End? Nothing ever ends, Adrian

This is a very cool, instantly recognizable image






















So I recently picked up a copy of the Watchmen trade paperback (What does that term even mean, anyways?) from a local library. Blew through it in about a day and a half, and, well, I'm gonna write about it. Usually I use this space to write exclusively about videogames or the culture surrounding them, but I doubt you'll begrudge me this small excursion.

Watchmen tells a good story, there's no denying that. However, similar to Sweep's experience, I must say that perhaps I was expecting somewhat more from the claims surrounding this graphic novel. Is the comics industry so sorely lacking in talent that a tale that manages to weave a competent universe and believable characters is so noticeable? Is this industry really in straits so dire that a well-told story is so incredibly notable? I find it a question that intrigues me, but having never really known much about that culture, I couldn't comment for sure on whether I'm right or not.

Rorschach blots
However, as I said, Watchmen is a good story, and I'm in no way belittling it. I vastly enjoyed the read- while it lasted- and the portrayal of superheroes as ostracized, social rejects suffering through mid-life crises was really quite refreshing compared to the usual fulfillment fantasies of say, Superman. Someone like Rorschach is just fascinating to delve into- the part with him and the shrink was probably my favorite section in the entire book, and the twist at the end with the psychologist is just a great little subtle irony. Rorschach is exquisitely crafted, from his peculiar syntax to his unflinchingly black and white view of the world. As he puts it:
Never Compromise, even in the face of Armageddon

Rorschach is really the only true standout though. Manhattan has some interesting thematic elements to him, but he's never really utilized to his full potential. Nite Owl starts out fantastic, shown as an aged relic, who really only ever fit in as his costumed alter-ego, but as his storyline progresses and he gets entangled with Laurie, he becomes disappointingly boring and one-dimensional. Laurie is blank and undeveloped, really with her only purpose being to act as a foil to Manhattan's removed demeanor. The Comedian is the other standout, a well-realized caricature of the American Spirit, alternatively heroic and dastardly. Fighting to supposedly save Vietnam, yet at the same time, shooting and killing a Vietnamese woman carrying his child. The fact that he ends up working for the US government is a critique of our schizophrenic foreign policy that applies even today, although I suspect Moore had shadows of Vietnam in his mind more than spectres of the future.

Of course, Vietnam to the Watchmen world is quite different than what it means to us today. In that world, the US won the war handily, with the strategic ace of Dr. Manhattan. Richard Nixon is re-elected to a third term, and the Cold War takes on a decidedly different tone. The alternate history is really entertaining, and seeing Nixon giving a victory speech in Saigon, or in a nuclear bunker with his hand on the button is, well, fun. It's interesting to see what things could have been.

Attack it's weak point for massive damage!
But for all the great characters and universe, I felt that the actual storytelling to be a bit weak. It has it's standout moments, however, large portions seem to be almost filler, or at best terminally uninteresting. Mason and his story provides a bit of contrast between the old generation of heroes and the new, but it's overdrawn, especially in the between chapter interludes. The comic book meta-story, unlike Sweep, I found annoying and largely irrelevant. Yes, I understand that it's a framing device and used to call parallels between the actions of the Watchmen, and the misguided actions of the comic book protagonist, but I didn't need to be beaten over the head with an awkward implementation of a morality play within the larger morality play of the entire novel. This subplot also awkwardly tied into the section about the writer Shea on the island, which hardly seemed necessary and probably could have been streamlined into a more elegant solution. I hear the upcoming movie is going to change this, something which is probably for the better.

The plot itself is quite nicely executed, stringing you along with Rorscach's theories for the majority of the book, until the twist is revealed at the end- which thankfully, broke the cliche of the villain lecturing the heroes about his plan, giving them just enough time to stop it. The climax is great, bringing all the characters and disparate plot threads together in one final hurrah. I felt genuinely sad after Manhattan did his thing, and almost angry to see everyone else continuing on with their normal lives, despite what they knew. The book wraps up, and somehow, it all makes sense, even if it feels wrong.

In the grand scheme of things, I really enjoyed Watchmen, but I have to wonder why it's so critically hailed. Yes, it's a great story with some truly compelling characters and settings. But it's nothing more. Maybe, for the comics industry, that's enough to be revolutionary. I don't know. But I do know that I greatly enjoyed the book, and I'll be looking forward to watching the Watchmen on a big screen this March. Let's hope they can do it justice.
17 Comments
17 Comments
Posted by Lies
This is a very cool, instantly recognizable image






















So I recently picked up a copy of the Watchmen trade paperback (What does that term even mean, anyways?) from a local library. Blew through it in about a day and a half, and, well, I'm gonna write about it. Usually I use this space to write exclusively about videogames or the culture surrounding them, but I doubt you'll begrudge me this small excursion.

