on October 13, 2005
If you don't already know, the other reviews will fill you in on the Watchmen's story and it's significance to the comic medium. I'm here to tell you about this edition of the book, which is basically an oversized version of the long out of print Graphitti Designs hardcover version complete with all of that edition's exclusive extras (which is fantastic since that out of print volume goes for major bucks on Ebay when it does rarely surface). Until now, that Graphitti Designs edition was the one to own...This tops it due to it's oversized pages and superior quality printing.
Want to see how this story was originally about about Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and the Question (along with other Charlton characters) and how it changed to what it is? There is a very indepth look at the original proposal included here.
Want to see early Gibbon's art? it's here. How about rarely seen teaser strips published long before the first issue? Again included. Alan Moore's script samples? You got it.
Bottom line, I can't think of anything that could possibly be done or included that would make a superior edition to this.
Comic books superheroes are basically fascist vigilantes, with Superman and his dedication to truth, justice and the American way being the exception that proves the rule. Both "Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns," the two greatest examples of graphic storytelling, deal explicitly with the underlying fear the ordinary citizenry have of the demi-gods they worship. The one inherent advantage that "Watchman" has over Frank Miller's classic tale is that it requires no knowledge of the existing mythos of its characters because Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, the Comedian and the rest of the former members of the Crimebusters.
The brainchild of writer Alan Moore ("Swamp Thing," "V for Vendetta," "From Hell") and artist Dave Gibbons ("Rogue Trooper," "Doctor Who," "Green Lantern"), "Watchmen" was originally published by DC Comics in twelve issues in 1986-87. Moore and Gibbons won the Best Writer/Artist combination award at the 1987 Jack Kirby Comics Industry Awards ceremony. The central story in "Watchmen" is quite simple: apparently someone is killing off or discrediting the former Crimebusters. The remaining members end up coming together to discover the who and the why behind it all, and the payoff to the mystery is most satisfactory. But what makes "Watchmen" so special is the breadth and depth of both the characters and their respective subplots: Dr. Manhattan dealing with his responsibility to humanity given his god-like powers; Nite Owl having trouble leaving his secret identity behind; Rorschach being examined by a psychiatrist. Each chapter offers a specific focus on one of the characters, yet advances the overall narrative.
Beyond that the intricate narrative, Moore and Gibbons offer two additional levels to the story. First, each chapter is followed by a "non-comic" section that develops more of the backstories, such as numerous excerpts from Hollis Mason's autobiography "Under the Hood" or Professor Mitlon Glass' "Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers," an interview with Adrian Veidt, or reports from the police files of Walter Joseph Kovacs. Second, almost every issue has scenes from "Tales of the Black Freighter," a comic-book being read by a kid near a newsstand, which offers an allegorical perspective on the main plot line.
"Watchmen" certainly nudged the comics industry in the right direction towards greater sophistication and intelligence, although a full appreciation of its significance is always going to be lost on the bean counters. The Book Club Edition of "Watchmen" offers the teaser: "He's America's ultimate weapon . . . and he's about to desert to Mars." As a representation of the work as a whole that description is simply stupid, especially since it is followed by a glowing recommendation by Harlan Ellison that concludes "anyone who misses this milestone event in the genre of the fantastic is a myopic dope." If you ever spent time reading and enjoying any superhero comic book, you will appreciate what you find in "Watchmen."
on July 2, 2002
If you've ever read anything with the title "Comics aren't just for kids anymore", you've probably heard about Watchmen. So, is it really that good?
Oh god, yes.
It's hard to review the collection without resorting to cliches -- and I'll employ one now. It gets better everytime I read it. I see new layers and depth.
"God exists. And he's an American." Most superhero comics take place in a world almost the same as our own. But surely, people running around in tights, people with god-like powers would make an impact. In Watchmen, they do. America won Vietnam -- thanks to a god-like hero. Electric cars exist. Classic comic books got cancelled when the real superheroes came along. Oh, and Richard Nixon is still president into the 1980s. (Too bad about those dead reporters, isn't it?)
