Sunday, March 08, 2009

Watchmen (Graphic Novel) Review

It has been called "the most celebrated graphic novel of all time," and Watchmen mania has certainly heated up over the last several weeks. The feature film adaptation was just released this past Friday, and every one's excited about seeing this epic come to the silver screen. In anticipation of seeing Watchmen, a friend lent me his copy of the graphic novel so I could read it prior to viewing the film (which I'm expecting to watch this coming Friday).

Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen is set in the Fall of 1985, New York City. The Comedian, a super hero and US government agent, has just been murdered in his own home by an unknown assailant, and more and more heroes are meeting ill ends. Rorschach, one of the last active super heroes since the government outlaw of masked vigilantes in the '70's, suspects a plot to eliminate all former costumed adventures, and he begins an investigation into what is a very dark world.

Make no mistake, Watchmen is not a kids comic. It is a very mature graphic novel, featuring violence, sex, and significant political references to key undertones of the time period. It is also very interesting to note that all of these "super heroes" are simply regular people in costumes fighting crime; none of them have super powers save for Dr. Manhattan. Rorschach is disturbed and excessively violent. Night Owl has loads of gadgets. Silk Spectre's great at martial arts. You get the idea.

The alternate history provided due to super hero intervention in our society, as well as the constant looming threat of nuclear war with Russia, is very well played, but it's the characters, their history, and the societal mentality behind super heroes itself portrayed by Watchmen that really interested me.

In fact, Watchmen is not an action oriented comic series, but rather, a deeply written detective story greatly reflecting the Cold War state of the mid-'80's. The graphic novel is spread out over 12 issues, and while constantly evolving the overall plot, many issues have a key focus, often on a specific character, illustrating their back story, how they came to be what they now are, and glimpsing at how that's relevant to the grander picture in motion behind the scenes. While I found the series started off slowly, once it got going it really took off, really sucked me in, and was very hard to put down. There is _a lot_ of depth in Moore's writing, so many connections, and it's truly fascinating.

I mean seriously, what possesses the average person to dress up in a costume and fight crime at 3:00 am? Moore explores that from different angles, giving several possible reasons with each different character. How would society really react to such super heroes? How would the police force? What kind of changes would people like this have on not just the Western world, but the world as a whole? Again, Moore explores this to, and so many of his explorations are so very subtle, and slowly drawn out that it keeps you anxiously reading from issue to issue.

My only gripe, my only major let down with Watchmen would have to be the ending. Without spoiling it for you here (and apparently the ending's been changed somewhat for the feature film), I found the graphic novel's final issue to be excessively anti-climactic, and I felt that there was no pay-off for everything that we were being led to, it really left me with a sense of "That's it!?!?" Again, I can't discuss it here, but I expected more, something a little more definitive and providing a little flare, and something that would provide a more suitable climax for such great and memorable characters.

Despite this, however, Watchmen is an excellent read. I don't think I'd call it the greatest graphic novel ever written, but it's certainly different than your run-of-the-mill comic series, very mature in both its writing and the issues that it tackles, and this makes it unique and well worth the look.


Sophiecottrell said...
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Thomas said...

G'Day Arbiter - great review, and necessary since a lot of people won't have read the graphic novel but may want to know more about the flick.

I thought the ending was great, however: didn't see it coming, and it left me with a feeling of bleakness for Ozy's twisted logic, Rorschach's unflinching stance, and Dan and Laurie's future bearing the horrible secret (and knowing they were part of it).

Keep up the awesome work (and look forward to more XBox 360 reviews for Aussies!)


Juxtapose said...

Thanks for the comment Thomas!

Minor Spoiler Alert Below

For the ending, I personally found Dan didn't react strongly enough, and that Rorschach had a cheap finish. I thought it was really lame for such a great character.

It's not that Ozymandius succeeded that bothered me either, it's how it all came together. Just didn't feel right.