Watchmen tells a good story, there's no denying that. However, similar to Sweep's experience, I must say that perhaps I was expecting somewhat more from the claims surrounding this graphic novel. Is the comics industry so sorely lacking in talent that a tale that manages to weave a competent universe and believable characters is so noticeable? Is this industry really in straits so dire that a well-told story is so incredibly notable? I find it a question that intrigues me, but having never really known much about that culture, I couldn't comment for sure on whether I'm right or not.

Rorschach blots
However, as I said, Watchmen is a good story, and I'm in no way belittling it. I vastly enjoyed the read- while it lasted- and the portrayal of superheroes as ostracized, social rejects suffering through mid-life crises was really quite refreshing compared to the usual fulfillment fantasies of say, Superman. Someone like Rorschach is just fascinating to delve into- the part with him and the shrink was probably my favorite section in the entire book, and the twist at the end with the psychologist is just a great little subtle irony. Rorschach is exquisitely crafted, from his peculiar syntax to his unflinchingly black and white view of the world. As he puts it:
Never Compromise, even in the face of Armageddon

Rorschach is really the only true standout though. Manhattan has some interesting thematic elements to him, but he's never really utilized to his full potential. Nite Owl starts out fantastic, shown as an aged relic, who really only ever fit in as his costumed alter-ego, but as his storyline progresses and he gets entangled with Laurie, he becomes disappointingly boring and one-dimensional. Laurie is blank and undeveloped, really with her only purpose being to act as a foil to Manhattan's removed demeanor. The Comedian is the other standout, a well-realized caricature of the American Spirit, alternatively heroic and dastardly. Fighting to supposedly save Vietnam, yet at the same time, shooting and killing a Vietnamese woman carrying his child. The fact that he ends up working for the US government is a critique of our schizophrenic foreign policy that applies even today, although I suspect Moore had shadows of Vietnam in his mind more than spectres of the future.

Of course, Vietnam to the Watchmen world is quite different than what it means to us today. In that world, the US won the war handily, with the strategic ace of Dr. Manhattan. Richard Nixon is re-elected to a third term, and the Cold War takes on a decidedly different tone. The alternate history is really entertaining, and seeing Nixon giving a victory speech in Saigon, or in a nuclear bunker with his hand on the button is, well, fun. It's interesting to see what things could have been.

Attack it's weak point for massive damage!
But for all the great characters and universe, I felt that the actual storytelling to be a bit weak. It has it's standout moments, however, large portions seem to be almost filler, or at best terminally uninteresting. Mason and his story provides a bit of contrast between the old generation of heroes and the new, but it's overdrawn, especially in the between chapter interludes. The comic book meta-story, unlike Sweep, I found annoying and largely irrelevant. Yes, I understand that it's a framing device and used to call parallels between the actions of the Watchmen, and the misguided actions of the comic book protagonist, but I didn't need to be beaten over the head with an awkward implementation of a morality play within the larger morality play of the entire novel. This subplot also awkwardly tied into the section about the writer Shea on the island, which hardly seemed necessary and probably could have been streamlined into a more elegant solution. I hear the upcoming movie is going to change this, something which is probably for the better.

The plot itself is quite nicely executed, stringing you along with Rorscach's theories for the majority of the book, until the twist is revealed at the end- which thankfully, broke the cliche of the villain lecturing the heroes about his plan, giving them just enough time to stop it. The climax is great, bringing all the characters and disparate plot threads together in one final hurrah. I felt genuinely sad after Manhattan did his thing, and almost angry to see everyone else continuing on with their normal lives, despite what they knew. The book wraps up, and somehow, it all makes sense, even if it feels wrong.

In the grand scheme of things, I really enjoyed Watchmen, but I have to wonder why it's so critically hailed. Yes, it's a great story with some truly compelling characters and settings. But it's nothing more. Maybe, for the comics industry, that's enough to be revolutionary. I don't know. But I do know that I greatly enjoyed the book, and I'll be looking forward to watching the Watchmen on a big screen this March. Let's hope they can do it justice.
Posted by ThomasP

I'm not totally sure, but I think it was revolutionary for its time. Kind of like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight.

