10 Harsh Realities Of Rereading Watchmen

Split image of Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan and the squid Watchmen featre

The DCU is currently undergoing an overhaul and Watchmen could feasibly fit into that mix, considering the impact the HBO miniseries previously had. While the fates of those vital characters, created by Alan Moore, are still up in the air on screen, fans can continue to look back on the seminal work where they debuted.

However, there are certainly a few aspects of the comic that might not hold up, or act as a harsh reality check. Moore’s original comic ran across 1986 and 1987, and a lot has changed in the industry since then. From some of the narrative beats to the way Watchmen has been used since, there is a lot on which to reflect.


The Sequel Doesn’t Hold Up

Doomsday Clock 9 Doctor Manhattan DC Comics

Rereading Watchmen, it will strike anyone just how unusual the comic is. It continues to be held up as an iconic piece of DC publishing, one that the company itself always wanted to capitalize on and bring within the main line of DC Universe continuity.

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The sequel, Doomsday Clock, was supposed to be the solution, crossing the Watchmen universe over with the regular reality, while also following on from the initial story beats. But that first Watchmen is just so good that it acts as a reminder of how it has never truly been added to. Doomsday Clock is made more disappointing upon a revisit of the first.

The HBO Show Runs With Some Themes Better

Watchmen HBO Regina King Tim Blake Nelson

When looking at adaptations though, the Watchmen HBO miniseries shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, it could be argued that some of the themes that the series explored, from police control to racism, and the fallout of superheroics, are actually explored in further detail.

The Watchmen comic does some things better than the show, but upon a re-read the harsh reality is that in other aspects, the series surpasses the source material. That seemed like an impossible feat, but the original characters certainly helped to make the case.

The Violence Is Sickening

Watchmen The Comedian DC Comics

Comic book action is often cool, vibrant and heroic in its style. Many people forgot that Watchmen in comparison helps to subvert the genre, bringing a realism to proceedings. The violence here is thus sickening, with many graphic scenes not playing out how they traditionally would in comics.

It’s a deliberate piece of commentary, one that most readers would have forgotten and will be met with again in a harsh realization, after picking up Watchmen after so many years. Very few other comics have attempted something similar. Unpopularly, even the movie adaptation tried to make some of these sequences cool.

LGBTQ+ Representation Suffers

The heroes of Watchmen

There are a handful of LGBTQ+ characters featured throughout Watchmen. However, all of them meet terrible fates, whether its extreme violence, death or a general mishandling within the material. For the time period, representation on any level is hard to find.

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However, upon a re-read, the harsh reality surfaces that there are a number of questionable creative choices made, when examining the arcs, or sometimes lack thereof, of these particular figures. Unfortunately, that isn’t really something that has been addressed in any successive material.

Other Comics Have Copied The Themes

Nite Owl and Rorschach Watchmen DC Comics

At the time of its release, Watchmen was a one-of-a-kind piece of publishing. No one had attempted to subvert the genre quite like Alan Moore had and that is why the comic run is so timeless and popular. Returning to the text will remind fans that this didn’t last long though.

It might have been unique, but the impact that Watchmen had on the industry meant that so many others have attempted to copy this formula, or explore the same themes in alternate ways. Thus, some of the narrative feels familiar, although very few have managed to do it better.

It’s Depressingly Still Relevant Today

Justice League Roster in DC Comics

Regardless of how many people have copied the formula and how much Watchmen might now tread familiar soil, it is unfortunately still relevant. The comic book industry as a whole didn’t change all that much when it came to addressing the issues with the genre.

The heightened realism of the DC Universe for example and how modern superheroes are portrayed within its structure, can still be analyzed via that initial work. There is something saddening about the fact that the quotes in the first Watchmenare just as relevant now, perhaps even to works like Doomsday Clock ironically.

Rorschach Isn’t That Cool

Rorschach Mask Watchmen DC Comics

Rorschach has been forged into somewhat of a symbol for Watchmen and has built up a fan following, getting deemed one of the coolest characters of the narrative. Indeed, his no-nonsense attitude and gritty edge has certainly appealed to many that want an alternative to the traditional superhero.

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Having Rorschach as a key point-of-view character is also a vital component of the story, but Rorschach is deeply troubled and morally gray. A re-read reveals he isn’t as cool as many might remember, the harsh reality that he just isn’t a good guy quickly kicking in. He is complex and flawed and isn’t supposed to be the hero.

The Coloring Is Off

Ozymandias confesses to his crimes with his arms folded behind him in the Watchmen comic.

The art style is absolutely gorgeous. There is no escaping the fact that Dave Gibbons had produced a work of art with this comic. The colors are also memorable and work incredibly well within this style. But, they aren’t what audiences have traditionally come to expect from graphic novels.

For some, the visuals in this regard might have aged poorly, with the color choices sometimes washed-out compared to how vibrant they could have been. The palette used is very deliberate and imaginative in the approach, but it does produce an outdated look.

No Comic Will Surpass Doctor Manhattan

Doctor Manhattan on Mars DC Watchmen

Plenty of comics have attempted to craft a god-like figure that was supposed to be a superhero but has transcended above that. Often Superman is used as the archetype for this, with everything from Invincible and The Boys to the Eternals exploring this topic from different angles.

Doctor Manhattan is the absolute peak of this character archetype though. The nuance and yet scale of the creation is above anything else that could be created. Some of Alan Moore’s best writing comes through Dr. Manhattan’s quotes, as he surveys his unique godly abilities.

The Movie Made It Worse

Watchmen Movie Nite Owl Silk Spectre

These days, many people’s understanding of Watchmen comes from the Zack Snyder movie. However, revisiting the comic reveals the harsh truth that the adaptation is a far cry from what Moore put on the page. For starters, there are plenty of aspects that have been changed when it was brought to cinema.

The nuance of the original work is lost and massive choices like the squid attack have been moved into other territory. The character motivations vary and the relationships between each hero takes on new meaning on the screen. Right now, there just isn’t a pure adaptation of the original piece.

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