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Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Watchmen

March 18, 2009

29. Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (1986-1987)

Length: 416 pages

Genre: Graphic Novel; Sci-Fi (sort of; superheroes with fancy technological gadgets in an alternate history, at least)

Started: 03 March 2009
Finished: 09 March 2009

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Well, since my über-comic-geek friends started squee-ing about the movie several months ago, I knew I’d have to read it eventually. Now they’ve all gone and seen it without me, since I was too slow to finish the book. Hrmph.
Verdict? There’s enough here that would reward a re-read, but my (non-existent) graphic novels purchasing budget is going towards the Sandman books first.

Words, images, and
story make this more than just
that naked blue guy.

Summary: Watchmen gets billed as the quintessential superhero comic, but that’s pretty inaccurate; the only person with superpowers is Dr. Manhattan – a being who, following a nuclear accident, can see and manipulate sub-atomic particles at will. Set in an alternate 1985 where Nixon never left office and Dr. Manhattan’s presence means both clean renewable energy and an unstoppable American military advantage, Watchmen is peopled by normal folks – who like dressing up in costumes and going out and beating up bad guys. Unfortunately, vigilante justice has been outlawed since ’77, and the “heroes” are reacting in different ways. Members of the old Minutemen team have mostly settled into normal retirement, younger crimefighters try to live normal lives while tinkering with their gadgets in their basements, and Rorschach – who has become more mask than man – openly flouts the law while dispensing his own brutal form of justice. However, when one of the old guard, The Comedian, is murdered, all must take action – because it appears as though a Mask Killer is on the loose, and not only their own safety, but the future of the human race may be at stake.

Review: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Watchmen is an incredibly dense, dark story, with plenty of memorable characters, twists and turns, and a plot that deftly weaves together politics, morality, intrigue, suspense, and action. Which is all well and good, but what really elevates it to the pantheon of the modern classics, however, and what makes it a must-read graphic novel, is how extraordinarily well it uses the graphic novel medium. More than just words with pictures, practically every frame interlaces the text with the images that accompanies it, creating deeper layers of meaning than either would have on its own. (Kim’s blog has a nice example analysis of the first page of the comic.) It’s easy to treat it just like a comic, with your eyes flying across the page, but there’s certainly enough depth there to reward a more careful reading.

My main problem with Watchmen is that I think I was born five or ten years too late to find it entirely relevant. I was discussing this with friends this weekend, and the first “world event” of which I remember being aware was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Consequently, books and movies that use the tension of the Cold War, or the emotions surrounding Vietnam, or the idea of Russians-as-baddies as major thematic elements always tend to lose me a little. Conceptually, I can understand it, but since I didn’t really live it, it doesn’t make as much of a personal impact on me as it should. I also wasn’t crazy about the artwork – the drawings are fine, but the color palette uses a lot of oranges/greens/purples, which got a little hard on the eyes. Still, definitely a worthwhile read… now I just have to find someone to go see the movie with me. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Deservedly called a classic on all fronts. Not for the wee-uns, but certainly recommended for those who like superhero stories, those who are interested in getting a grounding in the graphic novel genre, and those who like alternate histories and dense, very finely-layered and tightly-woven stories.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Stainless Steel Droppings, Trish’s Reading Nook, S. Krishna’s Books, The Book Catapult, Stella Matutina, Falling Stacks, Everyday Reads, Sophisticated Dorkiness, The YA YA YAs, Books I Done Read, Vulpes Libres, Things Mean A Lot, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Musings of a Bookish Kitty, Books & Other Thoughts, Experiments in Reading, The Ax for the Frozen Sea
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Rorschach’s Journal. October 12th, 1985.: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2009 2:52 am

    I do hope you get to see the film. It’s faithful adaptation save for a slight change towards the end :)

  2. Dave permalink
    March 19, 2009 9:15 am

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’ll go with ya.

  3. March 19, 2009 9:25 am

    Lightheaded – I’ve heard what the slight change is (not what they changed it *to*, though), and I have to say, I think I’m going to be okay with it.

    Dave – What’re you doing this weekend? :)

  4. March 19, 2009 3:01 pm

    My husband ordered this one from amazon and was very excited that it arrived yesterday. I’ll have to take a peek at it after he’s done reading it.

  5. March 19, 2009 4:34 pm

    lol, love the haiku. I agree; the way Watchmen takes full advantage of the medium is brilliant.

  6. March 20, 2009 3:16 pm

    I’m not sure if I’m going to read this now that I’ve seen the movie.

  7. March 21, 2009 5:09 pm

    Alyce – Definitely!

    Nymeth – It was definitely an eye-opener for me; I wasn’t expecting quite so many layers.

    Ladytink – What did you think of the movie? I can’t imagine what it would have been like from the p.o.v. of someone who hadn’t read it.

  8. edifanob permalink
    March 22, 2009 5:37 pm

    I read the graphic novel before I watched the movie. Anyway whether you watched the movie or not I recommend to read the novel.

  9. March 22, 2009 11:41 pm

    I wanted to re-read Watchmen before I went to the movie, but I had borrowed the comic to my sister and couldn’t. It was sort of fun going into the movie not really remembering everything and then having pages from the comic come back to me through the images. I’m glad I had some background though, otherwise I might have been a little confused. I think I might wait on a re-read until the movie comes out on DVD so I can work on them close together.

  10. March 30, 2009 11:00 am

    edifanob – I’ve done, and enjoyed, both!

    Kim – Oh, I like the idea of re-reading it with the DVD! Although I am glad I saw it on the big screen, just for some of the cinematography.


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