Does WATCHMEN Ruin Other Superhero Comics?

This week our good friends over at 11 O'Clock Comics had a fascinating discussion about serving as comic evangelists to a variety of potential readers. How do you best represent the medium to eager readers with an established understanding of character concepts but not modern continuity? Should continuity even be an issue right off the bat? How about someone who's never traversed a single page of sequential art? What if they're a little cynical about the whole format? The guys even brought up the ethical conundrum of personal preference, and whether certain recommendations are more about pushing your own pet favorites than satisfying the wants and inclinations of this friend or co-worker. 

Then there's the Watchmen problem.

A lot of new readers went out and picked up the big yellow book over the last couple years. It's even served as a textbook in a number of universities. Watchmen has crossed a threshold that few other comic volumes could even graze. There's no stopping this juggernaut; people are going to read it, and it's often going to be the first stop on their tour. Maybe even their last (regardless of their enjoyment level). But what if you're met with that willing reader looking for some guidance. And they haven't read Watchmen. Would you recommend it to them? Or would you hold off a little? 


While our own Jason Wood suggested the more accessible introductions to the Alan Moore catalog might be League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or V for Vendetta, and Chris Neseman offered Tom Strong, Vince B. took it a step further, serving as "devil's mouthpiece." What if a savvy and intelligent new reader picked up Watchmen first, read it and enjoyed it, thrilled at its sophisticated flourish? Jason argued that they might very well enjoy it, but not pick up on nuances only a seasoned reader of both comics and superhero comics might absorb. Sure, but what happens next? Vince posits that digesting something like Watchmen might ruin all other superhero comics, because it's widely considered the pinacle. "We still talk about Watchmen," he said. It's an interesting problem. 

Watchmen is a landmark book, self-contained and deeply complex, though much of that complexity is wrought from deconstruction, a giant standing on the shoulder of other giants. While Watchmen wouldn't exist without the books that came before it, it's this monolith that seems to overshadow everything that's been published since. 

So there's our question: Does starting with something great and revolutionary and arguably definitive like Watchmen make other superhero books feel less substantial? Less enjoyable? Less relevant? Just outright less

Though Watchmen wasn't my own introduction to comics or even to superhero comics, I think I know my answer. And it's simple. All due respect to Watchmenone of the most arresting and thoughtful and sophisticated books I've read–but it lacks the primary component that draws me to the many superhero books I continue to read from week to week. Joy. And so the journey continues. 

What do you think? 


  1. No it doesn’t


    End comments? 🙂

  2. I agree with the article and the comment…

  3. Yes (writing) and no (art). 


    It shows what comics could be, should aspire to be, and often are not. Another problem is that though it is still an awesome comic work its stil obsessed with the same superhero theme which holds comics back in so many ways. I’m not saying that I don’t love superhero comics (I do) but tend to see so many poor ones I wish we could ditch them as the standard bearer and move onto a new theme to have as a foundation. 

    That said: artistically it’s not the  greatest work out there (I wish I lived on the parallel universe where Higgins drew and Gibbons coloured. THAT’s the Watchmen I want to read). Actually that’s an understatement: I find Gibbons artwork uninteresting in the extreme but hey ho, can’t argue with those royalty statements. It’s certainly easier to say now that you’ve read Watchmen check out Sienkiewicz, McKean, Sacco, Eisner, Veitch, McKeever et al.

    I’ve certainly read no comic with as well arranged or subtley delivered a world and seen no film adaptation which angered me as much as Watchmen was hobbled by.

    But there are a good few books you can go onto after Watchmen, just not anywhere near as many as there should have been bearing in mind its age. 


  4. Uh oh.

    (runs away). 

  5. I don’t think thats really founded. Did watching The Wire make you want to quit TV? I actually think that starting off with something really great can lead to the "chasing the dragon effect", where you are always looking for the thing to hit you as hard as that first big rush so you are willing to try as much as possible before you give up.

