by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
DC Comics, 1986.
Winner of the Hugo Award.
I finally read Watchmen this week, since I definitely have to take my teenage son to see the movie the day it comes out. Watchmen is acclaimed by many as the greatest graphic novel of all time, and I can see why. This book has layers upon layers upon layers of meaning. You definitely only scratch the surface of all that’s going on the first time you read it.
Set in an alternate 1985, the story begins with the death of costumed hero The Comedian. Rorschach, another masked hero, thinks there may be a plot against masked vigilantes. Someone with great power must be behind it, because who else could have thrown The Comedian out a window?
My son is rereading the book in the Absolute Watchmen edition. The pages and pictures are larger, so it’s easier to see the many important details all lurking in the pages before you even notice them. As I was writing this, my son noticed another one — that Rorschach didn’t have the distinctive speech bubbles until he really “became” Rorschach. (I hadn’t noticed that he even had distinctive speech bubbles.) There are thousands of details planted like that. This is a graphic novel where you would still notice new details on the twentieth reading that fit perfectly and provide clues to what’s really going on.
This book is a mystery, a social commentary, a science fiction adventure, an alternate history, and so much more. Mind you, it is a dark story, with lots of sex and violence. If you wouldn’t be comfortable watching an R rated movie, then you won’t want to read this book.
At first, I thought I just enjoyed it as a work of art. There’s no question that the book is superbly executed, thought-provoking, and interesting. However, on reflection, now that I’ve finished it, I find I really did care about the characters. They grew on me. I did like them, and they seem like real people, with real concerns and complexities. For example, I found myself annoyed right along with Laurie when Jon starts talking about what’s going to happen in a few minutes. Each character is distinctive, with their own hang-ups and desires, and the authors portray that skillfully, and make you care.
Definitely worth the hype. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. And I’m sure I’ll come back to the book some day, and try to pick up a few hundred more details that I missed the first time.