Watchmen

by Alan Moore

Other authorsDave Gibbons (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1995

Status

Available

Publication

DC Comics, (1995)

Description

As former members of a disbanded group of superheroes called the Crimebusters start turning up dead, the remaining members of the group try to discover the identity of the murderer before they, too, are killed.

User reviews

LibraryThing member edgeworth
Watchmen is no ordinary comic book. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece, hands-down the most critically acclaimed comic book ever made, and was listed on Time Magazine's 100 greatest novels since 1923.

Watchmen is set in New York City in the 1980s of an alternate world, in which masked "superheroes" are real and have altered society and politics in some very thought-provoking ways. It follows the trials of a group of mostly-retired superheroes who are drawn back into a noirish world of crime, conspiracy and danger after the murder of one of their former colleagues.

Like all good storytellers, Moore and Gibbons do not spoonfeed the reader. Many small details about this intriguing world are minor images hidden in the background. In the first chapter alone, the astute reader will find that Vietnam has become the 51st state, Richard Nixon is still the President, the USA is building missile silos on the moon and the doomsday clock (a recurring motif in a book overflowing with them) stands at five minutes to midnight.

Watchmen is about superheroes in the same way that No Country For Old Men is about cops and drug dealers. It deconstructs one of the most iconic images of America, developing flawed heroes with complex psychological profiles. All but one lack superpowers, they all have deep problems, and some have nagging doubts about the ultimate purpose of fighting petty crime in a world threatened by nuclear annihilation.

This is the overall vibe emanated by Watchmen, a Cold War text down to its very bones. I've always found superheroes to be a laughable, childish, outdated element of pop culture, but Watchmen treats them realistically and examines the effects they would have on society: the police strikes, the swaying public opinion, the inculpability of vigilantes and the aforementioned failure to address society's real problems. Early in the novel, in a flashback to the 1960s, we see a USMC-lieutenant turned crimefighter discussing the problems America faces, among which he includes "student protests" and "black unrest." The very awesome character Rorschach, dressed in 1920s tweed pants and overcoat, executes both a serial rapist and the average mugger without remorse, while his diary reveals the workings of a disturbingly warped mind. A major character who is employed by the government and held in high regard by the people of America also has a history of sexual assault. The world of Watchmen is like our own: everything is uncertain and relative, and morality is hard to pin down.

Flipping through it at the bookstores, I found Dave Gibbons' artwork to be relatively bland and generic, the typical American comic book style familiar even to someone who never reads comic books. When I started actually reading it, I discovered that there were much deeper layers to it than I thought. Apart from the minor details found in every frame, the way the frames themselves move is beautiful, resembling film techniques in the way they segue into a flashback, create ironic contrasts or suggest deeper symbolism to images in nearly every panel. I did not even realise until later that the chapter entitled "Fearful Symmetry" is itself symmetrical through its dark and light coloured panels. Just as the story breaks down the traditions of the comic book narrative, the artwork breaks down the traditions of comic book illustration, with a particularly welcome relief from motion lines and transcribed sound effects.

Anyway, I could talk forever about this awesome story, but it's difficult to do so without giving away a lot of plot details. Suffice to say that it's a richly thematic masterpiece of symbolism, philosophy and humanity, with beautiful artwork, a great story and deeply memorable characters. It's the best book I've read this year (granted, it had the unfair advantage of pictures) and the pinnacle of 20th century comics. It can be bought at your local Borders for roughly $40 AUD. Go start the car.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
Watchmen is often depressing, but understandably so as a product of its time. The Cold War was everyone's reality at the time of Watchmen's initial publication. This graphic novel admirably captures the ominous sensation experienced by everyone who lived through it. An ever-present threat hung over the world that it only took the least reminder to trigger dire thoughts of. "It gives me a funny feeling inside, y'know?" says the news vendor, and everyone in the 1980s knew exactly what he meant. The world sorely needed heroes and we couldn't find them in our politicians. Instead we turned to Hollywood celebrities, musicians or sports figures. Watchmen adds superheroes to the mix in this alternate 1985, as a sort of allegory to this fruitless quest for heroism.

