Saturday, December 20, 2008

Who watches the watchmen?

Set in the 1980s in an alternate U.S. where Nixon is still president, the Cold War is in full swing, and mutually assured destruction is a button's push away, Watchmen is a gripping, dark tale. One of the teenagers who shelves books at my library loaned me his copy, and I thought I could whip right through it and get it back to him quickly; instead I found myself taking a very long time to read it - it is much denser and more complex than the typical graphic novel. It was originally published in twelve installments back in the 1980s, and as a novel it won the Hugo award for best novel in 1988.

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 Moore uses them to explore morality on virtually every level."
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."

15 comments:

  1. i'm fairly interested in this. normally don't go for superhero stuff, but this looks like it might grab me. maybe because it's an alt-past w/ Nixon as president. schpooky!

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  2. I keep seeing this everywhere recently,probably because of the movie. Sometime soon I need to go and check it out!

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  3. Molly - I think the reason I never picked it up was the whole superhero thing, which made me expect a predictable storyline without much depth. Boy, was I wrong! I'd be interested to hear your thoughts (and your hub's, too).

    Valentina - It's funny, but once I started reading it, it was everywhere I looked! I hope the movie will be good - the trailer makes it look fun, but we'll see.

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  4. This book is one of my Christmas presents to myself (yes, I do weird things like that :P). I really can't wait to read it.

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  5. Have you wrapped it, too? :-D I'll be looking forward to your review!

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  6. I'm going to have to read this before I see the movie... and I will have to see the movie once it comes out, so I'd better get cracking! Luckily I've got a friend who owns it who's almost done with it, and will let me borrow. :)

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  7. Watchman is one of those works that turned the superhero genre on its head. I really liked it, but I'm afraid the film may not do it justice - the way they simplified V for Vendetta.

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  8. totally unrelated but I read some of Nora Robb and found her ok, but not worth all the hype she gets. Hmm...

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  9. Did you read JD Robb (the "in Death" books, or other Nora Roberts books? I've only read the "in Death" ones, which I liked a lot. I don't know if you'd like the serial killer/detective angle, but there's romance, too!

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  10. Oh, that sounds a lot better than I thought! I don't know too much about graphic novels except what I've seen in the movies!

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  11. It was very interesting, although I don't know that I'd recommend this to a non-seasoned graphic novel reader for a first try. Unless you're really into superheroes. But still, if you enjoy the movie, you might want to check it out.

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  12. This was actually the first graphic novel I ever read, and I adored it and started reading other graphic novels because of it. I'd highly recommend it as an introduction to comics for someone who has never had an interest in them before. My review was here: http://fatalisfortuna.blogspot.com/2008/10/review-watchmen-by-alan-moore.html

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  13. Hi, Fatalisfortuna! Well, I stand corrected. I'm glad it turned you onto graphic novels - it's great when there's one particular book that pulls you in to a new kind of book. Thanks for the review link - I'll add it to my post.

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  14. Great book. Looks like it was paced for the movie.

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  15. Parka - Thanks for stopping by! I only hope the movie will be half as good as the book. There's a lot of potential, but they could completely ruin it. We'll see!

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