Back Issues [Watchmen Wednesday]: Doomsday Clock


To celebrate the fact that I finally got around to reading Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), DC Comic’s official sequel to the seminal Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987), I’ve dedicated every Wednesday of this month to Alan Moore’s influential maxiseries.


Published: 22 November 2017 to 18 December 2019
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank

The Background:
Ever since Watchmen proved to be a critical and commercial hit, DC Comics have attempted to milk the property to capitalise on its popularity. A film adaptation had been in the works for decades and, when it was finally produced, spawned a videogame tie-in; finally, after years of trying to convince Moore and Gibbons to return to the franchise, DC drafted in a crop of the industry’s most talented creators (against Moore’s wishes, of course) to produce a prequel series.

After rebooting their canon (…again) , DC set about bringing Watchmen into the DC Universe.

After years of subjecting readers to the largely-awful “New 52” era, DC finally decided to relaunch and reboot their continuity with another of their trademark Crises; “DC Rebirth” not only returned a lot of characters and concepts to their pre-New 52 portrayals but also concluded with Bruce Wayne/Batman discovering Edward Blake/The Comedian’s iconic, bloodstained button in the Batcave and the first hints that Doctor Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan was observing the DC Universe. Doomsday Clock finally saw the worlds of Watchman and the DC Universe come together and, despite a questionable release schedule and wonky canonicity (the story took years to be told and its placement in the timeline is confusing, at best), was met with critical acclaim and even led to a solo book for the series’ popular vigilante, Rorschach.

The Plot:
So, like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock is quite a dense text with a lot of things happening all at once and a lot of lore to dissect so I’m going to expand upon my breakdown of the story as I did with that graphic novel. The story’s plot is split between different characters and complex concepts like the multiverse, perceptions of time, and public’s opinion of superheroes in the DC Universe.

With Veidt’s lies exposed, the world is mere moments away from nuclear destruction.

One of the central concerns of Doomsday Clock is the state of Watchmen’s alternate world, now firmly established as one of the many parallel worlds in the DC multiverse. Seven years after Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias dropped his genetically-engineered squid into Times Square and killed millions of people, his dreams of world peace have been dashed after Walter Kovacs/Rorschach’s journal exposing his actions was published. As a result, the United States is once again on the bring of nuclear war with Russia and, desperate to save the world once more, Veidt allies with the new Rorschach, Reggie Long (son of Malcolm Long, Kovacs’ psychiatrist from Watchmen), and two of Dr. Manhattan’s former enemies, Erika Manson/Marionette and her husband, Marcos Maez/Mime. The group uses a refitted version of Daniel Dreiberg/Nite Owl’s (sadly, once again, entirely absent from the tale) Owlship to then follow Dr. Manhattan’s unique energy signature to the mainstream DC Universe just as their world is destroyed by nuclear war.

Tensions between the public, the government, and superheroes are fragile on Earth-0.

However, life on Earth-0 isn’t exactly much better; riots and violent protests against Batman’s presence run rampant in Gotham City and the public’s perception of superheroes has soured thanks to the publication of the “Supermen Theory”, which uncomfortably pointed out that the vast majority of the world’s superheroes are white American men and suggested quite explicitly that the American government (clearly led by President Donald Trump) have manufactured their superheroes through a series of clandestine experiments and operations. The only superhero that the public and the world’s governments has any faith in is Clark Kent/Superman, who is still regarded as a worldwide icon and allowed to freely cross borders. The linchpin of the animosity towards superheroes is the outspoken and volatile Ronnie Raymond/Professor Martin Stein/Firestorm and, to compound matters, the Russian government (led by Vladimir Putin) forms their own team of metahumans to protect their borders, while Teth-Adam/Black Adam offers sanctuary to all metahumans, good and bad, in the sovereign nation of Kahndaq.

Dr. Manhattan has been manipulating and altering the DC Universe for some time.

Amidst all of this is the mystery of Dr. Manhattan himself; at the end of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan left to create some life of his own but, instead, was drawn to the DC Universe and discovers what is referred to as the “Metaverse”. The tumultuous nature of the DC Universe, which is not only populated by a wide variety of metahumans and magic but also subject to near-annual cosmic events and reality-shifting Crises, intrigues Dr. Manhattan, who begins to experiment with altering Earth-0’s history by subtly changing events in the past. This leads to the creation of multiple, widely different timelines and realities but, no matter what Dr. Manhattan does, Superman continues to emerge as the premier superhero of this world. Haunted by a vision of Superman flying at him in a rage and once again curious at his inability to see beyond this point, Dr. Manhattan observes the turbulent events unfolding around him with a morbid interest as he awaits to see if he destroys all reality or is himself destroyed by Superman.

The Review:
In the unfortunate absence of Nite Owl and Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre, and with Kovacs dead, there’s not a lot of opportunities for the iconic characters of Watchmen to interact with the mainstream DC Universe. Indeed, Doomsday Clock is less “DC Universe Meets Watchmen” and more “Some of the Watchmen characters pop over to Earth-0 alongside characters you’ve never heard of and a new Rorschach”, which is honestly a little disappointing. Like the television show, Doomsday Clock is a sequel to Watchmen but, because of its very nature as a comic book and its integration into the larger DC canon, is actually considered to be the true follow-up to the original graphic novel. Similar to the show, though, the future is depressingly bleak for Alan Moore’s characters; Veidt’s attempt at world peace was almost immediately undone and that world is quickly destroyed early into the story, making you question what the point of all that death and drama even was.

In a bid to save his world, Veidt once again lies and manipulates others to satisfy his ego.

Veidt, however, is largely undeterred by the state of his world; though he sees a macabre irony in his elaborate plan falling apart and despairs at the world’s insistence on destroying itself, he immediately concocts another desperate plot to save the world by tracking Dr. Manhattan down and convincing him to intervene. As is his way, Veidt’s scheme involves deceit, lies, subterfuge, and his unmatched intelligence; smug as ever, Veidt easily manipulates Reggie Long into assisting him by faking that he (as in Veidt) has a tumour on his brain (and feigning remorse for his actions, which led to the death of Reggie’s parents) and has him recruit Marionette and Mime to their cause specifically because he knows that Dr. Manhattan once spared Marionette’s life in a past encounter.

Veidt’s actions are openly mocked and criticised by the likes of Lex Luthor and Batman.

Upon arriving on Earth-0, Veidt attempts to recruit Lex Luthor and is met only with scorn and a surprise attack by the Comedian, whom Dr. Manhattan transported to Earth-0 moments before his death. Having read Kovacs’ journal, Batman is also less than impressed with Veidt’s actions and megalomania; Veidt, however, maintains that he did what he did in an attempt to save and unite a world on the brink of destruction and attacks his new scheme with just as much blind obsession. Thanks to a cute little clone of his lynx, Bubastis, the green lantern of Alan Scott, and the presence of another temporal anomaly, Imra Ardeen/Saturn Girl, Veidt is able to forcibly summon Dr. Manhattan, who not only refuses to help but also exposes Veidt’s lies. Veidt orchestrates a massive conflict between Superman and other metahumans in order to inspire Jon to finally intervene and, though this does result in the restoration of Earth-0, the Watchmen world, and the entire multi/metaverse, he ends up imprisoned at the conclusion of the story.

Traumatised by Veidt’s squid, Reggie comes to assume the mask and identity of Rorschach.

One of the things that disappointed me about the television show was the absence of Rorschach; I know we’re not supposed to like Rorschach but I don’t give a shit, he’s still the most interesting and compelling character in Watchmen. Although Kovacs is dead, his spirit and influence lives on in Doomsday Clock; not only was his tell-all journal instrumental in revealing Veidt’s deception, his crusade is taken up by Reggie Long, a confused and volatile young man traumatised by the effects of Veidt’s destructive squid. Like many exposed to the squid’s nightmarish psychic field, Reggie was driven to near insanity and spent a great deal of time confined to a mental hospital. There, he befriended former Minuteman Byron Lewis/Mothman, who becomes a friend and mentor to Reggie but ultimate contributes to Reggie assuming Rorschach’s mantle by purposely hiding the truth of Kovacs’ relationship with Reggie’s father.

Reggie’s crusade briefly falters, sadly removing him from the story until the finale.

Believing that Rorschach and his father were friends and that Malcolm was able to reach and help Kovacs, Reggie is initially focused on killing Veidt for his actions but is convinced to aid him when Veidt claims to be dying and remorseful for his actions. Having read truncated versions of his father’s notes and Kovacs’ journal, Reggie assumes Rorschach’s costume and mannerisms and initially goes to Batman for help and finds himself imprisoned in Arkham Asylum for his trouble. Like in Watchmen, an entire issue is dedicated into delving into Reggie’s past and psychosis but he quickly gets lost in the shuffle as more and more characters and conflicts bog down the tale, even abandoning the mask and his crusade after Veidt’s lies are exposed. Ultimately, Alfred Pennyworth and Batman are able to convince Reggie to mask up and join the fight and Reggie even chooses to spare Veidt to see him brought to justice, claiming “Rorschach is me” but, while I appreciate the presence of a Rorschach, Reggie fails to be as compelling and instrumental as the real Rorschach and I think I would have preferred it if Dr. Manhattan had undone his actions or brought Kovacs forward in time as he did with the Comedian.

Dr. Manhattan screws with the DC timeline, creating different realities and outcomes as a result.

Speaking of Dr. Manhattan, he, too, gets another entire issue dedicated to him and his journey throughout the DC Universe. It’s basically exactly the same as issue four of Watchmen, with Jon spending a lot of time on Mars, ruminating about his origins and past with Janey Slater, and recapping the events of Watchmen. Although Jon appeared to have somewhat rediscovered his humanity at the end of Watchmen, to the point where he willingly went along with Veidt’s plan and even killed Rorschach to protect it, and his desire to reconnect with humanity was a big aspect of the TV show, in Doomsday Clock he’s basically exactly the same disconnected and emotionless demigod he was in the original graphic novel. He is despondent to discover that he feels just as out of place in a world of metahumans and magic as he did amongst mortals and takes to exploring and experimenting with the DC Universe’s fragile reality to keep himself from growing bored.

Dr. Manhattan is intrigued by his inability to see past a confrontation with Superman.

Dr. Manhattan’s perception of time is both the same as in Watchmen (he can see the past, present, and future simultaneously but cannot see anything past his vision of Superman rushing at him) but different. I always assumed from Watchmen that Jon could only perceive time from his lifetime since he never visits the past beyond his lifetime in Watchmen but, in Doomsday Clock, he can freely walk between the past, present, and future of the entire DC canon, including a multitude of parallel worlds. Fascinated by the metaverse and the role Superman plays in this world, he purposely messes with time, killing Clark’s parents before their time and causing Alan Scott/Green Lantern to die, thus removing the Justice Society of America (JSA) from continuity, intervening in Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011), and basically creating the New 52 and Rebirth continuities through his actions.

Even with the world falling into anarchy, Superman is able to inspire Dr. Manhattan to intervene.

Accordingly, Superman is a central figure in Doomsday Clock; Dr. Manhattan is curious to see whether the Man of Steel kills him for his actions or whether he (as in Jon) destroys all reality and, still vehemently refusing to even try and go against the inevitability of fate, he refuses to intervene or to help Superman when he ends up battling against a horde of metahumans. As the only superhero who maintains the trust and respect of the public and world’s governments, Superman desperately tries to keep the peace, repair relations, and to help Firestorm after he accidentally turns a bunch of people to glass. However, he ends up making things worse and escalates the tensions between the world’s governments and metahumans, leading to an all-out war. Though disgusted at Dr. Manhattan’s refusal to get involved, and his part in causing not only the events of Doomsday Clock but also the tragedies of his life, Superman is ultimately able to inspire Jon into restoring the worlds and multi/metaverse to normal through his selfless nature.

Doomsday Clock is stuffed full of characters and and cameos, more of whom derail the plot.

