Sunday, June 14, 2009

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save Us!" and I'll look down, and whisper, "No" - Roschach

A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there's no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned? - Dr. Manhattan

I read Watchmen just in time. I finished it about a week before the movie came out. I wanted to read it first partially because I wanted to be able to compare the book and the movie, but, more importantly, it's a little embarrassing to be the last comic book fan who hasn't read Watchmen.

With all the hype surrounding Watchmen—only graphic novel in Time Magazine's 100 Best List, widely acclaimed as the best graphic novel of all time, praised and damned for helping bring about the darkening of comic books in general—I had my doubts that it would live it up to its reputation. After all, The Dark Knight Returns, another, similarly acclaimed graphic novel, was a huge disappointment when I finally read it. But, after putting it off for so long (and rambling about it for nearly as long) I've reached a conclusion: Watchmen deserves the praise.

It follows the lives of several “superheroes,” regular Joes and Janes who have no superpowers but want to help make the world a better place, at least ostensibly. In reality, they all have their own reasons, complex, human reasons that don't often show up in the pages of mainstream comics. The only truly super-powered being is Dr. Manhattan, a being with literally godlike powers, able to do everything from the standard flying and making things explode to creating entire universes out of nothing.

To me, the most interesting character in the book was Dr. Manhattan. A soft-spoken, humanitarian scientist who receives his powers through the Silver Age standby of gamma radiation, his progression throughout the book is an interesting case. When the extent of his powers is discovered, the government sends him to Vietnam as a soldier and also uses him as the ultimate failsafe against a steadily more aggressive Russia. Dr. Manhattan, on the other hand, grows more and more disconnected from the human race, gradually dissolving all ties except to the woman he loves. When he loses her, he completely severs all connections to earth and moves to the moon, preferring the solace and the undemanding company of the rocks and stars to that of humans, who think themselves something special but who, to Dr. Manhattan, are no more interesting or unique than anything else in the universe. It's a deconstruction not only of the omnipotent superhero (of whom Superman is the prime example), but also of the idea of God. Why would a being whose powers allow him ultimate freedom of action choose to spend his time interacting with a populace who largely don't appreciate him and see him only as a means to an end?

Every character in the book, from the borderline-sociopath Rorschach to the twisted humanitarian Ozymandias, could be given an extensive treatment, but I'm not going to do that. If' you haven't read Watchmen, check it out.

1 comment:

hamilcar barca said...

this has been on my TBR shelf since Christmas. i gotta read it soon, before next Christmas, when someone will surely give me the DVD.