  6. Would reading James Joyce’s "Ulysses" or Cormac McCarthy’s "No Country For Old Men" turn you off novels?  Hardly.  The argument here is based on a broad false generalization – all comics are basically the same.  They are not.  Each title, each page, is a personal expression (somewhat) of the collaborating artists.  Now, subjectively, you may like or dislike the expression, but it shouldn’t turn you away from an entire art form just because you didn’t like a particular book.  But comics suffer a unique self-image problem.  We’re always trying to legitimize our art form.  It is legit.  We need to stop whining – "Watchmen is genius, you guys!  Really!"  – and just get on with it.  If you really feel compelled to recommend something to new readers, recommend what you love and explain why.  Don’t try and justify why it’s important.  Your love for it is what sells it.

  7. my instinct is to say yes.  but, maybe what is really true is that if you wait for Watchmen, you will enjoy it more.  it is better if you have a background of superheroes to start off with.  I shudder to think that people go into Watchmen with the BIFF! BANG! POW! idea of superheroes.

    I have another question, if you don’t give people Watchmen to start off with, what is a better starting place for superhero comics? 

  8. Again no.



  9. @ABEV – I’d point to the comics the guys on 11 O’Clock suggested. There are a lot of variables to consider. It all depends on what the reader is looking for. The easy answer? Things like USM, Dynamo5, Thor the Mighty Avenger, Superman Secret Origin. 

  10. I would argue that reading/seeing/experiencing the BEST of something simply improves your ability to understand what makes that medium exceptional and what you as an individual enjoy about said medium.

    I’ve seen many wonderful films, read many wonderful books, and done many wonderful things in my life.  That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy reading/watching/playing/experiencing things that aren’t the BEST in their field.  Rather, it has helped me become better at determining what I should spend my time experiencing, because I have a better understanding of what I like and what I can expect. 

    Reading Watchmen taught me a great deal about the medium and helped me understand what I liked about it and what I didn’t.  That (in conjunction with this wonderful website) allowed me to be more discerning, which led to more enjoyment, not less. 

    Interesting question. Well done, Paul. 

  11. Watchmen was the first comic I ever read and I fucking hated it. 

     So I would not give it to a person looking to get into comics, way too dense. 

  12. When the movie was coming out, (with the surrounding hype) I was actively telling friends who were inexperienced with the medium to get comics other than Watchmen.  It just isn’t an introductory level comic.

  13. Watchmen relies too much on knowledge of the form to be a good introduction to comics. Experienced comics readers simply get more from it than those coming to the form for the first time. Bone, Fables and Y are all better starter comics in my mind.

  14. That’s a bit like asking whether it’s a bad idea to give a new reader (in general) something as awesome as Harry Potter…sure it sets a standard that they will not have an easy time matching with their next choice, but it gets them excited about reading and makes them realize the degree of joy that is possible from the activity.  (I’m not talking "new readers" as in kids, because well, I know shinola about kids, but rather people who "don’t read" or "don’t read for pleasure.")

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t start out a comic reader with Watchmen, because as brilliant as it is, it’s, as Paul said, kind of not joyful.  I tend to start with Preacher or Ultimate Spider-Man, depending on the person.  Maybe Runaways.

  15. As several people have said before me, it TOTALLY depends what this new-to-comics reader is looking for. When friends ask me (as many did after the Watchmen movie craze hit) what comics to start with I almost always recommend something different. For an ex-girlfriend who was into fantasy, it was Fables. For my younger brother who loved the Batman and X-Men movies and TV shows it was Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. For another friend who loves horror movies, Walking Dead vol. 1 was the obvious choice. I should add that each of these people came back for more and different comics!

    Bottom line: ALWAYS tailor your recommendation to the person asking for advice. DON"T just hand them Watchmen.

  16. Okay, Tom actually beat us all to it in his column last week. 

    And he put it all a lot better than I did. That was part of a larger discussion about the evolution of comics and tone though, so I hope it’s still fair game to examine Watchmen specifically, and the idea of deconstruction potentially ruining anything that follows. 