But even the superheroes have human flaws: indifference, immorality, greed, cowardice, narcissism, intemperance, fear, self-loathing - everything that might prevent someone of above average abilities from arriving at a solution to the world's ills. It's easy to hate these characters for not delivering, for not being steadier and greater than they are - especially the Comedian for being such a louse, although it's important to read closely everything he says. He possesses wicked insight into the flaws of his fellow supers; as he tells one of them, "I've got your number."

There's a murder mystery to solve and a nuclear war looming, but world-building and character development overrule plot through the first half. Every second chapter explores the background of one of the supers: the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, etc. We learn not only these characters' foibles, but also the tragedies from their past that make them human. I'd anticipated a quick read but instead I was analyzing every panel, picking up on themes and details. So much atmosphere comes from the pictures rather than the text: the flying dirigibles, the Gunga Diner and its related trash, the clues to secret identities. I read every legible word on every depicted newspaper or sign, even if I had to turn the book upside down to discover that Richard Nixon is still president and the United States has won the Vietnam war.

There's a wonderful technique used multiple times where overlapping scenes inform one another, dialogue from the first serving double-duty as simultaneous narrative for the second. This could work on the movie screen (and maybe has; I've not seen the movie), but is probably most rewarding in this medium. The extras at the end of each chapter (book excerpts, etc.) are also a great touch and inform the story. I was looking for the best in the genre as a yardstick for what it can do, and my respect for the medium has definitely risen.
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LibraryThing member Foxen
This is going to be a conflicted review. First off, I have to say that I saw the movie before I read the graphic novel, and that's going to heavily color my impression. Second, I have to say that, whichever form you experience it in, Watchmen is really, really good. The conflict comes from the unavoidable comparisons between the two. This isn't The Wizard of Oz, where the book and the movie can be thought of as different works: these representations beg to be compared. First, though, the set up. Watchmen takes place in a dystopian alternate present (past now, it's set and was written in the 80s) in which superheros kind of actually exist. Most of the superheros are men in costumes, seemingly a psychological manifestation of the turbulence of the times, but one superhero is Dr. Manhattan, a physicist who was trapped in a nuclear accident at the start of the Cold War, and whose god-like existence is implied to have contributed unintentionally to the current state of the world. Nixon is in his fifth term, for example, after asking Dr. Manhattan to intervene in Vietnam. The story starts with the unexplained death of the Comedian, a dark jokester character who sees the brutality of the world and laughs in the face of it. Masked vigilante-ism has been outlawed by the start of the story, and to a large extent the story is about these former masked characters coming to terms with themselves and the state of the world. So yes, it's very good, or at least I think so. It's a dark and thoughtful look at recent American history and the human condition.

Now for comparisons, since I really can't evaluate the graphic novel on its own. For the first three quarters of the book, the movie is remarkably similar. So similar that it was almost as though I had already read the book, since the images were sometimes verbatim reproduced in the movie, down to camera angles and specific blood splatters. This is a good thing, I think. It speaks to the artistic integrity of both works and certainly makes the movie better. It also meant that the movie somewhat spoiled these parts of the novel for me, though. That is, until the end. The end of the novel differs significantly from the movie, and I absolutely can't explain why without spoilers, so I won't (but I would love to talk about it with anyone who's read/seen both). The problem I had, which may be partially an artifact of expectations since I had seen the movie first, was that I liked the movie ending better. Returning to the Wizard of Oz example, this isn't the end of the musical Wicked, which throws out a good portion of the point (imo) in favor of a more satisfying conclusion. This takes threads that should have been woven together at the end and does it, spectacularly, in a way that the novel doesn't even approach. The end of the movie makes more sense to me than the end of the novel. And it kills me to say it, since usually I fall squarely on the side against movie adaptations.

So... I don't know. Watchmen is great. See it, read it, experience it somehow. Pick your poison: original form or an adaptation that follows it closely and then deviates wildly. Or do both, and then come talk to me about it.
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LibraryThing member fireeyedboy
Genuine fans must hate us. A film gets made of something they love, have in fact loved for many years (since 1986 in the case of Watchmen), the book gets hyped because of the film, and people like me read it.

