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WatchmenWriter: Alan Moore

Artists: Dave Gibbons (illustrator/letterer); John Higgins (colourist)

Publisher: DC

Synopsis: When the Keene act of '74 passed, superheroes were no longer allowed to operate without controls. Some, like the Nite Owl, retired; some, like the staggeringly powerful Dr. Manhattan, went to work directly for the government; and some, like the almost psychotically obsessed vigilante Rorschach, continued to fight crime covertly. Now someone seems to be rubbing out ex-costumes, and Rorschach is determined to find out why--unwittingly uncovering a vast conspiracy that might doom the world, or save it.

How Is It?: There are two comic books of the 80s that are usually cited as shaping everything that's come since. Personally I found one of them, Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, to be a little bit overcooked and gratuitous (though unquestionably fun; it was a major inspiration for the Tim Burton movies). But the other one, Watchmen, is unquestionably brilliant. The term "graphic novel" is one that's frequently abused and is sometimes accompanied by eye-rolling, but it truly applies to this 12-part miniseries. Watchmen does for Superheroes what the movie Unforgiven did for westerns: it dismantles an American mythos, looks at its' scummy underbelly, and bids it a fond farewell. Ironically, this tale of superheroes struggling to remain relevant in the face of the Cold War and public fear features a couple of the coolest superhero characters ever created; the creepy Rorschach has become a cult character. Alan Moore is a legend among comic writers; this is the book that proves it. If you only read one superhero comic in your life, make it this one.

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