Sunday, September 20, 2009

TSS - Review - Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
published 1986
334 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

It all begins with the paranoid delusions of a half-insane hero called Rorschach. But is Rorschach really insane or has he in fact uncovered a plot to murder super-heroes and, even worse, millions of innocent civilians? On the run from the law, Rorschach reunites with his former teammates in a desperate attempt to save the world and their lives, but what they uncover will shock them to their very core and change the face of the planet! Following two generations of masked superheroes from the close of World War II to the icy shadow of the Cold War comes this groundbreaking comic story — the story of The Watchmen.

My thoughts:

Well. There is almost too much to say about this bleak, beautiful piece of fiction. I think I'm going to arrange my thoughts in list form, to try not to forget anything.

1 - The Story. One of the most famous graphic novels of all time, on numerous "Best Of" lists, the story of the Watchmen is a modern classic. I completely understand why it was so groundbreaking when it was first introduced in the 1980s - these are not the movie superheroes America was used to up until then. These heroes are flawed - greedy, malicious, vain, superheroes for kicks and for hire. It's the characters that make the story so compelling, the structure of the novel allows each to have his or her moment to tell their tale. The plot itself is dense and packed with deep moral and political questions, but I found the characters to be the best part of the novel.

2 - The Writing. There is a perception that graphic novels, or "comics", are somehow not for serious readers - they're light, less challenging, than "real" novels. Or at least that's the impression I had before I started reading them. Watchmen blows this theory out of the water. Each character's voice is so incredible distinct, and the writing is intense, precise, and in many places beautiful. I often found myself so caught up in the words on the page that I realized I hadn't looked at the pictures for some time - so I would backtrack, put the two together, and find even more layers to the story.

3 - The Graphics. I don't know that I would call the pictures beautiful - they seemed very traditionally "comic-y" to me, which isn't a style I'm necessarily drawn to. But they had such detail, and depth of meaning, that I quickly learned to appreciate the complexity they added to the story. Watchmen so completely integrates its words and pictures - I don't think it would be half as great an experience if it lacked one of its components.

4 - The Ending. I won't spoil it for you, but it's pretty love-it-or-hate-it. My husband thought the entire novel was great, until the ending, which he hated. I actually thought it was just the right ending for the story - and I can't say more than that, but I didn't share his dislike at all.

This is definitely a story for adults - I would not give this to kids thinking it's just another comic, as it has seriously adult themes and language. However, I can certainly understand why it garnered all the praise it has received, and it is a reading experience I will surely savor again, as it is the kind of work that will only grow richer with subsequent readings.

Finished: 9/7/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Fyrefly's Book Blog
Medieval Bookworm
S. Krishna's Books
Literary Feline
Ready When You Are, CB
Things Mean A Lot

This book counts toward:


Fyrefly said...

Thanks for the link! I didn't hate the ending, but it definitely left me going "Whaaaaaa...?!?" Have you seen the movie? They changed the ending to something that kept the same tone, but which (I think) made more sense.

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I'm sorry to admit it but I have yet to read my first graphic novel. I don't know if this should be my first. I like the way you did the review by list. Worked for me.

Trisha said...

This was my first reading of a graphic novel and I was hooked. I wrote a strange review here for the Take a Chance Challenge.

debnance said...

It was one of the first graphic novels I ever read. I get queasy when I read about violence so this book really wasn't my cuppa.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like I'll have to borrow this one from my son.

Kailana said...

I need to get around to reading this! I have owned it for a while now.

J.S. Peyton said...

I'm really glad you liked "Watchmen." I read it last year and it blew me away. I didn't really love the ending either, though I didn't hate it. Like Fyrefly, I do think they handled it pretty well in the movie, which was, all things considered, pretty good.

Elizabeth said...

Fyrefly - I will mention this in my monthly movie wrap-up, but I actually liked the graphic novel ending better. (I know, I'm a weirdo. My husband liked the movie ending much better.)

Margot - If you haven't tried graphic novels yet, you might want to start with Persepolis. It's a fascinating story about young girl growing up in Iran, and there's no graphic violence. It's very good!

Trisha - I'm going over to read your review and comment - can't wait!

debnance - yeah, if violence is hard for you to read, I'd guess this one would be a tough sell.

bermuda - once you get into the flow, I think you'll like it.

Kailana - you should! I'll look forward to reading your thoughts.

J.S.Peyton - it was really, really good. I can totally understand why people were SO blown away when it first came out - they wouldn't have read anything like it ever before. Definitely going on my "re-read" shelf!

mar10123 said...

Such an interesting review - thank you! I had a student who wanted to read this last year, and I was not familiar with the book. (He eventually decided on his own not to read it.) Now, if another student asks about the book, I'll just send him to your review!

Andi said...

Yeah, I don't know why I haven't read it yet. I've had it on my shelves for years, but I never seem to pick it up. After watching the movie, I knooowwww I'll love it (because the book is always better). I think it's partially the traditionally comic-y artwork you mentioned. Thanks for the push!

Laughing Stars said...

This book intrigues me, especially since I haven't read any graphic novels before. My daughter saw the movie adaptation -- it sounds like it was brutal.

Zibilee said...

My husband read and loved this book, and I have been thinking of reading it as well. I really liked your review and I think I might try to make time to read it fairly soon since you had such a good reaction to it. Great review, and I liked the list format.

Elizabeth said...

Mom - it would be a LOT for a high school kid, but if someone is interested in graphic novels, this is a classic.

Andi - you'd better get it read before your kid does - major cool points. =)

Laughing Stars - it's definitely brutal, but very well written!

Zibilee - I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I agree with you that this comic blows the entire idea that comic books are "simple" totally out of the water. I first read this for a science fiction class a couple years ago, and I think it was the book that got me over my "comics are silly" prejudice and starting to look at them more closely. I'm glad you liked it!