  17. An interesting and related question might be does Watchmen ruin other superhero comics, as in can you look at super heroes again with the same eyes once you’ve seen them humanised as much as Moore managed, if you saw Watchmen first would you then find something like the Avengers tainted.

    Also: The Killing Joke is an awesome intro to comics. Forgotted that as a possible pick but if asked that might well be the best suggestion so far. (My normal pick of Cerebus may not be the best easy to pick up intro after all 🙂 😉 ) 

  18. The question is great. The answer took some thought but I think that because a lot of us here have grown up reading comics when we actually read Watchmen our minds we’re blown. However like Mr. Montgomery stated above. It comes down to joy.

    Reading Watchmen was amazing. but it doesnt give the joy i get when I see Batman sock Joker in the kisser again and again. Or reading Hellboy say "Crap" everytime some crazy demon looks like he’ll get the better of him. Or even Superman getting the badguy. Spidey swinging through NY. Hulk smathing his rage out. Wolverine talking out his claws and slashing up a place. Watchmen had its great and amazing moments and it deserves all the compliments and awards it gets. The story deserves to be called a novel and sit in the hall of fame of books. But does it ruin the rest of the world of comics because of its amazingness…no. Of course not.

    If it did…well we wouldnt be reading anymore Batman, Supes, and the rest of the Justice League, or Hulk, Spidey or Wolverine anymore because we’d be too annoyied that it doesnt live up. We "give credit where crdit is due" (and it IS due) and we move on. No reason to think that other stories for our favorites arnt as good. Personally I could read "The Killing Joke", "Hush" ,"Red Son" "World War Hulk", or "Spider-Man: Blue" a million times. Just for the Pure Joy it brings me.


  19. i’ll say no to both, does it ruin superhero comics and should you give it to first time readers. for both of these questions is that Watchmen is so dependent on someones knowledge of what a superhero comic is that it ultimately strengthens other superhero comics. you can give someone Watchmen to read first, but they may have the same reaction as AMBlastoff. and the more superhero comics you read the more times you can go back to Watchmen. I’ve read it numerous times, done papers for university on both the book and the film (the film which i have serious problems with, which Paul you hit the nail on the head when you said "though much of that complexity is wrought from deconstruction;" why show the deconstruction of the comic book superhero on film, but i digress).

    there have been a ton of great recomends above. For new comers to comics i tend to keep them out of superheroes and get them to enjoy the medium through books like Blankets or Essex County.

  20. I liked watchmen, very interesting but indeed, somehow not really enjoyable. It’s complex, but depressing.

  21. I’m going to say it… I’m over Watchmen. It’s very good, yes, but it’s not my favorite thing Moore ever did. I think its relevance gets to a point of overstated sometimes. That is to say, not every person writing comics today is writing comics to produce another Watchmen. And acting like this is the case isn’t helping anyone. Can we give it a rest? Stop waving this, Ghost World, Maus and Dark Knight returns under peoples noses and expose them to new, more relevant things, whatever they be? 

  22. I wholeheatedly agree about the lack of joy in WATCHMEN, which is probably why I prefer V for Vendetta. Both books have similar themes, but V maintains a degree of levity that WATCHMEN doesn’t.

  23. @PraxJarvin: It is impossible to overstate the relevance of WATCHMEN on modern comics.

  24. dang it, now I’m going to have to give this Watchmen thing another shot, cause I still haven’t made it the whole way through the thing. it doesn’t ruin comics, just itself.

  25. Paul, thanks for showing 11oc some love. As I said on the show, I think we should go with the best if we’ve got one shot at turning on someone to the medium. My only hesitation with Watchmen is that what makes it the best is likely lost on a comics newb, such as the symmetry of the panels or the gravitas or the merging of the superhero trope into a more realistic identifiable world.

  26. Has the Watchmen movie ruined the books legacy?

    Many will say "The book still exists, it’s great."  But does the movie still in fact ruin it’s legacy in the collective mind of consumers?…Yes.  It’s now tarnished a bit.

