“Watchmen” a timeless classic

Scott Viau

Photobucket

Perhaps the most seminal graphic novel of all time, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” presents us with a story that is unlike any other. Even if you’ve never read a graphic novel, when the first page of “Watchmen” is turned you’ll realize you’re reading a story so original, so amazing that you can’t help but instantly fall under its spell.

Set in an alternative 1985, “Watchmen,” tells the story of a world on the brink of nuclear war. In this world superheroes do exist, yet they are still mere mortals, save for Dr. Manhattan, who became God-like after a freak accident. When the Comedian, a superhero with a questionable past, is found dead, Rorschach, fellow friend and masked avenger, sets out to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Named because of the shape-shifting ink on his mask, Rorschach proposes the theory that someone is methodically and deliberately disposing of costumed heroes.

With the hubbub surrounding the book and movie, you might ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? Why is this book considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all time?” If asked within the context of the novel’s serialized 12 issue release in the mid-’80s, it would be safe to say it’s the deconstruction of the superhero genre that amazes most people, including myself. Not only did Moore present us with heroes that face challenging, real-life dilemmas, but he also shows them in a mundane light, as well. While superheroes we all know and love, like Batman or Superman, stand by their self-imposed rule of never killing someone, the characters here not only toe the line, but go miles beyond it.

In another instance of realism, and a move that undoubtedly inspired Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” the government is very much involved in the lives of masked heroes. In 1977 the Keene Act was passed, prohibiting most superheroes from taking the law into their own hands.

What I consider to be Moore’s crowning achievement with this book is his ability to have us empathize with the “villain,” eventually taking us to a place where we realize that not only is his plan incredibly brilliant, but it’s something that must be done, regardless of the terrible price millions will pay. It’s this moral ambiguity that challenges the reader to reconsider their preconceived notions of comic books and villains, right and wrong.

“Watchmen” is a book that demands to be read more than once. The story itself is large, sprawling and complex, which isn’t to say it’s not accessible to everyone; it is. But there are only so many little touches a person can pick up on the first read. In addition to the excellent characterization, the small changes Moore made to his version of 1985 are delivered by an expert craftsman. For instance, because superheroes are a part of the fabric of everyday life, comic book devotees no longer read stories about masked men, as they have become passé. Instead they read tales of pirates on the high seas.

Nearly everything about “Watchmen” is so perfectly planned, detailed and real that you could think of a scene from the book and feel like you’re retrieving a memory of an event that actually happened. While boatloads of praise and accolades have been thrown at this book, it’s still not necessarily a novel for everyone. The noir-like narration of Rorschach or the callous, cynical and nihilistic humor of the Comedian may be off-putting, but those willing to stomach the three-dimensional characters and their less than admirable ways will be rewarded in the end by an amazing and unforgettable story.


More “Watchmen”

Josh Snyder’s review of the “Watchmen” movie: Long awaited adaptation delivers

Read Scott Viau’s History of the Watchmen

Also check out Adam Dompierre’s list of the top five comic book movies of all time.