scene from the film in which Nite Owl and Silk Spectre get into a tussle with some street toughs may not carry the emotional weight it does in the comics, but it is absolutely stunning in its visual execution. While Dave Gibbons is an absolutely amazing artist, and there are moments of dynamic action in his pages, they can’t compare to the visceral carnage of Snyder’s film.
5 NO CHILL
Masked vigilante Walter Kovacs, better known as Rorschach, became a runaway fan favorite the moment he graced the pages of the first issue of Watchmen. He is a character with iron determination and incorruptible resolve in every action he takes. This would be an extremely admirable characteristic if Rorschach had one single ounce of chill in his tiny body.
When we meet Rorschach, he’s investigating the murder of his former colleague, The Comedian. The internal monologue that transpires starts as simple questioning and quickly devolves into the character’s twisted moral absolutism, judging certain groups of people with the kind of swift, narrow-minded malice that comes from some of the more vile corners of Reddit. But the thing with Rorschach, is we can kind of forgive him for his sick views since his actions speak louder than words.
4 LET IT GO
Maybe we’re just grasping at straws here, but there are a few shocking similarities between the blue-skinned, nuclear ubermensch, Dr. Manhattan and the Disney Ice Queen, Elsa, from Frozen. Both of them have been imbued with incredibly incendiary powers that make people extremely nervous to be around them. They both have trouble grappling with them powers in a constructive manner. And they both craft their own fortresses of solitude out of fragile natural materials.
Now, if only Dr. Manhattan could give us an earworm sing along tune for us to enjoy while he transforms the sands of Mars into his glass refuge. With such an analytical mind, you know for a fact he would craft the most infectious song imaginable. Certainly it would be entertaining for Silk Spectre when she is spirited away to the red planet.
3 GODS AND KINGS
One of the greatest things about Watchmen is the philosophical debate regarding faith, knowledge, and what it means to be a believer (not just in a higher-power, but in anything). The world within Watchmen is in turmoil, on the brink of destruction. Gods and kings roam the Earth, and the common man is left to watch their chess game play out under dire conditions.
The dichotomy between Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan is a fascinating one. Ozymandias proclaims to be the smartest man in the world, to which Dr. Manhattan mocks as he is the closest thing to a god that humanity has ever been face-to-face with. But, the twisted logic and rationality that Ozymandias possesses is something that can only come from a human, and Manhattan knows this. What’s more fascinating is the unflappable resolve of Rorschach in the whole situation, even in the face of a god’s humble wrath.
2 LOOK AT ME
Existential crises can hit anyone. What’s odd is the time frame during which these crises can come about. Usually, they do not happen overnight. Often times, they develop over the course of years and how one decides to reflect on those years will shape what suddenly feels like a stark realization of universal futility.
In the case of Dr. Manhattan, existentialism is transcendent. He seems the strings, as he says, and knows that the probability of human kindness diminishes over a long period of time. The fact that Dr. Manhattan can see all time simultaneously, only furthers his godlike transcendental outlook on life. But in the case of Mr. Meeseeks, the knowledge that existence is pain falls on his shoulders out of his own failure. In a way, we are all Mr. Meeseeks. Look at us.
Rorschach is a character who surely talks like a lion while living in a house cat’s body. Now, that isn’t a slight against him. A house cat can do some damage. Just try to give one a bath if you don’t believe us. But of all the Watchmen, Rorschach probably has the closet temperament to that of a feline, domestic or otherwise.
What really gets us is the face this kitten is making. While certainly its eyeballing something dangling out of frame, the tiny fur ball has a certain stoic quality that is impossible to superimpose your own justice-dispensing vigilante narrative over its adorable little face. We only wish someone had put a little hat and trench coat on this little fella. That and a pair of purple pinstripe pants that doesn’t bring the whole ensemble together. Apparently, Rorschach doesn’t own a mirror. Then again, it was the ‘80s.