Jordan's Reviews > Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore
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Jan 08, 09

bookshelves: alan_moore, dc_comics
Read in December, 2008

I spent my "12 Days of Christmas" this year slowly re-reading the finest superhero story ever told, a chapter a night, taking in every inch of every panel. It had been a couple of years since I'd read it and I was a little nervous that it wouldn't stand up to my memory of its greatness or the weight of its own hype. Turns out it does.

There are an awful lot of bad reviews on here for this book, but I don't want to lecture over the finer points of why they're all completely wrong. I really do understand their opinion. Reading complaints here about the dull art or those pointless Black Freighter interludes is like someone calling Citizen Kane outdated and boring. They're well within their rights and may make some valid arguments, but that wouldn't make a film historian want to punch them in the skull any less.

You can quibble over plot details or Alan Moore's ego all you like, but what makes this a masterpiece is what it says about comics. The way it celebrates the specialness of comics and superheroes in particular. The way it integrates the medium's past with the (then) present of the mid-80s and ends up catapulting the art form into a future that has yet to catch up. Playing up the meta aspects of comic history by utilizing the innocent adventure serials of the 40s, the out-there sci-fi 50s, the socially relevant 60s (and now the grim-and-gritty 80s thanks to this book) has been done to death since. But it's never been done better.

I assume it's also difficult for a modern reader to separate this from the 20 years of pop culture it has influenced. Explaining the plot to a friend who just started reading it for the first time and was having trouble with the context, I explained that masked heroes have been outlawed and are struggling to fit back into a society that doesn't want them. "Oh," she said, "like The Incredibles," effectively deflating an idea that was once groundbreaking into something not even the least bit novel. If, like her, your frame of reference isn't comic book-intensive, you might not get what the fuss is all about beyond the colorful cast and the dense mystery story. Even digging deeper into the metaphors and the iconography might not be enough to wow you. To truly appreciate it, you must appreciate its place in the history of comics, the way it funneled everything that came before it into a force that ended up impacting everything that followed, while managing to remain a damn fine read in the meantime.

And yes, that choice of cover image up there in the corner is my way of bragging about my first-printing trade paperback and not that glossy-paged bright yellow thing I see you Johnny-come-latelies with. I just like to be subtle about it.

Also, for some reason it really bugs me when people call it THE Watchmen. So I'd appreciate it if everyone could knock that off.
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message 1: by Josh (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:35AM) (new)

Josh Lemley what about "Absolute The Watchmen" thats just gotta be the top of the list on annoying. I couldnt have written a better review of that book.


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