Saturday, January 31, 2009

So I Finally Read Watchmen

As readers of this blog likely know, I am a staunch comic book fan. I loves me some Spidey, Superman, Batman, Hulk, and others. But I’m not the most well read comic book fan out there. There are many historic and highly praised comic works that I’ve never read, but there is one comic book classic that I’ve finally experienced after many years—Watchmen, by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.

For those readers unfamiliar with this work, Watchmen is a 12-part comic book series published from fall 1986 through summer 1987 by DC Comics, publishers of Superman, Batman, and the majority of legendary characters from the earlier part of the 20th century. The story was not set in that same universe, however, but a universe parallel to ours. The “heroes” of the story differ from the usual comic book heroes in that they are highly flawed people who did not necessarily become heroes with the best of intentions, and most of them, with one glaring exception, do not possess superpowers, but simply are skilled vigilantes in costume. The plot starts out as a simple murder mystery, and then becomes something much more massive and dangerous in scope as the plot progresses, resulting in a twist ending.

The features that make Watchmen stand out in comics fans eyes are the themes that permeate the story from beginning to end. Watchmen tells a much darker, mature, and adult story than was thought capable of comic book storytelling at the time, although such themes are commonplace in comics today. These themes include the exploration of the nature of a person who would choose to be a “superhero,” and what good such heroes are capable of achieving as world situations become increasingly desperate and apocalyptic.

Another characteristic of Watchmen is the layers of symbolism throughout the story. Dialogue from a character in one situation may mirror the action in another situation of the story, sometimes ironically so. There is also the use of a comic book story within the comic book that deals with the same themes as the “real” action. It is obvious that author Moore, who also wrote the comic stories V For Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and my favorite comic story, Batman: The Killing Joke, planned the story very carefully, along with artist Gibbons, to whom Moore has frequently credited with several story characteristics. Words and art are very intricately meshed and compliment each other in ways I have rarely encountered in other stories. The only strong criticism I can give it is that it did not connect with me on an emotional level, although I certainly did connect with it on a cerebral, intellectual level. Then again, the story is intentionally unsentimental, so that may be more due to my own personal idiosyncrasies rather than a flaw of the story.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I’ve finally read Watchmen, and I believe it deserves its place as a comic book classic. If you have always thought of comics as “kids’ stuff,” I highly recommend giving Watchmen a try. It’s a great way to introduce people unfamiliar with comics into the medium. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a children's comic book and is not intended for anyone sensitive to adult themes.

As you can see from my post of Wednesday January 28th, there is a highly anticipated film adaptation of the story debuting in theaters on March 6th. Click on that widget for the film's trailer.

Here is the official movie Web site:

Here is a link to the paperback collection of the 12 issues from Amazon:

Here is a piece of viral marketing for the film featuring a "news program" discussing the existence of one of the story's most remarkable characters:

Finally, here is a humorous depiction of the story's main characters if portrayed by the cast from my beloved Peanuts comic strip (artist unknown).

Thanks! Anyone familiar with the story please leave a comment (but no spoilers, please).


Montgomery Q said...

I'm with you 100%. Couldnt connct emotionally, but a damn fine read.

Pat said...

I loved it when I read it, but the nihilism of the ending is a bit scary. Plus I did think that the killer was a bit too obvious; that whole "the guy who escapes being the second murder victim is the killer distracting attention from himself" routine has been done to death in movies and in comics (most recently in the dreadful Identity Crisis series).


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