I mentioned before that Doomsday Clock is swamped with characters and it really is; a handful of the Watchmen characters obviously feature, including a brief appearance by the Comedian, who mainly features to try and kill Veidt for his attack on him at the beginning of Watchmen and to be a pain in the ass. Marionette and Mime, two completely original characters, feature extensively as Dr. Manhattan imbues their child with his powers in the finale to, presumably, become the Watchmen version of Superman. Additionally, a whole host of DC characters play a role in the story: Batman finally solves the puzzle of the mysterious bloodstained button but uncharacteristically chooses not to believe Reggie’s claims and has him locked up in Arkham, leaving him underequipped to intercede in the events of the story; Firestorm, here a volatile and immature character, escalates much of the tension regarding the perception of metahumans and the Supermen Theory when he is unable to control his powers; and, of course, the Joker makes an appearance but does little more than derail the main plot with an ultimately pointless side story.

Allegorical and metaphysical ruminations and canon fixes largely supplant big fight scenes.

Like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock contains an allegorical story-within-a-story, in this case the films of Carver Coleman, with whom Jon forms a strange kind of bond and how becomes his “anchor” in this new world. Carver’s hit film, The Adjournment, parallels the mystery that permeates Doomsday Clock and Jon’s own struggle against his true identity. Doomsday Clock also goes out of its way to closely emulate the art style and presentation of Watchmen but greatly overdoes its commitment to this by slavishly sticking to a rigid 3×3 panel structure. Like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock is also rather light on action and packs a whole bunch of symbolism, imagery, and references into each panel, mainly to Watchmen but also to the long and convoluted history of the DC Universe. The conclusion of the book sees the JSA returned to continuity, Clark’s parents and Alan Scott returned to life, and the restoration of the multi/metaverse but also leaves the story open ended for further continuations down the line exploring the restored Watchmen universe.

The Summary:
It seems that DC’s attempts at recapturing and revisiting Alan Moore’s seminal work are doomed to fail; just as I was unimpressed by the TV show, I can’t help but feel let down by Doomsday Clock, which is a quagmire of convoluted plot threads, self-indulgent allusions to Watchmen, and is a largely confusing and uninteresting mess. I feel like the book focuses too much on being sequel to Watchmen but it doesn’t really work since seven years have passed since the end of that book and we only spend about an issue and a half really reconnecting to Moore’s world before it’s destroyed. After that, it’s just another elaborate “Crisis” event as the few surviving Watchmen characters mingle about in the DC Universe and spend far too much time interacting with obscure characters like Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl rather than the big guns like Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.

Dr. Manhattan’s God-like powers make him largely immune to conventional attack.

The story is framed around this epic, potentially cataclysmic battle between Superman and Dr. Manhattan, a concept that feels like a betrayal of Jon’s character as he’s largely a pacifist because of his stubborn refusal and disinterest in getting involved in the affairs of mortals. Yes, he fought crime and waged war against the Vietnamese but that was a long time ago by the present day events of Watchmen, where he was simply content to just let life play out as is preordained so, while the idea of these two titans clashing sounds good on paper, it seems like the sort of thing a child would think up while bashing action figures together. To me, Dr. Manhattan has always seemed more like Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, a being of incredible power who shapes events but only really gets involved in them when the cosmic shit is about the hit the fan, which is kind of how he ends up being in the end since we don’t really get to see him fight with Superman because the entire promise of their conflict was a big fake out. There is, however, a pretty good scene where a whole gaggle of DC’s superheroes and Green Lanterns confront Dr. Manhattan on Mars only to be easily subdued by his near-limitless powers

Sadly, there just aren’t enough interactions between the DC and Watchmen characters.

Similarly, the idea of Rorschach meeting Batman and Ozymandias meeting Lex Luthor sounds great…on paper but this isn’t the same Rorschach and, no matter how hard Reggie tries, he will never be that same character so it wouldn’t really work even if Batman didn’t just disregard him and lock him up in Arkham. Luthor is scornful towards Ozymandias and a potential team up between these two is also immediately cast aside, with Luthor mocking Veidt’s intelligence and plan as though Johns is poking fun at the very work he is so blatantly trying to homage and leech off of. The absence of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre equally hurts not just the story’s plot but also Doomsday Clock’s legitimacy as a Watchmen sequel; again, it feels less like the characters of Watchmen meeting the DC Universe and more like a handful of them dropped into the unexplainably chaotic DC Universe and struggling to make sense of it.

The attempts to recapture Watchmen‘s bleak political undertones largely fall flat.

Basically, Doomsday Clock tries and fails to emulate the unique narrative and approach that Watchmen took; Watchmen’s bleak, uncompromising and, dare I say it, adult themes don’t mesh well at all with the mainstream DC Universe and I can’t help but feel like it would have been better to supplant the Watchmen characters mid-way through the events of Moore’s book so that we could see all their recognisable and flawed heroes actually butting heads with DC’s big guns in a clash of both ideals and fists. Dr. Manhattan could have been responsible for this, manipulating events from behind the scenes to cause the two worlds to emerge, and we could have seen interesting team ups and interactions between these characters (Batman and Nite Owl and Wonder Woman and Silk Spectre spring instantly to mind) but, instead, we get this weird mess of a story that’s more concerned with turning superheroes into hated figures, destroying or leeching off of DC’s Golden Age and Watchmen’s legacy, and desperately attempting to address some of the issues with the Rebirth universe.

In the end, Doomsday Clock was just another convoluted “Crisis” event.

Ultimately, I feel like I have to recommend Doomsday Clock, though, if only to see the botch job DC makes of officially canonising Watchmen into the DC Universe. As a love letter to Watchmen, it’s not so bad; the way it evokes the imagery and atmosphere of Moore’s work is pretty astounding and the artwork is quite appealing but the problem is that, while reading it, I just felt like I’d rather be reading Watchmen or any other “Crisis” event. It’s better than the TV show, I’ll give it that, if only because it actually includes a number of recognisable Watchmen characters but it similarly fails to properly recapture the magic of Moore’s story because the characters haven’t really changed and they don’t really fit in the mainstream DC Universe. This is brought up a few times but not often enough as the story has to make way for the escalating conflict between Superman and other metahumans and its confusing ending, and I can’t help but feel like Johns dropped the ball and that Doomsday Clock failed to really live up to all the hype and potential it had.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Doomsday Clock? Did you suffer through the comic’s long publication or did you pick up the collected edition, like I did? Were you excited to see the Watchmen characters interact and be integrated into the DC Universe and were you disappointed with how the story turned out? What did you think to the new Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan’s role in the DC Universe? Were you a fan of the interactions, characterisations, and references included in the story or do you agree that it failed to live up to its potential as a concept? Would you like to see the Watchmen characters interact with the DC Universe again in the future or do you think it’s best that it stays separate from mainstream canon? Whatever your thoughts on Doomsday Clock and Watchmen in general, drop a comment below and thanks for joining me for Watchmen Wednesday.

Screen Time [Watchmen Wednesday]: Watchmen


To celebrate the fact that I finally got around to reading Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), DC Comic’s official sequel to the seminal Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987), I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday of this month to Alan Moore’s influential maxiseries.


Air Date: 20 October to 15 December 2019
UK Network: Sky Atlantic
Original Network: HBO
Stars: Regina King, Jean Smart, Jeremy Irons, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Blake Nelson, Hong Chau, Jovan Adepo, Louis Gossett Jr, and Don Johnson

The Background:
Since its release, Watchmen has become a critical and commercial success and is largely regarded as one of the most influential and significant graphic novels ever created. Although at one point considered to be unfilmable, various writers, producers, directors, and other creative types had attempting to spearhead a live-action adaptation since the end of the eighties, all of which fell apart until Warner Brothers approached Zack Snyder to finally bring the project to life in 2005. Say what you will about Watchmen (Snyder, 2009) but it did a pretty good job of translating Moore’s dense, complex text into a cohesive live-action feature; elements were changed, for sure, but that is to be expected from the adaptation process and, for me, the changes made perfect sense and didn’t detract from Watchmen’s themes or main story. After the film’s release, DC Comics really ramped up the Watchmen spin-offs and merchandise (much to Moore’s chagrin, I’m sure) and this included tentative talks with Snyder concerning a live-action Watchmen television series. After Snyder left the project, the HBO network began developing the series with Damon Lindelof. Rather than being a sequel to the movie, however, Lindelof conceived of the series as a continuation of the Watchmen comic that would jump between the 1920s, 1980s, and then-modern-day 2019, dealing with issues of race and the fallout of Watchmen’s iconic ending. Watchmen was met with widespread critical acclaim and won numerous awards, though Lindelof stepped away from the franchise and HBO reclassified Watchmen as a “limited series” with options of additional instalments and stories under a different creative team.

The Plot:
Thirty-four years after the world was united against a perceived alien threat, the Seventh Kalvary, a white supremacist group inspired by WalterKovacs/Rorschach, has risen to prominence in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Because of their actions, the Tulsa Police Department have taken to hiding their identities behind masks and code-names like the long-outlawed vigilantes of the 1960s and 1980s. After Police Chief Judd Crawford (Johnson) is murdered, Angela Abar/Sister Night (King) finds herself uncovering uncomfortable truths regarding her past, the state of the world, and a deadly plot to harness the powers of the long-exiled Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan (Abdul-Mateen II).

The Review:
A central premise to Watchmen is the idea of a deep-rooted conspiracy; obviously, there’s the primary Watchmen conspiracy involving the sudden appearance of a giant, alien squid in New York City shocking the world away from nuclear Armageddon but HBO’s Watchmen juxtaposes this narrative with one involving a nefarious plot by Senator Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk) to manipulate a series of violent and discriminatory events that will ensure his seat in the White House. As in the original comic book, the cogs are forever turning in Watchmen and nothing is ever quite as it seems; the majority of those in positions of power wear masks, either literal or metaphorical, and, as always, it is the general public that suffers as a result.

The Tulsa cops have taken to wearing masks and adopting code-names for protection.

Central to the series’ themes of conspiracy and violence is our main character, Angela Abar; in the 2019 world of Watchmen, the police are anonymous individuals who hide their identities behind masks and code-names after a series of mass murders perpetrated in 2016 by the Seventh Kalvary that came to be known as the “White Night”. Abar was one of the few survivors of this atrocity, one who steadfastly stuck by her police chief, Judd Crawford, to rebuild the police department and adopting masked identities as per Senator Keene’s groundbreaking decision to bend the rules seemingly to protect those in law enforcement.

Angela wears a number of literal and metaphorical masks.

As a result, Abar lives a life of lies and deception; to the outside world, she works as a struggling, nondescript baker who has been long-retired from police work but, in reality, she is a tortured soul despite her seemingly perfect family life with her husband, Cal (Abdul-Mateen II) and her adopted children. Not only is she hiding her identity behind that of Sister Night, a masked persona that allows her to exercise her violent tendencies (especially against white supremacists and racists), but she is also largely covering up the specifics of her childhood and troublesome upbringing in Vietnam. In addition to this, her actual origins and true lineage are largely hidden from her and discovered throughout the course of the series, forcing her to confront some uncomfortable revelations about not just trusted comrades like Judd but also herself, her parents, and, most significantly, her grandfather and husband.

The Seventh Kalvary have twisted Rorschach’s image to spread hatred and violence.

Consequently, racism is a massively important part of Watchmen; all throughout the series, the narrative returns, in some form or another, to the atrocious events of 1921 that saw racist sentiment in Tulsa boil over to breaking point. Even now, in 2019, there is an air of racism across the board as people resent those of colour, and President Robert Redford, for “taking over” their town, putting down roots, and receiving a series of payouts (known as “Redfordations”) as recompense for their suffering. Racism in Watchmen is mostly personified by the Seventh Kalvary, basically an evolved form of the Klu Klux Klan who have adopted and twisted Rorschach’s diary, appearance, and methods to spread anti-racist and anti-authority sentiment throughout Tulsa.

Many of Tulsa’s police use their masks as an excuse for excessive violence.

For decades, Judd has worked to maintain a rocky kind of peace between the Tulsa police and the Seventh Kalvary to keep events from escalating into full-blown violence; as a result, cops are unable to utilise deadly force (or even draw their handguns) without requesting permission and their firearms being remotely activated and it is forbidden for them to reveal their true identities to the public, all to help ensure that they are protected from reprisals and to keep them from sparking all-out war through needless violence and death.

Though believed to be on Mars, people can attempt to contact Dr. Manhattan.

