Saturday, January 20, 2018

WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons



Watchmen - written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons


Who watches The Watchmen?

Wow! This is NOT my Uncle’s comic book. (inside joke there only my brothers will appreciate). Regular readers of this blog will recognize this is not my normal reading genre. I’ve wanted to read this for years, ever since I heard it won a Hugo Award, so upsetting in Sci-Fi circles that they changed the rules. A comic can no longer win. If you do something that makes em change the rules…you’ve done something extraordinary.

Furthermore, in most circles it is not considered a comic book, but rather a graphic novel. What’s the difference? Length mostly - it's like a 400 page comic book. Graphic Novelist Neil Gaiman offers this pithy distinction when responding to a claim that he does not write comic books but graphic novels, Gaiman said the commenter:
meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who'd been informed that she wasn't actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.

So as the Gold Standard of the Graphic Novels I wanted to give this a read, and let me now repeat – Wow! I read it in a single day, but it will be troubling me for some days more I’m certain.

Set in an alternate history of the mid 1980s, with flashbacks as far back as the 30s. It is a world not terribly different than our own, with the 80s world on the precarious brink of nuclear holocaust and mutually assured destruction. It is also a world of superheroes, though more commonly referred to as masked adventurers or vigilantes, most in forced retirement due to public law. With one exception, the masked adventurers possess no superhuman abilities – they are simply physically, or mentally, or technologically powerful. They are also – damaged goods. You think Batman is dark and brooding – you should meet Rorschach. When ordered to cease and desist by mandate of the Keene Act, Rorschach’s response was to leave the body of a dead multiple rapist outside police headquarters with a one word note – NEVER!

Most of the others submit to the law, until one of their number, The Comedian is murdered in what seems to be a conspiracy to eliminate the erstwhile crime fighters.

It is a riveting mystery that raised the question of the ends justifying the means to an epic scale. Besides the written story that I thought was complex and fascinating, I have to say a word about the illustrations. The word “Graphic” is there for a reason. The artwork is fantastic and critical; the story would fail without the illustrations. Many panels with no words or dialogue tell an important part of the tale.

The principals:

Hollis Mason (the original Nite Owl)
Daniel Drieberg (Nite Owl II)
Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)
Edward Blake (The Comedian)
Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre II)
Walter Kovacs (Rorschach)
Dr. Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhatten) – The one exception with superhuman abilities due to what else: a laboratory experiment gone wrong.

This is the first Graphic Novel I’ve read, and although it isn’t Shakespeare or Tolstoy, I liked it very much. I plan to give a few more Graphic Novels a read. So what do you think of Graphic Novels: serious literary genre or childish comics?

Excerpts:

…part of the art of being a hero is knowing when you don’t need to be one anymore… ~ Hollis Mason (Nite Owl)

I am watching the stars… I am trying to give a name to the force that set them in motion. ~ Dr. Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhatten)

The only other active vigilante is called Rorschach, real name unknown. He expresses his feelings toward compulsory retirement in a note left outside police headquarters along with dead multiple rapist – NEVER!

Man, when preparing for bloody war, will orate loudly and most eloquently in the name of peace.

As they dragged him away, Rorschach spoke to the other inmates. He said, “I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with me.”

Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) to Doctor Manhatten – “Jon, wait, before you leave…I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.
Doc Manhatten – “In the end? NOTHING ends Adrian. Nothing EVER ends.”


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6 comments:

  1. Haha! Yea, I did a doubletake there when I saw the comic book title up for a review on here. I'm glad that you liked it though because it is one I want to read. Many people seem to love it. I saw the movie once, but was bored by it.

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    1. If you didn't like the movie, I'm not sure you'll like the book. But who knows. I thought it was excellent, and a bit troubling. Thanks Zezee :)

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  2. I haven't yet read enough graphic novels to judge them as a group, though I'm guessing some will be more like silly comics and others more like serious fiction. I read this one years ago (maybe in college?), and I remember liking some of the characterizations - especially Rorschach. But one thing that bothered me, from what I remember, Doctor Manhattan's powers were broad and vague enough that they could be twisted around to serve the plot in ways I didn't always buy. But I'd have to re-read it to give specific examples.

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    1. Yes...Rorschach was by far the most fascinating character to me. I'm sure you are correct, some graphic novels are just long comic books, some are a bit more thought provoking. This certainly was. Thanks for the feedback.

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  3. Comics are the medium and graphic novel is the format.

    The definition is fuzzy, but some people wouldn't actually consider Watchmen a graphic novel, since it's a collection of serialized comic issues and wasn't originally published as a single volume.

    But, either way, it's all comics. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but you read a comic book.

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    1. Hi Rob. I certainly agree the definition is fuzzy, but apart from that, I beg to differ. In a literal sense “comic” is a misnomer. There is nothing comic about Watchmen. It is on the other hand “graphic” (illustrated), and a “novel” – fictional prose of at least 40,000 words.

      Many novels were published serially, so I don’t think that is an issue. It is one story.

      However, I’m ambivalent about the label. My real question: is this literature or commercial tripe? In my opinion, it’s legitimate literature. As I said in my journal entry, I’m not equating it to Shakespeare or Tolstoy, but it is an intriguing story, with a challenging conflict, and complex characters. I’ve definitely read works that are indisputably categorized as novels, which did not make me think or feel as strongly as Watchmen did.

      Thanks for the feedback Rob.

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