Watchmen (graphic novel)
By Good-Evil Contributor Tuesday, 3 Mar 2009

Contributed by Jon Smokowicz. This is a two part piece, this part focusing on the graphic novel, and tomorrow’s part on this week’s release of the film.

Watchmen is being touted as the most celebrated graphic novel of all time in press for the film release. There is not much argument one could make against this claim as it has appeared on lists of the best novels written in recent decades in Time and Entertainment Weekly. This means a lot to some or, as the dumb bitch who sold me my copy informed me, “It’s just a big comic book.”

Well Dumb Bitch, you, as your ilk so commonly are, were wrong. Watchmen did not disappoint. It is an intriguing thriller by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons filled with complex characters and uses savvy narrative techniques. It takes place in a world similar to our own with a few exceptions, the largest being the existence of honest to goodness costumed superheroes (Although this may not be too far off from real life according to
this Rolling Stone article).

The bulk of the storyline involves six such heroes, who once fought in a Justice League-esque group. During the present day, Watchmen the group has disbanded due to the fact that costumed superheroing has been outlawed after a public outcry against their vigilante justice. A textured history is developed through flashbacks that show the main heroes during their heyday, as well as a band of heroes that preceded them. Their reality is made all the more real by the inclusion of excerpts from different texts that exist within the story, such as the biography of one former superhero and news paper articles.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

My favorite of these is the inclusion of a pirate comic about a man marooned on a island after his ship is destroyed by pirates. As the only survivor he attempts to get home to warn others of the deadly pirates while he slips into madness. The panels of this comic are interspersed with those of the primary driving narrative. The descriptions of the activities and thoughts of this survivor work to highlight tensions developing in the scenes they overlap. It is impressive.

Unlike most superhero fare, Watchmen plays out as a mystery. The action is kicked off when one aging hero, The Comedian, gets tossed out a window after getting his ass handed too him by an unknown assailant. Rorschach, a wily sociopath, who looks and plays the part of a detective, takes it upon himself to solve this case, having never given up his crime fighting ways despite them being outlawed. He warns his former do-gooder buddies that he believes some one is offing costumed superheroes. While they are skeptical initially, they are each slowly drawn into their former roles as events progress.

That is really all that should be said of the plot of the story without spoiling anything. The narrative is densely layered. Much of the information is personal back story for different characters that develops the emotional impact. There is much nuance to the story as themes of moral ambiguity and righteousness are explored. Considering the heavy themes explored and the well written, memorable heroes who also very much feel like regular people, it is easy to see why this is considered the best graphic novel ever written. It is a classic, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

2 Responses to “Watchmen (graphic novel)”

  1. jer Says:

    I just finished this up. I was pretty blown away by it and I agree wholeheartedly with your review. Dumb bitch!

  2. Zach Patterson Says:

    I read this about 10 years ago on the wisdom of the comic book community and really liked it, though I don’t think I fully grasped all the concepts in the book. Re-reading it now, I’m really coming to see why this has endured and been so beloved as long as it has. its about superheroes who are real people, about real life and merging it with the fantastic and the allure of comics…it’s an awesome work of literature that is a tribute to why people read comics in the first place.

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