However, anti-authority sentiment remains high amongst the public; many resent the police for using their masks as an excuse to indulge in excessive violence and, in a twist on the anti-mask riots seen in the comics, the public now seem to be far more receptive to the idea of actual costumed vigilantes than masked police officers. However, in 2019, costumed heroes are few and far between; with vigilantism still outlawed, law enforcement agencies track them down and arrest them at every opportunity and all the costumed heroes you knew from the original comic are either dead, retired, in jail, exiled, or have conformed to the new world. The most principal of these is, obviously, the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan, whom the public believes has exiled himself to Mars; Manhattan Booths have been placed all over the city (and, potentially, the world) to allow people to call Mars and leave messages for Dr. Manhattan but, like any self-respecting God, Dr. Manhattan never replies to these prayers and is largely believed to have abandoned mankind.

Time, and life, have not been kind to the former Silk Spectre.

The other costumed heroes haven’t fared much better, either; Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre (Smart) is now a hard-nosed, cynical FBI agent who is apathetic, pessimistic, and callous. She has a personal dislike for masked vigilantes, regarding them as a “joke”, and meets almost every challenge or obstacle with a mocking indifference. Indeed, it says a lot about Laurie’s mindset that she has adopted the surname of her biological father, Edward Blake/The Comedian, a man whom she hated with a passion for being a cruel and sadistic rapist. Clearly changed after the events of the comic and in the time between the comic’s conclusion and present day (and her knowledge of the truth behind the squid incident, which is unsubtly referred to as “11/02”), Blake is a confrontational, no-nonsense, world-weary woman who has no time for bullshit or games and even less time to indulge those who hide behind masks (again, both literal and metaphorical).

Adopting many of Rorschach’s characteristics makes Looking Glass one of the stronger characters.

This naturally means that she ruffles a lot of feathers once she is assigned to Judd’s murder case, believing it to have been the result of vigilante action, and causes her to clash with those in the Tulsa police department, such as Wade Tillman/Looking Glass (Nelson). Looking Glass, who adopts many of Rorschach’s characteristics (his blunt, monotone voice, his stature and body language, his paranoid over-preparedness, and even a similar mask), is a highly perceptive and analytical character who is able to tell what someone is really thinking and feeling (or whether they are lying) through his highly tuned reading of body language. After suffering some of the squid’s violent psychic impact, Looking Glass constantly shields his head and face behind a reflective material to keep himself sane and free from nightmares, meaning he is much more comfortable hiding behind his masked identity. However, while he is the closest thing the series has to an actual Rorschach-like character, he is fundamental different from Rorschach in many ways and is, in a lot of ways, Rorschach’s opposite (Looking Glass, for example, lives in a house, has had various (often disastrous) relationships with women, regularly unmasks to reveal, at least, his face, and is a devoted member of the establishment rather than being anti-authority and uncompromising).

Veidt becomes disillusioned with the state of the world despite everything he did to save it.

HBO’s Watchmen is a world very similar to ours but fundamentally different and flawed; far from the utopia that the squid’s presence was meant to inspire, the world has largely grown accustomed to the “new normal” and regularly endures sporadic mini squid showers as though they’re an everyday occurrence rather than a startling reminder of the alien menace that lingers overhead. Disillusioned with the state the world has fallen into despite everything he did to save it, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Irons) jumps at the chance to be transported to Europa, where Dr. Manhattan has created an idyllic paradise populated by endless clones living in a stately manor.

Veidt has become trapped on Europe, where Dr. Manhattan built his utopia.

As jarring as Laurie’s character changes are, they at least have some basis in her comic book counterpart; Laurie was always a bit of a sharp-tongued, blunt instrument in the comics and age and experience have only served to make her even more tiresome but Veidt is so drastically removed from his original depiction that it is almost insulting. Much of the early episodes revolve around Veidt (then known simply as “The Master”) seemingly trapped in a prison, surrounded by endless, disturbingly polite and helpful clones and unable to escape. Eventually, the truth of his situation is revealed (Dr. Manhattan transported him there at Veidt’s enthusiastic suggestion but Veidt became bored with paradise and Manhattan was unable to retrieve him, so Veidt constructed an elaborate plot to keep him challenged and from going insane) and Veidt is able to send a message to affect his rescue.

Veidt uncharacteristically sought recognition and was spurred when this was rejected.

However, flashbacks to earlier years before his imprisonment and subsequent focus on his current mindset show Veidt as being quite the hypocritical and egocentric character; while this was, to be fair, evident in the comic book, here Veidt actually records a message to President Redford admitting to having concocted the squid as an elaborate hoax and is visibly insulted and frustrated at Redford rebuking his attempts to form a partnership and the fact that he receives no credit for having “saved the world”. As a result of this, and having grown jaded and frustrated at the continued production of weapons and nuclear deterrents (which I find odd as obviously the world would want to arm/prepare itself for a possible alien invasion), Veidt retires to Karnak to live in solitude and is dismayed and affronted to find, upon his return, that the world not only believes him dead but has largely forgotten about him.

Both Lady Triey and Senator Keene seek to steal Dr. Manhattan’s God-like powers.

In Veidt’s place is Lady Trieu (Chau), his unwanted biological daughter, who takes Veidt’s vision for a world united by peace and prosperity and further defiles it through a complex plan to find, kidnap, and destroy Dr. Manhattan so that she can assume his abilities and reshape the world. Senator Keene has similar aspirations, wishing to be the first “superman” in the Oval Office, but only Trieu has the resources and knowledge to actually pull off such a plan. Oddly, her aspirations to assume Manhattan’s Godhood are shocking even to Veidt, despite his attempts to destroy Manhattan in the past, forcing Veidt into an uneasy alliance with Blake, Looking Glass, and Angela to keep Trieu from becoming the new Dr. Manhattan.

The glimpses into Hooded Justice’s backstory are some of the show’s more interesting elements.

It is, essentially, the same fundamental plot of the Watchmen comic and many of the same story beats are evident throughout the series (a newsvendor even pops up every now and then to give his views on the state of society), however HBO’s Watchman sheds a lot more light on the effect Dr. Manhattan’s presence had on the Vietnam War (Vietnam becomes an official state of America and Angela hates Manhattan since his actions led to the death of her parents) and the true identity of the very first costumed hero, Will Reeves/Hooded Justice (Jovan Adepo/Louis Gossett Jr). The subject of much speculation in the comic, Hooded Justice turns out to be a young, angry black man who faces unwarranted prejudice and foul treatment in his youth while working as a police officer; after being briefly hanged by his fellow officers, he adopts a hooded guise to dish out corporal punishment and stumbles upon a plot by a group of white supremacists known as “Cyclops” to hypnotise the black community into attacking their own kind.

The Minutemen aren’t as understanding or as accommodating as Will was led to believe.

When he is approached by Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis (Jake McDorman), Reeves is initially hopefully that the backing of his fellow masked adventurers will held him uncover the conspiracy ever faster but is quickly dismayed and disappointed to find that the Minutemen care more about publicity and catching “supervillains” rather than conspiracies, especially those against black people. This partnership also causes Reeves further turmoil as he enters into a passionate homosexual affair with Gardner, meaning that he is forced to hide behind a myriad of masks (he hides his true identity from the public with his hood, further masks his true identity by applying white face paint so as to be more “accepted” by his fellow Minutemen, hides his sexuality from his wife, his anger from the world, his true intentions from the police…it’s just mask after mask after mask).

Angela discovers her true heritage by literally reliving her grandfather’s memories.

Even in his older years, Reeves is still hiding; he hides the truth of his identity (and the truth about Judd) from Angela, setting her on a difficult and violent path of self discovery, and then also hides the specifics of his relationship with Dr. Manhattan (at various points he even claims to be the God-like superman, though this is openly debunked by many characters). Angela later gets all the answers she could hope for, and more, when she swallows an entire bottle of Reeves’ “Nostalgia” pills, which allow her to relive his memories and experiences in excruciating detail in order to discover her true heritage as Reeves’ granddaughter.

Angela is a complex character but one I find more grating than compelling…

Compared to her grandfather, Angela’s masks are considerably fewer but by no means less complex; she hides her true identity, obviously, and is clearly enthusiastic about putting a hurting on white supremacists but is largely open and honest with her husband (while, understandably, keeping her kids in the dark). Her and Cal have no secrets and he is completely supportive of all of her endeavours and actions, even when they are highly questionable, and cares only for her safety and wellbeing. An angry and confrontational character, the events of Watchmen certainly put Angela through the wringer as she discovers her true heritage, finds out her trusted comrade and friend Judd was secretly a member of the Seventh Kalvary, and finds herself at the center of Lady Trieu’s elaborate scheme to steal Dr. Manhattan’s abilities.

Having created a utopia, Dr. Manhattan grew bored and inexplicably returned to Earth!

All throughout the series, characters debunk the idea that Dr. Manhattan can disguise himself as a human; at first, this seems a bit weird as Manhattan’s powers are virtually limitless and it’s odd that people would just know that he couldn’t do this but, nevertheless, the seeds are planted throughout the series that this is actually what has happened. And, of course, it turns out to be true; the footage of Dr. Manhattan on Mars is simply another lie to placate the public and Manhattan, despite wishing to “leave this world” and create life, quickly grew bored with the utopia he created on Europa and returned to Earth specifically to meet Angela.

Dr. Manhattan is destroyed but, apparently, passes his abilities on to Angela.

After relating to her, in his characteristically pragmatic way, his perception of time, Manhattan sought out Veidt to provide him with the means to adopt the closest thing to a human guise in order to be with Angela; Veidt’s specially-constructed implant disrupts Jon’s memories, giving him complete and total amnesia and allowing him to assume a whole new face and identity, Cal Abar, in order to live a normal life. However, after Angela uncovers the plot against him, she’s forced to literally crack Jon’s head open and remove the implant to try and save his life. Ultimately, though, despite Jon’s vast powers and abilities, he is unable to escape his fate; Lady Trieu’s specially designed technology is enough to capture, entrap, and then disintegrate Jon, effectively killing God before the eyes of our main characters, though Trieu’s goal of assuming his abilities is thwarted and the series ends with the suggestion that Jon has passed them on to Angela instead.

Watchmen looks fantastic, for the most part, but Dr. Manhattan looks like bad cosplay!

Watchmen’s visual presentation is quite impressive; clearly inspired by the aesthetic look of Snyder’s film, the series does a wonderful job of not only rendering comic-accurate costumes for the likes of Ozymandias, Hooded Justice, and Captain Metropolis but also at recreating the look and feel of the Watchmen world. I didn’t actually mind the omission of the squid in Snyder’s adaptation but it was pretty fantastic to see the monstrous, grotesque alien beast a bloodied heap in New York and there are some fun call-backs to other recognisable Watchmen elements, too, such as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl’s goggles and airship, Archimedes. And yet, despite how impressive much of the costumes and aesthetics of the show look, they completely dropped the ball on Dr. Manhattan; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a great actor and certainly has the voice for the role but he never quite exudes that same sense of God-like awe and mystery as in Snyder’s film and is generally, disappointingly, quite nerfed in terms of his powers, motivations, and portrayal.

The show seems to be struggling with its identity somewhat in its execution.

Watchmen works pretty well in terms of its structure; each episode has a quick intro sequence and a fittingly pretentious title, and the series reflects a lot of the structure and narrative flow of the comic book as certain episodes will expand upon one (or more) of the series’ many complex plots while others will focus on specific characters or world-building all while weaving them (however awkwardly) into these aforementioned plots. The series builds its mysteries relatively well; we’re immediately deposited into a world that, for all its similarities to the comic book and the real world, is completely unfamiliar to both, meaning we must re-learn and become re-accommodated with this new Watchmen-esque world where things have changed considerably from what we know but are just familiar enough that we have a vague idea of what characters are talked about and referring to. And then, into this, the series creators inject a whole load of new lore, building upon elements from the comic book, referencing the movie, and then swamping this world (and its narrative) with entirely new, original characters to uncover more of this new world, and the series’ mystery, at the same time as we do,

The Summary:
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Watchmen; I knew it was a sequel series and that obviously meant a lot of the comic characters either wouldn’t be coming back or would be portrayed very differently but I never expected the plot to veer so far off the rails. I thought the series would revolve around a splinter group of vigilantes trying to expose Veidt’s deception but, while the squid is an integral part of the series’ plot and had a profound influence on many characters and events, it may as well have been left out as the series more concerned with telling a story revolving about the atrocities of race hate. This isn’t really a problem in and of itself, as racial tensions and bigotry were quite prominent in the comic, but it kind of overwhelms the plot of the series and doesn’t seem to mesh well with the other competing plots.

