Comic Shop: Watchmen by Alan Moore

May 19, 2008 at 3:13 pm 5 comments

Even though it’s 2008, comics are still seen as a pretty guy-oriented medium. That assumption isn’t totally without merit- hundreds of comics are characterized by stupid amounts of violence and women with enormous breasts in skimpy costumes. That doesn’t make it the rule, however. There are a lot of comics written for people who prefer characterization to cleavage, and which appeal to much broader demographics. There is a place for girls in comics, and it doesn’t have anything to do with shoes or nail polish or feelings. It’s about good storytelling, innovative art, and creators who take full advantage of an under-appreciated medium. A lot has been written about why girls shy away from comics, so I’m going to tell you why you should love them.

I’m not one for superhero comics, usually. However, I love a work that can turn traditional ideas on their heads, and revolutionize a genre by twisting every aspect of it. Therefore, I’m pretty much obligated to love Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

Watchmen, written in 1985, is set in an alternate present. The Cold War looms, and the city of New York is paranoid and crime-ridden. What makes this world unique is that superheroes actually exist. Post-WWII, a few people were inspired by Superman comics, and started dressing up as costumed crime-fighters. They don’t have any kind of special powers, though. They’re just ordinary people, maybe bored with their lives, or seeking attention, or they just get off on fighting in costumes. Most of them are a little bit weird, as you might expect of people who choose to run around in leggings and capes.

These masked vigilantes end up organizing themselves, although the organization kind of flops. Eventually, the next generation picks up where they left off, fighting off criminals (some of whom develop costumed alter egos themselves) and dealing with Viet Nam. Their ideals begin to conflict with the government’s increasing control, and the superheroes are forced into retirement, back to their every day lives.

Now, in 1985, someone is picking off the former superheroes one by one, and the old gang gets back together to find out what’s at the bottom of it. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because Pixar’s 2004 film The Incredibles based its main storyline on Watchmen. The motives of the mysterious villian are similar as well, although I won’t spoil the details.

The real beauty of the comic is in its construction. External sources are included throughout, like excerpts from one of the original superheroes’ autobiography, or notes from a character’s psychiatric evaluation. Most notable is the Tales of the Black Freighter. See, in this universe, because there are real superheroes, superhero comics don’t really exist. Instead, pirate comics are incredibly popular. Throughout the comic, we keep coming back to a man at this newsstand in the city, and a young boy who sits near it, reading each new installment of pirate comic Tales of the Black Freighter. The story chronicles a castaway attempting to escape a phantom pirate ship, with a plot that provides a counterpoint to the main story of Watchmen.

The artwork is characterized by its traditional style and bold palette of secondary colors. Dave Gibbons’ simple artwork contains dozens of clues to the themes of the story, and provides a grimly pessimistic backdrop for Moore’s wrenchingly convoluted timeline.

It’s almost a tragedy that the film is currently in production, as it would be impossible to capture the intricacies of the literary structure in 2 1/2 hours on a big screen. I can understand the urge to translate it to film, though, and can only hope it holds true to the spirit of the comic.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt- the first page of the comic, in which we are introduced to one of the most bewildering characters through an entry in his journal. You can buy the book on Amazon for less than $10 right now, and since it virtually requires at least two readings, it’s well worth the price.

(click to enlarge)

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Entry filed under: Betty, Books for Hire. Tags: , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michael Mitchley  |  May 19, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    This is my favourite comic.

    Reply
  • 2. Tim Cameron  |  May 19, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Watchmen was one of the first graphic novels I ever read, and its impact lingers to this day.

    Reply
  • 3. alisaurus  |  May 19, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Speaking of Pixar, I am psyched about Wall-E.

    Reply
  • 4. Matthew Goode « Googly Eyes  |  December 26, 2008 at 10:12 am

    […] Veidt/Ozymandias, Matthew Goode is sure to explode in the new “Watchmen” movie. After reading the book, I’m sure the movie is going to suck. But that won’t stop me from seeing Matthew Goode […]

    Reply
  • 5. Everyone’s Watching The Watchmen! « Googly Eyes  |  March 6, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    […] Earlier: Comic Shop: Watchmen by Alan Moore. […]

    Reply

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