Posted by ZombieHunterOG

I love the watchmen to death and if they wreck the movie version i will kill some one ..... :P 

Posted by Everyones_A_Critic

I'm glad you enjoyed it, I loved the series to death. I think it deserves the acclaim it gets, but my opinion isn't truly valid because it was the first graphic novel I have ever read (and the only one, at that). I kept forgetting while I was reading it that it was originally published in the 80's as the tension between the US and Russia was still ever so relevant with our struggle in the middle east. I mean, nothing ever lives up to the hype. The between chapter excerpts helped fleshout backstories in some cases, but others seemed as you said, irrelevant. There were a few towards the end that I didn't even bother reading because it just seemed stupid (I totally skipped the owl story, and I only briefly scanned the stories of the author of "Tales of the Black Freighter"). 
SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!:


I felt legitimately overwhelmed when I finished reading the book. At first, I didn't know what happened really. My first thoughts were "Wait, did I miss something, what the fuck are they doing leading normal lives if they knew who had killed half of New York?!" Then I re read the last chapter. Hell, I didn't even know Rorschach was dead until I re read it. I thought Manhattan had teleported him. Then I understood the dark genius of Veidt's plan to unite the US and the Soviets against a common enemy that didn't exist, and putting an end to fighting. It was really a lot to take in, and I'm sure it goes MUCH deeper than that. Hell, with all the symbolism in that book you could teach a class on it.

SPOILERS END!!!!

The book taught me that graphic novels can be considered classic literature despite their childish image given to them by the media. It truly deserves it's place on Time's 100 Greatest Novels of all Time list.

Posted by HistoryInRust
Everyones_A_Critic said:
SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!:

Then I understood the dark genius of Veidt's plan to unite the US and the Soviets against a common enemy that didn't exist, and putting an end to fighting.

SPOILERS END!!!!
I'd argue that Ozymandias' "genius plan" is not so genius at all, and that it's deliberately intended by Moore as irony to undermine the gravitas normally given to heroes in comic book universes.

I mean, think about it.  He's the smartest man in the world, and the best thing he's got is a fucking Giant Squid?  I mean, really?  There's more to it than, "Oh, he's uniting everyone against alienz."

Just food for thought.  This is a very elliptical novel.  It's the first post-modern comic, really, and therefore, it takes some deconstruction to fully comprehend. 
Posted by Jayge_

I'm not exactly sure how to explain why people hold The Watchmen in such high regard to someone who does not hold it in said regard. It's really a "get it" kind of thing. Which isn't to say that your interpretation is at all invalid or in any way incorrect. I think other people (like me) just see things in it that you or Sweep do not.

Posted by Sweep

I think to appreciate watchmen at its full potential you would have to be there reading it on the day of its release and see the impact it had on the social approach to visual storytelling. The level of maturity and explicit content was apparently very controversial at the time, in a medium which was probably considered very childish.

We take a lot of our social conventions for granted. It sometimes feels like it's impossible to shock people any more.
Great write up dude, whatever your opinion at the end its just great that you read the damn thing and got it over with =D

Moderator
Posted by TheGTAvaccine
Sweep said:
"I think to appreciate watchmen at its full potential you would have to be there reading it on the day of its release and see the impact it had on the social approach to visual storytelling. The level of maturity and explicit content was apparently very controversial at the time, in a medium which was probably considered very childish.

We take a lot of our social conventions for granted. It sometimes feels like it's impossible to shock people any more.
Great write up dude, whatever your opinion at the end its just great that you read the damn thing and got it over with =D"
*SPOILERS HOOOOOOOOOO*


If you didnt think that a gigantic squid decimating the city was at least a little shocking, then I dont know what to think of you any more. YOU'RE NOT THE MAN I MARRIED!


*END SPOILARZ*
Posted by jakob187
ThomasP said:
"I'm not totally sure, but I think it was revolutionary for its time. Kind of like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight."
The Dark Knight Returns...and I still laugh that Wonder Woman was a madam.  lol
The smiley face?  Yeah, it's recognizable...to comic book fans.  To other people, it's nothing more than a play on the traditional smiley face.  I'm sure that the movie will get it some more recognition, but for me, that picture signifies a passion for the medium that is completely unmatched.
Posted by TeflonBilly
jakob187 said:
"The Dark Knight Returns...and I still laugh that Wonder Woman was a madam.  lol"
Selina Kyle was the madam, Joker'd just dressed her up as Wonder Woman as a sick joke
Posted by Otacon

This and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns are probably the best graphic novels, perhaps V for Vendetta should be up there too. Now I'm no comic enthusiast but I love a good story and watchmen gives just that, when I read it I was still expecting a hero story, which I think many are perhaps wanting more and that's where most criticisms come. We have now seen film and other comics try to dramatise and personalise comics which Watchmen was the first to do properly. I agree that it is not flawless, and I don't think it has the deepest of underlying meaning, however it tells a good rounded story with undertones of human nature and moral choices. That's why the book is miles above most other comic books.