The biggest issue for me was that the show just didn’t “feel” like Watchmen that often…

I think the biggest issue I have with Watchmen is that it really doesn’t feel like Watchmen; while you can argue that the series is a lot closer, thematically, to the comic book and much truer to its source material than Snyder’s film, at least the film had characters we recognised and closely followed the events of the comic. Here, we have a whole bunch of new characters, many of whom (including Angela, our main character) just aren’t as interesting as the characters from the comics. Looking Glass is kind of like Rorschach but he’s not Rorschach and neither are the Seventh Kalvary; Sister Night is kind of an amalgamation of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, I guess, but is her own character, one who I just found to be angry and unrelatable in a way those characters weren’t; and Lady Trieu basically is her father…but is also far less compelling and nuanced. She just comes across as a nutcase whereas Veidt was always scarily logical and sane in his motivations.

Watchmen‘s returning characters are all very much worse for wear in the HBO series.

And then there are the returning characters; Laurie is a thoroughly unlikeable character now (though I did enjoy her calling out everyone around her for their bullshit and for dressing up in masks and costumes), Veidt is little like the highly intelligent and manipulative character he was in the comic, and Nite Owl is conspicuous (and much missed) in his absence. If you’re going to do a follow-up to Watchmen, I’m not sure why you would choose to focus 90% of your story on entirely new characters; a new generation should be included and be a vital part, for sure, but fans of Watchmen were fans of the characters in the book, not a whole bunch of copycats and also-rans who don’t quite match up to the complexities and nuance of their predecessors. Dr. Manhattan is probably the worst of all the returning characters, though; for all his grand-standing and posturing in Watchmen about leaving Earth behind to create life elsewhere, he simply played God, got bored, and then decided to enter into another relationship that was doomed to fail (he even admits this outright to Angela when they first meet) even though he was so far beyond and over such trivialities by the end of Watchmen.

I fail to see how Watchmen appeals to anyone, especially fans of the source material…

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why HBO’s Watchmen was so critically acclaimed and so well received; while many criticised Snyder’s Watchmen (and I can understand that given how different it is from the comic’s more subtle approach), it feels, for all its changes and alterations, much more like Watchmen than HBO’s Watchmen, which honestly could have been any old superhero drama. Having the Watchmen title, though, demands a certain level of expectation and, for me, HBO’s Watchmen comes close and is an interesting extension of the lore but fails to really live up to those expectations. It was like I kept waiting for it to kick into a higher gear, to go the extra mile, to tie everything up and really “become” Watchmen and it just never did. As an official continuation of the comic book, I find myself disappointed and apathetic to the world presented by HBO’s Watchmen, which is even more desolate and cynical than the comic (and Moore himself), as if that is even possible.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

What did you think of HBO’s Watchmen? Which of the new characters was your most, or least, favourite and why? What did you think of the show’s mystery and conspiracy elements and the structure it adopted? Do you feel this was a suitable follow-up to Watchmen or, like me, were you disappointed by the show’s treatment of the comic book’s plot and returning characters? Do you think the show would have worked better if it had simply been a new adaptation of the comic book rather than a sequel? What did you think to the show’s exploration of Hooded Justice, its treatment of Dr. Manhattan, and the main plot of the show? Whatever your thoughts about HBO’s Watchmen, feel free to leave a comment below and pop back next Wednesday for one last piece of Watchmen content.

Talking Movies [Watchmen Wednesday]: Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut


To celebrate the fact that I finally got around to reading Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), DC Comic’s official sequel to the seminal Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987), I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday of this month to Alan Moore’s influential maxiseries.


Released: 3 November 2009
Originally Released: 6 March 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures/Paramount Pictures
Budget: $130 to 138 million
Stars: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

The Plot:
In an alternative version of the 1980s, the world is constantly on the brink of nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Russia and masked vigilantes, once popular in the 1960s, have been outlawed for some time. However, when Edward Blake/The Comedian (Morgan) is found dead, Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Haley) uncovers what appears to be a plot to kill off former masked crimefighters and, in his efforts to warn his fellow Watchmen, becomes embroiled in a diabolical plot to force the world into unity and peace.

The Background:
Published between September 1986 and October 1987, Watchmen was the brainchild of noted comic book writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, who revised their initial concept of a murder mystery involving Charlton Comics characters using entirely new, unique characters. Watchmen’s sophisticated adult narrative subverted the usual expectations of comic book heroes, grounding them in something resembling reality and tackling the genre with a serious, contemplative direction.

The Ultimate Cut is the definitive version of Watchmen in every sense of the word.

Filled with dense imagery and complex themes, Watchmen was an influential mainstream success. For the longest time, the text was largely considered to be unfilmable, though a live-action adaptation was in the works as far back as the late-eighties. In 2005, though, the project finally entered production with Zack Snyder at the helm. Featuring a number of alterations to the source material, and Moore’s characteristic disinterest, Watchmen didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, earning just over $185 million worldwide against a $130 to 138 million budget. Though the film also received mixed-to-average reviews, I actually prefer the movie to the graphic novel, if I’m being honest. An extended director’s cut and this “Ultimate Cut” of the film were also later released, restoring many excised aspects from the source material and providing, perhaps, the most complete live-action version of Watchmen we’re ever likely to get.

The Review:
Though not the first scene of the film, Watchmen features perhaps one of the most striking and effective introductions to its fictional world in all of cinema; set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, Snyder masterfully condenses some of the denser, more subtle, arguably inconsequential, complex, and intricate side plots and world-building moments of the comic book into one impressive montage which takes us through the early days of the colourful Minutemen and through to the intricacies of this decidedly alternative version of the world, where wars and monumental moments in human history were noticeably different thanks to the presence and influences of costumed heroes, all the way up to the debut of the Watchmen and the later outlawing of costumed adventurers following President Richard Nixon’s (Robert Wisden) unprecedented third term.

The Comedian is a despicable excuse for a human who chooses to laugh at life’s flaws.

Of course, the catalyst for the entire film’s events is the murder of Edward Blake, the Comedian. When we first meet Blake, he’s an aged shell of his former self; living alone in an apartment filled with mementos of a life-time of war and conflict, he is both taken off-guard and bitterly unsurprised when he is suddenly and violently attacked in his own home. Unlike in the comic, where this was a decidedly simple and one-sided affair, this first action scene best showcases the dramatic license Snyder takes with the source material by delivering a bloody, violent, elaborately stylised beatdown in which the combatants are almost superhuman and capable of delivering (and taking) incredible punishment and smashing through objects (and even human bones) with their bare hands. “Stylistic” is a great word to describe Snyder’s Watchmen, which dials up the subdued presentation of the comic book to eleven, both paying homage to Gibbons’ artwork and updating the static panels into incredibly elaborate and visceral.

Rorschach is a brutal, uncompromising, and inherently flawed protagonist.

As the sole remaining unlicensed costumed vigilante, Rorschach investigates out of a sense of duty and obligation; while many characters are aesthetically or motivationally altered in some way, big or small, for better and for worse, Rorschach remains extremely faithful to his depiction in the comic. His gravely, monotone voice accompanies many of his scenes, and others, and forms a loose, distorted narration of events and he is, essentially, the closest thing we have to a main character and is our main source of exposition into this vastly different world. Gritty, uncompromising, and paranoid, Rorschach is as crazy as he is dedicated to staying active, even though no one, even former allies of his, really like him all that much.

Dreiberg is a far more assertive, but no less regretful, character.

Speaking of which, the first person Rorschach goes to when he discovers the Comedian has been killed is his former partner and the closest thing he has to a friend, Daniel Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Wilson); in the comics, Dreiberg was an awkward, unassertive, meek fellow who, for all his former glory, pretty much allowed anyone and everyone to walk over him and take advantage of him. Here, he’s still a shell of his former self and full of both regrets and doubt, but he’s far more assertive; while sympathetic to Rorschach’s condition and respectful of their former crimefighting days to give him the time of day where others wouldn’t, he’s far less patient of Rorschach’s accusations and attitude and far more willing to stand up for himself. In the end, his humility comes from his pining for Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Åkerman) and a deep-rooted longing for the thrill of his days as a costumed adventurer.

Laurie’s aggression stems from her troubled childhood and relationships.

Rorschach remarks that Dreiberg is “hiding in plain sight” and this is a recurring theme throughout Watchmen; every character wears a mask, whether literal (like Rorschach’s beautifully realised, ever shifting covering) or metaphorical and they’re all hiding something, whether it be their true intentions or their true feelings. Laurie is one of the most complex characters in that regard; aggressive, repressed, and out-spoken, Laurie has no time for Rorschach’s accusations and hostile nature and is emotionally and mentally strained thanks to her tumultuous relationship with her mother, Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), and Doctor Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan (Crudup). Most of her issues stem from unresolved and half-remembered memories of her childhood; forced into super heroics by her mother, Laurie was obligated to live a life she didn’t necessarily want and constantly struggled with both her mother’s expectations and the reprehensible actions of Blake, who attempted to rape her mother back in the day.

Veidt was one of the first to see the destructive path humanity was seemingly doomed to walk.

Of course, another character who is hiding in plain sight (and behind a multitude of metaphorical masks) is Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Goode), a man whom Rorschach both respects for his intellect and physical ability but is also somewhat disgusted by since Veidt was one of the first to not only quit his adventuring ways but also shamelessly profit from it. Goode, despite perhaps looking maybe too young for the role, portrays Veidt as a smooth, confident, and wealthy businessman and aristocrat who openly speaks of both his past and his desire to steer the world towards a greater purpose other than warfare and conflict. Veidt plays this public role perfectly, appearing to be just as much of a victim as any of the other Watchmen, and concerned only with the welfare of humanity through his business and critical work with Dr. Manhattan.

Despite his God-like powers, Dr. Manhattan has grown increasingly distant from humanity.

Speaking of Dr. Manhattan, Osterman is primarily regarded as the sole thing keeping the United States and Russia from engaging in all-out nuclear conflict; an ethereal, God-like character, Dr. Manhattan is the only character in the film to exhibit actual, tangible superpowers and, as if to compensate for this, has been gifted with a vast and seemingly limitless array of abilities, from teleportation, to nigh-immortality, to the ability to manipulate atoms in any way he desires, and a skewed perspective of time. Dr. Manhattan’s unique ability to perceive past, present, and future simultaneously and his extensive abilities have made him more and more detached from humanity, specifically Laurie; despite him assisting Veidt in conceiving of a clean, renewable energy source to unite the world, Dr. Manhattan has little care for the intricacies of mortals and his increasing detachment is a pivotal plot point of the film. Dr. Manhattan is superbly realised in the film thanks to CGI emphasising his otherworldly magnetism; in a film where costume design and aesthetics are impressive from start to finish, Dr. Manhattan naturally stands out and not just because his wang is out half the time; he’s literally a God among men and is portrayed as such throughout.

Watchmen‘s unique visual storytelling emphasises its complex themes of humanity and identity.

Watchmen is, at its core, a murder mystery story that is as much about commenting on society, humanity, and our various failings as it is about exploring the nature of superheroes; as in the comic, every character in the film is flawed, broken even, and is detached from reality in some way. Veidt sees himself as above it all on an intellectual level; Blake believed he was above it since he chose to cynically mock the state of society; Dreiberg chooses to hide from the conflict, and his true self; Laurie is in constant denial about her past and feels suffocated by it; Rorschach has completely abandoned all pretense of his life outside of his mask; and Dr. Manhattan has become completely disinterested and disillusioned in the petty squabbles of humanity. Though Snyder expands upon this narrative with an abundance of gore, expletives, and dramatic visual excess, it still forms the central backbone of the narrative and is just as interesting to follow, if not more so thanks to Snyder’s flair for style.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned earlier that there are numerous alterations to the source material; when I first saw the movie, I applauded this as I found the comic to be quite dense and slow and not the most visually interesting tale. Though I have grown to appreciate the influence and nuance of the comic book, I still prefer the film as Snyder’s attention to detail, stylistic choices, and the epic quality of the film make it far more interesting and engaging for me. Of course, one of the major changes Snyder made was to dramatically elaborate upon the few fight scenes of the comic book; fights are now heavily choreographed, greatly stylised sequences featuring an abundance of slow motion, blood, and violence. Characters exhibit near-superhuman levels of strength and durability, which goes against the purposely grounded nature of the source material, but I can forgive this as it lends a level of spectacle and gratuity to the film that not only appeals to me and my baser instincts but also, I would argue, makes the film and the story more accessible to a wider audience.

