Who’s going to watch WATCHMEN? Not me….
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By Steven Cherecwich
Gone with the Wind. Black Beauty. Alice in Wonderland. Bicentennial Man. Field of Dreams. Generals Daughter. The Iron Giant. The Last Mohican. The Lord of the Rings. Stuart Little. The Talented Mr.Ripley. To Kill a Mockingbird. Pride and Prejudice. Patriot Games. And now….Watchmen…
The list goes on and on, and what do they all have in common? Works of written literature that have been turned into movies. In each and every single case I can and will argue that the written form surpasses the theatrical version.
Of course, as of this writing, the movie version of Watchmen hasn’t even come out yet. (Due out 3/6/9) But that doesn’t matter….I’m not going to go see it anyway. I digress…we’re not here to review a movie, we’re head to read about a book. A graphic novel, to be precise.
Written in 1986 by Alan Moore and with art by Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins, Watchmen originally came out as a month comic but (as most successful monthlies) were turned into a packaged novel in the early ‘90s.
Watchmen is set in a fantastical 1985 “what-if” future. Imagine, if you will, that when the superhero comics of the 50’s came out, normal people started to emulate these heroes. It’s actually rather surprising that nobody’s done it, when you stop to think about it. These kids, like us, who grew up reading Superman and Batman, dreamt of taking on crime on their own. Is it so far-fetched to think that one of them might have grown up and put on a costume, to try and clean up their own neighborhood? And when there’s one, there’s more.
Eventually, some of those people might retire, and their children or a close friend may take up the costume to continue their good works. By this time, costumed heroes are average people like you and me, and have their own flaws…just like you and me.
They try to get together, to form a group. To create their own “Justice League” and it fails miserably. Why is that? Because the real world doesn’t fit into nice neat patterns like the comics do. And Alan Moore’s writing has captured every essence of the frail humanity within us all, from the dreams of what the world *should* be like, to the stark coldness of reality that it is.
The five central characters, the Owl, Rorschach, Ozymandias, the Comedian, and the Silk Spectre (II) all have their individuality, in all their strengths and weaknesses highlighted by the one ‘true’ superbeing of Dr. Manhattan (the blue guy…a man who was caught in a nuclear test chamber by accident.) It is Manhattan’s cold detachment and reflections upon his own loss of humanity that bring a *pop* to the rest of the characters existence.
As heartless and fickle as American culture is, it eventually turns on these heroes. The government forces them to hang up their capes and go back to their ordinary lives as ordinary people, and so most of them do. All except Rorschach, a very very very mentally unstable individual who believes more in revenge than in justice. He comes across with the attitude that he would rather simply kill someone who has committed a crime, than to risk their future crimes be more serious than that of an alley mugging. His logic flows near seamlessly, following the thought that a mugging means a need for money, and most people that need money are drug users, the users become pushers, who create more users which creates more muggings, and rapes, and other violent acts. It is much more effective to stop the trail now, before it even gets started.
Rorschach becomes focused when one of their own, the Comedian, is killed in the opening scenes of the book. The Comedian, as shown through flashbacks, seems to understand the world as it is, as he is a very straightforward mercenary for hire (who happens to be hired by the US Government.) His name comes from the fact that he alone truly understands how ironic and cold and heartless the real world is…and it makes him laugh with the absurdity of it all.
The others I won’t go into details here, as I wouldn’t want to spoil the book, but know that they all have their own back stories, their own complete lives. That is, I think, the most compelling feature about this novel. It’s actually three books in one.
There is the main storyline, which is essentially the death of the Comedian and Rorschach’s search for the truth, interspersed with flashbacks of all the characters back stories. Also included is a biography by the Night Owl titled “Under the Hood”, and a pirate sea adventure comic-within-a-comic entitled “Black Freighter”
Honestly, until I saw the commercial for the movie, I’d never even heard of Watchmen. I know, I was sheltered and kept in a box. However, I don’t regret picking up this book for a moment.
After all, how many comics do you know that have won a Hugo award? Or that rank #5 on Amazon?
For the $50 I’d spend at the movie theatre, between the tickets, the food, drinks, etc, I’d rather sit home curled up in front of the fireplace with a good book. Especially since this one sells for only $10.99 on Amazon.com.
There’s a little bit of swearing, and a lot of excessive violence, a touch of sex and hints at a rape, which garners a PG-13 -- bordering on an R in my book. Still…it’s a must-have for just about anyone, whether you are a sociologist wanting to understand human behavior, a comic fan, or just have a few hours to kill….this 416 page graphic novel will not disappoint.
Excellent reading, but contains spoilers: http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/2006/02/20/alan-moore-interview-1988/
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NOTE: Next month! Marvel Zombies, where Superman meets Romero!