George V. Reilly

Review: Watchmen (book)

Watchmen (book)
Title: Watchmen (book)
Author: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Publisher: DC Comics
Copyright: 1987
Pages: 416
Keywords: graphic novel, su­per­heroes
Reading period: 14–22 February, 2009

Set in an alternate 1985 where costumed heroes are real—and outlawed—Watchmen follows six ad­ven­tur­ers. Rorschach, half-mad, continues his vigilante activities. Nite Owl is retired and a worrywart. The former Ozy­man­di­as—the world’s smartest man—is now one of the richest. The Comedian is murdered at the very beginning; after the Keene Act passed, he was allowed to continue operating as a government enforcer. Dr. Manhattan was trans­formed into a superbeing in a nuclear accident in 1959; he is America’s strategic weapon in the arms race with the Soviets. And the former Silk Spectre is his girlfriend.

These people are not boy scouts, fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way. They are flawed in­di­vid­u­als with mo­ti­va­tions that are often murky, even to themselves.

Who watches the watchmen? Who indeed?

The very presence of masked ad­ven­tur­ers over the last fifty years has trans­formed society. Dr. Manhattan is both re­spon­si­ble for many tech­no­log­i­cal advances, such as flying cars, and the locus of much of the world’s tension. When he disappears off the face of the earth, desta­bi­liz­ing the balance of power, the Soviets im­me­di­ate­ly invade Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Rorschach meanwhile is convinced that someone is going after masked ad­ven­tur­ers, and in­ves­ti­gates. He’s right. There is something going on—­some­thing un­speak­able.

Watchmen tells a complex story, weaving together many different strands into a tapestry that is a triumph of the comic book. The narrative moves back and forth across fifty years, collecting many viewpoints. And the comic within the comic–the Tale of the Black Freighter—ac­cen­tu­ates the main storyline. The artwork too repays careful study. There’s often two or three things going on in a single panel. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Originally published in twelve issues, Watchmen was promptly re­pub­lished as a book. It is one of the titles that gave rise to the category of graphic novel, deserving the Hugo that it won. The film adaptation will be released in March.

Highly rec­om­mend­ed.

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