Watchmen (Review)

May 1, 2010

Book cover for "Watchmen" by Alan Moore.Title: Watchmen

Author: Alan Moore

Publication Year: 1987

Pages: 436

Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel

Source: Gift from Zaid shortly after the movie came out

I cannot believe that it took me this long to get around to reading this. To be honest, I’m entirely unsure how to talk about this book and not sound like a completely unintelligent fool. It was just so fantastic!

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it or seen the movie, here’s a quick introduction to the setup of the story from Wikipedia:

Watchmen is set in an alternate reality which closely mirrors the contemporary world of the 1980s. The primary difference is the presence of superheroes. The point of divergence occurs in the year 1938. Their existence in this iteration of America is shown to have dramatically affected and altered the outcomes of real-world events such as the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard Nixon. In keeping with the realism of the series, although the costumed crimefighters of Watchmen are commonly called “superheroes”, the only character who possesses obvious superhuman powers is Doctor Manhattan. The existence of Doctor Manhattan has given the U.S. a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, which has increased tensions between the two nations. Eventually, superheroes grow unpopular among the police and the public, which has led to the passage of legislation in 1977 to outlaw them. While many of the heroes retired, Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian operate as government-sanctioned agents, and Rorschach continues to operate outside the law.

More information, from the same article:

Moore used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and to critique the superhero concept. Watchmen takes place on an alternate history Earth where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. The country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement, and eventually leads them to confront a plot to stave off nuclear war by killing millions of people.

Creatively, the focus of Watchmen is on its structure. Gibbons used a nine-panel grid layout throughout the series and added recurring symbols such as a blood-stained smiley. All but the last issue feature supplemental fictional documents that add to the series’ backstory, and the narrative is intertwined with that of another story, a fictional pirate comic titled Tales of the Black Freighter, which one of the characters reads. Structured as a nonlinear narrative, the story skips through space, time and plot. Watchmen has received critical acclaim both in the comics and mainstream press, and is regarded by critics as a seminal text of the comics medium. After a number of attempts to adapt the series into a feature film, director Zack Snyder’s Watchmen was released in 2009.

I absolutely loved this, and am sad that I didn’t read it earlier on in my life. The characters were fabulously flawed and realistic, and the tensions and conflicts that Moore presents are still relevant in today’s society. The way that the graphic novel was presented – as a mix of comic panels, intertwined with the Black Freighter story, along with other formats like the “excerpts” of Hollis’ book, letters to characters, newspaper articles, etc. – was great for exposing plot points and the opinions, leanings, and interactions of different characters. There were so many different philosophies and sides to the story that even though I knew the general idea of the story before I started, I was never bored or quite able to predict what was going to come next.

Like I said before, I really don’t have the words to describe how beautifully crafted and utterly fantastic Watchmen is. So I’m not going to continue to try!

If you haven’t already, you should read it.

Yes, you.

Rating:

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