  27. I’ve got this weird relationship with Watchmen, I’ve read it at least once a year since I was first given it on my thirteenth birthday (it was not my first comic), but when I’m not reading it, I don’t rate it that highly, sometimes I even look negatively so on it. When I pick it up, or in the weeks after, I always get totally enthralled by it.

    I’ve recommended it to people as their first comic, but generally give it to people who I know will get something out of it. One time I gave it to a girl who was in my class (we were on a school trip and I’d brought it as one of reads), she couldn’t get on with it. But when we returned I lent her the first Strangers in Paradise pocket book, she enjoyed it and moved on to read other stuff. It all depends on the reader.

    As to the ‘joy’ in it (or lack thereof), I don’t really understand what we mean here. Yes, it’s depressing/dark or whatever we want to say, but I get the same type of goosebumps when Rorschach beats on comers wth deep fat friers or electrified toilet water (one aspect I thought the film did well) as I do when Supes talks down the girl from the ledge in All Star.

    The guardian paper, here in the UK, did a podcast on graphic novels a couple months back. One reviewer who liked superhero comics and one who didn’t. Asked whether Watchmen was the place to start he said, no, Bendis’ Daredevil run was the place to start, but that he was biased to one of his favourite runs and writers.

    Sorry for the wall of text 🙂

  28. Well, I think Watchmen should be read after reading other comics, not that it really matters though. I do think all comic fans should read it at some point in their lives, they don’t have to like it, but they should try it. But its probably the third superhero book I would recommend to a new reader or any reader personally. They are Invincible, for fun superhero stories with great art and character, and Astro City, for the more nuanced and deeper look inot superheroes and the people around them. After those I would recommend Watchmen.

  29. In my little corner of the world, most of my friends and family are constantly optimists and see things from a lighter point of view.  While this is a genuinely awesome way of looking at life, it’s never been the way I look at things.  I’ve learned to see things in a more realistic way and try to not judge regardless of how brutal the reality.  I find beauty in the grim, gritty, and frustrating parts of life because thats where I thrive.  So when I read Watchmen, I exceed with joy because I have found yet another creator that understands that life isn’t going to be exceedingly happy at all times.  So when I read that reading Watchmen brings you no joy, I had to do a double-take.  To each their own, but I completely disagree with you.

  30. And that’s one of the things that makes this mighty blue marble a pretty cool place to live. 

  31. If I had my druthers, I would have read Watchmen BEFORE I read everything else, because WHEN I read Watchmen, I realized what an impact it had on everything that followed … My understanding of everything else that I’ve read would have been profoundly different (and perhaps improved) if I had read Watchmen first. In some sense, Watchmen did ruin a lot of other comics for me because after I had read Watchmen, I knew what comics COULD aspire to but rarely achieve.

  32. Given that Watchmen is sort of  my least favourite of Alan Moore’s work (I’ve never managed to actually finish it), I would say definitely not.  But as someone else said earlier, I don’t get why reading the "best" of any genre or medium would mean you can’t appreciate anything else.

  33. Actually, Moore’s Lost Girls ruined comics for me, or ummm… caused me to ruin comics.  Well, something got ruined.  Moving on…

     A prose writer friend of mine was just getting into comics, digging stuff like Essex County and Blankets, asked me for a superhero-y suggestion.  Asked me about ‘this Watchmen thing people are always talking about’.  I said no, and pointed more in the direction of All-Star Superman, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Identity Crisis.  Thought it was way too ‘Inside Baseball’ for her.

    As far as it’s effect on my enjoyment of superhero stuff, practically none.  I can see how it affected the tone of comics after it, but I still enjoyed my stories.  If a book were ever gonna throw me off comics, you would have thought I’d swear off Marvel books after Sentry: Fallen Sun, but it didn’t happen.