Watchmen‘s costume design and aesthetic choices are absolutely top-notch.

Plus, it’s not as if the base themes of Moore’s original story aren’t still present; if anything, they’re more explicit than ever thanks to Snyder’s decidedly unsubtle style of filmmaking and, yet, the film still replicates many of the slower, more subtle and nuanced character moments from the source material. Snyder’s attention to detail is absolutely flawless; every scene is crammed full of faithful recreations of the comic book and the lengths he went to replicate the costumes and aesthetics of Gibbons’ artwork is impressive. At the same time, Snyder uses the film as an opportunity to comment on and reference the many years of superhero cinema just as Moore paid homage to a bygone era of comics books; as a result, Nite Owl’s costume is a heavily armoured homage to the various Batsuits, Silk Spectre is literally poured into a super sexy leather number (as was the style of the early 2000s), and Ozymandias is purposely decked out in rubber armour reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s Batsuits (it even has the much-maligned nipples). While I can understand people getting a bit upset about some of these changes as they seem superfluous in some ways, I honestly thought it really worked and helped emphasise the film’s extravagant aesthetic style.

Snyder’s attention to detail and fidelity is astounding, especially in the Ultimate Cut.

Continuing on the theme of attention to detail, Snyder includes, or straight-up adapts, entire sub-plots and story beats from the source material that, one could argue, others might have cut for time; as a result, we get a startlingly brutal recreation of Rorschach’s time in prison, therapy sessions, and character-defining moments as well as a great deal of time spent exploring Dr. Manhattan’s time on Mars, his origin, and his subsequent heart-to-heart with Laurie. This means that, rather than only paying lip service to what makes these characters tick or briefly touching upon it (or removing it entirely), Snyder is able to properly delve into the psychology of his versions of these characters through his distinct visual style. Even in the Ultimate Cut, which is unquestioningly the most definitive version of the film you’ll ever watch, some concessions had to be made, though; the most obvious of these is that Snyder is completely focused on the current story of the Watchmen rather than exploring the intricacies of their predecessors, the Minutemen, but, even then, this extended version goes to the trouble of including the tragic fate of Hollis Mason/Nite Owl (Stephen McHattie).

The allegorical Black Freighter story is interspersed throughout the Ultimate Cut.

Watching the Ultimate Cut of the film also means that the main story is interlaced with an allegorical side story, Tales of the Black Freighter (DelPurgatorio, 2009), at key moments; originally excised from the main film and released as a separate feature on home media, Tales of the Black Freighter has been largely restored to serve much the same purpose as in the comic book. The side story, which is told in startling gory animated sequences, follows a shipwrecked sea captain (Gerard Butler) who is driven to madness and obsession following a disastrous encounter with the demonic Black Freighter. Desperate to get back home to his wife and children and to warn his hometown of the freighter’s threat, he ultimately becomes the very monster he is trying to fight against when he unwittingly bludgeons his family in a fit of madness. As in the original comic book, Tales of the Black Freighter acts as an allegory for Veidt’s despicable actions and the story of Watchmen in general, with its themes of obsession and performing unspeakable acts in the name of good though, while I enjoy the animated version far more than its comic book counterpart, I can see why it was omitted from the original film as these themes are, by the very nature of Watchmen’s narrative, largely explicit regardless.

I was honestly okay with the changes to the story and ending, especially as they made contextual sense.

Of course, the big twist is that Veidt is actually behind everything, literally “hiding in plain sight”; though the execution of his plan to save humanity significantly differs from the source material, his motivations remain largely the same (having predicted the downfall of society, the inevitability of war, and the limitations of fossil fuels, Veidt engineers an elaborate and complex plan to fool the world into unifying against a common enemy). A big source of contention was Snyder’s decision to omit the iconic giant squid that Veidt genetically engineered to fool humanity into believing in an impending and ominous alien threat. While I really admired how the Watchmen television series (2019) managed to pull this grotesque creation off, I never really minded all that much that the squid was missing from the film. Not only is there a cheeky reference to it (Veidt’s machine is called a “Sub Quantum Unified Intrinsic field Device”) but the idea of Veidt replicating Dr. Manhattan’s powers and then attacking multiple cities across the world, rather than just New York City, and pinning it all on Jon actually makes far more sense and keeps the film from wasting time in explaining and setting up the squid. Could they have done that? Sure, and probably pretty easily, but, while it’s disappointing to not have the image of the squid’s bloodied and gruesome corpse draped throughout Times Square, I can live without it if it makes sense in the context of the narrative and, thanks to how prevalent Jon’s fragile grip on humanity is to Watchmen’s story, I would argue that it does.

The Summary:
It’s probably sacrilegious to say it but I still prefer the movie version of Watchmen over the comic book; while my appreciation for the source material has grown, especially after re-reading it recently, it was only after watching the movie that I actually became interested in the concept. Sure, it might be very different from the source material in a lot of ways but I’m okay with that because everything looks so slick and stylish and has a real cinematic grandeur to it. While Snyder’s unique cinematic style may not be for everyone, and it’s probably still seen as somewhat blasphemous that he stripped most of the subtlety and nuance from Watchmen, it really works for me and results in a bold, striking, and aesthetically pleasing superhero film that is truly unique among the genre.

I find Watchmen far more visually striking and engaging than the source material, to be honest.

I feel what really makes Watchmen work is how accessible Snyder makes the source material; I can definitely say that it’s probably best to watch the film first and then explore the graphic novel and see if it’s just as appealing to you. Die-hard fans of the comic may have been annoyed and insulted by Snyder’s creative license but I wanted to see a gory, thought-provoking, and visually entertaining film and that’s exactly what Watchmen delivers. Watchmen delves into a completely different side of the superhero genre while paying homage to it through fantastic costume design, brutal action sequences, and an engaging narrative and the Ultimate Cut goes one step even further to deliver extended scenes that further expand this unique world and incorporating an allegorical tale to the main plot to provide the definitive Watchmen experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

So, what do you think about Watchmen? Were you a fan of the graphic novel before seeing the film or did you, like me, gain a deeper appreciation for the source material after watching the film? Which version of the film do you prefer, the theatrical, director, or ultimate cut and why? How do you feel about Snyder’s visual and filmic style and the alterations he made to the text? Which of the titular Watchmen is your favourite and why and how do you feel about their costumes and characterisations in the film? Did you enjoy the animated Black Freighter segments, or do you feel they distracted from the already bloated narrative? Would you like to see a new adaptation of Watchmen, one perhaps even closer to the source material, and, if so, who would you cast in the various roles? No matter what you think about Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, feel free to leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for more Watchmen content!

Back Issues [Watchmen Wednesday]: Watchmen


To celebrate the fact that I finally got around to reading Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), DC Comic’s official sequel to the seminal Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987), I’m dedicating every Wednesday of this month to Alan Moore’s influential maxiseries.


The Introduction:
Usually, my Back Issues articles are a little more relaxed and sort of like informal mini-essays and musings about single issues or limited runs but Watchmen is going to need a little bit more than that, I fear. I’ve written about Watchmen before, specifically as part of my Master’s dissertation, and it’s no small feat; the maxiseries has been picked apart, scrutinised, and analysed perhaps more than any other comic book or graphic novel thanks to it inspiring “the evolution of comics into ‘graphic novels’. [Ironically,] the creators hoped literally to deconstruct the superhero genre and break its stranglehold on the American industry, but in fact tightened the grip” (Newman, 2009). Watchmen is typically the first, and finest, example of the literary worth of comic books, looming “over the [genre] like the Colossus over Rhodes” (Douthat, 2009: 50), and was not only “chosen as one of the Greatest One Hundred Novels in English from 1923 to 2005” (Shephard, 2009: 213) but also long regarded as unsuitable for other mediums.

So, because of all that, and more, this is easily the most complex edition of Back Issues I’ve had to put together so I think it’s only fair to expand upon my usual format in order to best delve into the intricacies and layers of Watchmen.

Published: September 1986 to October 1987
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons

The Background:
Published between September 1986 and October 1987, Watchmen was the brainchild of noted comic book writer Alan Moore; Moore, who was born just down the road from me in Northampton, had achieved much success in his home country with V for Vendetta (Moore, et al, 1982 to 1989) and at DC Comics thanks to his groundbreaking work on The Saga of Swamp Thing and, after DC acquired the rights to Charlton Comics characters, devised a murder mystery scenario that would star such Silver Age characters as Vic Sage/The Question and Ted Kord/Blue Beetle.

With the Charlton characters off limits, Moore and Gibbons created their own.

Although DC managing director Dick Giordano was receptive to Moore’s premise, he denied the use of the Charlton characters so as not to damage their reception when they were folded into the main DC Comics lore so Moore collaborated with artist Dave Gibbons to reimagine the concept with an entirely new cast of characters. Lacking the usual advertisements and attractive cover designs (Reynolds, 1992: 108-109), Watchmen incorporated a sophisticated adult narrative in which Moore explored new avenues of the superhero genre; Moore sought to subvert the usual expectations of comic book heroes, grounding them in reality (for the most part), and tackling the genre with a serious, contemplative direction.

To Moore’s dismay, Watchmen proved to be a massive and influential success.

Filled with dense imagery and complex themes, and despite several delays, Watchmen was a critical and commercial success; it’s still the only graphic novel to make Time magazine’s 2005 list of “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” and DC have long pursued Moore to produce prequels, sequels, and other spin-offs of his seminal work. Despite Watchmen’s success, though, and DC going ahead with these aforementioned continuations and licensing numerous adaptations of Watchmen, even officially folding it into mainstream DC continuity in 2017, Moore has publically distanced himself from DC’s ventures and even refused to have his name associated with Zack Snyder’s live-action adaptation and the HBO limited series.

The Plot:
Rather than portray super-powered heroes, Watchmen focuses on middle-aged, mostly retired, ordinary people and, with one exception, poses the question: “What if superheroes were real?” and its influence on the genre resonated for decades thanks to its stringent focus on dark realism and increasingly complex, adult themes. Watchmen takes place in an alternative version of 1985 where, because of the presence of superheroes in the 1940s and 1960s, the United States won the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon remains as the President of the United States, and the world stands on the brink of all-out nuclear war thanks to rising tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Amidst this bleak alternate reality, Watchmen retains the murder mystery plot Moore originally conceived; the story begins with Edward Blake/The Comedian, one of the few government-sponsored vigilantes still active after vigilantism was outlawed, being hurled to his death. Walter Kovacs/Rorschach, who stubbornly refuses to retire or compromise to any authority, investigates the murder and uncovers what he believes to be a plot to kill off former “masks” but, in attempting to get to the bottom of the mystery and warn his fellow former costumed heroes, stumbles into a plot to cause near-genocide.

Costumed adventurers were commonplace in Watchmen‘s version of the 1940s.

Throughout its twelve issue run, Watchmen alternates between this plot, weaving in numerous side plots and supplementary materials, and exploring the origins of our main characters and the legacy they continue. As a result, the narrative constantly shifts between the present day and the Golden Age of superheroics in America, when ordinary civilians, former wrestlers, and cops took to wearing garish costumes and fighting crime as the Minutemen of the 1940s. Age, however, inevitably caught up with the Minutemen and they either died, quietly (or publically) retired, or disappeared from the spotlight as a new generation of costumed adventurers, the Crimebusters, came to prominence in the 1960s.

The vigilantes of the 1960s were eventually forced to retire from action.

