Much of this shift can be attributed to a single masterpiece: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. Of course, Moore didn't invent the dark, troubled superhero. He was working with archetypes based on specific pre-existing characters, in this case derived mainly from the roster of Charlton Comics, a long-suffering publisher that had recently been absorbed by Moore's then-employer DC Comics. But Moore took the bleakness, neuroses, brooding philosophy, and nihilism that had been coursing through comic books for decades, and elevated the form to high art, something for the smart set and the post-grads as well as comic-book nerds and pimply teens. With Watchmen, he set out to write a comic-book series with the depth and heft of a Moby Dick. Audacious? Sure. Pretentious? Probably. Did he succeed? Indubitably. At the risk of being slightly hyperbolic, Watchmen is such a monumental achievement that it makes Moby Dick look like a flaming pile of horseshit by comparison.
He has the advantage on me. I've not yet read Moby Dick (shut up).
But Watchmen is a monumental achievement.
I'd stopped reading comics, but kept popping into comic stores. I saw the covers for the individual issues of Watchmen, but didn't know what was up. I was out of the loop by then, having GAFIAted for good.
Then a (now-former) friend twisted my arm and had me read Frank Miller's Batman: Year One in collected form.
Somehow I also got to read the collected Watchmen.
Absolutely frikkin nuclear.
I've read it again within the past 2-3 years, and it still staggered me.
It's one of those rare things that revolutionizes, redefines, and reshapes everything that happens after it. It is a turning point, a high point.
In the 1970s, artists and writers for DC and Marvel would again and again state that comics were able to do much more than what was being published. Many of them would go off to other companies or raise money and self-publish. But not one of them achieved Watchmen status. How sad is that?
And now the buzzbuzzbuzz is already building over the upcoming movie. A movie that is in some jeopardy of ever being released other than as a highly-pirated unauthorized leak! See Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily post: SAVE US! Warner's 'Watchmen' In Legal Peril After Judge Won't Dismiss Fox Suit.
I hope for a resolution. But sometimes these rights issues drag on and on.
In the meantime, if you haven't yet, get the collected Watchmen and read it. Put aside whatever notions you have about comic books. This transcends all of them. It's literature.
WATCHMEN Trailer - AMAZING!
Watchmen Movie: Video Contest (which is over, by the way)
Watchmen: The Movie
-- via Medialoper