  34. I agree with some of the other comments on here…

    to an extent, yes after reading watchmen i was on the hunt for something to top it, or at least deliver a similar sort of mind blowing hit. but then i realised looking for something very specific to Watchmen and Moore in general in other comics was a fools errand. I’ve come to realise there’s loads of great stuff about other books which i enjoy on different levels, stuff which watchmen doesn’t necessarily do as well. it would be like seeing 8 1/2 or citizen kane or whatever the "best movie ever made" is and then going "right that’s it, I just can’t watch james bond movies anymore, they’ll never match up". – because what you expect/want to get out of an experience like citizen kane is on a completely different level to what you get from a 60 year old man pretending he’s a dashing young spy, shooting bad guys and shagging birds young enough to be his daughter.  it’s the whole push-pin and shakespeare debate all over again. 

    having said that watchmen is still one of the best representations of the superhero book, and it’s pretty poor going that there’s been few to match it since then… there is an aweful lot of crap published, and you can see why moore is fed up with the industry. it is hard to keep superheroes fresh after all this time.

    @ AMblastoff…

    what exactly did you hate about watchmen?

    I have no idea what people are talking about when they say there’s no joy in the book! there’s just as much new hope and wonder at life in the book as there is depressing stuff. it manages to capture a full spectrum of emotions, not just the darkness. it goes to show just how entwined the positive and negative are in life – that’s part of its beauty. plus the action is exciting and therefore joyful to read!  

  35. Very interesting question. 

    Someone above posed the question, ‘did watching THE WIRE make you stop watching TV?’ And to be honest, for a long time it did. But not forever. Sometimes the right work combines with the right medium, and it gives you enough to digest that you need some time off. I went a long time without watching TV, and then was drawn back by season 5 of DOCTOR WHO and by CASTLE. Both of which are well written and fun, and both are a world removed from THE WIRE.

    I would guess if you’re brand new to comics and you read WATCHMEN, then maybe you could miss out on a few layers like Wood has said, and you’ll want to try other things because your first experience was so good. If you try it and you GET all of those complexities, then maybe you’ll get a full meal. Maybe you’ll not need another for awhile, but there will still always be something that will draw you back in, because there’s just too much variety out there.

    The other thing; we ask these questions about TV and comic books. Do we ask them about novels? Has anyone asked "does reading THE MALTESE FALCON ruin all other books?" I’m just curious, because i’ve never seen that kind of discussion outside of comics and (occasionally) TV, and winder if that speaks to a deeper insecurity? 

  36. The only problem with Watchmen is that the book is treated as a singularized Cannon of modern comics. The book itself doesn’t make any other comic written less substantial. . .however, I would argue that the discourse surrounding Watchmen has certainly stunted the growth of any sophisticated discourse about anything else. 

    Take, for example, Identity Crisis. A popular superhero comic that is extraordinarily complex, yet there is virtually no thoughtful discussion about that book because no one can move past the perception that it is just one long vile and exploitative rape scene. People hate it because of that, and more often than not point to Watchmen as the golden standard of depicting rape in comics. Though for the life me I cannot figure out any good reason why the one is okay, and the other is despicable.

    Thats just one example. These days, I think comics readers only really care about Watchmen so that they can point to it to dispell any challenge to the sohpistication of their reading material.

  37. Watchmen is the pinnacle of what the comic medium is capable of producing. That said, I think it’s folly to believe that it would diminish other superhero books. Less substantial? Less enjoyable? Less relevant? I guess I don’t always pull out the Watchmen measuring stick when I’m reading comics. If comic creators felt this way,that their works were not relevant or substantial in comparision to Watchmen, I think we all would have missed out on some really excellent comics.

  38. I kind of find that Watchmen being put up there as "the best", "the zenith", "the apex" etc is very bizarre. Is there really just one slot for comics brilliance?

  39. @jj well its rediculous, b-c I have so much affection for so many other books, it just seems asinine to even have this conversation.  No offense to the creator or Paul, b-c this conversation has been great, but I just don’t even see the relevance in arguing this.

