The novel opens with the death of a man, who turns out to have been an aging ex-superhero called the Comedian. Another superhero, a sinister yet compelling figure called Rorshach, suspects there is more to his death than meets the eye. Despite the fact that superheroes have been outlawed, Rorshach has continued to act as a vigilante. He tries to warn the few surviving superheroes that he suspects someone is out to kill those who remain. At first they do not believe him, for he is known to be one of the more paranoid members of their former ranks. But then events indeed appear to corroborate his suspicions, and it seems that something must be done.
The narrative switches from present to past, flitting from character to character, and is supplemented by pages of straight text from various sources that serve to flesh out the back story as well as a very dark story-within-a-story, a tale from a comic book one of the characters is reading. The resulting effect is of a mosaic that comes together, piece by piece, telling a story that is chilling and evocative. I highly recommend reading this if you intend to see the film, which is to be released this coming spring. There is no doubt but that, whether the film is disappointing or delightful, the complicated backstory and character background that the book provides will enhance the movie-going experience.
The book's superheroes are not two-dimensional figures who have the good of mankind first and foremost in their priorities. They are flawed men and women, in some cases psychotically so, and aside from Dr. Manhattan (my favorite of the superheroes, mainly because of the way his unique superhero characteristics are portrayed so perfectly using the comic panels), possess no superhuman abilities. They have a depth and complexity that, if I were not an avid reader of graphic novels, I might have been surprised to see. This is definitely not a book for young children - aside from the many scenes of graphic violence, the bleak and depressing atmosphere and events, it is best appreciated by mature readers who will appreciate its complexity and biting social commentary.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (DC Comics, 1987)
Other blog reviews:
The Book Review: "The characters are what make Watchmen great. There are so many fascinating and deep characters here, and
The Fickle Hand of Fate: "The one most impressive feature is the sheer weight of all the subtle things going on at any given time. From the slowly counting doomsday clock, to the slow wash of blood through every chapter, to the chapter titles that are quotes by anyone from Bob Dylan to Albert Einstein."
Paperback Rider: "The characters are complex (as is the plot), and the story is told in a manner that still seems innovative. There are sequences in ‘Watchmen’ that are absolute masterworks of the combination of text and visual storytelling."
Stainless Steel Droppings: "Its message is both unsettling and hopeful depending on where one places their focus as the events unfold in the final chapter. In short, Watchmen is a very good story and well worth your taking the time to read it, before the film’s release."