Unlike their predecessors, however, the Crimebusters were forced to retire by the 1977 Keene Act, with only Rorschach defying this law and government-sponsored operatives like the Comedian and the God-like Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan remaining active. Because of the abundance of real-life costumed heroes, and the general disdain of vigilante activities, the world and society is a very different place; comic books retain pulp stories such as horror and pirate tales and there is a bleak feeling of desolation and despair in the general public despite all of the technological advances brought to the world by Dr. Manhattan’s awesome power and the ingenuity of the self-proclaimed “World’s Smartest Man” Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias thanks to Manhattan’s mere presence stunting the aspirations of mankind (to say nothing of the looming threat of nuclear war).

The Characters:
Watchmen’s characters, though inspired by numerous classic Charlton Comics superheroes, contain a deep inter- and metatextual insight into the world around us as it is and could be, subverting comic book expectations by portraying flawed heroes who are confused, struggling to define their identities, and quite capable of failing, being seriously injured, or dying, and is a story unbound from mainstream DC continuity. Moore does not have to be concerned about ostracising an iconic character like Clark Kent/Superman from the rest of humanity, for instance, meaning Doctor Manhattan is free to have a complete character arc in one standalone text. In addition, “the superheroes of Watchmen also lack any supervillains to measure themselves against. They are forced to confront more intangible moral and social concerns” (Reynolds, 1992: 115); Watchmen also forgoes the need to trawl through back issues researching each character because exposition is incorporated within each chapter and made readily available throughout. This affords Watchmen many advantages not readily available to other comic books (or their adaptations), with the most obvious being that it brings the constantly malleable comic book medium closer to the static preservation of the literary novel: “With its array of carefully crafted oddballs and interconnected plot lines, [Watchmen] reads like a superhero story filtered through Dickens […] aimed at flaws in the era’s comic books: unchallenging narratives, flat characters, simplistic morality” (Suderman, 2009). Conversely, Watchmen also carries limitations; essentially, Moore had to secure an emotional attachment with the reader without being able to rely on a character’s proven popularity as one could with Superman, for example.  

Rorschach is the closest thing Watchmen has to a main character.

For the most part, despite its large ensemble cast, Watchmen is told through the eyes and narration of Rorschach, a brutal and uncompromising vigilante who was heavily influenced by the Question, Rex Garine/Mr. A, and Bruce Wayne/Batman’s more aggressive style of vigilante justice. Indeed, Rorschach has largely been regarded as Watchmen’s most iconic and popular character but Moore rejected the idea that a character as extreme, uncompromising, and right-wing as Rorschach should be idolised: “You’re not going to have any friends because you’re going to be crazy and obsessive and dangerous and frightening” (Reynolds, quoting Moore, 2005: 117). Watchmen contains numerous other characters commenting on Rorschach’s questionable methods, mentality, and sanity; he’s given a distinctive, gravely, monotone voice (one of only two characters to have their own unique speech bubbles), is generally regarded as being rather pungent, to say the least, and doesn’t hesitate to torture or kill in order to advance his never-ending crusade.

Steve Ditko’s Mr. A and The Question were influences in Rorschach’s development.

Aesthetically, Rorschach takes on the suit-and-fedora combination of a cynical noir detective (circa-1950), appearing a lot closer to his closest Charlton counterpart, the Question, than Moore’s other characters. Even their masks are similar, with both the Question and Mr. A hiding behind blank, expressionless visages and Rorschach’s entire individuality expressed through a mimetically shifting inkblot mask (a face-obscuring impediment that uniquely portrays his shifting emotions through a variety of constantly shifting patterns). However, Rorschach’s aesthetic similarity with the Question clouds the definition of Rorschach’s character considerably. Certainly, his semi-psychotic personality and unnerving grasp of his duel identities make him a character unique in his own right (while the Question could be more ruthless than other heroes of the Silver Age, Rorschach’s willingness to bludgeon criminals places him more in the vein of the darker anti-hero birthed around the time of Watchmen’s publication). Additionally, Rorschach’s psychosis stems so far that he considers his masked persona to be his “true face”, while his counterparts easily slipped in and out of their duel identities.

Rorschach is a borderline psychopath but…he gets results!

It could be argued that Rorschach’s aesthetic is a question of homage, perhaps sincere respect for a peer’s work, and a simple case of cultural influence (rather than plagiarism justified by some extreme characterisation and the bleakness of Watchmen’s context) but Rorschach also adopts filmic conventions of the hardboiled noir detective, comic book conventions of the mysterious masked vigilante, and realistic issues concerning identity and purpose, inviting (if not forcing) the reader to look at themselves and the world around them differently. Since “[Watchmen] originated […] as a way of ‘using up’ third-tier characters — Blue Beetle, Captain Atom etc — that [DC] had picked up along with the defunct Charlton company” (Newman, 2009), Moore incorporated those familiar designs into these relatively obscure characters and reinterpreted them into his fictional world in order to depict just how psychologically broken a vigilante would be in real life: “You’re probably going to be too obsessed with your vendetta to bother about things like eating or washing or tidying your room because what have they got to do with the War Against Crime?” (Reynolds, quoting Moore, 2005: 117). Rorschach believes that beating, maiming, and killing criminals will bring about change within society and, as Moore’s template for a real-world vigilante, tells us that society is tainted, corrupted, and poisoned, and that to fight against such vices one must be as uncompromising as possible in the service of justice.

Dreiberg put his wealth into his costumed activities, building a number of cool gadgets and tools.

Honestly, I could focus my entire analysis of Watchmen on Rorschach alone but he’s not the only character in the series; in the past, when he was slightly less unhinged, Rorschach worked side-by-side with Daniel Dreiberg/Nite Owl, a character based heavily on Blue Beetle and who also has more than a little influence from Batman in him. Having inherited a modest amount of wealth, Dan put his resources towards continuing the legacy of Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl and costumed adventurer, buying up numerous properties, designing useful gadgets like night vision goggles and Rorschach’s grapple hook, and even building himself his own Batcave (the “Owl’s Nest”) and a military-grade airship, Archimedes.

Dreiberg is a shell of his former self and is reinvigorated by donning his outfit once more.

Nite Owl exemplifies the neutered, powerlessness of Watchmen’s once-lauded costumed heroes; having developed a paunch and a largely lethargic attitude in his retirement, Dreiberg is as pragmatic and realistic as Rorschach is cynical and uncompromising. Surrounded by the dusty relics of his once colourful life, Dreiberg is a man living in a limbo between the past and the future, literally and figuratively made impotent by the changing state of society. Indeed, it’s only when he finally reassumes the role of Nite Owl that Dreiberg finally awakens from his apathy, immediately becoming a more physically and mentally competent character who is morally disgusted by the plot he and Rorschach uncover.

Laurie is happy to have left behind her costumed ways if only to spite her mother.

The only female member of the Crimebusters, Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre is an angry and repressed woman who was forced into the life of a costumed adventurer from birth by her oppressive and controlled mother, Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre and former member of the original Minutemen. As a result, like many children forced to live their parents’ broken dreams, Laurie carries a lot of repressed emotions and resentment within her; she is the only one of the Crimebusters to be grateful at being forced into retirement but finds herself little more than token baggage due to her relationship with Dr. Manhattan being the last remaining thing keeping the God-like figure invested in America’s interests.

A tortured character, Laurie is able to influence the fate to humanity…but all too late.

Laurie’s boiling emotions and feelings of repression and resentment also stem from her utter disgust and rage at the knowledge that the Comedian once tried to rape her mother and the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather. Though she similarly detests Rorschach, she finds comfort in the presence of Dreiberg, who offers her a sympathetic ear and the attention and respect she so craves. Eventually, she is able to reawaken his passion not just sexually but for life in general and they come to help each other rediscover the thrill of being costumed heroes…sadly, this comes right as the world teeters on the razor’s edge of full-scale nuclear war.

A freak accident bestows Jon with God-like powers and shifts his perception of time.

This is primarily due to the sudden self-imposed exile of Dr. Manhattan to Mars; once a simple, unassuming scientist, Jon Osterman was caught in an “intrinsic field” and ripped apart atom by atom only to reassemble himself into a glowing blue figure who perceives past, present, and future simultaneously can manipulate, create, and transfigure matter in any way imaginable. Effectively a God-like figure, the mere presence of Dr. Manhattan is enough to bring the Vietnam War to an end and to keep the Russians in check as a living nuclear deterrent.

Dr. Manhattan grows increasingly detached from, and apathetic towards, humanity.

However, Dr. Manhattan’s higher state of being eventually renders him emotionally closed off to humanity; able to perceive the future but unable to change it, he describes himself as a puppet who can “see the strings” and comes to regard humanity as a squabbling, self-destructive speck in the grand scheme of the universe. Laurie remains his sole link to his humanity and, when his increasingly detached mentality creates distance between them and he is bombarded with allegations of causing terminal cancer in those nearest to him, he exiles himself to Mars and seems poised to abandon humanity to their fate in order to focus on the chaotic beauty of the universe.

A God literally walks the Earth and still the world continues to be self-destructive.

While the costumed adventurers of Watchmen exhibit considerable physical ability, none of them are inherently superhuman save for Dr. Manhattan; able to teleport, alter his size, and transfigure atoms, Dr. Manhattan is a literal God walking amongst mortals and his arrival spells the end not only for all-out war against the U.S. but the majority of human achievement, too. His abilities mean that environmentally-damaging fossil fuels will soon become a thing of the past and he is generally heralded as rendering usual notions of costumed heroics completely redundant. Yet, the world still spins and teeters on the edge of global meltdown; the public, initially in awe of Dr. Manhattan, eventually learn to simply co-exist alongside him and take him for granted, meaning that the entire world is sent into a mess of confusion and worry when he suddenly teleports away to Mars.

A reprehensible human being, the Comedian chose to be a sick parody of the joke that is life.

The linchpin of Watchmen is the Comedian; a brutal and violent vigilante who has lived through both generations of costumed heroes, the Comedian is an absolutely reprehensible individual who takes a perverse pleasure in violence, conflict, and war. Blake’s experiences in Vietnam see him killing and torturing countless Vietnamese soldiers (and, he openly admits, children); he even shoots the mother of his unborn child point blank when she scars his face with a shattered glass bottle and delights in bringing his extreme methods to the rioters in the seventies.

As despicable as he was, Blake was clued in enough to see the world was heading for disaster.

Given that the Comedian starts the story little more than a twisted, broken corpse on the streets of New York, much of his story is told through flashbacks and the memories of other characters; an antagonistic individual with a twisted world view, Blake is, nevertheless, the only one of the Crimebusters to recognise that the world is spiralling towards all-out nuclear war and that all of their schoolboy heroics will be rendered meaningless when the world is little more than a burning cinder.

The Comedian’s horrific discovery, and death, kickstart the plot into action.

Still, he catapults the plot into action when, prior to the story’s beginning, he stumbles upon a mysterious, uncharted island and a plot so gruesome and outlandish in its scope that it breaks even his spirit. While few characters mourn his death, the Comedian’s discovery is directly responsible for his murder and for Rorschach’s uncompromising investigation and is the one thing, in all the atrocities he has both witnessed and willingly taken part in, to bring the Comedian to tears of despair.

Veidt, inspired by Alexander the Great, retired from heroics to plot to truly save the world.

His discovery is the private island of Adrian Veidt; Veidt, once the flamboyantly-dressed costumed hero known as Ozymandias, was the only member of the Crimebusters perceptive enough to predict the coming of the Keene Act and to retire two years before vigilantes were outlawed. He then put his incredible intellect and self-made wealth towards building a multimedia empire; he not only publically revealed his identity and capitalised on his popularity with a line of action figures, he also strived to create renewable sources of energy and numerous consumer products, always with the aim of advancing humanity towards a greater destiny.

Veidt concocts an elaborate ruse to fool the world into peace through mass murder.

Modelling himself after Alexander the Great and obsessed with Egyptians, their culture and society, and their fascination with death, Ozymandias came to see that it was only a matter of time before humanity destroyed itself, whether through nuclear war or environmental collapse, and thus began a ten year plan to unite the world in a way so ridiculous that it had to be taken seriously. To that end, he commissions scientists, artists, and writers to duplicate Dr. Manhattan’s teleportation powers and genetically engineer a horrific creature with which he can fool the world into uniting against a common, extraterrestrial foe.