Posted by strangeling

It's best taken in the context of its time of publication.

Think of it like playing Grand Theft Auto III today.
At the time, it was revolutionary.  Now, it's considered a "classic", but new & improved stuff has come along.
And if said mediums are not advancing forward, what good are they?
Posted by Systech

I am one of those guys who either hates things, likes things, or fucking loves things. I fucking love Watchmen.

Posted by Rowr
Sweep said:
"I think to appreciate watchmen at its full potential you would have to be there reading it on the day of its release and see the impact it had on the social approach to visual storytelling. The level of maturity and explicit content was apparently very controversial at the time, in a medium which was probably considered very childish.

We take a lot of our social conventions for granted. It sometimes feels like it's impossible to shock people any more.
Great write up dude, whatever your opinion at the end its just great that you read the damn thing and got it over with =D"
I disagree, at least for me I'm able to put myself in the mind set of interpreting it for what it means in the time of its release, which sometimes means more when looking in retrospect and having already seen the outcomes in the world its referencing. I'm not sure its supposed to be shocking or graphic, maybe it was at the time? I think its more to do with the way the characters and events are metaphors for larger issues which are important in our world, from the way countries are governed, down to the way characters handle things. Ideas you wouldnt expect to see in a comic book, let alone your average novel.

At least thats the way i see it so far, i still have a long way to go to finish, but its already given me a few things to grapple with in my mind.
Posted by Otacon
systech said:
"I am one of those guys who either hates things, likes things, or fucking loves things. I fucking love Watchmen."
lol Right on!
Posted by HandsomeDead

I really enjoyed Watchmen when I read it over Christmas but recently, I read something on the Wikipedia which was Alan Moore stating in an interview that the story itself was simple and was only intended for fill 6 of the 12 books but the way it was told is what made it interesting and I completely agree with that.

Edited by TKZ100

SPOILERS: THIS ENTIRE POST CONTAINS THEM!  SKIP IF YOU HAVEN'T READ WATCHMEN!















Without trying to be too blunt or mean, I really think you missed the point of the book.  It's more than a competent universe with believable characters, it's a universe with characters that are supposed to call everything you know about heroism into question.  Does Absolute power corrupt, or does it lead to apathy?  How can you weigh the value of half a million lives against the entire world's safety?  It's these sorts of issues that really form the crux of the novel.  You used the term "Villain" to describe Ozymandias, but to me, he's not a villain at all.  He shares the trait of "looking down on the world" with many villains, but to me, Adrian Veidt is a dark hero.  Killing innocent people wasn't an act of brutality, to him, it was a necessary evil, and as he said, he "made himself feel  every death."  In this reality, Nuclear War really IS upon us, and near-total annihilation of humanity is a real possibility.  As far as I'm concerned, Veidt reduced the number of casualties and the quality of life of the survivors considerably; why else would every other character but Rorshach, who has a truly warped view of morality, agree with him?  No, Adrian Veidt lacks the coldness and hate of a true villain.  When he says goodbye to his pet lynx, Moore and Gibbons made me FEEL the sadness as he made, what he considered, a necessary sacrifice.  If I looked the part, I'd have flown out to audition for his role, simply because I think the character is just so fascinating.

Rorshach is fascinating too, but in a different way.  While many people see him as the "hero" of the story, I see Rorshach as the corruption of true justice.  He hurts people for information.  He brutalizes criminals without a trial.  There's a REASON the police want to take him down, and it's justified; Rorshach is, really, if not psychotic, then at least delusional; he sees the world as unmixing black and white, and his face reflects this.  Again, I really ended up agreeing with the character; Kovacs was the disguise, and Rorshach was the identity. 

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, I just think you don't give the story as much credit as it deserves.  My feeling after finishing it was that every bit of praise was 100 percent deserved, and not just because it was a good story in a sea of bad ones, but because it truly made me think about the nature of morality.  What more can you ask for from a comic book?

Edit: Not to give the impression that I think it's perfect.  I was a bit bored by the Laurie/Dreiberg story, and the Black Freighter, but I've read the ending several times over, because I think it's really a very compelling bit of literature.