Watchmen by Alan Moore
A work that gets a lot of hype, especially in the graphic novel community. Is Watchmen the greatest graphic novel ever written? I dunno. But it is damn good. Good enough that you could have a healthy discussion of it in an English Literature class.
Watchmen is set in an alternate universe where, like in our world, superhero comics hit the newsstands around the time of WWII. But then in their world people take it upon themselves to actually do masked crime fighting and the fictional heroes fade away. None of these masked heroes has superpowers (except for one of them), they have all too human failings, and they may have wound up doing more harm than good.
Watchmen was published as a serial in 1986-87 and as such captures the very essence of Cold War paranoia. It’s strange to think that a couple of years before I was born, people were walking around thinking that they could be vaporized at any moment. The moment when I most felt like an alien reading about another planet was during a phone call. One of the characters has to button the call off because calling California is so expensive.
Gosh, it’s clever. I recommend reading it over twice so you catch all the sight gags. The Indian restaurant where some of the characters meet is the Gunga Diner. A retired heroine is hanging out at the Nepenthe Gardens. One of the masked heroes names himself Ozymandias and fails to see the problem with that.
You’ll also want to see the ending. There’s a subversion of the villain’s monologue of epic proportions.
I have a couple of quibbles with the text. Dr. Manhattan regains interest in life on earth because every person born on earth is a statistical impossibility. They’re not. Once life gets started, it makes damn sure it keeps going. I also don’t buy the plot to make him leave Earth in the first place by convincing him he’s giving people cancer. All anybody had to do was hold a Geiger counter up to him and they’d see he’s not radioactive.
On the whole, though, it’s delicious with literary references, shocking, and will never really let you think about superheroes the same way again.