Nathan started his review of Watchmen by stating that he didn't think he would be able to write a review that did the book justice. I share that sentiment. I should start by saying that I am not really a comic book fan. When I was a kid I read Ducktales and Rescue Rangers comics, but I never made the jump to "grown-up comics" (see 1 Corinthians 13:11).
Over the years, it has come to the attention of some of my friends and acquaintances that I don't really like comics. Somewhere in the course of their trying to convince me that I should read this comic or that comic, Watchmen invariably comes up. I just kind of wrote it off as just another comic -- excuse me...graphic novel -- that comic fans love. Then a couple of years ago, Time named it one of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. Watchmen was the only graphic novel to make the list. I started thinking that maybe I should pick it up. I heard that they were making it into a film (the ultimate marker of whether something is worthwhile) and decided that I should read it before I saw the film.
The story, set in 1985 but of an alternate reality (not completely unlike Back to the Future II) follows a group of superheroes as they uncover a sinister plot that affects the stability of the world. So, that doesn't sound all that ground-breaking. Well, there people aren't really superheroes, because all but one of them are just regular people. They are essentially vigilantes, fighting against what they see as societies ills. And there are plenty of societal ills in the Cold War era reality that Moore creates. But these real people have "real people" problems -- more abundant in some than in others. What is it that drove them to a life of fighting crime? What do they see as crime? These masked vigilantes have biases, opinions, and prejudices just like the next guy. So, the question is raised, "Sure the Watchmen are watching us, but who's watching the Watchmen?"
The storyline was rather simply, but it unfolded in patchwork form. The credit really goes to Moore for his ability to weave together storyline and dialogue. Like Nathan, I enjoyed Moore's proclivity to flesh out two storylines as the same time using on line of dialogue. This happened most often during flashback sequences, of which there were many. Moore supplied his readers with a wealth of background information about each of the Watchmen. Much of it was supplied by means of short interstitials between the chapters. These were things that have been mentioned or featured in some way in the graphic portions of the novel. For instance, one of the Watchmen wrote a tell-all after retiring, and the book comes up a number of times in various conversations. So a few of these interstitials were excepts from that memoir, while others were newspaper clippings, or selections from a police file.
The realism of the novel fades as Watchmen comes nears its end. It is slowly usurped by an tone that is over-the-top. The plot that seemed so simple morphs into something that is much larger than the story of a league of crime fighters. As Christopher points out in his review, the novel is chalked full of symbolism and meta-narratives. By the end, the seemingly concrete aspects of the story have given away to something much more abstract. In this respect, it put me in mind of The Man Who Was Thursday. That is to say that I was impressed by Watchmen. It's no Rescue Rangers...but what is?