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Watchmen- Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

'The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the trains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!" And I'll look down, and whisper "No."'
- Rorschach, Chapter 1, Watchmen

First time posting here, so you may well feel I'm someone who doesn't quite know what they're doing reviewing books, so went for the "safer" option of reviewing a comic book. Anyone who does wanna be snooty about it, I refer you to the fact that Watchmen was the only graphic novel to appear on Time's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present", and I assure you that I'll be reviewing prose in any future posts. If you're still unconvinced, I enjoy a challenge.

Watchmen is a story set in an alternate 1985- Richard Nixon is still President, at the beginning of his fifth term in office, and tensions with Russia are at boiling point as the Cold War intesifies. The only thing holding back nuclear war is the presence of super-being Dr. Manhattan, who ended the Vietnam war in a brutal show of American military power and has the ability to manipulate objects at an atomic level. This is all merely the backdrop for a conspiracy theory surrounding other costumed heroes, now outlawed by an act of Congress. When one of their number, Eddie Blake (alias The Comedian) is murdered, a morally rigid and sociopathic vigilante called Rorschach begins his investigation and uncovers something much more disturbing than he initially suspected. A plan that will bring the world to the brink of destruction and end millions of lives...

One of the many much-acclaimed aspects of Watchmen is that it confronts the conventions of superhero stories and turns them on their head. Parallels can be drawn between characters here and the characters that have become hugely valuable properties. Dr. Manhattan is essentially a Superman who doesn't care about humanity- his passive attitude to all that is going on and his own admission that everyone is a puppet and that he is the only one who "can see the strings" summates him as a character left cold by his ascent to godhood. Another character, Dan Dreiberg (alias Nite Owl) is the closest approximation we have to Batman, but Dan is out-of-shape, past his best and in the apex of a mid-life crisis- more like an impotent Clark Kent. Counterpointing this is his mutual attraction to Laurie Juspeczyk, (alias Silk Spectre) a much younger woman whom he is unable to sexually satisfy without the later stimulus of resuming costumed hero work. These characters are in the course of the first six chapters fully sympathetic and fleshed out, springing off the page and surpassing the traditional comic book story.

Two characters who go beyond the DC Comics parallels though are Rorschach, whose disturbing past has given him a sense of absolute morality and utter resistance to compromise of any kind, and Adrian Veidt, a genius former hero obsessed by the life of Alexander the Great and dedicated to matching or surpassing his achievements. These two represt a conflict in morality that proves integral to the story's climax. Rorschach looks on life in black and white without any shades of grey, much like the inkblots of his namesake, whereas Veidt sees nothing but shades of grey, and is very much forward thinking and takes his ideas to the logical extreme. To simplify, Rorschach is uber-right and Veidt is uber-left. Dr. Manhattan's absence is a key plot point that begins the global sense of impending catastrophe that looms over most of the novel, and it's fitting because it gives Veidt the upper hand in this dynamic. Rorschach wants judgement to be taken out of the hands of ordinary fallible people and dishes out retribution how he deems fit, and with Dr. Manhattan missing, being as he is the closest thing to God, fate seems to be in Adrian's favour.

The fact that I can write two paragraphs on the characters and their dynamics should prove that Watchmen is far more than just a comic book adventure. Across nine panels a page and around four hundred pages, the plot is complex, intricate and full of twists and turns, flashbacks and foreshadowing. Any prose version would have twice as many pages if it comprised the same amount of detail and plot, and this is one of the many reasons it's taken so long to arrive on the big-screen, as it finally will in March- it's considered by many to be unadaptable. Dave Gibbons' art perfectly compliments Alan Moore's writing, yet leaving enough to be inferred or imagined by the reader to qualify this as a story as opposed to a picture book. In turning the superhero conventions on their head, Moore has created a world where nothing is sacred and presents a scenario in which it's unclear whether or not heroes make the world a better place. Instead they inspire fear and paranoia in those they seek to protect, and ultimately this leads to catastrophe.

is a story of morality, to be taken seriously regardless of what you think of the comic book/graphic novel medium, because it's truly a masterpiece. Whether the aforementioned film adaptation can match this remains to be seen, but nevertheless, the book remains one of the best pieces of literature of the last century.

Thanks for inviting me to contribute- sorry it took so long to do a review. If people don't totally abhor this one, I might alternate between reviewing a graphic novel and a prose novel each time.

Next time: Airman- Eoin Colfer


Vedang said…
I second your opinion of Watchmen as one of the best fiction/fantasy works ever.
I don't understand people who belittle comics. They need to read Watchmen, Calvin, Peanuts etc.

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