All Eyes on Watchmen: A Review of the Graphic Novel

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On the simple but elegant front cover depicting blood splatter on what seems to be a smiley face, the name sticks out, Watchmen, mysterious and subtle. Upon opening the novel the first lines read “Dog Carcass in ally this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face” I immediately knew I wasn’t reading a typical superhero comic book. This was of a different quality, a grim look at the superhero mythos. A look at what if superheroes really existed in the real world. We’re not looking at the big brawn hero with a long flowing cape, a captivating good-guy personality, a concrete sense of justice, and always abiding by the law. If heroes truly existed, they would be violent, scary, costumes would be made fun of, they would be crazed masked vigilantes who act above the law and may used it as an excuse to unleash their sadistic tendencies. This is gleam and grim universe created by legendary writer Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons written in 1985, showing a vastly altered history if masked vigilantes emerged in the 1930’s.

First let me delve into the artwork, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen takes a different tone. The color scheme consists of off-colors such as purple, yellow, light green, and pink, unlike most comic books which have the strong blue, green, and red. Each and every panel is extremely intricately done. There are tiny details that act as ways to further the plot and as easter eggs. For example, you always see a newspaper or magazine in the background with a headline that just immerses the reader into the universe. As far as the characters, they are done very well, each of them have their own unique personality. The character Rorschach sticks out, who is named after Hermann Rorschach who invented the inkblot psychological tests. Rorschach costume first pays off homage to classic crime-fighting heroes of the 1940s and his mask has inkblots that resemble a Hermann Rorschach inkblot test. The pattern in his mask changes various times through the story, and if you look closely you can interpret them in relation to what is happening in the story. Dave Gibbons intricately creates a world, with immense attention to detail and excellent artistry.

The story of Watchmen is a unique one, a journey into the psyche of the hero, a psychological, political, and sexual interpretation. Alan Moore deconstructed the superhero mythos in order to put into reality. Watchmen throws away all previous standardized conventions of the superhero genre and creates it’s new conventions, instead of looking at the world as good vs. evil, black and white, this is shades of grey. There is no clearly defined line between right vs. wrong, that moral decision is left up to the reader. The novel puts into question of what is the motive of these masked heroes. Do they have some high ideals of justice? Are they driven by vengeance and anger? Do they use their superhero antics to fulfill some type of fantasy? Are they just violent, crazed individuals that take advantage of the moral high ground to justify their sadistic needs? All these questions and more are answered in Watchmen. Alan Moore also approaches the theme of how having an immense amount of power over others cannot achieve peace. Dr. Manhattan is the only hero in the Watchmen universe who has superpowers; he is unquestionably the most powerful being in the universe, able to rearrange atoms and defy the laws of physics. Dr. Manhattan plays a crucial part in severely altering history, the U.S ends up winning the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon wins various reelections, the U.S. is riddled with poverty and crime. With all the power that the U.S. acquired the world is still in turmoil and in eminent danger of a nuclear holocaust. One article in the book that stuck out called “Dr. Manhattan: Super-powers and the Superpowers”, a fake article in the novel talking about Dr. Manhattan’s role in international affairs. It touches on the irony that even though with all the power in the universe peace still can’t be achieved. As written “The second world war was The War to End Wars. The development of the atomic bomb is The Weapon to End Wars… And yet wars continue.” Is it power and force that is really necessary to maintain peace and justice?

Beside Dr. Manhattan, the most interesting character of the novel was Rorschach, a masked vigilante who is dark and psychologically complex. Rorschach is an updated version of Batman, a scary masked vigilante who stalks criminals in the night and has a deep dark past. Rorschach has a rigid sense of good vs. evil. He is paranoid, brash, smelled horrible, and very violent, nothing like your ordinary comic book hero. Rorschach is an individual who isn’t quite normal, he isn’t hygienic, is extremely threatening, and wildly aggressive. A person with an enormous death wish who unleashes his anger for the terrible world he lives in on the vile criminals of New York City.

Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, is the pinnacle of artistry, an involving and immersing piece of fiction that is sure to capture anyone's attention. The deep psychological realism put into a genre where realism used to be out of the question has certainly had an impact on today’s popular fiction by adding intelligence and sophistication to the genre. Even though Watchmen took place in an alternate universe, it still resonates with what’s happening in our world today, the ongoing conflicts, and our desire to save the world. This novel is riveting from cover to cover; it truly deserves its status as one of the best graphic novels ever written.


Marty said...

the ink blot guy looks badass lol
it's gonna be interesting to see a darker more realistic depiction of superheros. hope the movie does the graphic novel justice for you.

ProphetZen said...

the movie won't certainly be a replacement for the novel. but if it ends up serving as a two and half hour advertisement for the novel it will be awesome!

Marty said...

LOL 2 and a half hour advertisement. that's a good way to look at it.

ProphetZen said...

yea people complain too much when it comes to adaptations, ultimately when a film adapts from a book, if the film ends up being a good film people will read the book too.

Angie said...

I love your reviews. I really do.

If I could have surrogate babies with your reviews, I totally would.