Next up for the month is a return to the comic world. The 1980’s was a time where comics began to change. You do see some changes in the 70’s, but the industry really goes through them in the 80’s. We got event books, a total revamp of a universe, and two stories that changed the way creators tell stories in the comic medium. Whether these stories were good or bad for the industry is a debate unto itself. One of them was The Dark Knight Returns, a story that really brought the edginess back to Batman. The other story and the subject for today is Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. It’s a story that I think is good… if a little overrated.
While I wait for legions of Alan Moore acolytes to chastise me, I thought I’d just talk about the story in general. For those aren’t familiar with this story, here are the simple points. Watchmen was a 12-issue maxiseries that was released from 1986 to 1987. It was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons with John Higgins as the colorist. It takes place in an alternate version of 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President of the United States. While there are government superheroes, other vigilantes are outlawed because of a law called the Keene Act. Moore takes these characters and explores them through a variety of ways.
I think I first learned about Watchmen during my time in college. That was when I really started to dive into comics. Plus, the movie was being talked about at that time. I already knew about the story before I even read the trade. I’ve really only have read the whole story a couple of times with my most recent read being a few days ago. I actually didn’t own a copy until a few months ago. As you can probably tell, it’s wasn’t high on my “must-read” list. After reading it this last time, I think I was a little wrong to have it that low.
The characters for Watchmen were all homages to characters from Charlton Comics. DC Comics had acquired them from Charlton in 1983. Moore wanted to use characters like Captain Atom, The Question, and Blue Beetle to tell this story. DC pretty much said no to that since they were going to use those characters in the regular DC Universe. It’s kind of funny and a little sad since the Watchmen characters are more remembered than the Charlton Comic characters who have been around much longer. Our main characters are:
- The Comedian: Edward Morgan Blake is an older, retired hero who did work for the government and was also part of an old vigilante team called the Minutemen. He’s a straight up nihilist one messed-up dude.
- Rorschach: Walter Joseph Kovacs is a vigilante detective who wears a mask that resembles a Rorschach test. He’s also on the run from the law. Of the six, he is the nutjob in a trenchcoat.
- Ozymandias: Adrian Veidt is a former superhero who quit before the Keene Act passed and decided to make money off his many exploits. He’s at the peak of human excellence with a powerful mind and powerful body.
- Nite Owl II: Daniel Dreiburg is an inventor and is the second person to be Nite Owl. Before the Keene Act forced him to retire, he’d team up with Rorschach and use owl-themed gadgets to fight crime.
- Doctor Manhattan: Jon Osterman is the only person in the world with actual superpowers. Because of an accident involving radiation, he was turned blue and given tremendous power over everything.
- Silk Spectre II: Laurie Juspeczyk (Jupiter) is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre. She was more or less forced into the business by her mom. She’s also in a relationship with Dr. Manhattan and retired when the Keene Act passed.
The story starts out like all mysteries: someone gets killed. Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, was killed when an unknown assailant threw him from his balcony. Rorschach investigates his death and wonders if Blake’s death is part of a string of vigilante deaths. He warns the other active and retired vigilantes about Blake’s murder. As the others reminisce on the Comedian, Rorschach continues to investigate and even stakes out former villains.
As time moves on, more and more things happen to the vigilantes. Dr. Manhattan has his reputation ruined, so he disappears. Veidt almost gets assassinated as his building. Even Rorschach is eventually arrested by the cops. Eventually, some of the heroes realize somethings’s up. As more and more things happen, the true manipulator is ultimately revealed. All of this is happening as the world itself moves toward the brink of an all-out nuclear war.
Aw... Rorschach got a handshake. I think he likes it.
That’s as far as I’ll go with spoilers. Even though this story is pretty old, I’ll take it easy with for the new folk. While the story primarily takes place in 1985, we get numerous flashbacks to the past for most of these characters. A lot of these flashbacks go into what makes them turn out the way they do in the present. Not only does Moore have the actual story to tell the tale, he also provides extra material at the end of each chapter like excerpts from books, letters, and psychological reports.
Opinion on Story
So, what do I think about what some would call the greatest graphic novel of all time? I liked it but I can’t call it the greatest thing ever since Velcro. I haven’t read every story, after all. While it’s dense, the story is well-told and well-paced. Moore had to make sure that it was interesting as well as thought-provoking. It even crosses genres. It’s a detective story, a sci-fi story, a romance, and a politically driven story. This isn’t some big action romp like most stories. While there is some superhero action here and there, it’s not the point of the story. If you’re expecting something along the lines of most mainstream superhero comics, you might come away disappointed.
