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Watchmen

A 12-part comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

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A novel of great depth, action, humor, and pacing

  • Mar 30, 2009
Rating:
+5
First, two things we need to establish up front.

1). This is the first "graphic novel" I have ever read, and the first comic book since a smattering of "Archie" comics in the 60s and MAD magazines in the 70s.

2). I have not yet seen the movie based on Watchmen, although from the trailers I instantly recognize the characters.

I am not going to overstate my enthusiasm like a newly-converted fan. Damon Lindelof (creator of the TV show "Lost") is quoted on the back cover calling this the "greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced," It is not. It is however, a novel of great depth, action, humor, and pacing very well deserving of a 5-star "What a Classic!" rating.

Pacing is a valuable concept many fiction authors fail to grasp. While recently reading The old curiosity shop, and reading about how Dickens created all his novels first for serial publication, I think it more than coincidence that the single collected volume of Watchmen is able to sustain such a strong sense of pace, a direct result of the monthly installments of the original publication.

Of course, a classic must hinge on its story, and Watchmen turns on a great story recounting the history of various attempts to unite real masked superheroes who, imitating the comic-book creations, fight crime as lone vigilantes. In fact, the real heroes are anything but super, typically just a lonely misfit with an overdeveloped sense of justice who dons a mask and costume to fight crime in dark alleys and smokey halls--for which they are branded vigilantes and anti-police outlaws and finally outlawed in the mid-1970s. Each generation of these loners has tried to unite to work together and improve their public image, but each attempt has foundered on the basic problem of finding a common cause among such strong, quiet, non-social men and women. . . .

SPOILER ALERT (Although I suppose it will come as a surprise to few reading this review)

. . . . Only one of whom has any super powers! Dubbed "Dr. Manhattan", Jon Osterman has been blasted into his component atoms in a nuclear accident, and by force of intellect reassembled himself into a giant blue automaton. He has the powers of extreme logical thought, teleportation, and basic indestructibility. The rest of the Watchmen are ordinary men and women, who rely on smarts, athletic ability, strategically-padded costumes, and the element of surprise provided by stealth and cover of darkness. This was a revelation to me, as I had never read anything about the book and based only on the trailers for the movie supposed these to be superheros with super powers, and the revelation gives the book a groundedness and seriousness that adds to the depth of the story.

And it is at core a serious story, set in the mid 1980s with news of Russian aggression in Afghanistan and other political hot spots breeding war and terror dominating both much of the foreground story and the background headlines and TV news stories in the background of many of the panels. While the world has changed dramatically since the novel was first written (the Berlin Wall and the Cold War it symbolized was still intact but about to crumble), the deep fear and paranoia that ordinary people face haven't grown any less serious since. Stateless terrorism and the seismic shifts of economic power and the resultant volcanic economic collapse still press us to the limits of our ability to understand and respond in a way that lets us live comfortably in the world we inhabit. We still need our Watchmen, and someone to watch them..

Since this was my first graphic novel, understanding the common logic of the medium took a little time to learn, such as how to tell when scenes changed, or when a character was speaking and to whom. I was expecting, given the graphic nature of the novel and the fact that it was made into a movie, that a graphic novel would read very cinematically, but in fact I found the sensory experience quite different. It was more like walking through an art gallery, where some halls contained paintings of intricate detail that rewarded close scrutiny, while others contained large paintings that could be conceived at a single wide-angle glance and moved past quickly--there's that concept of pacing again, and it added to the quality of the novel. The pictures and text bear close watching, and the book is replete with many deep ironies, both humorous, profane, and thought provoking. Much of the story is told in these juxtapositions (pay attention to the details on the chapter headings and the quotes at the beginning and end of each section) , so speed-reading at the expense of paying attention to all the graphic information being presented will detract from your enjoyment of this book.

