It must be said that Moore was in no way prepared for this development, and indeed would be both slow and reluctant to adjust to the reality that he was now engaged in an elaborate magical War. As discussed at length, he reached the end of Watchmen with a sense of entirely understandable exhaustion, given that it was the culmination of a genuinely staggering period of nonstop deadline-based productivity. But even if one were to take Swamp Thing, Marvelman, V for Vendetta, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Captain Britain, and the wealth of other material Moore created in the five years prior to its completion, Watchmen alone would justify a sense of exhaustion.
It is not merely that Watchmen is a complex and difficult work. Rather, it is that Watchmen is a work that attempts to fully reimagine the medium, industry, and its potential. As Kieron Gillen puts it, “Watchmen is a philosophical statement of how you should be able to read comics”—an attempt to force what he called for in “Writing for Comics” when he wrote that “comics have a capacity for effect that they haven’t begun to take advantage of, and are held back by narrow and increasingly obsolete notions of what constitutes a comic story. In order for comics to move forward as a medium, these notions must change.” Watchmen is an effort to force the issue—a naked and unabashed attempt to change the world that faltered only by doing so in a completely different manner than Moore intended.
The heart of Moore’s intended revolution comes in the way in which it creates its sense of scope and magnitude. Some of these things have already been discussed—Moore’s overlapping narrative strands and use of recurring imagery and iconography, for instance, so that the iconic blood splatter on the Comedian’s badge reappears as the final disintegrating wisp of smoke in which the embracing Bernards are incinerated at the end of issue #11. But a more fundamental aspect of the comic’s vastness emerges out of the particular way in which Moore employs the nine panel grid. Watchmen has been described by numerous critics as being “clockwork,” but few actually articulate precisely what this means beyond the straightforward. Nevertheless, it’s apt. The nine panel grid means that the individual units of storytelling within Watchmen are small. More to the point, however, Moore makes the actions within them small. The iconic finger break sequence in issue #1 is a mission statement to this effect—a viscerally impactful demonstration that small actions can portray violence just as well and even better than ostentatious and exaggerated action sequences.
Indeed, there really aren’t any of those in Watchmen. The rape sequence in “Absent Friends,” the alley fight in “The Judge of All the Earth,” Rorschach’s escape in “Fearful Symmetry,” and the failed attempt to stop Ozymandias in “Look Upon My Works Ye Mighty” are the only multipanel fight scenes in the book.…