This is one of those books that I often picked up and looked at, but never read. I'm shallow enough to admit I was turned off by the artwork and lack...moreThis is one of those books that I often picked up and looked at, but never read. I'm shallow enough to admit I was turned off by the artwork and lack of recognizable characters. I must say, I am so glad that Watchmen was chosen by one of my book groups, forcing me to get past my first impressions.
Watchmen takes place in alternative universe, where the emergence of costumed adventurers has altered the course of modern history. The superheroes, the majority which are neither super nor all that heroic (with one notable exception), are in forced retirement, until the murder of one of their own compels them to action once more. The plot twists and turns in unexpected ways, all the while introducing us to these masked men and women, their histories, and their motivations, and draws to a riveting and ambiguous conclusion that leaves the reader pondering what heroism really means.
This graphic novel, published originally in 1986, ushered in a new era for comic fans; comic books became literature, and superheroes became people with flaws and angst of their own. Alan Moore truly takes the genre to the level of literature, pulling out all those post modern favorite techniques like meta-fiction, intertextuality, and symbolism, while still retaining the classic elements of comic books; while there are no whizz-bang sound effects or thought bubbles, he stays true to the format and elevates it to a new level. Likewise, David Gibbons, the artist, uses the art in a deeper way; each panel is filled with meaning and symbolism, from the repeated use of the Comedian's smiley face, to the repeated graffiti asking, "Who watches the watchmen?" The art creates a cinematic feel and also evokes the "golden age" style of comics, and in the end I was appreciative of it. Both writer and artist have put a lot of thought into this work; for example, the chapter "Fearful Symmetry" is based on the William Blake poem, The Tyger, and not only are there numerous places where both plot and image symmetry are used, but the panels are symmetrical goign from first page to last page, second page to second-to-last page, and so on. The chapter also refers to the character, Rorschach, who wears a mask with a shifting, symmetrical inkblot, who tends to think in black and white, and is a character that others should be fearful of.
One negative issue did get brought up in my book group meeting, and that was the treatment of the women in the book. Try as we might, we couldn't find many positive portrayals of female characters. We found the rape storyline distasteful, if only because all the characters but two, including the character who was the victim, are pretty dismissive of the serious nature of that act, and pretty forgiving of the rapist. I don't like seeing rape used as the start of a consensual, romantic relationship, and I don't like seeing a woman put her rapist up on a pedastal.
I still give the book five stars, however, because overall I loved the story and the characters, and found the writing stunning and moving. This is a landmark, watershed book, but it is also just a fine, enjoyable read. I'd recommend it to folks giving the genre a try for the first time, as well as graphic novel readers looking to branch out from Batman, Supes, and Spidey. (less)