The Themes:
Watchmen is a dense text, perhaps the most intricate and complex comic book series ever published, reading far more like a visual novel than a traditional loud and bombastic, action-packed comic book. One thing that often puts me off about Watchmen is just how intense its narrative can be; with a detailed, intricate, and deliberately unorthodox art style and panel arrangement, and bolstered by numerous supplementary materials, Watchmen is a slow, methodical tale that emphasises a deconstruction of the genre, character exploration, and contemplative themes on the nature of humanity over fight scenes. Indeed, there is very little in the way of action depicted in the comic at all and, when fights do that place, they’re generally a brief and brutal scuffle than emphasises realism over grandiose action sequences.

The morality of good and evil and the nature of the world comes into scrutiny in Watchmen.

Through its intricate exploration of the morality of good and evil and the deconstruction of superhero conventions, Watchmen poses many unique questions regarding what it means to be human (or superhuman) and how best humanity can truly be saved from both anti-social elements such as petty criminals and organised crime and world-ending threats like war and environmental collapse. Rorschach unflinchingly believes that vigilante actions serve a purpose to the safeguarding of society; together with Nite Owl, he brought down many prominent criminal figureheads, thus sparing countless lives from their influence, and, despite his questionable frame of mind and methods, refuses to compromise this belief even in the face of Armageddon. The Comedian, meanwhile, while sharing Rorschach’s penchant for brutality, views all life as one big, cruel joke and Veidt’s master plan as the ultimate joke, one which would spell an end to his lifetime of conflict, while Dr. Manhattan engages in superheroics simply because he is asked to by the government and takes little to no pleasure in it, or much of anything for that matter, eventually becoming a superman who cares little for the defending out-dated ideals like Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

Watchmen‘s bleak world is populated by numerous supporting characters.

Peppered throughout Watchmen are a number of side plots and supporting characters, all of whom offer differing perspectives on Moore’s world and the politics and costumed individuals who inhabit it. One of the most prominent is Bernard, a widowed newsvendor who offers commentary on the mounting tensions between America and Russia; selling tabloids and magazines with an affable charm, Bernard interacts with many of the other side and main characters without even realising it and represents the “man on the street” throughout Watchmen. Another prominent character is Malcolm Long, a psychiatrist who is given the unenviable task of psychoanalysing Rorschach after the vigilante is arrested; though initially excited at the prospect of working with such a prominent individual, Rorschach’s unflinching and unsettling demeanour deeply disturb Malcolm and lead to a breakdown of his marriage as he slowly becomes obsessed with Rorschach’s twisted perspective on life. Yet, despite this, both Malcolm and Bernard (and other side characters) come together to help break up a fight in the streets; ironically, though, this brief flash of the inherently good nature of humanity comes right as Veidt triggers his horrific master plan to “save” the world.

Veidt cleverly orchestrates events to ensure his horrific plan cannot be stopped.

It is through Veidt that Watchmen so openly deconstructs pre-conceived notions of superheroes; rather than take to the streets and work his way up the food chain of various criminal elements like the likes of Rorschach, Veidt prefers to tackle the route of not only that problem but the problems of the world as logically and directly as possible. While Nite Owl and Rorschach muse that Ozymandias has gone insane, his motivations are meticulously thought out, premeditated, and planned to minute detail; worst of all is that, despite how extreme his plan is, it has an undeniable logic behind it and, most disturbing of all, is that it actually works! Going completely against type, Ozymandias initiates his plan thirty-five minutes before Nite Owl and Rorschach attempt to stop him, meaning he can monologue about his motivations and justify his actions as much as he likes as his grotesque squid-like creature has already devastated New York.

As ridiculous as the squid is, Veidt’s plan works and only Rorshach refuses to play along.

As ridiculous as this squid appears, the seeds for its appearance are sown all throughout Watchmen, as are the hints towards Veidt’s involvement; every panel is packed with details, nuances, and foreshadowing towards not just this ending but also the nature of the comic’s various characters and sub-plots, all-but-demanding repeated reads in order to see how masterfully Moore and Gibbons build towards this gruesome conclusion. Every now and then, the narrative shifts to Veidt’s island where we see characters discuss their work on the creature and even sketch a picture of it and its violent appearance in New York does exactly what Veidt set out to achieve; in the face of such a terrifying mutual enemy, all hostilities between the U.S. and Russia immediately end and an era of worldwide unity and peace is ushered in as humanity makes every effort to fortify their defences against Veidt’s perfectly-orchestrated deception. The only character who refuses to keep Veidt’s terrible secret for the sake of world peace is Rorschach, who literally gives his life for his uncompromising moral integrity and yet still threatens to topple Veidt’s utopia after leaving his tell-all journal in the hands of his preferred tabloid, the New Frontiersman.

Watchmen contains an allegorical story-within-a-story.

Perhaps the most prominent side story in Watchmen is “Marooned”, a story within the pulp pirate comic book Tales of the Black Freighter; read by a young boy who frequents Bernard’s newsstand (and who is also called Bernard, indicating the commonalities people can have, however small and seemingly inconsequential or coincidental). “Marooned” depicts a sea captain who is left the sole survivor after his ship is destroyed and his crew killed by the titular Black Freighter, a ghost ship of sorts filled with malevolent spirits. Driven half-bad from hunger, isolation, and paranoia, the sea captain fashions a gruesome raft out of the bloated corpses of his men and the remains of his ship, and endures ravenous seagulls and even sharks in his obsessive quest to return to his family and beloved home of Davidstown. 

“Marooned” parallels Veidt’s skewed motivations and Watchmen‘s themes of obsession.

Upon arrival, though, he finds that the Black Freighter has beaten him there, its ghoulish occupants threatening his family and townsfolk, so he resolves to attack and murder them with little hesitation in order to protect his wife and children. However, in that moment, he realises that Davidstown is unmolested, that he has killed both an innocent couple and his wife, and that he is the true monster of Davidstown. Resigned to his fate, he willingly swims out to board the Black Freighter and take his place amongst his own kind. Initially somewhat jarring in its inclusion, “Marooned” directly parallels the story of Veidt’s unwavering obsession with committing unspeakable acts for the greater good and is a subtle allegory towards many of the other stories and themes seen in Watchmen, particularly those revolving around blind obsession and distorted perspectives on morality.

The Summary:
Even after all these years, Watchmen continues to be a commendable piece of fiction; by subverting and challenging the norms of both superheroes and comic books, Watchmen tells an intricately-crafted, methodical examination of the genre in a way that is gritty, mature, and entirely relatable. Forgoing bombastic comic action for introspective and unapologetically bleak deconstructions of clichés such as the faultless superhuman and the colourful costumed characters we’ve come to expect from comic books, Watchmen is extremely heavy-handed with its themes of obsession and musings on the morality between good and evil in the face of worldwide conflict.

It took a while but DC eventually produced numerous Watchmen continuations.

Watchmen is, honestly, a bit of a paradox in that it’s not for everyone but anyone who is a fan of comic books should really take the time to read it to see just what the medium is capable of. Largely considered unfilmable for years, Watchmen has nevertheless been adapted into a live-action feature, an award winning HBO series, and even a pretty simple videogame but, if you’re one of the many who sympathise with Moore’s abhorrence for adaptations of his work or don’t really have the time of patience to tackle this admittedly-dense text, you can always fall back on the excellently produced motion comic (Hughes, 2008 to 2009) which is easily the most faithful adaptation of Watchmen.

It’s not for everyone but you can’t deny the importance and impact of Watchmen.

Still, I would recommend giving Watchmen a read; while I initially didn’t much care for it and preferred the movie (and, truthfully, I still do), I have come to appreciate it much more over the years for its intricate detail and subtle nuance. Moore may dislike people popularising Rorschach but he’s a fascinating character and easily the most interesting and complex of the comic’s varied and multifaceted original characters and, similarly, Dr. Manhattan is a startling glimpse at what it could mean should an all-powerful superhuman like Superman grow tired and apathetic towards humanity. Watchmen’s depiction of society’s reaction towards costumed heroes continues to be relevant and influential to this day and the comic inspired a wave of introspective, mature takes on the genre and changed the industry forever by actually taking comic books, and superheroes, seriously and propelling them into mainstream attention in a way that had never been done before.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

How do you feel about Watchmen? Did you read it when it was originally published in its twelve issue run or did you first discover it as a graphic novel? Which of Moore’s original characters do you find the most, or least, compelling and why? What do you think of Watchmen’s methodical pace and heavy-handed themes? Perhaps you feel it’s a bit too impenetrable and overhyped; if so, why? Would you like to see a version of the story told with the Charlton Comics characters as Moore originally intended? What did you think to the comic’s sudden and dramatic ending? Did you care for Watchmen’s numerous sequels, prequels, and adaptations; if so, which was your favourite and, if not, why is that and what do you think about Moore’s attitude towards adaptations of his work? Whatever your thoughts about Watchmen, feel free to leave a comment below and pop back next Wednesday for my review of Zack Snyder’s big screen adaptation.

10 FTW: Comic Book Crossovers We Need To See

If there’s one thing comic books allow, it’s the grandiose crossover between characters. Ever since Barry Allen met Jay Garrick all the way back in 1961 and introduced the idea of multiple parallel universes, comic book characters have existed in both isolated shared universes and travelled across a near infinite multiverse. However, while it’s relatively common to see Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman interact with the Justice League or the Teen Titans, or to have Peter Parker/Spider-Man randomly join forces with the Fantastic Four or the X-Men, we’ve also seen the characters of DC and Marvel Comics interact with each other. We’ve seen Superman and Batman both cross paths with Spider-Man, the X-Men team with the New Teen Titans, and both publishers’ greatest heroes go head-to-head in the epic DC Versus Marvel Comics (Marz and David, et al, 1996) crossover.

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There have been some weird crossovers in comics.

In addition, Dark Horse Comics snapped up multiple science-fiction and horror film franchises, giving us crossovers such as RoboCop Versus The Terminator (Miller, et al, 1992) and a whole slew of Aliens vs. Predator (Various, 1989 to present) comics. It doesn’t end there, either; we’ve seen Batman cross paths with Judge Dredd on multiple times and Frank Castle/The Punisher team up with not only Eminem but also pop up in Archie Comics, and it was thanks to such comic book crossovers that we finally got to see the three-way mash-up between Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Ash Williams! Yet, as many and varied and seemingly limitless as these crossovers can be, it seems like we’ve missed out on a few seemingly-obvious crossovers. Maybe it’s because of licensing issues or the fact that DC and Marvel Comics don’t tend to do a lot of business together lately, but, either way, I figured I’d talk about ten crossovers I’d love to see in comic books.

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10 Justice Society/Watchmen

After DC Comics finally put an end to the largely-awful New 52 run, they teased Alan Moore’s seminal work, Watchmen (ibid, et al, 1986 to 1987), becoming part of DC canon when Edward Blake/The Comedian’s iconic smiley-face button turned up in the Batcave. Cue the extremely delayed publication schedule of Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), a storyline that revealed that Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan had been influencing DC canon for decades. While this, obviously, brought the characters of Watchmen (or, at least, versions of them) into conflict with Superman, Batman, and other versions of the Justice League, it’s the older, more seasoned members of the Justice Society of America (JSA) I’d like to see have extended interactions with the Crimebusters.

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A battle between these two could destroy realities, much less worlds!

The JSA were at their peak around the time of World War Two, meaning they are decidedly more optimistic and pragmatic about their approach to crimefighting. The Crimebusters, meanwhile, existed in a largely dystopian version of the 1980s that was pretty bleak and constantly on the verge of another World War, meaning this team up could produce an interesting clash of styles and philosophies that would probably be more in keeping with Moore’s more reflective text rather than an all-out brawl. Plus, who doesn’t want to see who would win a battle between Jim Corrigan/The Spectre and Doctor Manhattan?

