Watchmen is – as probably everybody who ever knew a geek knows by now – a graphic novel by Alan Moore (writing) and Dave Gibbons (illustrating) (and was recently adapted into a movie, review follows tomorrow).
In a parallel world, it’s 1985 and Nixon is still president of the United States. In the 40s, actual masked vigilantes appeared, which led to a ban in the 70s. Now, most of the vigilantes are retired. The story follows several of these more or less retired figures, namely Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, The Comedian.
The Comedian is murdered and Rorschach, the only vigilante left, who is not retired and doesn’t work for the government is convinced that someone is killing off their old group. His investigations lead him deeper and deeper into the problematic world of the “superheroes”.
This comic is considered a mile stone in the history of this art form, and rightly so. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons show the possibilities graphic novels have (and novels or movies don’t) and at the same time tell a fascinating and thoughtful story about ethics and morale, without ever becoming moralistic themselves. Unfortunately, the ending was a bit incongruous with the rest of the graphic novel.
[SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]
The book wasn’t without fault. But these faults seem dwarfish next to what it accomplishes. And all this is due to the great story by Alan Moore. It’s exciting and you want to know what’s happening next, but at the same time it doesn’t stop to ask you uncomfortable questions about authority and ethics and politics.
What I thought a weak point, though, was the ending. Not the dilemma itself, which is genius, but the alien dumped in the middle of New York. That kind of came from nowhere. Suddenly there are psychic brains? Why was that never even hinted at before? While I did enjoy the hints towards the missing writer etc., I thought the rest of that subplot just didn’t fit with the rest of the story. It seemed not as thought through as the rest.
Apart from that, I immensly enjoyed the story, though, and the characters. Nite Owl (I)’s death had me in tears, but I honestly cared about all the characters and reacted to all of them. There wasn’t one of the vigilantes that left me cold, even if my reactions to each of them were different – from horror to sadness to genuine affection.
I loved all the details – the recurring smiley, the clocks, the repeating pictures, the mirroring of the story through the parallel pirate Black Freighter comic etc etc. Also the backstories, provided by the additional material were great.
But the best part about it, in my opinion, was the narrative structure, the time jumps and backflashes, especially when it comes to Dr. Manhattan’s story. His exile on Mars/his lifestory was pure genius.
But my major point of criticism, artistically, has to be John Higgins‘ colouring, which is distracting at best, totally off at worst. That The Comedian’s scar is in one place and the red taint in another, is only distracting. That whole panels get coloured in purple light where there should be no purple light is unnerving. And the yellow-red-green of the bodies in the Black Freighter story left me scratching my head.
You can say a lot about the Watchmen, and it’s definitely a novel that invites you to discuss it. This is part of what makes it so great, but it’s also the part I’ll leave to other people. Personally, I don’t feel fit (yet, at least) to provide you with a complete theory of what the book wants to say. But here are some further links of people who started just that discussion.
If nothing else, it’s fascinating reading material. Both the articles and the graphic novel.
Question for you people, who have read this graphic novel as well. According to imdb, it is hinted at that Ozymandias and Rorschach are gay. Did you see that? If yes, where? Because I so totally didn’t. I know about Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice (that was pretty explicit), but Ozymandias and Rorschach? Really?