This is series a big ideas, human characters and personal moments. It looks at retired heroes (thanks to 1970s anti-superhero legislation) who investigate the death of one of their own. The book also features flashbacks, autobiography excerpts, comic book interludes and more.
Truly engrossing writing by Alan Moore and art by Dave Gibbons.
Oh, and comics aren't just for kids anymore. (g)
on March 4, 1999
Me for one. I've pushed this on every person I know, from teachers to family to friends, and most have turned it away because it has pictures in it. Their loss. This is a dark story, obviously, but it also has moments of unbridled humanity. It dissects everything. Life, love, death, war, comic books as a medium (name any novel that did such a great job of exploring its own medium), the superhero as a romantic/mythologic figure for the century... so much more. Every reading will reveal something else to you. I haven't read enough books to rightly judge it as the 'greatest book ever written'. However, I'm happy to call it the best book _I've_ ever read, and in its rich, meaty representation of an alternate 20th century, it gives us a painting of our world, and all the things that have made our century the most turbulent, dangerous, mind-numbing, and exciting ever. Vietnam, movies, Watergate, JFK, comics... nothing is left untouched. I've read it eight times. I'll read it again. So will you.
on March 9, 2004
Having long heard Watchmen's praises, I resisted reading it because I dislike the late 80's and 90's ultraviolent comics, and I assumed Watchmen to be the quintessential comic of this type. I've finally read it, and I was wrong. It deserves its reputation. Violence serves theme and plot without being exploitative.
SPOILER: I'll discuss the story's ending. I'll also compare Watchmen to other works, such as Kingdom Come.
I think Watchmen is basically a condemnation of ubermensch theory (Nietzsche's idea that "supermen" are entitled to violate society's moral laws, imposing their will on those "inferior" to themselves. Hitler infamously used the theory to justify Nazism. I concede I am no expert on Nietzsche.), and an accusation that superhero stories endorse this philosophy by lionizing vigilantes. Watchmen also attacks the genre's simplistic good vs. evil morality.
Only one character has "superpowers" to justify claims of superiority, yet Dr. Manhattan takes too little interest in human affairs to want to control others. On the contrary, he lets himself be used as a tool, hoping to retain his humanity by pleasing people. Yet he's now too detached to morally judge his orders, becoming a living military weapon. Apparently, desire for power over others is for mortals living among mortals--like Ozymandias, the archetypal Aryan "superman": a blonde, blue-eyed, physically perfect, supremely brilliant, self-made billionaire.
Achieving peace through slaughter, Ozymandias, like his hero Alexander, embodies Nietzsche's belief that ends justify means. If paradise is attainable through atrocities, as Nazi and Soviet propaganda claimed, is it worth it? And, once the eggs are broken, should one reap the benefits of the sin? (I ask this sitting comfortably in California, stolen first from Native Americans, then from Mexico.)
Rorschach--Watchmen's brutal, uncompromising conscience--says no, and his journal seems to give him the last word. Yet Rorschach tortures for information, sometimes needlessly. Besides, his winning may mean Armageddon.
In keeping with a thought experiment in Nietzsche's worldview, Watchmen's universe is an apparently godless one, as stated by several characters. Crime and Punishment's Raskolnikov justifies murder through Neitzschean arguments, but then feels remorse and, through this reluctant acceptance of higher morality, comes to believe in God. C.S. Lewis's arguments in favor of God's existence hinge on morality's independence of human preference. Watchmen's ending is too ambiguous for any divinely transcendent morality or providence to be clear to the characters or reader. As a Christian, I acknowledge the realism of this ambiguity, for even assuming that God exists and His will constitutes absolute morality, His moral intent is rarely as discernable in real life as in melodramas (the classic example of divine inscrutibility being Job's sufferings in the Bible). As Hollis Mason says in chapter 3, "Real life is messy, inconsistent, and it's seldom when anything really gets resolved."
