Wednesday, March 4th, 2009 at 9:54 pm
Watchmen Written by Alan Moore
Art by Dave Gibbons
Colors by John Higgins
How does one review Watchmen for what must be the ten billionth time? What I mean to say is, what can I bring to the discussion of this book that hasn’t been said before? As a reviewer, most of the time I’m writing to say whether I think the item I’m reviewing is worth your time and money. That’s the nuts and bolts of what I do for this website, I try to advise you, our humble reader, what is worth your hard earned money, and what you should skip. Well, this time it’s a little different, because if you’re a comic reader (even if you’re not), you either already own this, or have already decided if it’s worth your time and money. So, if you’ve never read this before, or if you’re on the fence about it, I will start this off by saying yes, Watchmen is absolutely worth your time and money. Go out and buy it, you’ll find something to enjoy about it. What I’m going to go into now, is a short look into why Watchmen is good (in my humble opinion) and why it still matters to so many readers today. Why has this book persisted as the one book comic readers point to when asked for a good book to read?
The first reason is that it’s smart. This is a book that will not only make you think on your first read, but will give you something new to think about every time you read it. On first read, you wouldn’t be wrong if you focused purely on the plot of the story, working through the clues to figure out who killed the Comedian in the first issue, getting to know the various characters and how they came to be, and just enjoying the story that Alan Moore has crafted. However, when you come back to it again, invariably, you start to dig deeper, and you begin to see Moore’s dissection of the superhero genre, and how he has used thinly veiled versions of (mostly) old Charlton comics characters to express his thoughts on even larger characters such as Superman and Batman.
On further reads you may begin to consider the characters psychological flaws that lead them to act as they do; you begin to feel sorry for Nite Owl and how pathetic he is when not in costume, wonder whether Ozymandias is a genius or as much of a lunatic as Rorschach, or if Rorschach may be the sanest character of them all. Or you may begin to question the meta-physical response that would be raised if a god like Dr. Manhattan actually walked the earth. Or you may start keying in to how the Tales of the Black Freighter sub-plot reflects the events of the story, or any number of things that I may not have even discovered myself. All of my favorite books are ones that make me realize something new that I haven’t noticed before, or just didn’t think about. Watchmen feels completely new every time I read it, and I can’t imagine anyone not having the same reaction to it. Such is the strength of Moore’s writing.
The second reason this book continues to be THE classic of comic book literature is the pure fact that it is beautiful. What more needs to be said about Dave Gibbons pencils other than to say that without his work Watchmen would not be what it is. First, you have to consider the sheer amount of work that went into every page. Working within the strict structure of a nine-panel grid on each page, Gibbons fills each page with information that at some point will become important to the story, regardless of how small the detail may be. Gibbons translates Moore’s dense script and brings out the cinematic elements that are one of the hallmarks of the series. Who can forget the first time they realize that the last page of the first issue is a mirror image of the first page? With a story as character based as this one is, would the story have the same impact if you didn’t know exactly what the characters were feeling? Gibbons never fails to make sure that the reader knows exactly what is going on. Sure, it may not be as flashy as a modern artist may have made it, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Gibbons classic but clean style is what makes the book what it is; the perfect matching of words and pictures.
The third reason we still discuss this book is the effect that it has had on the comics industry as a whole. For good or bad, Watchmen forever changed the way that we as readers look at our comic books, and while we may lament a lot of the excesses of the ’90s that were spawned from it, one can’t deny the fact that a lot of writers had to step up their game in order to compete with Moore’s writing (which is a near impossible game to win.) Would a writer like Grant Morrison have had a chance to work for DC if not for Alan Moore breaking into the mainstream? So many of the books we read today are a direct result of Watchmen, so it’s no surprise that we continue to celebrate the work to this day.
Of course, these are just three things that I find make this such a great work, but really they don’t even scratch the surface, and in the end, it’s up to the reader to decide how they feel about it. Even if the movie does not live up to many fans’ expectations, at least one good thing will come from the movie being made, and that’s that more people will be exposed to this fine work of art, and they may even stick around to see what else is out there.