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Graphic Novel Review – The Watchmen

The graphic novel world has a variety of subjects for one to read.  Most of them are easy reads that combine a quick story with some nice graphics.  Sometimes what you get to read is so complex yet well structured that it hits you like a ton of bricks.  That was my experience with The Watchmen.  Yes, I know I’m twenty years late, and there are probably a ton of reviews about how marvelous it is.  Still, as a new person entering the graphic novel world, I feel compelled to share what I’ve absorbed from this work.

One thing I should say right away is that this novel is not for the light readers.  This is a complex book that just happens to have pictures in every page.  To call it just a comic, somehow it takes away some of its genius.  This story, which was published in 12 issues from September 1986 to October 1987, now gets compiled with additional dossiers in a book-like format.  It’s as thick as a small yellow pages book.  Inside, the writer tries to take us thru a trip where we must use our brains to process some of the data that he provides us.  You can get the cliff notes on wikipedia but you would be cheating yourself quite an adventure.

Now, many people will have different points of views on this story, but to understand how complex the man that writes the story, is to understand that not all of his intents can be easily deciphered.  This novel, which Time magazine has catalogued as one of the top 100 of all times, takes us to a world ruled by fear of nuclear war.  It travels thru the characters life spans and manages to provide us with a human version of gods.  I emphasis in the human part since that makes them imperfect and makes things uncertain throughout the story.

In a nutshell, this is the story of five individuals, which were superheroes until a congress act was passed that banned them from dressing and fighting crime.  For some reason, somebody is getting to them, killing some and conspiring against others.  The characters, most of them retired now and living private lives, decide to track down what’s happening and solve a mystery that risks taking a little more than their retirement, but their lives.  During this search, their personal lives receive a background search via the different directions they take to solve this crime.  I say crime because the novel starts with the death of one of them.  A man called the Comedian.  One of the main characters and one of the more complex is Rorschach, the only one that did not retire and continued working in the underground and takes it upon himself to alert the others and investigate.  Nite Owl was a partner of him, the second one to take that name after the first one retired.  He is a rich man, with lots of toys and tired of being retired.  Then we have Ozymandias who is a rich, powerful and the smartest man alive.  He retired two years before the act and decided to play the markets.  Lastly there’s Jon, aka Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre.  They live together in a government facility.  She, like Nite Owl, is the second person to use the name Spectre, after her mother retired.  Dr. Manhattan is a blue man, who during an accident in a lab back in the fifties, was disintegrated into thin air and later, he put himself together, molecule by molecule.  In the series he is the only one with real super powers.  He’s persona has great importance in the development of the story and its subsequent ending.

There are many themes and morals in this story.  We can start by the apocalyptic fear of a mass nuclear war and how that would affect the world’s population and its behavior.  This is an interesting point and the way this people behave on their own and as a collective, tells us a lot about how we work in real life.  Another perspective on a similar note, since the book is based in the 1980’s in the United States, the fear of the results of the Cold War cannot be ignored.  Just like in the sixties with the Cuba incident, in the eighties, when Russia invaded Afghanistan, all hell was breaking loose and speculators warned of the consequences.  The power of conspiracies is another theme that is played quite a lot in this book.  Conspiracies inside conspiracies and a bigger purpose behind them that would make people with certain degree of moral feel trapped.  It’s a demonstration of the abuse of truth and false premises used to keep people in check.   There are plenty more themes in the book but this I’m not dissecting it, just giving a simple review. 

To briefly talk about the author, Alan Moore is a well established and respected figure in the comic/graphic novel industry.  As creator of some of the biggest books out there, such as V For Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Distinguished Gentleman, Top 10, he knows how to write a good story.  Proof of that is that most of his books turnout as movies, much to his dislike.  He has been known to say that the art of comics is that they can’t be properly represented in three dimensions sometimes, and that’s why the stories work on paper.  But when they are turned into movies, things have to change, and the stories must change, taking away part of their magic.  Since his big days on DC, he has now dedicated to work on more independent work, and sometimes in a more risqué exotic kind of comics such as Promethea and Lost Girls.  He’s dislike of what the owners of his work (DC) is such, that he asked to be removed from the credits of the movie as creator or writer, and if you check on imdb or any other place, you will not find his name nearby the movie watchmen.

David Gibbons also started his career in comics very young in the early seventies.  Participated a lot on the ever long series 2000AD.  Also in stories for Doctor Who, Green Lantern and recently work on a new graphic novel titled The Originals. 

In the end, after just one read, I’m not going to pretend I know what the whole theme is, and I will not go around looking for other reviews to catch them until I read it at least one more time.  I will say one thing though; there are a lot of people expecting the movie version (which should come out in March 2009) that might feel like entertaining the idea of reading the novel.  I’m not a person to discourage reading, but it is not an easy read.  In more than one occasion I started it and felt the need to stop.  Of course, once you get thru the beginning, you get into the story and it becomes easier, but don’t expect to read it fast.  There are times when the author tries to combine two dialogues at the same time, which although interrelated, are speaking two different stories.  That happens in the newsstand with the pirate comics and most of the time it’s comparison with war.  So if you are a comic movies fan and not necessarily a comics/graphic novel fan, then just sit tight and wait for the movie.  Otherwise, indulge in this maze of lives before you see the movie so we can be disappointed together in how they managed to reduce such a thick and elaborated book into a two hour movie.  But don’t despair, not all is lost.  I’m sure the effects will be superb.

Here’s the trailer for the upcoming movie.

Additional Links:

Allan Moore Fan Site

Interview to Dave Gibbons about the movie at ComicCon

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