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This is the most celebrated 1980s comic book. A 12-issue series, it became one of the iconic graphic novels in its collected edition. It’s a rather self-conscious attempt to radically rethink superhero stories.
Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons were Brits who learned their craft on comics like 2000AD and Doctor Who Weekly. By the time of Watchmen, Moore especially was being hailed as some kind of comic book messiah - his reinvention of the old horror character Swamp Thing was hugely acclaimed. Watchmen was intended to be the final word on superheroes, which would liberate comics as a medium to off in exciting new directions. It didn’t quite work out that way, sadly, but that’s not Moore and Gibbons’s fault.
In a world where superheroes are real, America and Russia stand poised to destroy each other. The only thing keeping them apart is Dr Manhattan, an American superhuman who can control matter at an atomic level. Other former superheroes are kicking around, but they’re just regular people in costumes. One of them - a right-wing government agent called The Comedian - is murdered. The psychotic vigilante Rorschach believes there's a conspiracy targeting the old costumed heroes, and sets out to find the truth.
Any description of the plot makes this sound uninteresting, in part because all its tricks have been copied extensively ever since. Moore took the idea of the superhero and subjected it to hostile critical thinking - what kinds of people would dress up in costumes and 'fight crime'? The 'heroes' are a combination of lunatics, megalomaniacs, sexual fetishists and naive fools. Dr Manhattan is increasingly disengaged from the humanity he's supposed to be protecting. Rorschach is a pariah, a ranting lunatic with appalling personal hygiene and no interpersonal skills.
There's much more to the story than the plot. The world it creates is sort-of convincing (although the street gang is very dated - 80s comic-book street gangs are generally white guys with Mr T hairstyles). It uses prose inserts at the end of each chapter to flesh out the world. There are a huge number of visual motifs running through the comic that help tie it all together. It is very - perhaps too - aware of its own cleverness.
But for all the lingering sense of showing off, this is still one of the most compelling stories I've read. I don't think the threat of nuclear war has ever seemed so real. The ending is a bit divisive, but I think it's fine in the context.
The problems with Watchmen are that it's been copied too much and that there was an awful film adaptation a few years back. Alan Moore himself has since disowned it, for reasons that are too complicated to go into. But it showcases the work of a great writer and a great artist at the height of their powers, and stands as one of the finest examples of what a comic can be.
Most people will associate Watchmen with the hit blockbuster movie of the same name directed by Zach Snyder but long before it made it to the big screen, Watchmen was a disturbingly dark cult twelve part comic series penned by Alan Moore that was later condensed into graphic novel form.
Watchmen is set in an alternative version of our own world sometime during the mid 1980s. America has won the Vietnam War with the aid of its own resident superhero, Doctor Manhattan and is now on the brink of nucleur war with Russia. The vigilante figures once known as The Watchmen, who once kept the streets of New York safe from crime, have all been forcibly retired due to a drop in popular opinion but one or two still remain in operation; the most notorious of these being Rorschak, a masked figure whose identity still remains a secret long after many of his colleagues has since been revealed. Rorschak becomes convinced that someone is killing off Masked Superheroes after The Comedian is thrown from the window of his apartment building and begins investigating what he thinks is a conspiracy. But though there are plenty of people who think him paranoid, still it seems as though somebody wants to keep him quiet too!
This is very different from any other Superhero book you are ever likely to read perhaps excluding The Dark Knight Returns. At times too, it is almost too dark and serious for its own good but it cannot be said that it is not a gripping read. There are a few changes from events that happen in the film but essentially the basic story and plot structure remain the same. With this tale, Moore has created a scaringly recognisable world that introduces an often unwelcome dose of realism to the populasr superhero genre. Certainly it is unique in that, until Sin City came along, it was pretty much unequalled in its field!
Do I like it? Yes and no. To be honest, I prefer the film version but there is no denying that this is a powerful and impressive graphic novel and that Moore is a master of the whole comic book genre; always unafraid to go where others might be more afraid to tread. I don't like the end and the way certain characters never make it to the final pages (I have to tread carefully here so as not to give anything away) but I do like the uncomfortable way this novel makes me feel. Is it brilliant? Definitely. Is it really my sort of thing? I'm not so sure. Personally I think I prefer my superhero stories to be a bit less bleak!
Probably considered the greatest graphic ever, and probably rightly so. I'm not a big graphic novel fan, I doubt I've even read a dozen (and I used to call them "comics" and deride them, but I'm big enough to admit I was wrong) but I loved Watchmen.
The essential premise behid Alan Moores re-take on superheroes is that only seriously flawed individuals would think it a good idea to put on a mask and beat up criminals. He has, in a sense transferred superheroes into a more real world, and the world does not react well to them. They might initially be seen as heroes, but the shine wears off, the ugly truth seeps out, and soon politicians wade in and masked vigilantes are banned. We see then a mirror world of our own, set in the late 1970s at the height of a nuclear standoff between two superpowers, where superheroes may just be able to tip the balance.
The tale begins after all this has taken place, and starts with the brutal murder of one of the few remaining heroes, a right wing psychotic known as the comedian. We are taken step by step through the lives of heroes past and present, and each time into a world that grows ever darker seedier and more dangerous.
This is not about brightly costumed heroes fighting evil. Evil is thorughly ambiguous, perhaps not even tangible for all the darkness that prevades Moores world. It is instead a brilliantly scripted and executed story, multi layered with meaning and something you can read again and again and still see something new or interpret something differently.
If this isn't the best graphic novel written to date I would be very very surprised indeed. It may feature a comedian, but is definately NOT a comic.
"Watchmen" is a series of 12 issues published during 1986, and later collected into a single volume. It was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. Both are very prolific British creators. Moore especially, as a large number of his graphic novels have been adpated into (generally bad) hollywood movies. "Watchmen" itself is seen as one of the greatest graphic novels and revolutionised elements of the comic book industry, and many comics have since tried to emulate its dark nature. In some ways, it was an attempt by Moore to prove that Graphic Novels/Comics could be more substantial, perhpas better, then movies and books. Watchmen was said to be "unfilmable" due to its dense, specific structure and content. zack Snyder's 2009 release in some ways vindicates this statement, although i believe that his film is an excellent film.
Synopsis: In 1985, superheroes have been made illegal, except those employed by the government or working illegally. As the Cold War approaches Nuclear destruction, the investigation of a murdered adventurer may hold the key to saving the world....or will it?
I could not recommend this Graphic Novel more (and it IS a graphic novel and not simply a "trade paperback"). It can be argued that it is a novel in its own right, as it is a powerful piece of literature that will effect you emotionally at certain points. Although the artwork is dated by today's standards, it fits the story well and is still very good, with great use of colours, and the strict layout of 3x3 panels creates a strange, yet cinematic, effect. Its clever, controlled structure, is one of its most noteable and remarkable features. This structure was taken to its extreme in issue 5, "fearful symmetry", where the layout of each page is symmetrical, and its effect is fascinating. Gibbons used it to provide a sense of "authority" and perhaps this reflects the authority of certain characters, such as Ozymandias and Dr. Manhatten, or the authority of the political figures controlling the nuclear bombs?
The reader is also left to make up their own decisions about events. Did Ozymandias do the right thing? Will Rorschach's (pronounced Raw Shack) journal be discovered? Ppersonally, I answer No and Yes to those questions, but Moore's aim is to question where the reader's morality lies. Does one side with the morally absolute, yet mentally unstable Rorschach, or with the utilitarian, altruistic, yet ultimately homicidal Ozymandias?
This extends into one of watchmen's other notable features. "The Tales of the Black Freighter" is a piece of Metafiction; a "comic-within-a-comic", a "story-within-a-story". It is designed to reflect or as a foil to the actions in the main story. It provides a parallel to the plot, and , although Moore states that is specifically refers to the "villain" Ozymandias, it can relate to Rorschach's death and Dr. Manhatten's self-exile. Ultimately any interpretation could be the correct one, but the way you interpret it reflects your own opinions and feelings about these characters and the moral questions at the heart of the story.
The way Moore gives each character their flaws is fascinating. Even the perfect human, Adrian Veidt, seems detached and aloof, perhaps bored, during his lengthy monologue. The fall of Dr. Manhattan, a man with ultimate power that does ultimately corrupt, leaving him with little emotion and having lost nearly all empathy.
The use of symbolism is effective. I cannot perceive the meaning of some of it, but it is a novel that deserves to read more than once. Moore has created memorable characters, such as Rorschach, the ultimate street vigilante. Certain sections contain relatively little dialogue, and are read too fast, and there is room for more action, but the lack of sound effects and speech bubbles have a surprising effect, making these fight scenes more realistic and visceral. Looking at comics today, the impact left by Watchmen is clear.
All in all, a great read, with so many touches that bind it all together. It is visually engaging and hard to tear your eyes away from. Littered with references and symbolism which one must track down, it is ultimatley very satisfying. Read it before you buy the movie, and if you've already seen the movie, buy this classic in order to gain a deeper and more profound understanding of the Watchmen universe, that, in many ways, was too complex to be put on the screen.
Watchmen is Alan Moore's 12 episode comic series captured into one graphic novel. It has been rated as one of the best of all time by Time Magazine, and is generally considered a masterpiece in the realm of graphic novels. I came across it only by dint of it being made into a film, which I watched and thoroughly. However, reading a number of reviews, I realised that the film couldn't quite capture what the comic book offered, and that certain elements were left out. I managed to get hold of a copy of Moore's Watchmen, and have just finished reading it.
The first thing you notice is the artwork. Moore collaborated with Dave Gibbons on the creation of Watchmen, he writing the scripts and storylines and Gibbons interpreting the descriptions and forming them as artwork on the pages. There is nothing particularly amazing about the level of artwork, with the very least expectation being one of high quality for any professional publication. Gibbons captures the images very well, but it is the subtleties that make it special. The progression from frame to frame, taking care over the attention to detail, and capturing the mood of the story - this is what I found instantly grabbed me. There is something special about a comic book, that you can't emulate in a film. You get the time to examine and reexamine each frame, taking your time over each one, looking at the foreground and background to understand the silent messages coming out of the page at you, and this is what Gibbons has done marvellously.
Similarly, Moore's subleties and the ability to work a storyline into a mesmerising piece of literature is up to the challenge posed by Gibbons' clever artwork. The story itself take the familiar comic book model of the superhero, and places it into a Cold War scenario, allowing it to manifest in a real world, one that is embittered with so-called saviours, where the government has banned them with something called the Keene Act. Thus the group of superheroes known as the Watchmen, created to defend America from its internal and external enemies, petty criminals and international ones, was disbanded by the government.
The novel, comprising of the 12 episodes, kicks off episode 1 with the murder of one such superhero, The Comedian (Eddie Blake), as he is thrown, plummeting a number of stories to his death on the ground below. Suspecting a conspiracy to attack former superheroes, fellow Watchman Rorschach sets about warning four of his previous partners in crime fighting: Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, Ozymandias and Dr Manhattan. As the story progresses, as does the characterisation, and we get closer to understanding each different character as we also get closer to finding out the truth about Blake's murder.
Each chapter helps us undertand the characters, and Moore intersperses current events with flashbacks to the Watchmen's predecessors, the Minutemen, the original superheroes. The relationships between the original Silk Spectre and her daughter, Silk Spectre II, are well documented, as is the mentor/pupil relationship between original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and Nite Owl II, Dan Dreiberg. In seeing these former superheroes, we are also reminded of how everyone grows older, no matter how they might have been in their heyday, and it is a theme that grounds us somewhat, exploring the reality of human nature, pointing out the frailty of it no matter how 'super' you once may have been.
Similarly, it examines the only one of the superheroes who has anything remotely resembling anything abnormal, Dr Manhattan. Most comic book superheroes have some form of super power attached to them. The Minutemen and the Watchmen had none of this - they were just ordinary people, perhaps physically impressive and athletic, and moreso than most, as they donned hidden disguises to exact justice without fear of reproach in their private lives. However, Dr Manhattan is the result of a human scientist who is exposed to a nuclear experiment, close up. The resultant effect is a glowing blue humanoid, capable of controlling matter and visioning the future. The negatives are the radiation associated with his character and his resultant lack of human emotion.
Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) is portrayed as a businessman, extremely successful, with money exposed to him at an early age. A very philosophical character, but again one with a knack for financial acumen and success, he is shown in complete contrast to Rorschach, our maintime narrator through his journal. An extremely violent and psychopathic character, Rorscach has a permanent grudge against the dregs of society, and is the only one of the Watchmen to rebel against the Keene Act and continue his vigilantic justice serving, under the protection of his mask.
Rorschach is, perhaps, the main focal point of the novel, and it is his bitter look at existence that sets the mood. This is added to by the relative ponderous nature of Dr Manhattan, and the inclusion of a number of supplements, originally featuring at the end of each episode, as they were published as individual comics. These supplements include extracts from Hollis Mason's (the original Nite Owl) autobiography, interviews with others, and displayed letters between the superheroes and either their agents or some business cointacts. This enables not only Moore to further establish the world he has created, but also enables us as readers to imagine this as a complete world, not just a story. It adds to the attention to detail from Gibbons and the clever construction from Moore.
There is also the inclusion of a separate tale, cleverly worked into the proceedings. A lot of the central storytelling revolves around a news vendor and his stall, where he bemoans the plight of the superhero, the state of the country and indeed the chance of nuclear war as a result of Cold War tensions and the ever increasing numbers of nuclear weaponry on either side. He is permanently accompanied by a young boy/man who sits, reading each publication of a series of comics, called Tales of the Black Freighter. This features a man on a ship who finds himself as the only survivor of a pirate ship attacking them. Frantically, he uses whatever means necessary to get back home as he realises the pirate ship is headed for his home island and town. What is interesting about this is that, although it seems to have little or no relevance to the main plot, its morals and subtle messages relate very much to the characters in the main novel, particularly the characters of Rorshach and Veidt. It shows what can happen when one is so determined that the blinkers are almost on, preventing one from seeing 'the bigger picture', as it were.
Watchmen is a very thoughtful piece of work. Over 400 pages in total, with each episode featuring around 29 pages, and the excerpts ranging between 3 or 6 sides, it took me a few weeks to read. It's full of important dialogue and intense visuals that require careful watching, as some of the story is told through the visual and not through the speech bubbles or the extracts from Rorschach's journal.
I found myself thoroughly engrossed in reading this. I have always been a comic book fan, and while I have read comic series of characters such as Wolverine and Spiderman, I have never really ventured beyond the comfort zone and monopoly that the mainstream Marvel and DC characters seem to have. This is definitely targeted more towards adults, and features the creation of a whole 'world', a whole 'society', as opposed to just telling one isolated story.
This is, perhaps, its marvel, excuse the pun. That it is so full in its creation, that it encompasses very much our fears and concerns over war and the violence that we experience from the back streets to the main stream, and how we cope with it.....or not. It is a fantastically well created piece of artwork and storytelling, and despite the film being highly enjoyable, there was no way it could possibly have completely encapsulated everything going on from Moore and Gibbons' pens. The graphic novel also includes some original artwork from Gibbons and a spiel from Moore, describing the process and thoughts behind the series, and caps off a very well written and drawn piece of work.
Watchmen is available at the RRP of £24.99, although it does feature at lesser prices if you search for it.
Comics? They're just for kids, right? That pretty much summed up the attitude of most people. Then in the late 1980s, comics took a much darker, more adult tone which forced a change of attitude. Spearheading this shift was Alan Moore's seminal Watchmen.
Watchmen examines the idea of "costumed heroes" by looking at the lives of a number of former vigilantes, forced to retire from their activities following the passing of a government act banning them. The murder of one of their number leads some to investigate.
That brief plot summary might sound like a fairly traditional storyline for a comic book, but that really is just the basic outline. Watchmen is a hugely ambitious piece of writing, which combines all sorts of different subjects from politics to social issues; from history to psychology to fantasy. It's a complex, sprawling world which is made easy to understand by Moore's skilful crafting of the tale and Dave Gibbons' superb artwork.
Moore uses his characters to great effect, telling the tale from the perspective of several different characters. Although we probably have most contact with Nite Owl and Rorshach, there is plenty of emphasis on other characters too. What's most pleasing is that, whilst there are obviously certain key characters, there are also a host of other smaller support characters, who pop up from time to time too and who really add their own little insights into the overall narrative. This is very much an ensemble piece where every single one of the characters we encounter has a role to play. This is something which gives the writing far more depth than usual.
All of these characters feel like real people in their own right, not artificial constructs of the author's mind. Each has been convincingly fleshed out, with fully formed and convincing back stories for most. No matter how outlandish and silly the characters might appear if you stop to think about them (a man who dresses up as an owl? A radioactive being?), they always feel genuine and it's credit to Moore's writing that he achieves this. The characters are never one-dimensional or just there to serve the plot. When they wander out of a panel, you honestly feel that they are going off to conduct some business not connected with the main storyline; to carry on living their own lives until the plot sucks them back in again.
The story is a sprawling, fascinating piece of writing. In any other format, you would call it "literature", but, of course, no-one would ever accuse a comic book of that, would they? And yet, you should. Moore demonstrates perfect story-telling abilities, carefully crafting all the different elements into a single, gripping storyline that entertains and makes you think. Set against the backdrop of rising nuclear tension, Moore proves an astute observer of human nature and gives the story a suitably apocalyptic tone.
Moore's real talent, though, is taking a storyline which is potentially highly fantastical and making it feel real. The world of the Watchmen is instantly familiar. Those who have read comics before will instantly feel at home with the style and feel of the book, whilst newcomers will find it highly accessible. The characters (even the costumed heroes) are just people, with the same hopes and fears as everyone else; the settings are places we know and they look pretty much the same. No matter what direction the story veers off in, these always feel like real people and real events. So convincing is Moore's setting and characterisation that you wouldn't be at all surprised to step outside your own front door and find these people and places waiting there for you. Even towards the end where the book steers in a more fantastical direction, everything feels convincing and possible - at least within the confines of the story Moore has created.
That said, one part of the storyline has dated a little. Set against the backdrop of potential nuclear conflict, the tale is very much a product of its era. Those not brought up at the height of the Cold War may struggle to understand some of the references and not fully grasp the fears of the ordinary people and the thinly buried mass hysteria. That said, whilst the tensions in the world today might be different from those of 20 years ago, the major themes still resonate, making this a relevant book.
The novel also cleverly, but subtly, subverts history (Nixon is still President in the 1980s). Such items are only mentioned in passing and if you don't know your history, you might not pick up on them. Still, this is Moore giving the reader credit for being intelligent and that is definitely something we shouldn't knock.
There's also an interesting approach to the storyline in that it doesn't rely purely on traditional comic book panels. At the end of every part, there is something different - a "newspaper article", an "interview" with one of the former costumed fighters, an excerpt from an autobiography. These elements provide a break from the comic book approach and allow Moore to adopt a number of different techniques which add a surprising amount to the overall tale.
Comics, of course, are primarily a visual medium and no matter how good the writing, this has to be backed up by the artwork. Dave Gibbons' work on Watchmen is of absolute top quality. Just as the story of Watchmen changed comics, sending them down a darker, more intelligent path, so the artwork ushered in a new style. The drawings are realistic in their approach and always clear and easy to look at. The city in which the tale is set suitably grimy and dirty - a proper, lived in city. As with the writing, the artwork imitates the overall style of comic books, whilst at the same time gently subverting the genre and working against expectations.
It's the attention to detail in the panels which grabs you too. It's not just about what's happening in the main body, or what the characters are saying; it's about what's going on in the background. Again, this is often people just getting on with their own lives, going about their mundane tasks and doing what they have to do. Yet, the fact they do it consistently from panel to panel, reinforces this idea that, whilst they have no role to play in our story, they do have lives of their own.
The word often used to describe Watchmen is "seminal" and I'm not about to argue with that. It was the book which showed the world that comics can be literature in their own right, not "just for kids". Intelligent, gripping, thought-provoking, fascinating and entertaining, Watchmen challenged the fundamental perception of comics and stands up as a classic piece of literature in its own right.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Titan Books, 1987
© Copyright SWSt 2009
'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?'
Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' is a classic in the genre of the graphic novel. Comprising a well constructed and thought provoking story with beautiful illustrations from Dave Gibbons, it is for a good reason that this popular work of fiction is ranked as one of Time Magazine's '100 best English-language novels since 1923'.
The story, predominantly based in New York, centres around a group of crime fighters who have no real superhuman abilities - that is except for 'Dr Manhattan' - a blue metaphysical being created as a result of a nuclear accident. Manhattan (or 'Jon') has infinite power and control over space, and as such, is used by the military as a deterrent to any nation thinking of attacking the US. However, what would happen should he disappear?
When the amoral 'Comedian' is found dead, ink-blot masked Rorschach (a.k.a Walter Kovacs) believes that someone, or something has a plan to kill or silence the remaining masked vigilantes... but will they succeed?
Set in an alternative 1985 where Nixon is still President and the US is on the verge of nuclear war with Russia, the book is a little depressing in tone as it fully encapsulates the paranoia of the era. Asking many 'What if...?' style questions in regard to the Cold War, Watchmen intrinsically links a) the exploits of the 'superheroes', and b) the countdown to nuclear holocaust, and ultimately dramatically intertwines both at the end of the novel.
Watchmen explores the concept of heroism - what is a hero?; are Dr Manhattan and The Comedian heroes due to the fact that they helped win the Vietnamese war for the U.S; even though they wiped out men, women and children in the process? - the ultimate question posed is 'who watches the Watchmen?' - hence my title, Quis custodiet ipsos costodes?, the last line in the book.
Once I began reading Watchmen, I didn't want to put it down - it's one of those books where you say to yourself 'just one more page', and then a hour later you're still reading. This is probably due to the quality of the writing (which is top class throughout), thought provoking and powerful, with Dave Gibbons artwork blending seamlessly with the written text. The majority of the drawings are highly detailed - Gibbons doesn't shy away from depicting blood in the action sequences, but that said, he doesn't use violence for violence's sake - something Zach Schnyder's recent film version is guilty of on numerous occasions.
The characters that Moore has created are wonderfully crafted and fully developed - many of which have side stories presented as text only excepts between chapters - a device used to provide background info to the viewer in an entertaining way.
I would recommend Watchmen for anyone who wants to get into the world of the graphic novel but doesn't know where to start - you may as well begin with the best, right? Compared to the film, the graphic novel is streets ahead, both in terms of its intelligence and beauty - a film can't encapsulate Moore's insightful visions *even if it is three hours long*. You can currently purchase the soft-back version of Watchmen for £8.09 from Amazon - highly recommended.
It seems timely to review Alan Moore's reputed Magnum Opus, as the much anticipated big screen version will soon be upon us.
The graphic novel, which collects the dozen comics with a little extra material, concerns the investigation of the murder of a superhero, The Comedian (it is his bloodstained smiley face symbol on the iconic cover). Several ex-heroes and vigilantes band together to find out who or what is behind the violent crime, but the killer seems to anticipate their every move - and then supervillains begin to die, too...
The setting is an alternate world where costumed heroes are, if not commonplace, not exotic. All of these superheroes and villains are simply superfit (or super insane) normal humans, excepts for one: Doctor Manhattan, a blue-skinned godlike character, created by radiation. The most interesting, and peculiear of the vigilantes is Rorschach, an insane trenchcoat-wearing nemesis, whose mask (in this alternate world) is made from the dress of the very real Kitty Genovese.
As superheroes are almost the norm, children read nothing but pirate comics, and it is little touches like this that make the book such a pleasure.
Moore has crafted a realistic and internally consistent alternative world - one of the best in graphic or written fiction - and Dave Gibbons' intricate art complements it perfectly.
There have been criticisms of the plot, and I have to admit, it is a little corny in places. For example, the whole conspiracy is lifted - almost wholesale - from an episode of the fifties TV show "The Outer Limits" (I won't spoil things by saying which one!) A charitable view might be that Moore is weaving a postmodern text - combining high culture (Ozymandias, another of the heroes, is a character from a poem by Shelley) with popular culture - The Comedian might be seen as a officially-sanctioned inversion of Batman's Joker, for example.
All in all, it is a tour-de-force, although I've always preferred Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" series, but perhaps that's because I first read those as an adult, While "Watchmen" has been with me since I was a teenager (I queued and bought a first edition the day it came out - and had it signed by Moore and Gibbons!)
Let's hope Zack Snyder manages not to turn this one into a dog's dinner.
Read this classic graphic novel with a knowledge of its time: fear and paranoia towards the threat of nuclear war, assassinations of presidents, a lack of trust of those in positions of power in the age of media and subterfuge, and vast modernity sprawling out and producing crime and disillusionment.......
Alan Moore takes on all this pessimism and shakes it down with the Watchmen, using the conceit that costume heroes actually exist and are everyday people. The hallmark is that not much here is black and white. The result is a confronting, engrossing, extensive work, which re-invented and challenged the genre and promotes the necessity for individual opinion in readers, by leaving so much firmly in the grey.
In the end we are left to think about whether or not 'The end can justify the means'....and there is a strong echo of Hiroshima here. Obviously it can't..and must never. But here, a global solution to focus people's attentions away from war was to introduce something alien. The question of 'Who watches the watchmen?' underpins and concludes the whole book. It is one of power and responsibility, and the idea of the Watchmen being free from this, to act freely, and to have greater influence than those people who are restrained from acting properly by their systems and nations, is portrayed with unfortunately, similarly threatening results. It can only prompt individual thought and better collaboration through its lesson.
Although it can be a bit too indulgent, and the 'comic within a comic' is given too much space, other elements that should attract you are its realism, its character depth and the unique figure of the Comedian.
The Comedian has limited hope for the world; he is the ruthless, Batmanesque, out-for-himself, vigilante. He has seen 'its true face'. He fascinates us as we read The Watchmen, because he goes to a deep place in the comic and in everyone's thoughts, where our attempt to rationalise the horrors and behaviours in ourselves fail...where he 'plays along with the gag', working as a unique force of truth, which is without morals, because there is no hypocracy where there are no morals......The uncompromising Rorschach observes and echoes this.
It is where the beginning and the end of the book lie....It is a flawed world, not a good joke....but it is better to play along....?
Probably the most acclaimed work by Alan Moore, an adaptation of which is due to be released this year. This is often a book I point people to who are skeptical of comic books/graphic novels in general - often resulting in an instant convert.
The book deals with some questions regarding the superhero as an idea that im sure most have come across at some point. What makes them tick, what drives them and what made them choose the lives they have made for themselves. Often this is quite a disturbing reality (in the case of Rorsach) to be thrust into and aims to dismantle the general idea of god fearing red blooded patriots that super heroes of the past have protrayed.
Each of the characters I think is meant to show different super hero cliche - Rorsach for instance is based around the punisher/batman stereotype and dr manhattan parodies superman well.
The plot of this book is absorbing and thought provoking and definately a good read for anyone interested in the genre or merely curious about the upcoming film.
Alan Moore is one of the most famous and acclaimed writers in comic book history. His work includes classic books such as V For Vendetta and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes I & II. His most famous piece of work though is Watchmen, a groundbreaking comic/graphic novel first published in 1986 which Moore wrote and Dave Gibbons illustrated.
Watchmen is a huge and complex deconstruction of the superhero genre and set in 1985 in a cold war world on the brink of nuclear war. It depicts a universe where costumed superheroes are real but outlawed by a government act - except for a select few the government maintains to work for them.
The story begins with the murder of Edward Blake, a mysterious playboy type character who has been overpowered and thrown out of his penthouse window many floors up. Rorschach, the nuttiest and most extreme of these outlawed heroes ("He's crazier than a snake's armpit and wanted on two counts of murder") investigates Blake's murder and makes a discovery. Blake was 'The Comedian', a former costumed hero that Rorschach worked with years ago. Rorschach suspects that someone is killing off 'masks' (former costumed heroes). This sets the story and central mystery of Watchmen in motion.
Rorschach sets of to warn his former colleagues, Dan Dreiberg aka 'Nite Owl', Adrian Veidt aka 'Ozymandias', Laurie Juspeczyk aka 'Silk Spectre' and 'Dr. Manhattan'. Dan and Laurie are retired but Dr Manhattan works for the US government. Rorschach has ignored the government ban and continues his vigilante activities as a wanted man.
In a twist on superhero comics, Dr Manhattan is actually the only character in the book who has special powers of any sort. An incredibly powerful, almost God like being who can move through time, he holds the balance of power for the US government in the cold war.
Watchmen is a multi-layered story and unravels in a very absorbing way with big revelations, a suprise villain and a brilliant and terrifying masterplan. The book is said to have been a big influence on the television show 'Lost' and you will see why this theory exists if you read it. Watchmen features a large cast of overlapping characters who we see in the past, present and, sometimes, the future.
The big twist is in presenting costumed heroes as real people. They are flawed heroes who in some cases might not even be heroes at all. These flawed heroes have to make big moral decisions. We see earlier incarnations of superhero teams in Watchmen in flashbacks as they break apart and dissolve as groups. They bicker and argue and have different objectives and political views. One member even attempts to rape another. I should point out that Watchmen is an adult comic.
Alan Moore uses themes of paranoia and authority in a very clever way in the story. We see the Watchmen in action - just before 'masked vigilantes' are outlawed by a new government act - dealing with a riot. The crowd complain that they want regular police again and not vigilantes - who have actually put the police out of work in cases. 'Who watches the Watchmen' is scrawled on a wall. The costumed heroes are political pawns increasingly regarded as fascists by the general population.
The story ties in the past and present in a very clever way and all fits together, paying off the reader and creating a complex and brilliant story. Moore, as usual, includes a lot of interesting 'extras', like extracts from the 'Under The Hood', the 'biography' of original Nite Owl Hollis Mason. There is much more nice stuff in this vein dotted through the book some of it with a clever period element. There is even a spoof ad for Watchmen action figures in the book!
There is also a sort of story within the story in the form of 'Tales of the Black Freighter', a pirate comic which features in the book. The story actually mirrors the journey of a major character in Watchmen. Another nice twist here - costumed superheroes are real so in this world comics seem to be about pirates instead of superheroes.
The characters are all distinctive and well thought out. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl for example is a paunchy middle-aged ornithology buff. But beneath his house in a disused subway station he retains the gadgets and costumes of Nite Owl and 'Archie', his flying 'Owlship'. He is simultaneously embarrassed by and nostalgic for his old life. He wonders if it really happened but also misses it. It's this duality that makes Watchmen so interesting.
The relationships between the characters in the book are very complex and interesting. I loved the arc between Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk and also his strange friendship with the scary Rorschach. Each chapter in Watchmen draws you into the story more as the retired heroes are drawn into a dangerous mystery with ramifications they can barely comprehend. I don't want to give too much away but the prison sections are excellent and frequently funny. The book has a good sense of humour. Dan and Laurie, at the start of the book, reminisce about the old days when they put strange costumes on and fought criminals. They remember one repeat offender who they finally worked out actually enjoyed being beaten. He pretended to be a super villain so he could get beat up! "Whatever happened to him?" asks Laurie. "Well," replies Dan. "He pulled it on Rorschach and Rorschach dropped him down an elevator shaft."
Rorschach is perhaps the most compelling character and was inspired by an old comic book character called The Question and Batman. He has an ink blot mask ("two viscous fluids between two layers latex, heat and pressure sensitive") which is constantly changing - a very clever idea by Moore. Moore said that regarding Rorschach, he thought about Batman and concluded that a vigilante who went out to fight crime at night in a rubber suit would have to be completely insane to actually do that. Hence Rorschach.
There are some great characters in Watchmen. The Comedian. Laurie. Dr Manhattan. The source of Manhattan's powers - an accident - is pretty scary. Manhattan is a shimmering blue superbeing who struggles to relate to people. He's based on DC comics Captain Atom and says things like "Thermo dynamic miracles...events with odds agaisnt so astronomical they're effectively impossible like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold..." Manhattan scares people because he is the only person with real superpowers. He's like a superweapon up the sleeve of the US government. It makes you think. If Superman was real would we be slightly scared of him and what he could do? Dr Manhattan's trip to Mars is a great section in Watchmen.
Alan Moore has a mad imagination and piles on the intrigue and invention. He tells his story eloquently. He makes Watchmen a real epic with trips backwards and forwards in time and locations from Antarctica to Mars. Dave Gibbons artwork is also excellent and frequently inspired. A flashbulb dissolves into a flashback. Silhouettes of embracing characters on a wall. Some spectacular one picture 'splash' pages are also used nearer the end of the story.
As it says on the back, Watchmen is peerless.
Why should you be watching the Watchmen? In every art form and every genre, there are classics. Works that change the way we see and appreciate the form as a whole. Watchmen is one of these works and if you don't own it, you should. Personally, I think this is Alan Moore's finest work to date. Everything that people, myself included, admire and enjoy about Moore's work is here and then some. The characters offer impressive depth, have real histories and are as complex as any character in any medium. These are not 4-colour superheroes, but real people who also happen to wear a mask and fight crime from time to time. Referring to some of the characters as "crime fighters" or "superheroes" detracts from the impression of this book somewhat; Moore refuses to pigeonhole any of the characters for your convenience and does not shy away from exposing the ridiculousness of the idea of the masked vigilante in modern society. Characters such as Nite-Owl, a middle-aged man who's childhood dreams become a reality when he takes on the mantle of the Nite-Owl to fight crime like his hero, stands side by side with Rorschach, a borderline psychotic loner who is the only "mask" to remain active after costumed-adventuring is outlawed. As archetypal, even stereotypical as there characters may seem, Moore not only injects them with new ideas but also uses them to examine the superhero phenomenon as whole. The dark and brooding Rorschach is in keeping with the anti-heroes that were in vogue when the story was originally published, whereas the character of Nite-Owl is far more in keeping with the guts and glory of days past. Interestingly, both characters borrow heavily from Batman in my opinion. Nite-Owl with his secret underground lair, gadgets and vehicles, is reminiscent of the 1960s Batman (even his costume is similar). In contrast to this, Rorschach represents the dark and violent side of the character
that was being explored in such titles as Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" around this time. Ultimately, these two seemingly incompatible characters do reach a strange sort of status quo, each dealing with the situation that they are most comfortable in whilst the other keeps to the sidelines. To this cast we add the god-like Dr. Manhattan, the only character with any kind of powers beyond those of mortal men, whose very presence is the world has created a new kind of arms race and heightened international tensions after his intervention in the Vietnam conflict. Slightly less than human, and yet a lot more, Dr. Manhattan is both a pawn and a player. Moore uses the presence of this character to examine in great depth the "real" effects that the presence of a superhuman would have on the world as a whole. Mainstream comics, for the most part, ignore the differences to the world at large that just a single superhuman, irrespective of their level of power, would make to the world in general. Moore even includes a mock essay, analysing the effect of Dr. Manhattan on world politics and culture. If you think that The Authority has the monopoly on realistic superheroics, then think again. Alan Moore was doing this a long time ago. The Comedian is a masked adventurer turned government spook and mercenary. His mysterious death at the beginning of the story is the catalyst for what follows, although the story eventually reveals that the seeds of his own death and what follows may have been sown in the dim and distant past. The most "real" of all the characters, the Comedian represents a real man in an unreal world, a soldier who finds himself fighting a war that he doesn't understand. Again, it is conceivable that The Comedian is another comment on the realistic heroes of the day. Whilst the Comedian is a killer, a sadist, a liar and an all round low-life, he is also a hero to his country and a man of und
oubtable bravery. Watchmen will always seek to challenge your preconceptions, and no character does this more than The Comedian. I have only touched on a few characters here who I feel best exhibit the skill with which Moore plays not only with our preconceptions, but also with the archetypes of the genre as a whole. The depth of the characters is reflected in the depth and complexity of the story, as Moore spins an elegant mesh of plot threads that come together to a climax that is both shocking and original. What begins as a simple "who dunnit" quickly evolves into an investigation into a conspiracy of global proportions. If all this talk of complexity and depth are turning you off Watchmen, rest assured that this is the not a work that is taxing to read or appreciate. One of the best things about this book is that you will get out what you want to put in. You can read it from beginning to end and enjoy the well-paced, intriguing and superbly written story, or you can spend time with each and every page analysing the clues buried in each panel. A testament to the depth of this work is the ease with which you will find numerous websites dedicated to analysing the links between characters, images, themes etc. of this book. I've probably read this graphic novel about 30-40 times now, from cover to cover, and that doesn't count the number of times that I have picked it up and flicked through a few pages. Without fail, I find something new in it every time I pick it up. Kudos must be given to the consistently superb artwork of Dave Gibbons, which is essential to pulling off the demanding script from Moore. Moore is well known for providing detailed page descriptions in which he lavishes detail into every single panel. Nothing is there by mistake - a good hint for picture archeologists who want to find every possible link between the characters and the world that they live in. Moore also likes to use repetitive imagery from panel to p
anel, and the reproduction of these by Gibbons is superb. The artwork offers mood, depth and a quality of rendering and detail to rival, in my opinion, the work of George Perez. This book also adopts a page layout style that uses the same size panels from page to page, only rarely breaking from this formula to join some panels together. This has real power, drawing the eye easily from one panel to the next and making the large panels extremely special. Watchmen, however, has more to offer than I've described thus far. In my opinion, Watchmen is the book for which the term "Graphic Novel" was turned. This is not a collected edition of a comic book. This is what Scott McCloud would refer to as "comics". It's a brilliant story, told in words and pictures, with more depth and power than many novels and is considered by many people to be Moore's seminal work. This was the first comic from a mainstream publisher to really treat comic readers as adults, to challenge them to rethink the genre and to challenge them to expect more than just a four-colour slugfest with "villain" of the month for their money every month. Moore has re-examined the questions that he raises in Watchmen in other work since, such as the critically acclaimed Top Ten, but for many people (myself included) this answers not only the question of what comics would be but also the question that burns at the heart of all comics ... what would really happen in somebody did put on tights and a mask and head out into the night to fight crime? This is the first great Graphic Novel, one of the books that has lifted comics from being a forum and genre for kids to a medium in which adults can legitimately spend their time. This is not genre entertainment. This is not superheroes. This is comics. You should be watching the Watchmen.
First Impressions ************** I’ve never really been into comic books or graphic novels, whichever title you choose to give them - if you do indeed believe that the two are separate. Sure, when I was a kid, I enjoyed the occasional Spiderman comic but the adventures were continuous things and you had to wait a week to see what would happen next after being given possibly five pages of a particular adventure. When you consider the size of each frame in comic, five pages isn’t a hell of a lot. I was around about 14 when a friend recommended a book called Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, in fact he was so enthused about the book, he lent me his prized copy. He knew that I liked to read in fact I got through about four or five books a week at the time but I had never tried a graphic novel. “Just give it a chance”, he pleaded looking at my doubtful expression. So I took it home and opened the bright yellow cover to see a yellow smiley face badge with a small splat of blood on it. The picture was the first frame and set the high standard for the rest of the book. The artwork was superb, you could take almost any frame from this graphic novel, blow it up, frame it and hang it on your wall. It is visually attractive and professionally drawn and coloured making for a very polished finished. But then you have the added delight of the text and story complementing the story well. With a flawless script and story to complement the outstanding artwork, you know within a few pages that you have stumbled onto a truly excellent collaboration of an excellent author and an equally brilliant artist. Throughout the story - intermingled with the graphic format are short two to four page sections of just bulk text – usually mock excerpts from a Newspaper which gives more information, depth or background to the story. Background - What's it all about ***************************
***** The world is a warped version of the one in which we live, in the novel’s world costumed heroes have been around since the 1930’s – fighting in wars for the American government when needed and keeping the peace on the streets, fighting crime, etc. They are not superheroes, by the common definition, none of the early costumed heroes have any special powers although they do have some gadgets and some have above average but not superhuman strength. In fact it is not until an accident at a nuclear testing site in the nineteen fifties that the first and last Superhero is born. A young scientist (aren’t they all) accidentally gets atomised in a nuclear experiment. Although his body is destroyed, his consciousness remains and over a period of months he is able to put his body back together atom by atom. He learns as he reconstructs himself to improve upon his natural body and thus is reborn as Doctor Manhattan. Where appropriate, flashbacks such as the creation of Dr Manhattan occur to answer questions before they fully begin to rise. In 1977 - in the novel’s world - the Keene Act, outlaws all costumed heroes apart from those working within the government. This includes of course Dr Manhattan who almost single-handedly won the Vietnam War for the U.S.A which led to public support for Nixon changing the rules and extending his period as President of the United States beyond the normal number of terms. Most of the costumed heroes disappear quietly into the night and retire or go public. Rorschach – named because of his mask, made from a material with fluid, moving blotches reminiscent of the Rorschach ink blot tests – refuses to quit. In defiance of the Keene act, he continues to leave broken and battered rapists and child molesters on the steps of the police HQ with notes saying “never quit” to indicate that as long as evil walks the street, so will he. The Stor
y ******** The story begins with the death of a man called Edward Blake. It is Blake’s blood on the smiley face badge, the next frame zooms out and you see the badge is on the pavement. The next frame pulls back again and you are looking at it from a height with pedestrians walking around. Through each of the opening frames a narrative by way of an extract from Rorschach’s Journal - leads in to the story. Rorschach is investigating the death of Edward Blake, and it is through this investigation that we are introduced to his retired associates, The Nite Owl – Dan Drieburg, Laurie Jupiter daughter of one of the original costumed heroes Sally Jupiter. For the main part of the story it is Rorschach that we are following around, hearing his thoughts through his Journal, which sometimes accompany the frames as narrative. Like all good stories, this is not about the death of one man. His death merely is the catalyst for setting Rorschach off on an investigation rather than a voyage of discovery. With almost every country in the world at war with another, the world is in serious decline even on a precipice to disaster. The threat of nuclear war is a growing threat as we are kept up to date with current events with the occasional side-track to a newspaper vendor who’s voicing of opinions is almost as informative as the headlines clearly drawn for the readers attention. As Rorschach delves deeper into the investigation, the magnitude of the story and the global ramifications of events that are in motion are revealed. I cannot say more about the story, as it really has to unfold for itself, suffice to say this is not simply the story of the murder of one man but a hugely enjoyable and involved story looking at the extreme measures sometimes needed to bring about the salvation of a doomed world. Rorschach ********* The main character of this story and our dark guide has to be mentioned. He has no s
pecial powers. He is a masked “anti-hero” who uses extreme tactics to gather the information he needs, his reputation as a brutal avenger precedes him. At one stage, the best example is he walks into a crowded bar for information. When a young man makes a few ill-conceived comments, Rorschach uses him as an example. He starts with the mans little finger and breaks it without hesitation, malice or regret – it’s just business, a tool to get to his goal. He continues to break his fingers until, someone provides a snippet of the information he needs and then he leaves without a second thought for his victim. He is a character who has through his own traumatic experiences abandoned the world and regards it as sick with the cancer of evil spreading throughout it. He knows he can’t stop it but is driven by his rage at suffering to work his way through destroying the cancer of society wherever he can at whatever cost. Overall ****** Since reading this novel when I was 14, I have never found anything that comes close to touching it. The Artwork as I have mentioned is so superlative and the story and dialogue so defined that it is like watching a film and a great film at that. Graphic Novels are not my cup of tea at all but this transcends merely being a novel or a comic into being an outstanding piece of work in it’s own right. In other words, there are novels, there are comics, there is artwork and there is brilliance…and then there is “Watchmen”.
Imagine an alternate 1980s, one where Nixon is still president (after some careful renegotiating of the laws regarding number of terms), one where America won the war in Vietnam. One where the threat of global nuclear war is partly held in check by the presence of a deity like individual who works for the American government. Where the comic book explosion of the 1930s created a rash of real masked heroes, who dressed up as costumed vigilantes, desperate to bring crime under control. Who were banned by government legislation after a Police strike made them unpopular and caused rioting. This is the world in which Alan Moore sets his epic twelve part series ‘Watchmen’, which was originally published between 1986-7 as a twelve issue comic series but is now thankfully collected together for ease of reading as a graphic novel. Ooh look I mentioned a dirty word in the preceding paragraph, did you notice it? Yes that’s right it was comic. Despite the excellent material which has been produced over the last 15 years or so comics are still largely regarded as a childish format, and vehicle for little more then superhero tales. This has been tempered with the growing mainstream acceptability of what are known as graphic novels. For some reason if you collect a story arc together and package it as an A4 softback book, it suddenly becomes an acceptable tome to be seen reading. Neil Gaimen’s magnificent 'Sandman' saga has achieved much of its critical acclaim and commercial success thanks to being published in this format, ridiculous as it may appear. The graphic novel has helped the likes of 'Sandman', 'Preacher' and 'The Invisibles' to escape the comic shop ghetto and be found on sale in respectable book shops and even in libraries. Those who become fans often become quite irritated when you point out that they are reading a comic, “It's not a comic, it's a graphic novel” is often t
he retort you will hear. The term graphic novel may be more appropriate to some these works than comic with its perjurative implications, but this doesn’t change its basic nature. Our attitude to comics is curious really, it's the closest format the written word gets to film yet we still associate it with children. Yes there are some terrible comics written that do deserve all the associations, but there are some terrible movies too, and we don’t dismiss the whole genre of film do we? I always think the Japanese have it right, their comics and animation (Manga and Anime) are enjoyed by both adults and children, with different titles aimed at different audiences. Certainly as excellent as 'Sandman' or 'Watchmen' are, their bleak and at times desolate approach is hardly suitable to children. Anyway rant over, back to the point (or something vaguely resembling it at any rate). ‘Watchmen’ is a product of the fevered imagination of British comic scripter Alan Moore. I was first drawn to Moore’s work by reading that Neil Gaimen (author of my beloved 'Sandman') was inspired by Moore’s work and pretty much learnt his craft from him. Moore first came to prominence by creating (the rather mediocre) superhero strip ‘Marvelman’ and the excellent ‘V for Vendetta’. He then took over writing DC’s ‘Swamp Thing’ series, completely rehabilitating a somewhat moribund character and earning himself several awards (the eagle and Jack Kirby gongs if you’re interested) in the process. Moore’s magnum opus however, is undoubtedly this complex, dark vision of an alternate America. Moore takes the comic stereotype, heroes dressing up in absurd costumes to fight crime and then twists it on its head. These masked men and women largely (with the exception of Dr Manhattan), do not posses super powers, they are just ordinary individuals who for reasons best know
n to themselves have chosen to become glorified vigilantes who wear their underwear on the outside of their clothing. He examines psychological reasons and consequences of their behaviour, the sexual connotations (the fate of ‘The Silhouette’ hints at sado-masochistic leanings although is never explicitly spelt out) and how their actions in turn effect and reflect the society that created them. The story is not altogether straight forward, it skips around in time, hints at deeper meanings and is heavily referenced in both the culture of the mid 80s and comics in general. Although the story and setting are very dark, there is humour, both of the sharp witty kind, and of the black subverted variety. There are also I’m assured a myriad of in jokes and ironic references to DC’s past, although never having been a fan of the superhero genre, I probably failed to pick up on most of them. The story begins with a death. A man has been thrown to his death from the window of his 15th floor apartment, leaving little more then an unpleasant red stain on the pavement and a mysterious gold badge with a smiling face imprinted on it. The death is investigated by unrepentant mystery man, Rorschach who defies the 1977 Keene act, which outlaws the costumed vigilantes, and he discovers that the murdered man, Edward Blake was none other then The Comedian. One of the Minutemen (a loose grouping of the original masked crime fighters), thanks to his government links The Comedian was still in business but who could have taken him out? Being more then a little paranoid, and despite the fact (revealed gradually over the course of the book) The Comedian has made more then enough enemies over his life to murder him twice over, Rorschach becomes convinced that there is a killer on the loose gunning for ‘the masks’. He sets out to warn his former colleges and friends in his inimitable fashion but none of them seem too interested. Ro
rschach’s unpredictable style and his increasingly maverick and unconventional approach have made even those who were once close to him sceptical. Nevertheless Rorschach continues his investigations, turning up a link to former costumed villain (well if you have costumed heroes you have to the villains too don’t you?) Moloch. However, when it becomes clear that some one has manipulated the practically omnipotent Dr Manhattan into abandoning the Earth and another former masked avenger Ozymandias narrowly escapes attempted assassination it becomes clear that something more sinister is indeed brewing. With the threat of World War Three lurking after the disappearance of the good Dr several of retired vigilantes join Rorschach in his search for the truth, but what is exactly going on? What is the link to vanished author Max Shea and what relevance to the veiled references to ‘the Island’ have? The final dénouement will change the course of man’s history, but can the Watchmen make a difference? Narrowly summing up a plot arc that spans over 300 pages in a mere paragraph ot two of course doesn’t come close to doing any work justice. This is particularly appropriate here, there are enough unexpected twists and turns along the way to make this more then just the usual 'superhereos attempt to save the world' yarn. Illustrating them though, would ruin much of the effect. It is not just the plot however, that makes this book special. The characterisation of both the leads and indeed incidental players is first class for one. At the centre of the story is Rorschach and he is certainly not a typical hero. Named for his ink blot mask Rorschach isn’t much of a superhero. With his hat and trench coat he looks more like one of the shady ‘Scum’ he detests then any kind of crime fighter, which possibly is the point. He shuns gadgets in general, relying on a rope and occasionally a grapple gun, m
ainly relying on his fists and presence to get results. He leans towards apocalyptic tendencies, despises communism and liberalism and thinks the ‘New Frontiersman’ is the last trust worthy agent of the press left. He seldom speaks in sentences more the two words long and is misanthropic to say the least. He is described by one character as seeing the world in “Manichaen terms”, although to be honest this isn’t strictly true. Rorschach sees the world in terms of black and blacker rather the back and white. To him the world is beyond saving, he knows he can’t save it from itself, yet he refuses to give up. In some ways his greatest bile is reserved for those who did give up, his former allies. Ozymandias, for revealing his identity and trading on it as a business mogul, entertainer and even as a toy action figure. Laurie Jupiter whose costume he never approved of anyway (all mini-skirt and plunging necklines) and perhaps most of all his former partner and friend Nite Owl, who has “Grown old and fat”. When Drieberg (Nite Owl’s alter ego) asks Rorschach whatever happened to the great times, Rorschach merely walks away answering “You quit.” Moore’s genius is to give us an insight into what created such a man, to make us feel empathy for someone who could be seen as a monster. Abused childhood etc, all played a part but the true creation of Rorschach is narrated in a scene caused by the ink blot test itself. Most fragile of all is his sense of identity, when he is at one point he is captured and unmasked all he can scream pathetically is “Give me back my face.” This persona and his sense of purpose are all that is left of his humanity. In some ways pitted as a close comparison to Rorschach is The Comedian, Edward Blake. Although he is dead before the opening frame of the story, he remains a significant character, who’s actions are revealed throu
gh flashbacks juxtaposed within the narrative. His is a thug, a rapist, a murderer but a patriot. Tellingly after the Keene act, Blake is the only masked hero to survive the purge besides Dr Manhattan, as he continues to work as a government operative. He is not the same as Rorschach however. The latter operates by his own twisted version of morality like a knight’s code, Blake in contrast is completely amoral. Blake understands the futility of the vigilantes actions, he understands better then all of them the truth of human nature, he just doesn’t care. The other central intriguing character undoubtedly is the only real superhero, Dr Manhattan. Sure his creation is the usual tragic accident turned miracle (he was vaporised in a nuclear test chamber but his consciousness somehow managed to survive and recraft a new body) but his role is quite different. His passivity at first makes him easily used, he becomes a government figurehead, a war winner (he pretty much single handedly conquers Vietnam) and a linchpin in America’s defence strategy. Yet despite his near omnipotent powers he is a tragic figure, unable to differentiate time. To him the past, present and future are all the same, he has full knowledge of what has been and what will be. Despite this he is unable to change his own role in events and is forced to live his life as a puppet, his actions having been preordained by his knowledge of them. In some ways he is as amoral as Blake, despite his attempts at having human relationships he is no longer capable of them. He is is effect no longer human; he knows that he will love and he will lose. The sudden cruelty shown to him early in the book, seals his opinion of humanity and even an epic debate with his former girl friend over the power of life can not convince him otherwise. Ozymandias describes his view of politics as whether we should prefer “Red ants or black ants” but the same could be said for his view
of people. His real tragedy is his memories of being human and his attempt to recapture it, knowing he is always doomed to failure. The supporting cast are also drawn well. Dan Dreiberg or Nite Owl, plays a fairly convincing 40 something Batman type character, searching for his role after he has removed his mask. Laurie Jupiter is a good female lead, looking for her own identity when she finally steps away from that which has been scripted for her, although perhaps she is a little underwritten. Her ageing mother, once the Silk Spectre, who is caught in the rapture of her glorious past is perhaps a more interesting creation. Even incidental characters such as the news vendor or Rorschach’s prison psychiatrist are depicted with more depth then you would have expected. Moore’s writing juxtaposes the past and present in an occasionally confusing but always fascinating narrative. Perhaps the theme of the book is the use of masks and the role in which we use them to hide from our own actions. The realisation of responsibility lurks heavily above the heads of many of the characters. The style Moore employs often shows great originality. Chapters are bookended with articles and interviews which relate the text and both fill in the back story and throw interesting new interpretations on the character’s actions. There are many subtleties that are only revealed on subsequent reads, I particularly enjoyed the realisation of Rorschach’s day job. There is even a comic within the story which both complements and contradicts they key themes. If I have a criticism, it is that the ending feels a little rushed and ill fitting, although it is undoubtedly shocking. This doesn’t detract however, from the standard of story telling or the content of what was passed before. When you read this complex and yet ever elusive yarn you begin to understand where Neil Gaimen stole some of his epic sweep and culture referencing from. <
br> Dave Gibbon’s artwork places me in an interesting quandary. He adopts a pulp 1930s style, which whilst fitting to the book fails to impress and adequately convey the depth of the characters suggested by the text. True depicting emotions in largely masked players could be difficult, and the unmasked Rorschach is a revelation but one never shakes the feeling Moore could have been better served by a more imaginative artist. Despite these small criticisms, 'Watchmen' is a fantastic read. Deep, dark and at times disturbing yet incredibly compelling. Forget your hang ups about comics, anyone with an interest in ‘noir thrillers’ or science fiction/fantasy should read this book.
Watchmen was recommended to me by a friend who had his hair cut into pointy horns and sported a very long, very dodgy goatee, I’m clearly mixing with the right people. Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” is probably about the most important comic ever released, it changed the way people view comics as an art form and as literature. I think it’s one of the few comics that actually deserve that awful 80’s term, Graphic Novel. The reason that the Watchmen works so well is that it works on so many levels, it has the intellectual clout of a genuine novel using flashbacks, themes and very serious issues. It has the accessibility of a comic but the artwork uses the similar methods to a novel in the imagery and it also uses methods of storytelling unavailable to a novelist, the images are often arranged in such a manner that allows one persons narrative to illustrate another’s actions adding a symmetry to the story. That symmetry is mirrored in the artwork itself the page is often laid out in the standard nine panels per page for instance a scene in a room may have a flickering neon sign outside so panels are alternately blue and red. In fact the symmetry is taken to an extreme in one chapter where the entire comic is symmetrical in imagery and in the story itself. The end of each chapter, 12 in all as you would expect from a watch, has written excerpts from books or magazines that often serve to fill in the back-story. There is also another entire comic within the comic which acts as a chorus for the main characters. As you can see this is no ordinary beast. To illustrate how cinematic and how serious it is I’ll start at the beginning; it all starts with the death of the Comedian. Over this is a narrative from Rorschach’s Journal “Dog carcass in the alley, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me I have seen its true face.” The focus is on a smiley badge with a red splash acros
s one eye. “The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over the vermin will drown” Focus pulls back to show a gutter the gutter is full of blood. “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.” The focus pulls back further to reveal a prophet of doom carrying a “the end is nigh” banner and a man washing away the blood. “They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men, like my father or President Truman. Decent men, who believed in a days work for a days pay.” The focus pulls up further; the prophet leaves bloody footprints in his wake. “Instead they followed the droppings of lechers and communists and didn’t realize that the trail led over the precipice until it was too late. Don’t tell me they didn’t have a choice”. Up and up until the glass building stretches out below. “Now the whole world stands on the brink staring down into bloody hell, all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth talkers…. And all of a sudden nobody can think of anything to say.” We finally reach the window from which the Comedian took his final bow. A detective leans over and “That’s quite a drop” he says surveying the pin prick of blood on the street below. As you can imagine Rorschach is not a balanced individual…. The Watchmen, are, or were a group of super heroes, though actually the term super can really only be applied Dr Manhattan. The others are costumed heroes who, for their own reasons dress up to fight crime, the sexual and psychological implications of this behavior are explored throughout the comic in sometimes funny sometimes sad asides. T
he primary characters in the story are Rorschach; a brutal fascist who happens to be a good guy, Nite Owl; an inventor long since retired, Sally Jupiter; raised by her own hero mother to follow in her footsteps and Dr Manhattan; a parahuman with the power to manipulate space and time to his every whim. Dr Manhattan is in fact godlike in his power, to the extent that he is powerless. You see all events are predestined; the good Dr knows the future and so is doomed to act it out, puppet like. As Rorschach investigates the Comedians murder we are introduced to the other characters and the alternate history of this world unfolds, the influence of Dr Manhattan being the major deviation from our own. The US won Vietnam with Manhattan’s help and reign as the major superpower. As a result Nixon is still in power, having changed the rules to allow a third term. America’s possession of Manhattan doesn’t stop Russia amassing arms of its own and the world is teetering on the edge of a third world war. To reveal any more of the plot would be an injustice to the book. The story has more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing, events are often retold from different perspectives adding more depth to the situations and peeling rings off the onion as does Rorschach’s investigation. The plot raises huge moral questions and may lead you to question your own actions or inactions when faced with adversity. The art is ably supplied by Dave Gibbons, prior to rereading this for the review I’d thought that this might be the one bad thing I have to say about the book, but I can’t the artwork is superb, particularly the attention to the ever-present symmetry of the piece. I think the reason I found the artwork lacking from memory is that the colouration is in primary colours, but if you bear that the book was published in 1985, comics were very rarely painted in those days. I suppose one criticism I might raise
is that the book can often be a little confusing. The speech bubbles for some of the characters have certain styles and when that person is talking over another image it could confuse someone who isn’t used to this style of writing. Watchmen is a very intelligent book worthy of the classic status it has gained, If you only read one comic in your life read this one.