In 1986 two creators, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, stood the comics industry on its ear with their 1986 masterpiece. Comics will never be the same.

 Alan Moore's Post Super Hero Boom

As far as monetary value is concerned, Alan Moore's The Watchmen, a 12 issue maxi-series launched in 1986, is hardly worth much more than its cover price as a back issue. After all, 1986 isn't that long ago, issues can be easily had, and the Eisner Award winning series has been collected in a trade paperback that retails for $19.95.

Nonetheless, for the serious comic book collector who views his or her collection as more than simply an investment, The Watchman is a must-have. The series that told of an imaginary world where aging super heroes find their old friends being murdered is generally regarded as one of the best comics series ever published. As story telling, it is one of the most gripping yarns to have come out of the super hero genre in decades, and the visual story telling, as rendered by the talented Dave (Give Me Liberty, Dr. Who) Gibbons, is a cinematic treat.

Alan Moore is too prolific, too important, a comics creator for just one feature and has the unique distinction in a field dominated by artists to achieve super stardom as a writer. Born in 1953 in Northampton, England, Moore dropped out of school at the age of 17, starting his writing career as rock n' roll scribe for a magazine called Sounds. After a stint as a cartoonist for his strip Maxwell the Magic Cat, Moore turned to comics writing for the comics magazines 2000 AD and Warriors. Two of his stories were particularly noteworthy; "The Reversible Man" in 2000 AD # 308 (1983) and a science fiction comedy two issues later, "Chronocops," which was deliberately drawn in the style of MAD's Will Elder by Dave Gibbons.

His first big critical notice came with V for Vendetta. Illustrated by David Lloyd, the story told of the near future United kingdom, devastated by war and ruled by a fascist government (the dystopian epic was later reprinted and completed for DC Comics, 1988-1989). Other work for Warrior included Marvel  Man, which was later reprinted and continued as Miracle Man by Eclipse Comics beginning in 1985.

Marvel Man, by the way, is the reason why More has sworn never to work for Marvel Comics: the character first saw print in Great Britain in 1954, when it was copyrighted. Marvel Comics debuted in 1961. When More sought to revive the character, Marvel threatened to sue. "The logic behind that," stated More in a Comics Journal interview, "was not that they were right, but that they were big enough. It meant that they could keep us in court forever with their lawyers whether they were right or wrong.I couldn't do business with people like that."

V for Vendetta created enough of a splash to ensure that Moore would land an assignment writing Swamp Thing. Moore started his 44 issue run with #21, reinventing the sentient veggie so that he became more than the comic cliché of a scientist mutated into a monster, but more of an earth elemental, giving the series an ecological twist. As DC editor Karen Berger would say of the series, "I think Alan was the first writer in mainstream comics who was writing for adults."

His Swamp Thing brought great acclaim, but 1986 would be the year that Moore would change the face of comics. Starting in September, and set in an alternate universe (where would comics be without them?), Watchmen opened with the murder of an aging, less than idealistic superhero, the Comedian. In the first issue we meet various other aging super heroes, all in forced retirement due to laws passed by Congress after a nationwide police strike. Of course, this being comics, Moore's middle-aged protagonists don't stay in retirement for long; the opening murder sets the stage for the discovery of a plot to unleash a world-wide holocaust through genetic manipulation and teleportation.

The characters in Watchmen, the Comedian, Rorshach [shown below], Doctor Manhattan, Night Owl, the Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, were originally going to be characters from the Charleton Comics universe (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, et cetera), but were saved from the chopping block when the scripting began.

Time plays a very important factor in this story, which unfolds minute by minute in a series of scene and character changes and flashbacks. The entirety of the twelve issue series spans twelve minutes, which is symbolized by a Happy Face version of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' "doomsday" clock on the first and last issues. Covers in the series, close-ups of inanimate objects (actionless comic book covers!) served as the first panel, which then segued into the story.

Moore chose well when he selected Dave Gibbons as the artist for his series. A realistic artist with a tight clean line, Gibbons is obviously influenced by Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Bill Elder, some of the foundations of his style, which no way detracts from his own originality, and illustrates Moore's story with exquisite use of perspective and framing. "We were on the same wavelength," Gibbons has said. "We liked the same kind of comics; we had the same meticulous approach. Everything has to mean something."

With their places in comics' hall of fame secure, both creators continue on with the same attention to high quality in their comic book projects.  Gibbons did a remarkable job on Frank Miller's various Martha Washington series for Dark Horse; comics well worth collecting. Moore continues to reinforce his reputation with award-winning projects like
From Hell, his story of Jack the Ripper, illustrated by Eddie Campbell. Moore continued to reinvent the superhero with titles like Top Ten, Tom Strong, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tomorrow Stories, and Promethea. Between Alan Moore and Warren Ellis (The Authority, Planetary) my comic book budget is pretty well sewn up!

--Steve Stiles