The Watchmen

This is my review pre-discussion with intense Watchmen fans. I'm sure that as a result of that conversation, my eyes will be opened to a few things and I might appreciate a few more details, but I'm also fairly certain that my opinions won't change much. The story is interesting and unique but I think that my view of the book definitely suffered as a result of hype. Not movie hype (because I know that's out in theaters now), but comic book history hype. This is the end-all be-all of comic novels, it seems. The original. The godfather. It clearly forged a new path in terms of longer, more complex and deeper comics. Everyone who has read this seems to worship it. The cover even touts it as one of Time Magazine's 100 best novels. Perhaps I wasn't in the right place for it? Here's what I will say.

The story is this. You have two batches of incredibly screwed up human beings who, for whatever reasons, are compelled to dress up and save the world. We call them "superheroes" even though they actually have no super powers (except for one guy, Doctor Manhattan, who isn't really a human being anymore as a result of the nuclear accident that gave him his powers... and he's blue). You might pause here and wonder, "wait, shouldn't we go into that whole psychology thing a bit more? Why do they do this?" Well... that's not easy to answer. You kind of accept that what spurs someone to feel like they want to "save the world" and don spandex is a bit darker than you might have otherwise thought, but for each character, it's a little different. (Side note... one of the cooler ideas is this: in this world, we won Vietnam and Nixon is still president. Like woah. But even though we won Vietnam, we're teetering on the brink of WWIII.)

But back to the characters. There's a first and a second wave of super heroes, the first of which has essentially retired/died off and the second that is a little out to seed, but are still bigger players in the current scene of things (though both play an equal role in the story, as we spend a lot of time trying to figure out everything that has happened in the past). Why are the "younger" heroes out to seed? Well, a law was passed that made their actions illegal (which resulted from a police strike against the vigilantes), thus forcing them into retirement. The book makes no secret of the fact that these people have to be a little twisted to do what they do. And "a little" twisted is putting it mildly for most of them. (See above.)

On to the plot, which is pretty simple. For some reason, a few of our masked vigilantes have been killed and it's suspected that there's a connection -- a "mask-killer" at work. Our book deals with the question as to whether or not there's a plot to kill masks AND, beyond the masks, whether or not the world is going to devolve into WWIII. Ultimately, the whole comic is more interested in its own style and storytelling (see the comic book within a comic book that was an interesting parallel illustration of losing one's sanity/humanity/values in the pursuit of one's treasured ideals) than developing an intricate plot.

The most interesting character for me was The Comedian. It's his death that spurs the plot, so I guess he would have to be the most interesting, as we spend a lot of time trying to "figure him out" to some degree. He's twisted and mean and clearly full of himself, but each time he entered into the story, I was more interested in what was going on. (Of course, knowing that Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays him in the movie, even before looking at the book, I knew The Comedian would die... because Morgan is always the guy who dies.)

I didn't like Rorschach in the sense that he unsettled me, but I found him to be a somewhat intricate character that, weirdly, was the most focused on the goals of being a superhero. By being the most intolerant and anti-social person, he seemed to epitomize a superhero's mantra of never giving up and always fighting crime and injustice. Of course, he was also a freak who saw the world as a dark pit of despair. So really, Rorschach was the best character.

Nite Owl and Ozymandias were mildly intriguing -- both more so in their "retirement." Doctor Manhattan was engaging if only in his singularity. As the only one with super powers, he becomes less human with the passing of time (though he himself doesn't see time in a linear fashion). Clearly, though, the creative trio were fascinated by him, too, and spent a lot of time on this. His relationship with Laurie Juspeczyk provided for one of the most interesting scenes -- when Laurie wakes up to find two of her blue lovers in the room with her and then realizes that he's become multiple beings as a means of both paying attention to her and continuing to work, thus not actually paying attention to her.

The least interesting characters? Those would have to be the women, Laurie and her mom. It makes me wonder how any women are actually fans of this comic, but then, it might not bother them as much? I wanted to scream at how terrible these women were. Empty shells of creatures. They existed for nothing but sexual plot points (be it rape or consensual) and had little personality and purpose. I would say I'm thankful that they weren't as objectified as women sometimes are, but that such an idea would cross my mind is rather appalling. And I know, I know, that the comic creators were trying to work with existing ideas of women, but guess what? I don't care. They still could have done something so much more interesting with those existing ideas of comic book women and the fact that they didn't made me think they just shrugged them off in the story.

Perhaps what bothered me most was the sheer, unadulterated bleakness of everything, but that can't be a criticism, as it was part of the purpose of the comic, I'm sure (as was the intense nihilism that reduced anyone with a view of right and wrong to be the logical equivalent of a small child). You're being asked to read a comic book about super heroes where the world isn't worth saving. There was nothing bright or good here, really, and certainly nothing lasting. Laurie keeps making arguments for mankind (which are about as compelling as she is), but Rorschach's vision really triumphed. Even the muted colors and the lack of true connection between anyone... it was bleak and never compelled me to feel like I should be roused to support anyone or anything within the pages of the book. On top of that, the actual illustrations weren't as appealing to my eye, but that's personal preference. I wasn't a fan of the style, or the coloring palette, so I was pretty much doomed from the get-go.

I'm not saying I need this to be bright and cheerful and colorful. Clearly that wouldn't be the point of a piece like this, but I just didn't have anything to hang on to that would give meaning to all this.

So... I understand The Watchmen's importance in comic history, but that doesn't mean that I enjoyed the experience. I was intrigued by many of the ideas, but I suppose it's just not my cup of tea.

P.S. I got through the whole review without mentioning The Incredibles and how they totally Disney-fied the idea of super heroes sent into exile! Except for you know, right now. Dammit.

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