I like Watchmen--but fear I now better understand why the genre degenerated following its publication. It's a damning attack on superheroes, yet publishers couldn't stop printing their bread and butter, so self-indictment pervaded superhero books of the following years as they struggled with Moore's accusations. Also, as Neil Gaiman observes in his introduction to Busiek's "Astro City: Confessions," the easiest "riff" of both Watchmen and Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" for hacks to steal was darkness, not depth.
There are other reasons for the so-called "Iron Age's" violent nihilism besides Watchmen and DKR's influence. Such trends were already growing in early 80's comics. DC had ravaged almost its entire stock of characters in 1985's "Crisis on Infinite Earths." There was also the need to satisfy reader bloodlust once the maligned Comics Code, for better or for worse, became a rubber stamp. Universally recognized characters synonymous with virtue in the public imagination became brutal, wrathful, petty--and if heroes became jerks, villains became the most lurid sadists imaginable. This culminated in the near-plotless splatterpunk and exploitative sadism of the early Image Comics. "Good vs. evil" became "merely evil vs. nauseatingly evil." Moore expressed dismay that things took the direction they did in those years.
Watchmen's theme is: if Nietzsche were right, as superhero comics claim, that would be terrible. It took a decade for superhero writers to rebut this accusation. Their answer came in Waid and Ross's "Kingdom Come" and was: We never claimed Nietzsche was right--the essence of superheroes is that the stronger someone is, the LESS excuse he has to abuse the weak, and the greater his obligation to them. (As Stan Lee wrote years earlier: "With great power there must also come--great responsibility!" Or, as Moore himself has Superman say in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, "Nobody has the right to kill... not [even] Superman. Especially not Superman!") KC portrays a higher morality--indeed, a God-given one, delivered through the mortal Norman McCay. Perhaps it requires divine perspective to see that an ant who can shatter mountains is no better or worse than his fellow ants. Unlike Watchmen, but like most superhero comics, most of KC's characters have "powers"--flight, invulnerability, etc.--differentiating them from general humanity in a way that even bullet-catching Ozymandias is not. Yet they're not blessed/burdened with near godhood like Dr. Manhattan (staggeringly powerful even by superhero standards, Manhattan perceives all moments simultaneously, and creates and destroys life at will. He has no common reference with humans.). Powerful, yet mortal, they have no more free license to sin than anyone. Probably less. KC portrays a world which needs to relearn this, just as the comics industry needed to relearn it. (One shortcoming: unlike Watchmen, KC isn't self-contained. It assumes reader familiarity with Superman, Batman, etc. and with ultraviolent comics. )
KC and Watchmen bookend the Iron Age. Watchmen unintentionally (I say unintentionally because Moore apparently laments the fact) helped begin it, and KC helped end it.
Yet despite spawning these trends, Watchmen itself is breathtaking, complex literature which takes masterful advantage of comics' visual medium.
Warning: This is not an acceptable comic for children. An R-rated story with lots of sex and violence, Watchmen is a story for grown-ups.
on July 12, 2002
I just recently got into graphic novels, but so far have read books from the SANDMAN series, The MAUS books, and of course, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Needless to say, I've been sucked into the genre by these amazing stories, and I'm simply going down the list of highly acclaimed cult classics. Of course, when I got to WATCHMEN, I was skeptical. I'd heard of Batman and Sandman, but who the Watchmen? Sounded kind of obscure, and fraknly, a bit phony. Of course, after reading countless positive reviews claiming this book to be one of the absolute best in the history of comic literature, I had to pick it up. Right off the bat, I could tell there was something special about this one, which maybe wasn't so noticeable in the others I'd read.
