Watchmen by Alan Moore
Has any comic been as lauded as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen? Recently "comic lovers" have been blessed with some quite stunning work (like Clowes David Boring; his superb Ghost World); Joe Sacco's Palestine; the beautiful and melancholy Jimmy Corrigan). But all those excellent books take the comic form, divest it of its super-heroes and create something new and fresh. Watchmen remains a "genre" comic but it hugely expands the possibilities - and intelligence - of the genre. Possibly only Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns comes close, but Watchmen remains the critics' favourite. Why? Because Moore is a better writer, and Watchmen a more complex and dark and literate creation than Miller's fantastic, subversive take on the Batman myth. Moore, renowned for many other of the genre's finest creations (Saga of the Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, and recently From Hell, with Eddie Campbell) first put out Watchmen in 12 issues for DC in 1986-87. It won a comic award at the time (the 1987 Jack Kirby Comics Industry Awards for Best Writer/Artist combination) and has continued to garner praise since.
The story concerns a group called the Crimebusters and a plot to kill and discredit them. Moore's characterisation is as sophisticated as any novel's. Importantly the costumes do not get in the way of the storytelling, rather they allow Moore to investigate issues of power and control. The artwork of Gibbons (best known for 2000 AD's Rogue Trooper and DC's Green Lantern) is very fine too, echoing Moore's paranoid mood perfectly throughout. Packed with symbolism, some of the overlying themes (arms control, nuclear threat, vigilantes) have dated but the intelligent social and political commentary, the structure of the story itself, its intertextuality (chapters appended with excerpts from other "works" and "studies" on Moore's characters, or with excerpts from another comic book being read by a child within the story), the fine pace of the writing and its humanity mean that Watchmen more than stands up. It retains its crown as the best the genre has yet produced.