Watchmen is a staggering piece of work; every time I pull it off the shelf--usually when I’m trying to fact-check some detail while writing an iconoclastic take-down of its legacy--I end up getting sucked back in, twelve years old and mindblown again. It belongs in the pantheon based on Dave Gibbons’ artwork alone. It’s the Easy Rider of superhero comics, the Rites of Spring of superhero comics, the "Birth of the Cool" of superhero comics. It manages to be both inevitably-overrated and impossible to overrate, like the Beatles or Citizen Kane. But it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs. It’s kind of a barrel of tears and razors and Rubik’s Cubes. It’s Citizen Kane, but it’s also Xanadu, all shadows and puzzles and bad vibes. It’s Easy Rider in the sense that it demonstrated that a youthsploitation medium could produce art that punched its weight alongside anything else, but it’s also Easy Rider in the sense that it has a super-buzzkill ending and is kind of nailed to its historical moment (which is why Snyder’s insistence on keeping all the Nixon/Reagan stuff felt so nonsensical in 2007.) And it’s fun, in spite of all that, but a lot of the fun is complicated fun, rarefied fun, specialist fun. Academic fun, too—all those symbols, symmetries, callbacks, ironic juxtapositions, and citations from Nietzsche/Blake/Shelley/Jung gave geeks accustomed to subjecting far less ambitious works to scholarly close-reading a chance to use that intellectual toolbox on something actually designed to reward it.