I, the graphic novel tourist.

'This is my first graphic novel' begins the review. They shudder. 'So I didn't know what to expect'... They recoil. 'I guess it was cool...'. They're banging their head against the wall. 'I liked the drawings'. They're struggling to keep their lunch down.

So I'll be brief. This was my first graphic novel in years. I can't remember reading one since I was yay high and spent much of my days crawling around through Lego. To be honest I was worried it would feature too many POWs and BAMs, and perhaps too little substance. On this I was proved completely wrong. In fact I quickly forgot I was reading a graphic novel, it just felt like a regular novel for which my mind didn't have to think up the images.

I ended up loving it. Themes of apocalypse and doom mixed with romance, regret, despair and a large blue (possibly) radioactive all-powerful man. Yes please!
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
"But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget ... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away."

Before I read one, I always thought graphic novels were called that because of graphic violence within the novel. I realize that logically that doesn't make sense, but some part of my brain assumed that was the case. Obviously it's not. A graphic novel is called that because it is drawn like a comic book, pairing an in depth story (like a novel) with drawings.

That plot can deal with anything, not just superheroes like Batman. In the case of Maus (which won a Pulitzer Prize) it's the Holocaust; with Persepolis it's the autobiography of an Iranian woman. There is no limit to what can be used as subject matter in a graphic novel.

I've never been a big comic book person (though I'm starting to think that might be because I haven't given them a chance), so even once I figured out what they really were, graphic novels didn't appeal to me. Then a friend recommended Watchmen. Then he recommended it again and again and finally I read it. It was my very first graphic novel and I was completely blown away.

Here's the basic plot, the Watchmen are a group of crime fighters, including Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Rorschach and others. Someone is trying to kill them off and discredit their work and the surviving members are desperately trying to find out who's behind it. The story dedicates a chapter to each of the characters, giving the reader a chance to get to know each of their history and current struggles.

I was expecting a basic good guys vs. bad guys story, predictable, but fun. This wasn't that by any stretch of the imagination. In Watchmen Alan Moore blurs the line between good and bad. He questions the characters' actions and motivations. He creates a world where you have to ask, "Who is watching the Watchmen?"

Watchmen has such a rich story full of complex characters, literary references and complicated back-stories. The writing is excellent, the illustrations are intense and the story is epic. Watchmen opened my eyes to an entire genre. I have since read quite a few graphic novels and I can't believe it took me so long to try them. I would encourage any of you who have never read one to find one that looks interesting to you and check it out.
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LibraryThing member girlunderglass
Ahem. Let's see. First I will draw your attention to the fact that I have bugged almost all members of this challenge (if not individually, then certainly through my thread) to read my favourite books. Take for example, Franny and Zooey - I have talked on and on about it. Yet, I have yet to write a review about that book. Why? Simply because I cannot say everything I want to say about it in one review. I cannot possibly enumerate all the reasons why I love it in 10 lines. I don't want to write a paragraph about it, I want to write essays, I want to write books. This is why I'm not going to write a review about Watchmen. ("Ha! so why are you posting this in the Reviews section? Hypocrite!") I guess I just mean I won't try to analyze it and deconstruct it the way I usually do with books. Moore said this is a comic book designed to be read "four or five times, with some links and allusions only becoming apparent to the reader after several readings." And that is what I'm going to do because the man was so right. There is just SO much to it, I cannot even begin to analyze it.

Call me a snob or an ignoramus (or both - it's possible and a very bad combination) but I never knew comic books can be so complex. It's really incredible how much work has gone into this and how many layers of meaning there are. It's not just the plot telling a story, it's the structure, the colours, the images, the symbols, the songs (yes there are songs), the articles (yes, there are articles - including one from an ornithological newspaper!), the writing (a lot of Watchmen is an imaginary book - no images - which is supposed to be one of the characters' memoir), the subtle references, the little attachments (old "photographs", receipts, fragments of diaries or letters), the political and historical setting, the social commentary, the Tales of the Black Freighter (another comic within Watchmen)...etc. It's frankly amazing. I'm very new to this. I don't really read comic strips - never have, not even as a kid. But if I knew there were some this good out there, I would have started reading them earlier.

