Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons

I started reading Watchmen during second term of last school year, and finished reading it for my graphic novel class during May term. I forgot that I had started a review until I got into listening to Bob Dylan and the song “The Times, They Are A-Changin” came on. For those of you who don’t know, that is the title song for the film adaptation of the graphic novel. Back when graphic novels were, shall I say, less accepted and more ‘edgy’, Watchmen was a must-read for many followers of the medium. Now, it seems cliche to list it as a favorite graphic novel, but I will preface the review by admitting it has become one of mine. I was unsure of how long it really is until I searched it — my book is broken into the original 12-issue series, and so each issue starts over at page 1. According to goodreads, Watchmen is 408 pages.

Watchmen

Watchmen is incredibly complex and has many, many threads of narrative. One of the main threads is that of the people who used to make up the Watchmen and their lives. There is Jon, as most everyone would recognize as Dr Manhattan, his girlfriend Laurie (Silk Spectre II), Dan (Nite Owl II), Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), and Rorschach.  Rorschach, the only one from the Watchmen that still wears his mask, is convinced there is someone killing off masked heroes. He travels his old haunts and alerts his old comrades of his hypothesis. While this is occurring, the world these ex-heroes live in is illuminated. In a political struggle with the Soviet Union, scientists count down a giant clock to midnight — how close they think we are to nuclear war.

A second thread occurs as a series of stories and flashbacks. We are told the story of the original Minutemen, and their exploits and fall into disrepair as many members met horrible ends (death, insanity, etc.). This is a sort of parallel to the present, post-Keene Act. The Keene Act outlawed vigilantes, forcing heroes to hang up their costumes.

A third thread is a separate story entirely. Included throughout the novel is metacomic sort of story. From Tales of the Black Freighter, we get “Marooned,” a story about a man who is marooned on an island with his crew. I won’t get into this thread much — though it is interesting and a great commentary on the rest of the novel, it is grisly.

A fourth (sort of) thread we receive are chapters from “Under the Hood”, a novel written by Hollis Mason (original Nite Owl). It is interesting as well, and adds a lot of back story to the novel, but I won’t go into much detail here. In a similar fashion, we get to read some of Adrian Veidt’s letters and ideas.

If you thought I was kidding about an insanely complex story, I think you might see now that I was being completely serious. Everything in the novel is clearly written or illustrated with intent. There are so many subplots that while I want to rant about how I enjoyed each one, I will resist. Moore himself even said, “we spend a good deal of time with the people on the street. We wanted to spend as much time detailing these characters and making them believable as we did the main characters.” So I hope you can understand that every character was deep and well thought out.

Due to the fact that I read this for a class, I have lots of things I would like to talk about, but for brevity’s sake I will pick just one. In small groups, we discussed the polarity of characters Rorschach, who sees life in black and white, and Veidt, who has a much more subtle view. I personally preferred Veidt’s views, and though many who saw the movie see him as an ass, I believe the novel puts his views into perspective and show how he really is a genius (his ‘power’ is being the most intelligent man in the world).

One of my favorite things about this novel is the excruciating amount of detail. I really mean that; if you look through the book after reading it multiple times, I am positive you would still find new symbols or background images that comment on the story. My favorite chapter of the book is titled, Fearful Symmetry, and rightly so. I was incredibly pleased (tickled pink, you might say) to find that the first and last page, second and second to last, third and third to last, etc. pages were symmetrical — in color, size, and many times even in content. This is just one example of the time put into the amazing illustrations. Every panel seems painstakingly put together with tiny details that are only revealed through multiple readings, once you have a grasp on plot.

Sound like I’m gushing? The only thing I really didn’t enjoy about Watchmen was the “Marooned” comic — and that was just because it was a lot darker (in color, not just content) than the rest of the novel. Even this, I could appreciate, if not love. Just about everything else in this novel is worthwhile. I think the questions that arise from this story about humanity, life, and what we are personally willing to do when it comes to saving human life are worth pondering. I have much respect for both Moore and Gibbons for the masterpiece they have created. I urge you to read it. If you enjoyed the movie, read the novel; if you haven’t seen or read either and don’t know what to expect, feel free to watch the film. It is also excellent — many scenes were taken directly from panels in the book. Both are excellent pieces of literature.

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