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9 Pulp Heroes United

Before Batman and Superman, there were the pulp heroes of the 1930s to 1950s. Names like the Phantom, the Shadow, the Spirit, the Rocketeer, and Green Hornet may have faded from mainstream relevance in recent years, but they live on thanks to publications from Dynamite Comics and crossovers with DC Comics. Speaking of Dynamite Comics, they came very close to this crossover with their Masks (Various, 2014 to 2016) series, which saw the Shadow teaming up with the Green Hornet and Kato, a version of Zorro, and the Spider but this crossover has so much potential to really pay homage to the heroes of yesteryear. Ideally, such a comprehensive team up would be similar to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Moore, et al, 1999 to 2019) in its scope and legacy; hell, I’d even have the Phantom, the Shadow, the Spirit, the Rocketeer, Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, Doc Savage, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and the rest of their ilk butting heads with the Martians from The War of the Worlds (Wells, 1897) at the turn of the century. A proper sepia-toned, steampunk-filled piece that sees these wildly different pulp heroes begrudgingly working together to save the world could be a great way to thrust these overlooked classic heroes back into the spotlight.

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8 Red Hood/Winter Soldier

If the comic industry was like it was back in the mid-nineties, we would surely have already seen this crossover, which is as obvious and as fitting as the team up between the Punisher and Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael during his brief tenure as Batman. Speaking of which, a team up between Jason Todd/Red Hood and the Punisher is just as enticing but, in terms of thematically complimentary characters, you’re hard pressed to find two more fitting that Jason Todd and Bucky Barnes. Both characters were well-known sidekicks to greater heroes whose deaths shaped, influenced, and affected their mentors for years, and both even returned to life as violent, broken anti-heroes around the same time.

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Jason and Bucky’s deaths weighed heavily on Bat and Cap for years.

Yet, while Bucky has gone on to not only redeem himself and assume the mantle of Captain America (and is largely far more mainstream thanks to his prominent inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Jason Todd has floundered a little bit. It didn’t help that Jason’s resurrection was directly tied to DC’s latest reality-shattering Crisis for years (even though there have since been far less convoluted explanations, and he really should have been Hush all along) but, even ignoring that, Jason’s place is skewed as one minute he’s a sadistic killer, then he’s a violent anti-hero, then he’s wearing the Bat embalm and is an accepted (however begrudgingly) member of the Bat Family. However, both characters have carved a name out for themselves as being willing to go to any lengths to punish the guilty; each has blood on their hands, a butt load of emotional and personal issues, and a degree of augmented strength, speed, and skill thanks to their training or resurrection. While both are similar, Bucky is far more likely to be the bigger man and take the more moral ground, which would be more than enough to emphasise the differences between the two (provided Jason feels like being more antagonistic in this theoretical crossover).

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7 Judge Dredd/RoboCop

It’s no secret that RoboCop exists almost solely because of Judge Dredd; without 2000 A.D.’s no-nonsense lawman, we’d likely never have seen the excellently gore-and-satire-filled sci-fi action that is RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987). While Batman has had more than a few run-ins with Judge Dredd, Detroit’s resident cyborg supercop has yet to meet his cinematic counterpart. The story is so simple is basically writes itself; you could have RoboCop awakened from suspended animation or reactivated after decades of being offline in the war-ravaged dystopia of Mega City One and briefly come into conflict with Dredd.

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Robo might need an upgrade to two to make things even…

I’d wager that RoboCop would be the more likely of the two to be more morally inclined; RoboCop generally operates based on very specific, law-abiding directives (or, depending on the version, his own conscience) that justify violence in service of protecting the innocent. Dredd, meanwhile, is just as likely to arrest victims of crimes as those who perpetrate them and is generally more an example of totalitarianism and uncompromising brutality in the name of the “law!” Yet, just as Dredd and Batman were able to work together despite coming to blows over their methods and philosophies, these two would make quite the formidable team once they’d ironed out their differences…though RoboCop may need an upgrade or two to survive in the future.

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6 Deadpool/The Mask

DC Comics have had many crossovers with Dark Horse over the years, resulting in numerous interactions between DC’s finest and the Xenomorphs, Predators, and Terminators. Similarly, both companies worked together on a number of crossovers revolving around the violent, big-headed cartoon anti-hero “the Mask”.

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Both characters are known for their comic violence.

It stands to reason, then, that if the Joker acquiring the magical mask and gaining its powers is a natural fit, a crossover between the near limitless power of the mask and everyone’s favourite fourth-wall breaking Mutant, Wade Wilson/Deadpool, would be just as fitting. Both characters are known for their over-the-top, cartoony violence, springing weapons out of thin air, directly addressing the reader, and busting heads with a maniacal glee. Hell, DC and Dark Horse had Lobo team up with “Big-Head” and even acquire the mask in another crossover and, given Lobo’s similarities to Deadpool, it wouldn’t bee too hard to imagine a crossover between these two being little more than a non-stop bloodbath as they tried in vain to damage each other, before Deadpool inevitably acquires the mask for himself and, in all likelihood, reduces all of conscious reality to a cheesy puff.

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5 RoboCop vs. Terminator vs. Aliens vs. Predator

Speaking of Dark Horse Comics, they really have brought us some great crossovers over the years; RoboCop Versus The Terminator and Aliens vs. Predator were natural stories to present in comics, videogames, and toys that were (arguably) too big for movies. They also merged three of these franchises together in Aliens versus Predator versus The Terminator (Schultz, et al, 20000), though that story was more a sequel to Alien: Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997) and a continuation of the Aliens vs. Predator comics than anything to do with the Terminator (Various, 1984 to 2019) films. Instead, this four-way crossover would give Dark Horse a chance to take the time-hopping, action-packed story of RoboCop Versus The Terminator and merge it with their complex Aliens vs. Predator comics.

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RoboCop should lead the fight against these monsters.

RoboCop would probably be best served as the central character of the story; a member of the human resistance could travel back in time to try and eliminate RoboCop, only to run into a T-800 right as Predators come to clean up a Xenomorph outbreak in Detroit. A time dilation could transport them to the war-ravaged future, where RoboCop could team up with a reprogrammed T-800 (or John Connor) against the aliens, or perhaps the future war would be changed by the reverse-engineering or Predator technology. There’s a lot of potential in this crossover but, for me, it only really works if you include RoboCop. Without him, you end up with a poorly-executed concept like Aliens versus Predator versus The Terminator, which really didn’t utilise the Terminator franchise enough. But imagine a Terminator/Xenomorph (or Predator) hybrid exchanging plasma blasts with a Predator-tech-upgraded RoboCop and tell me that doesn’t sound cool!

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4 Hellboy/Constantine

We’re scaling back a bit with this one. Honestly, I am very surprised we’ve never seen these two team up before, especially considering the amicable relationship DC and Dark Horse Comics have had over the years. Hell, we did get a brief team up between Hellboy and Batman but, arguably, this is the far more fitting choice. In this concept, I would go with the idea that John Constantine and Hellboy co-exist in the same world and have them cross paths when investigating the same supernatural threat or mystery. Obviously, they’d have to fight before teaming up (or, perhaps, they’d just rub each other the wrong way after being forced to team up), but can you imagine the quips and taunts and insults Constantine would have for Hellboy all throughout this crossover? Toss in guys like Swamp Thing and Etrigan, or even the Justice League Dark and the rest of Hellboy’s buddies (and absolutely have Mike Mignola provide his distinctive art style to the piece alongside co-authoring the story with either Grant Morrison or Neil Gaiman) and you could have a very dark, moody, and entertaining paranormal crossover.

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3 Batgirl/Spider-Gwen

This one is more of a light-hearted pick but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of unapologetic fun amidst all the big action set pieces and violent action. After her debut in the “Spider-Verse” (Slott, et al, 2014 to 2015) storyline and prominent inclusion in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018), this alternative version of Gwen Stacy has gained quite the fan following over the years and has become firmly entrenched in Marvel canon as Ghost-Spider.

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These two have quite a bit in common, it seems.

Meanwhile, since the New 52, DC have returned Barbara Gordon to the role of Batgirl; this wasn’t without some controversy as, for years, Barbara had operated just fine as a paraplegic and the Batgirl mantle had been assumed by other, far more suitable candidates. Yet, DC have continued unabated, largely changing Barbara from a smart and capable tech and information wizard, to a far more catty, athletic, and socially-conscious young lady. Despite this, this has the potential to be a really fun crossover between these two; while Babs should really be the older and more mature of the two, they’re both around the same age these days (somewhere between fifteen and twenty-one, depending on DC and Marvel’s sliding timelines), meaning there would be a lot of common ground between the two. No doubt they would have plenty to say about each other’s costumes, hair, and ex boyfriends (throw Nightwing in there and have that cause a bit of tension between the two) and I would even have them team up against C-list villains, like the Vulture, Chameleon, Shocker, Mad Hatter, or Killer Moth, just to keep the focus on fast-paced, witty action rather than getting all sour and bleak.

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2 Spider-Man 2099/Batman Beyond

I know what you’re thinking: Shouldn’t this be a crossover between Batman Beyond (1999 to 2001) and Spider-Man Unlimited (1999 to 2001), considering both cartoons aired at the same time and both characters wore similar, futuristic costumes? Well, you might be right, but Spider-Man Unlimited really should have been based on the initial Spider-Man 2099 (Various, 1992 to 1996) comics as that cartoon is largely remembered for being a poor follow-up to the superior Spider-Man (1994 to 1998) animated series and for featuring a pretty neat new costume for Spidey. Instead, I’d go with Spidey’s futuristic counterpart, Miguel O’Hara, who is more famous for operating in an alternative future of Marvel Comics. Again, the easiest way for him to interact with Terry McGinnis would be to have them exist in the same world but there’s a bit of an issue with that: Batman Beyond was set in 2039 when Terry was sixteen. The Justice League Unlimited (2004 to 2006) episode “Epilogue” (Riba, 2005) jumps to fifteen years later and Terry is a thirty-one-year-old Batman but the story would probably need some kind of time travel plot to bring these characters together at their peak.

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Both characters come from similar futuristic worlds.

Luckily, neither character is no stranger to time-hopping adventures; perhaps the best way to do this would be to have two similar villains in each world experimenting with time/reality-bending technology and cause a dilation that threatens to merge both timelines unless Miguel and Terry can stop them. I’d even have them both swap places; have Miguel wake up one morning in Neo-Gotham, running into the aged, grouchy Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) and battling some of Terry’s foes, while Terry randomly finds himself dumped in Nueva York and running afoul of Alchemax. After two issues of them exploring each other’s world, the third issue would be the obligatory fight between the two before they agree to team up for the fourth and final issue and sort out the problem. Both characters’ futuristic costumes have very similar traits and exist in visually interesting futuristic worlds, making a potential clash and eventual team up between them an exciting prospect for the art work and banter alone.

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1 Batman/The Crow

Easily the top choice for me, and the genesis of this list, I literally cannot shake how perfect a crossover between Batman and Eric Draven/The Crow would be. Neither are strangers to inter-company crossovers but, while the Crow has had to settle for teaming up with the likes of Razor, The X-Files (1993 to 2018), and Hack/Slash (Seeley/Various, et al, 2014 to 2018), Batman has met Al Simmons/Spawn, Spider-Man, Judge Dredd, and even Elmer Fudd and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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Batman could put his detective skills to use when Eric comes to Gotham.

Yet, this crossover provides the opportunity to get Batman back to the gritty, noir-inspired style of stories like The Long Halloween (Loeb, et al, 1996 to 1997) utilising an art style that is part Dave McKean and part James O’Barr. As for the plot, I’d have Eric return to his undead life once again after it is revealed that there was another figure pulling the strings of Top Dollar’s gang. This would, of course, bring Eric to Gotham City, where he’d start killing members of this extended gang of thugs with his usual brand of violence and poetic justice. Naturally, this would lead him into conflict with Batman but, rather than the two descending into a poorly written, childish brawl as in Spawn/Batman (Miller and McFarlane, 1994), it would probably be better to focus on Batman’s detective skills as he investigates Eric’s murder, those behind the murder, and Eric’s violent actions on the streets of Gotham. In fact, I probably would only have the two interact right at the conclusion of the story, just as Eric is about to kill his final target; they could have a discussion on morality and the meaning of justice but, ultimately, Eric would fulfil his mission and return to the grave regardless of Batman’s protestations, leaving Batman to ponder the line between justice and vengeance.

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What comic book crossover would you like to see? Which comic book crossover has been your favourite, or most reviled? Whatever you think about comic book crossovers, leave a comment below.