Who Watches The Watchers?

A Comic Book As Political Commentary

© By Warner Todd Huston




Why do contemporary artists all seem to think the end of the world is nigh? Why has art become a thing of ugliness, instead of light? With all the beautiful things we see every day, the delicacy of a flower, the turn of a woman's arm, the grace of a bird in flight, we are treated only to the bizarre and horrid by our artists. These days we see sculptures that look like molecular mistakes writ large. We live in architecture that appears like a jumble of blocks thrown to the ground in the midst of a temper tantrum by a gigantic, petulant child. We view paintings that appear more accidental than planned. We have movies full of violence and anti-social behavior. On the radio we hear music that celebrates all the worst in man. We even have comic books that belittle heroism, that deconstruct the good and exceptional turning their heroes as cartoonishly flawed as the most obscene head case on the Jerry Springer Show.

When did entertainment turn so dark?

In the field of comic books, a 12 part series called Watchmen, created as a political commentary of its time, was hailed as having "transcended its origins," becoming a watershed in comics entertainment. This series was at the front edge of a wave of comics in the early and mid 1980s that attempted to demolish the heroes of the past and replace them with a post-hero world of darkness and pessimism.

So why talk about a comic book from 1986 now? With a motion picture under development and time Magazine placing the series on its top 100 novels Watchmen is being brought back into prominence, and now seems like a good time to re-visit the series. Since it is claimed that it had so changed the comic book industry, let's give it a look with fresh, more critical eyes.

Watchmen was a reflection of the contemporary political positions held by an influential minority, sure enough. But in the final analysis, it fails to wholly represent a true understanding of what was really going on in the world or what, in retrospect, we really had to worry about. Further, it is just the type of stuff being peddled to our kids (as it originally was sold in comic book stores and on newsstands) to which we should pay special attention.


To place Watchmen into context with the times in which it was created, I will trace my own life up until the books appeared upon the shelves in 1986. Since I was the quintessential customer at which a series like Watchmen was aimed, using my own experiences and those of my contemporaries is a perfect measuring stick by which to place the series in context.

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