Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
I was never a comic book guy. I did have some Star Wars comics1 and dabbled in GI Joe comics in the early 80s, but that was about it. I think because I was never into comics, I was also never into super heroes. So while it has become fashionable in some circles for men my age to “rediscover” comics and start building a library of X-Men and Avengers books, since I lacked that early love of the medium and the characters, I’ve spent my middle aged hobby money elsewhere2. I did read an X-Man compilation last summer. But it didn’t connect with me and I’ve not tried any other comics.
I decided to take another crack at a comic, err, graphic novel, only because Time listed “Watchmen” as one of the best 100 novels of the last century. Seemed like if a comic book got that kind of praise, I owed it to myself as a lover of books to give it a shot.
I liked it a lot. It’s a really cool story, set in a really cool time. It’s 1985 and the United States and Soviet Union are on the verge of cataclysmic war. The only thing holding them back is a mutated, American superhero named Dr. Manhattan who can singlehandedly repel any armed force. In fact, he turned the tide in Vietnam and the US not only won that war, but Richard Nixon used the popularity boost to change the Constitution and is still serving as president in ’853. But when Dr. Manhattan flees earth, the Soviets prepare to confront the US in Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, Manhattan’s old costumed, crime fighting pals, the Watchmen, come out of retirement and race to solve the murder of their old partner The Comedian, which leads them to a larger plot that threatens New York City.
The end is nicely ambiguous and, in some ways, unsatisfying. But I liked that. It felt right for a book that focuses on a violent, tense, mess of a society on the brink of war where there are no easy, obvious answers.
I did have a hard time getting over some of the limitations of the medium. To me, comics ask you to fill in more blanks than traditional novels, and occasionally I had to reread sections multiple times to figure out exactly what was going on. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had that trouble if I read more comics. That didn’t keep me from enjoying the book, though. And I couldn’t help but think of the old GI Joe comics which had a similar graphic style. Those comics were trash, so it was a bit distracting to constantly be mentally referring to them as I worked through this much better work.
Yeah, I enjoyed “Watchmen” quite a bit. It strikes some themes that are common in comic books, mostly of the talented yet tortured heroes who attempt to bring order to a chaotic society. I never got into the whole costumed hero thing as a kid, but understanding that darker side that is at the base of most great comics makes me appreciate them more. Will I start reading any on a regular basis? I don’t think so, mostly because my To Read list is so long already. But after reading the classic work of the genre, I may browse the library’s graphic novel/comics section a little more and dive into some of the other classics from time-to-time.