  40. I think this question is witty bait and it’s not really a question; it’s equivalent to "When did you stop beating your wife?" or "How can we win the war on drugs?"

     Some people won’t even go as far to say that Watchmen is a great comic. You could then argue until your tongue turned black why it is great, but we’re all driving on subjectivity road. Some people will never even read Watchmen, including the creators of tomorrow, so what is Watchmen ruining? I wonder if anyone ever thought that Superman ruined comics, because, well, he’s Super. Job done. All other heroes blow. 

     I think Watchmen ruining comics would only be a problem for people who compare all future relationships to that one girl/boyfriend they had in the past. You might as well gouge out your own eyes and sit in a corner if Watchmen is your absolute measuring stick. 

  41. I got my girlfriend into comics using Sandman, Essex County, Bone and a couple superhero books that she picked up herself (Manhunter, Ms. Marvel), and even Lost Girls. She was already a fan of Neil Gaiman’s novels, so that was my gateway, but she still hasn’t read Watchmen, and since she probably doesn’t have the context to enjoy it just yet, I wouldn’t recommend that she reads it anytime soon. Next she’s reading Scott Pilgrim though, since she loved the movie.

    I don’t think Watchmen is the pinnacle of superhero comics. Mystery comics starring superheroes maybe, but not strictly superheroes. There is very little actual superheroing going on in that book. Maybe the Waid/Wieringo Fantastic Four, or Ultimate X-Men/Spider-Man, or X-Men First Class, but certainly not Watchmen.

  42. I think that when Watchmen first came out there was an affect (on me at least) of looking around and realizing there weren’t many comics that compared to the quality of that work. It certainly contributed to my stepping away from a comics industry that I thought was juvenile on the whole. But that was then. Now there are plenty of quality comics of all different stripes. At this point, Watchmen is just one of a long list of must reads. I can’t see anyone justifiably saying, "I’ve read Watchmen, so I get this whole comics medium. Now I don’t have to read them anymore."

  43. Affect or effect?

  44. It’s not the fault of "Watchmen" that other comics aren’t as good or as substantial.  There are other comics that are of comparible quality but between "Watchmen," "Dark Knight Returns," and a handful of other tentpole stories (the most recent being "1985"), yeah, really most superhero comics aren’t that substantial.  Fortunately, there are other genres (like zombies or crime or crime zombies) that have just as much to offer.

  45. icn: I choose to read your comment as sarcastic irony. It amuses me.

  46. I don’t even consider Watchmen to be my favorite Alan Moore work.

    There are definitely multiple spots for comic masterpieces.

    Watchmen is one of them.

    However, Alan Moore probably dominates that realm of comic brilliance.

  47. The interesting thing about Watchmen is that it’s a book you can go back to and find new things. 

    Watchmen was not the first comic I read, nor was it one of the first when I got back into comics around 8th grade. But I did pick it up my sophomore year of highschool, only reading comics again for two years. I read about half of it before getting bored and thinking "What’s the big deal?" I admit it. Sophomore year I was more interested in attracting the ladies (So I read comics?) then expanding my mind or pushing my boundaries. It was only after high school, more years worth of comic reading and trying new things that i went back to Watchmen and it all clicked.  I think the fact that I was older and knew the medium more made me appriciate it a ton. 


    Now my friend is in the boat of having this be his first comic. I go see most of the superhero films with him and he never had much interest in comics beyond a simple "So what’s going on in Batman?" but he never read a single issue. He picked up Watchmen and dug it alot, now I have him reading the occasional trade here and there. He hasn’t said "This isn’t as good as Watchmen!" or "Why isn’t this as sophisticated?" He’s just having a good time. I hope after a while of reading my trades I can get him to go back to Watchmen and see all the things he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What makes Watchmen great is that it works on multiple levels. Is it an interesting Superhero drama on the surface? Yes. Are they’re layers upon layers of comic-dom in the book? Yes. If you don’t know that, does it matter? I’d say no.