The story starts out simple enough, with the murder of a "superhero," called The Comedian. He was evidently a member of a team, but only one of his former comrades, Rorschach seems to care about his death in the slightest. The others all remember him as a bad, immoral man, and therefore, a terrible hero. At first, you'll be wondering why the others don't grieve for him as Rorschach does, but as you see what foul deeds he committed, you'll start arguing the other way. Why is it that Rorschach is scouring the streets, searching for clues as to who may have killed The Comedian? Why is Rorschach the only one who cares about the ex-superhero's falling?
In this book, much like in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, superheroes are not seen simply as idols and virtual gods through the eyes of the public. They're seen as a rebellious vigilante who disregard the police and take matters into their own hands. This is the story of an alternate 1985 where the world is rapidly turning into a hell which humans are creating for themselves, where superheroes struggling for internal-order are hated and ridiculed for their valiant actions. The superheroes themselves aren't all that important here--they simply represent the steriotypical masked figures in tights; a group of "normal" citizens fighting to change matters which may very well be out of their control. Alan Moore masterfully creates a multilayered epic sporting a fantastic script, filled with controversial dialogue and an interesting plot which changes the way people think about superheroes and comic books in general.
Rorschach's search for truth, along with the reader's search for explanation is explored through a series of flashbacks, side-stories and subplots. The 417 page graphic novel is split into 12 chapters, each with little tidbits in-between, providing some interesting background information on the characters. WATCHMEN is kind of a mini-series of comic-books, and was entirely original. The characters had never appeared in any other comic before, and never appeared in another again. When compared to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, I say that WATCHMEN is slightly superior. While THE DARK KNIGHT was an exciting and moving tale of Batman's aging and eventual returning to the superhero life, where he was needed most, it was very short (about half the length of WATCHMEN) and left open ends, which were covered in some not-as-good sequels. WATCHMEN is simply a great solo-story which requires no background information or further reading, and boasts a strong, recurring theme: "Who watches the watchmen?" Compared to other graphic novels, ranging mainly from 100-200 pages, WATCHMEN is significantly longer, not only giving you more of a bang for your buck, but increasing the amount of pleasure you'll experience from reading this book.
My only real gripe about this book is to do with the art. Don't get me wrong--It's amazing stuff, filled with vivid colors that you wouldn't expect to see in such a dark story--but the action sequences leave something to be desired. Compared to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, filled with tons of cool blurs, lines and other cinematic goodies you'd expect to make a comic book feel more animated, WATCHMEN is severely lacking in that department. If you try to see the book as a cartoon, like many of us do, it will look like a poorly animated one. Or, simply a series of stills, which is what a comic book is, but almost all comics successfully create the illusion of animation and movement within their pages. Nevertheless, the art is still amazing to look at, it will just require more imagination to see the characters moving.
If I were you, I wouldn't read any other reviews or check any futher into this great graphic novel. If you do, you might back out, thinking that it sounds too corny or not your type of book. Some people are turned off by the whole superhero idea, but Watchmen basically handles it in the most intimate and unconventional manner, bringing a whole new light to those imaginary masked-defenders of the Earth. If you enjoyed THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, this should be right up your alley, delivering more of what the former excelled in. If you aren't into comic books, then you should probably just head over to your nearest book store and read the first 10 pages or whatever. Chances are, you'll find that you love this and then you can buy it on the spot.
on May 6, 2002
Long before "Kingdom Come" meditated on a world without heroes, around the same time as Frank Miller's "Dark Knight" returned, and executed more forcefully than the "X-Men"'s story of Sentinels and Mutant Registration Acts, Alan Moore & company asked "Who watches the Watchmen?"
Set in a world where heroes and vigilante justice have run their course, and the last era of superheroes are living out their days quietly with their own ghosts, "Watchmen" is an amazing piece of literature and comic book artistry. The series itself, twelve issues now commonly packaged in one booklet, is sprung from the golden age of graphic novels - the 1980's, where graphic novels told stories and presented images where normal comics, movies, and televison shows feared to tread. Perhaps most importantly, the themes of the story ring as true today as they did then, and the emotionally-invested reader will perhaps see themselves in the everyday characters talking sports and entertainment as the newspaper headlines blare klaxons of war and pending doom. Society entrusts its safety to a greater body politic, but who watches the watchmen and what is the price paid for handing over the responsibilities of self-defense and indulging in a comfortable apathy?