Of particular power is the parallel thread of pictures superimposed throughout many chapters of Watchmen from a darkly-violent pirate comic being read by a young man sitting on the ground near the news stand where he borrowed it, drawing the ongoing anger of the stand's owner who nonetheless enjoys the company. This interwoven thread at times mirrors action in real time as the Watchmen find themselves the target of a campaign to kill or force them into hiding.

Incidentally, I referenced the TV show "Lost" earlier. As a fan of the show I can see strong elements of influence from the novel. While it isn't required reading for "Lost" viewers, they will find the novel very interesting reading for its insight into the "time-tripping" concepts in the TV show. It is not surprising to see the concepts of Watchmen rewoven into new material.

Classics are like that.

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More Watchmen (graphic novel) reviews
review by . January 03, 2009
Watchmen Hardcover Edition cover
   First let me begin this review by saying that there are very few contemporary writers that I truly admire and respect for their artistic integrity and uncompromising ideas. And let me also inform you that there are not many books in recent years that I would call essential… but the graphic novel Watchmen by  Alan Moore is a mesmerizing exception.   I first came across the book when I was in summer camp and I was about thirteen-years old. At the time I was heavily …
Quick Tip by . June 03, 2012
I just finished this book and this is one of the absolute best pieces of literature I've completed, regardless of the medium.  The best strengths The Watchmen has going for it are that it has really well-developed characters and shows that solutions to potential catastrophies aren't in black-and-white.       While this and Batman:  The Killing Joke are the only Alan Moore comics I've tackled so far, it's books like these that are making …
review by . June 30, 2010
Watchmen is an absolutely fantastic graphic novel by acclaimed author Alan Moore. Watchmen revolves around a group of minutemen who fancy themselves as superheroes. Unlike regular superheroes such as Superman and Spiderman, the Watchmen are hardly what we usually consider superheroes. Quite the opposite - most of them hold extreme right wing views bordering on Nazism and one of them even revels in murder and almost rapes another watchmen.      The story is one of the most original …
Quick Tip by . September 18, 2010
One of the greatest comic book series of all time, bar none.
review by . June 06, 2010
Watchmen is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. I personally enjoyed reading the graphic novel after watching the movie. I feel there is a lot of literal elements in the novel that can be taken from each character. I would recommend this novel to anyone that likes super heroes or a good piece of literature. The setting of this novel is interesting because it establishes a what if things had gone differently during the cold war scenario and then runs with. I liked …
Quick Tip by . July 29, 2010
Delightful and prescient exploration of the superhero mythos. Asks whether we really want anyone above the law.
Quick Tip by . July 16, 2010
A complete product of its time, "Watchmen," is something that should be experienced in it's Graphic form, rather than in motion.
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Good but Negative. Maybe you agree with me, the book is good, is intelligent, is unusual. But at the end of all it made me very unhappy. It presents you a pessimist meditation.
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
If you haven't read this and even kinda liked the movie it's a must read.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Astonishing, riveting, a feast for eye and mind, a tale not easily forgotten. The film did it justice, but the original is deeper and more visceral. Unreservedly recommended.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Wiki

Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book limited series created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins. The series was published by DC Comics during 1986 and 1987, and has been subsequently reprinted into a collected graphic novel. Watchmen originated from a story proposal Moore submitted to DC featuring superhero characters that the company had acquired from Charlton Comics. As Moore's proposed story would have left many of the characters unusable for future stories, managing editor Dick Giordano convinced the writer to create original characters instead.

Moore used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and to critique the superhero concept. Watchmen takes place on an alternate history Earth where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. The country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement.

Creatively, the focus of Watchmen is on its structure. Gibbons used a nine-panel grid layout throughout the series and added recurring symbols such as a blood-stained smiley. All but the last issue feature supplemental fictional documents that add to the series' ...

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Details

ISBN-10: 0930289234
ISBN-13: 978-0930289232
Author: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
Genre: Superheroes, Comics & Graphic Novels, Political and Social Satire, Dystopian
Publisher: DC Comics
Date Published: 1986-1987
Format: Graphic novel
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