Michael's Reviews > Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore
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's review
Jun 10, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: comics
Read in June, 2008

I've heard nothing but unflinching hyperbolic praise for this book. I wonder if it's even possible for anything to live up to the kind of hype this has suffered. It's the only graphic novel/comic book to be included on Time Magazine's list of 100 greatest novels since the beginning of Time's publication. That's a lot of pressure - to be the sole symbol and representation and of an entire art form for a popular and wide audience. I mean, this thing needs to be devastatingly good.

Forget all that noise, and this is just a great book. "Best ever" - I'm not sure, but it definitely stands out as a milestone, and a sort of mile marker in superhero comics, along with Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns. 1985-86 is when comics got really dark, and really sinister and scary in a real life way that had never really been approached before. Sure Galactus had come around to eat the Earth and Doctor Doom, I'm sure had hatched some Armageddon schemes, and Darkseid had set out to control everybody's thoughts, but all of those doomsday scenarios were set at a safe distance from reality, all based on ridiculous, albeit compelling, contingencies. Furthermore, those stories always provided superheros you could rely on to save the day. The great myth-makers could never get away with letting the Silver Surfer or the Fantastic Four or Superman fail at their missions to save the world.

Moore's world of Watchmen is quite different. Superheros have seen their heyday decades ago, and the American public and government now sees these masked vigilantes as nothing more than criminals, head-cases not to be trusted. What's really grim, is the evils mankind faces in reality - corrupt governments, greedy corporations - are far more sinister than anything cooked up in a comic book. Moore deals brilliantly with these issues. Why do we trust those in charge? Why do we rely on other to protect us? Should we not protect ourselves instead?

Gibbons's art is wonderful. His use of very subdued, standard layout styles lets the story speaks for itself. There's no fancy splash pages to be found here, no overwrought action sequences, no onomatopoetic sounds, no motion lines. Gibbons uses symbolism and realistic rendering to create an atmosphere of grit and foreboding terror. I'm sure there's been papers written on his use of the smiley face throughout the book. I don't want to touch on any of the specific symbols here, but they're used in such a way that they never overshadow the plot, but are not so buried to become obscure.

I definitely wasn't let down by this book, but can't give it 5 stars. First of all, about half of the chapters in the book are diversions from the main thread of the story, giving insight and history to each of the characters. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't get rid of any of them, and honestly they are some of the best reading in the book - especially Rorschach's episodes - but therein may lie the problem. We are left with about 5 chapters that deal with the crisis at hand - the very fate of life on Earth. Most comic book stories can be dealt with in such a span, but Moore's story is too grand, too great to stop here. Or maybe that's a statement in itself. When it's too late, it's just too late. (Maybe Carole King should sing our Armageddon songs.) Any ending will come all too quickly.

Anyway, I'm willing to concede that this is probably one of the best superhero stories I've ever read - if it's actually a superhero story. It kind of destroys the whole notion of superheros, makes them irrelevant. I don't even want to get into the politics of this story. Too much, too much.
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