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Watchmen: What you need to know before its spiritual sequel hits shelves

Arguably the most influential comic book of all time

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Watchmen is a 1986 graphic novel from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, published by DC Comics. You might have heard of it.

Today’s episode of Issue at Hand, Polygon’s show about the strange world of comics, covers how and why Watchmen got made, what it’s about, and why it’s considered such a masterpiece of comics storytelling.

For one thing, Watchmen is famous for using the nine-panel grid, a particular visual form that’s come to be associated with top-notch storytelling and the attempt to use comics to address weighty issues. Almost every page of the book is a variation on nine panels of equal size and shape.

And symmetricity is a major recurring element of Watchmen, often linked to the character of Rorschach, whose shifting mask is always made of symmetrical shapes. But Watchmen’s fifth issue, “Fearful Symmetry,” is itself entirely symmetrical. The first page has the same panel layout as the last page, mirrored. So do the second and second-to-last page, the third and third-to-last page, and so on, until you reach the center to find Watchmen’s only double page spread.

The centerfold of Watchmen #5, “Fearful Symmetry” (1986), DC Comics.
The centerfold of Watchmen #5, “Fearful Symmetry.”
Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons/DC Comics

Imagine my horror when I was collecting assets for this episode of Issue at Hand and discovered that the digital edition of Watchmen on Comixology broke up the only double page spread in the most influential comic of the last three decades.

But let this be a warning to you, Reader, about the perils of tweeting in anger.

It turns out people can see what you put on the internet.

And then you just feel terribly embarrassed.

Reader, I would like to thank Comixology for editing their edition of Watchmen and apologize again for calling them bastards.