With Warner Bros.’s the Watchmen movie’s future still in jeopardy I thought it would be a good idea to read the graphic novel by Alan Moore, to see if it really is as good as most critics say it is. Yes, I have to admit that I never got around to reading this masterpiece before. And I say masterpiece not because the general consensus on this, but because I really enjoyed reading it.
Alan Moore is truly one of the few people in the genre, who managed to blur the lines between pulp fiction and literary finesse. I don’t want to glorify his persona here too much, so I’ll just move on to the review of Watchmen. Originally a twelve-issue mini series, Watchmen became an instant classic and is now one of the bestselling graphic novels published by DC. Moore imagines a world (set in the mid eighties) at the brink of nuclear war, in which Nixon is still president and in which masked heroes and villains are a thing of the past. Of the former group of crime fighters, which existed between the mid-thirties to the late seventies, only two members are still allowed to continue their work and this is only because they are endorsed by the U.S. government. The Comedian, a gun for hire and ruthless warrior and Dr. Manhattan, a scientist who turned into an omniscient being after a terrible accident and who is now able to influence the atomic structure of everything around him, are the these two last superheroes. When the Comedian is suddenly killed and the other is exiled, the former members of the team gather together to find out if they are being targeted.
I know that this is a really short summary for a 400 page graphic novel, but the story is so complex and interesting, that divulging too much would spoil the fun. Moore does not simply tell a superhero story, but uses so many different techniques that I am tempted to call Watchmen a postmodern book. The references to other works of fiction are so many that the alone would fill a book and also the structure is very film like, which makes Watchmen such a unique and interesting read. The traditional, yet beautiful art by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins is perfect. The character design, the small details in the background and everything else is done with such a devotion to detail that you can get lost in the panels. It is also important to note that Moore included several pages in every issue, to extend the story. Some of these pages were fictional texts, while others would be fictional interviews with the characters or newspaper clippings taken from the world of the novel.
While the characters are based on existing superheroes, they are unique in their own way. Moore gives us some heroes who retired and returned to a normal life, after their kind was outlawed, while others continued to fight and never gave up their struggle for justice. He also shows us how close some of the vigilantes are to complete insanity. Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach are probably the most interesting characters. While John (Dr. M.) slowly loses his humanity and replaces it with pure logic and knowledge, Rorschach turns into a self-righteous man, who is not able to compromise anymore and will do what’s “right” at all cost.
Watchmen is not new, it does not change the genre and it certainly doesn’t turn non-believers into instant comic fans. It is simply different. The storytelling is not linear, the jumps between panels can be confusing at times and the monologues of certain characters can be tiresome at times. Yet this all is what makes Watchmen feel real. Moore’s vision is closer to our reality than most superhero tales and therefore extremely enjoyable. The “what if” feeling keeps the reader going and the surprising conclusion makes it all worthwhile.
So what are you waiting for? Go out and get Watchmen!
Reread Value 10
Overall rating 10/10