A superhero is murdered. Edward Blake, also known as The Comedian, was among the first superheroes to emerge in 1938, and others of his kind strongly influenced events of this alternate reality, including the outcome of Vietnam. Now, over forty years later, all superheroes are legally disbanded except for the Comedian and Doctor Manhattan, who now work for the government. There’s still Rorschach, who continues to fight street crime despite it’s illegality. It’s Rorschach who finds Blake’s corpse, and begins to piece together a theory that someone is attempting to finish off all costumed heroes. He subsequently warns Dan Dreiberg (formerly the second Nite Owl), the only one of them with real powers, Doctor Manhattan, Laurie Juspeczyk (the second Silk Spectre), and the smartest man in the world Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias).

The power in this story lies in character. Do not expect to find morally decent superheroes here, mournfully isolated by their responsibility to mankind. In Watchmen, every character a sociopath, each more reprehensible than the last. And yet, Moore is able to show through each a worldview of right and wrong that is not only understandable, but holds some tragic merit. They’re terribly deep, light and dark, warts and all, in typical Moore fashion.

Unique in structure, I loved the character back stories as chapter breaks, and especially, the comic within a comic. Tales of the Black Freighter, read by a youth on the street, is woven throughout the main story, even within the same frames. The story within parallels the decline of human virtue of the larger in which a marooned young shipmate’s quest home requires him to sacrifice human decency again and again, to his eventual moral downfall.

Even the cover, the picture of the smiley face with a drop of blood, is deceitfully innocent, with it’s bright and cheery prominent yellow. The drop of blood so idealized that it no longer resembles something human. I think it’s a beautiful tragic take on the superhero genre. Under the righteous innocent facade of the superheroes we love, monsters roam beneath.

“The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘SAVE US!’…and I’ll look down and whisper ‘No.”