Watchmen is undeniably an artistic achievement. With complex plotting and depth of characterization, it’s a novel in comic book form, likely the first comic book series to fit that description.
Though an admirable work, it’s not all that enjoyable. Produced toward the end of the Cold War, and set in an alternate version of it, the book can be pretty bleak at times. (Spoilers ahead…you’ve been warned…) The climax involves the world’s smartest man tricking the world into behaving itself, so that doesn’t exactly put forth an optimistic view of humanity.
However, issue #9 uses that darkness to show how miraculous each human life inherently is. The chapter reaches an oddly uplifting ending, despite the dark revelation that precedes it.
In television terms, the issue is almost like a “bottle episode,” if the bottle can be all of Mars and if flashbacks are allowed. Written by Alan Moore, the entire issue is a conversation between the god-like Dr. Manhattan and all-too-human Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk), in which the latter must convince the former that humanity is worth saving. Dr. Manhattan is doubtful, finding the complex Martian environment infinitely more fascinating and majestic than people.
But as Laurie reaches an uncomfortable epiphany about who her father is, and as she wonders if her life is some cruel joke, Dr. Manhattan has his own epiphany:
“Thermo-dynamic miracles…events with odds so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.
“And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter…
“…until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged.
“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold.
“That is the crowning unlikelihood.
“The thermodynamic miracle.”
Watchmen is detailed and layered enough that you’ll notice something different every time you read it. But that passage jumped out at me the first time I read the book, at 16 or so, and it continues to hold up as the high point of the series. Amid pervasive hopelessness, it’s a thing of beauty.
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Watchmen (TPB)
Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY