This is something I have been meaning to read for years. The film adaptation holds a special place for me because it was one of the first films my boyfriend and I watched together right at the beginning of our relationship two and a half years ago. It was and is one of his favourite films of all time, so it was very important to him (and the future of our relationship) that I enjoy it. I did. But not because I had to. Because it was awesome.
Ok. Gushing over.
I had heard there was a lot of angst towards the adaptation, but now, having read it after watching the film a few times, I’d say they did a pretty amazing job. The casting was astonishingly accurate, especially in the cases of Rorschach, Danny Dreiberg, and Laurie Juspeczyk (but this latter only in terms of looks unfortunately). There were small changes made to the ending but the overall result was the same and the graphic novel ending might not have translated well to the big screen. Maybe. Who knows?
Watchmen is a graphic novel about superheroes. If you don’t know anything about this book, you might think that doesn’t sound particularly interesting or original. If you’ve heard of it, you’ll know it’s so much more than that. Firstly, the superheroes we have are retired – except one, our sometime narrator, Rorschach – mostly due to ‘Masked Adventurers’ being outlawed in 1977.
Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains 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
These words, written by Rorschach in his journal (October 12th), cover the opening three panels. That whispered ‘no’ is iconic, as is the quote that opens this blog and the bloodied smiley face that resides on the cover. Much about this graphic novel is iconic, and now I finally understand why.
The setting is 1985, New York. We start with the murder of an ex-masked adventurer, Eddie Blake (or, the Comedian), and those investigating it. We meet Rorschach, previously a disembodied voice taken from his journal, as he scales the apartment building where Blake lived, in order to check out the murder scene for himself. He goes on to warn his ex-colleagues that he believes somebody is killing off masked adventurers, and thereby introduces us to the other main characters – Danny Dreiberg (previously ‘Nite Owl’), Dr Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk, and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world).
What we get here is not only a superhero story, but also a story about previous generations – our set of ‘heroes’ come after the original masked adventurers, known as ‘the Minutemen’ – and about growing older, the greyness of good and evil and how they may sometimes seem indistinguishable. The relationship between Laurie Juspeczyk and her mother, Sally Jupiter (who changed her name so as not to seem Polish in the 1950s), explores themes not limited to the world of masked heroics – themes of the ambivalent nature of love, moulding children to be replications of their parents, publicity and fame, growing older and getting past your prime. There are so many human contradictions at a basic storytelling level that I hope you have fun discovering and contemplating – there is so much humanity in Watchmen, but it doesn’t appear how you would expect.
The main story about ‘getting the gang back together’ and fighting the bad guy is not the only one you will find here. Between chapters there are extracts from the autobiography of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason (of the Minutemen), who talks about how he came to be a Masked Adventurer, what it was like working as a vigilante and then becoming part of a team, and the problems they faced. There are also psychological evaluations, newspaper cutouts, and more. There is also the story of the Black Freighter, a graphic novel within a graphic novel, which is being read by a minor character beside a newsstand. Within this single text, there are so many other threads and stories, you cannot be left wanting.
Things I liked
The depth of story. The layering. The humanity. The horror! The horror! (literary joke). The sheer pragmatism of the logic of Dr Manhattan.
The characters: interesting, sad and incredible, all impressive in their ways, all holding their own troubles and sadnesses, none telling each other the complete truth.
The cinematic feel of the art. I love the art in this, it is, for want of a better phrase, SO COOL. I just want loads of prints of it (perhaps the less gory scenes…)
Things I didn’t like
Although as I said before, they contributed to the depth of the story, the between-chapter prose sections made me slow down to read them, and for a first time read I felt a strong urge to skip most of them – in fact it was coming across the first prose section that made me stop reading it the first time I tried. But persevere! If necessary skip them and come back when you read it a second time.
Should I read this?
Just kidding. Unless you have a particular dislike of gore, violence, philosophy, or superheroes, go out and read it. It won’t take long, it’s great to look at, and if it doesn’t manage to make you think about the nature of humanity and what it takes for social change, then it will at least entertain you.
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The Book Depository
You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Watchmen-Alan-Moore/9780930289232/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary
Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.