These are the driving themes behind "Watchmen", a graphic novel so stunningly well-written and well-drawn that I do not hesitate to recommend it to even the most ardant skeptics who look upon comics with disdain, never thinking to read anything remotely associated with them. "Watchmen" represents the perfect synergy between the use of pictures, the potency of the written word, and the sublime power of symolism that drives artists wielding either brush or pen to record their art permanently on canvas or paper. A worthy investment that stands tall amongst the great literary works of the latter part of the 20th century.
on October 2, 2000
Reading through the first twenty-or-so reviews, I noticed the same ideas repeated again and again, all of which are perfectly true:
1: Yes, it's a comic book, but that's like saying Citizen Kane is just a movie.
2: Most people will be likely to push away this book if you offer it to them because of all those silly pictures that stop it from being a novel. Should they do this, point out the little details hidden away in each scene (the recurring image of the smiling face, for example) or the way that Gibbons' art - although damned by the use of block colouring that makes it look like a mid-70s X-Men book - is so expertly detailed with each individual person in the background moving realistically (ie: the people in the background don't appear/disappear between frames).
3: Moore's story is complex and thoughtful and, although it can be confusing, rewards re-reading.
4: Despite the superhero costumes, the characters in this book are... real. They're complex people who have emotions and characterizations comparable to the finest literature. Someone mentioned that Rorschach is in the same psychotic league as The Punisher, but whilst the latter has an almost stereotypical excuse for being a murderer (his wife and kids were killed by gangsters), Rorschach's driven by much more complex reasons (growing up in an unstable home where his mother was a prostitute etc.). And all of the characters are like this; people with pasts and futures and emotions.
on December 11, 2000
I'm not a long-time fan of comics- I got into the medium when a friend loaned me some _Sandman_ books. So I can't say whether it's true that Watchmen redefined the industry when it came out. I can say that it changed my expectation of what can be done in a comic book.
Unlike every other superhero book I've read, this one starts from the highly logical premise that it's not *normal* to be a costumed crimefighter. These people must have issues. Then we throw in the stunned reactions of the costumed heros when the first SUPERheroes show up, an interpretation of how they could have changed history, and one of the most morally ambiguous endings ever, and you have one excellent plot.
There's more than plot to look at, though. The art is quite well done, and the writing is richly textured. Moore obviously had the entire story well planned before he started writing it, as bits at the beginning that seem inconsequential become resonant with the broader themes of the story when the punch line hits issues later. No other comic does so well upon repeated readings.
Not everyone will like the bleak tone of _Watchmen_, but if you're a fan of comics, you owe it to yourself to read it.
For anyone to ever argue the point that comics should be seen as actual literature should use this as their only example. Alan Moore crafted an unflinching, highly intelligent, and unbelieveably haunting story with this original 12 issue maxi-series (originally published in 1985) that is considered Moore's best. In a world where super heroes are no longer fantasy, we see a society torn apart by cold war paranoia, and an uncertain future. When a retired super hero is mysteriously murdered, an almost fascist hero named Rorshach is trying to find the killer, which leads him to convincing his old partner Nite Owl to come out of retirement to help. What is uncovered is more than either could have ever imagined, and what develops is nearly beyond comprehension. Moore's explosive, compelling storytelling and Dave Gibbons' great artwork make Watchmen an unforgettable read whether your a fan of comics or not. Everything about this collected story is exquisite; from the interludes to hero interviews and autobiography excerpts to the complex yet riveting story all make Watchmen truly one of a kind. All in all, this is an essential book to be in your comic collection, or even in your book collection as well, it is just that ... good.