Moore did his best to explore these characters in great detail through dialogue and flashbacks. He really gets into their heads psychologically. They’re all relatable in some way. Even the blue, sometimes naked demigod has some reliability to him. They all are interesting for the most part. Whether they’re likable is up for debate. I mean, some of them do some pretty messed up stuff. You’ll find that out when you first come across Rorschach or the Comedian. The ones I liked the most were Nite Owl, Rorschach (yeah, I know he’s a douche), Silk Spectre, and Dr. Manhattan.
The artwork is another thing that stands out. Dave Gibbons put in a lot of work to make this world look fresh. At this time, you probably wouldn’t have seen anything like this. While Moore brought the griminess with his story, Gibbons brought that grim world to life in the visuals. He made the world look lived-in and pretty realistic. He even made the people look distinct from one another. The layouts are especially effective. The violence was shocking for its time and it still has that grit to it. The costumes and character designs looked pretty good as well.
I there anything I don’t like about the story? Not really. I will say that it does have its weird moments. The true villain of the story has a plot that is really convoluted. Moore literally vomited exposition for like three or four pages towards the end. It was kind of funny when you think about it. Sometimes, it can get a little slow but it’s not always like that. Other than those things and some nitpicks, this is a good story. There’s no doubt about that.
The 2009 Movie
Since Watchmen is so well-known, you know someone had to attempt to make a movie. I don’t know how long a Watchmen movie was in “Development Hell” for, but it was probably a while. A lot of folk thought that it was unfilmable and I can see why. It is something would take a lot of work to produce. Even some big names were tied to the production. Ultimately, it fell into Zach Snyder’s hands. The movie was released in 2009 and got a mixed reception. I’ve only seen twice: once when it was released on DVD and again just recently. My recent viewing was the director’s cut.
Chip 'n Dale introduces... The Blue Man Group!
The plot of the movie more or less mirrors the source material. Things are changed a bit and some things are completely left out. It is a pretty long movie, after all. It does have more of an action feel to it. Some vigilantes even come off a little superhuman at points but it’s not too egregious. Dr. Manhattan is still the big boss when it comes to power. The biggest thing changed is the threat at the end. I’ve seen folk debate whether this ending is better. I really don’t care in the end since they’re both pretty out there and weird. The movie’s threat is simpler though.
I thought it was good for the most part. The visuals looked pretty good. The intro was really cool in how much stuff got fit in. I liked that Snyder did his best to stick to the source material. I heard that one version that didn’t get made went really weird with the end. The acting was good for the most part. I thought Jackie Earl Haley was awesome as Rorschach. Even though I’m not a big fan of the character, he ruled in that role. Everyone else mostly did a good job.
The movie’s not perfect though. The only actor from the main cast who wasn’t that good was Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias. It can get a little dull at times. I also thought some of the makeup for some characters wasn’t good. Just take a look at Richard Nixon and see what I mean. While I liked the music used, there were a couple musical cues that were kind of weird (hint: "Hallelujah"). Also, there were some things that I wish made it in. Overall, I thought it was nice. Snyder did what he could with the story. Even though it didn’t stick the landing too much, I liked it.
Beyond The Story
As I said before, Watchmen changed the industry in a lot of ways. Not only did writers try to analyze what drives heroes and villains to do what they do, the stories themselves got darker. You can see echoes of Watchmen throughout the 90’s and even today. You’ll see echoes in stories like Civil War, Kingdom Come, The Golden Age, Avengers Disassembled, Identity Crisis, The Ultimates, and some of DC’s New 52. I don’t think you can blame Watchmen for bad stories that came afterwards, though. I’d be looking at those writers themselves.
In the last few years, DC itself has started to do more with the Watchmen property. They had some of their best writers and artists handle Before Watchmen, a series of prequel stories that showed more of these characters. I’ve never read them, but I’ve heard mixed reactions about them. Recently, DC’s started to use the Watchmen in their recent Rebirth project. Where that goes is anyone’s guess but I hope it’s good. Rebirth’s been good for DC.
Hrmm... this could be good.
So, what’s left to say about Watchmen? Not much really. The story itself is good. If you’re looking for a comic that is darker and deals with weighty themes, check it out. Just know that it is pretty much for adults. I doubt your 8 year-old would get much from it. If anything, they’ll be asking questions you may not want to answer yet. As for the movie, check it out as well. As I hinted before, it’s R-rated for a reason, so I’m letting you know now. Well, I have one more post for Sci-Fi Month, so I’m going to get on that. Until then, Peace, God Bless, and be careful especially with guys like the Comedian out there.