Meanwhile, I will leave you with this little description from Wikipedia - just in case my "non-review" didn't convince you to read it yet: "Moore used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and to critique the superhero concept. Watchmen takes place in an alternate history United States where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. The country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement. Creatively, the focus of Watchmen is on its structure. Gibbons used a nine-panel grid layout throughout the series and added recurring symbols such as a blood-stained smiley. All but the last issue feature supplemental fictional documents that add to the series' backstory, and the narrative is intertwined with that of another story, a fictional pirate comic titled Tales of the Black Freighter, which one of the characters reads. "

Note re the film: Moore's vision was that of an unfilmable graphic novel - ""What I'd like to explore is the areas that comics succeed in where no other media is capable of operating" - , and actually stressed the differences between comics and film in Watchmen. Having now seen how that vision developed and having experienced its richness and complexity, I very much doubt, no matter how much effort might put into the film or how good the director might be, that it is possible to capture something like Watchmen on screen. But I shall watch the movie soon and see for myself.
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LibraryThing member dmcolon
It's hard to categorize The Watchmen. It's a graphic novel, to be sure, but it's got many layers to it. It's a period piece, set in the Cold War. It's an ethical treatise, pitting rival versions of morality against one another. It's an explication of human nature. It's a postmodernist deconstruction of the superhero genre. And it's many more things -- I suspect reading it again will reveal further levels.

Alan More and Dave Gibbons set their story in an alternative universe where superheroes are real, Nixon was elected for a third term,and the U.S.A. won the Vietnam War. The Superheroes, however, are not all that super. In fact, they're pretty pathetic characters whose powers are pretty much non-existent (with one notable exception). The plot centers around the death of several of these superheroes and a few of their rivals and twists into an incredibly detailed (and at times convoluted) story. There are also multiple subplots and numerous secondary characters as well as a comic within the comic and an intriguing text-based extracts from various primary sources set in this alternative timeline.

This isn't a book I enjoyed in they way I enjoyed some other graphic novels, and it's almost more akin to the comic equivalent of Franz Kafka. It's a disturbing and morally ambivalent universe that Moore and Gibbons create and the good guys aren't all that good and the villains are more pathetic than evil. Most of the heroes are pathetic vigilantes and their political philosophy is pretty much racist and fascist. Liberals aren't portrayed much better and come across as either hopelessly naive or as ruthless as their conservative counterparts. The illustrations do a great job of reflecting the atmosphere and Gibbons does a great job of recreating the style of earlier comics; there's a grimy and depressing quality to everything.

The Watchmen deserves its reputation and it deserves all the praise it's received. It won the Hugo Award and was named one of Time Magazine's top novels of all time a few years back. If you have a preconceived notion of comic books or superheroes, this book shatters everything you've thought about the genre. I don't think that everyone will appreciate this book -- there's just something odd and demented about it. I also found it a bit slow to get going but I think that's because I had trouble getting past my preconceived notions about superheroes. If you're patient with the book, though, and give yourself some time to reflect on the book once you've read it, you'll be more than rewarded.
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LibraryThing member xicanti
The murder of a costumed hero sparks a chain of events that will change the world forever.

If you're at all interested in the history of the comic book, you've heard of WATCHMEN. It revolutionized the medium and paved the way for all the edgier stuff that's come after. It's acclaimed not just as a comic book but as a serious work of literature. WATCHMEN may not be essential to an understanding of the late twentieth/early twenty-first century comic book, but it's undoubtedly an important work. I can't imagine why you'd want to cheat yourself out of it.

Alan Moore has been praised for deconstructing the superhero, but I'd argue that he's doing much more than that. He's also crafted an alternate world in which one important change has had organic, logical consequences for society as a whole, and in doing so he's deconstructed the comic itself. It's brilliantly done. It's deep and complex and subtle. And it's hella interesting.

In Moore's alternate world, Superman's first appearance inspired not just comic book creators but real people who donned costumes and hit the streets to fight crime. They've got day jobs and rent to pay and all the emotional problems that come along with everyday life. Few of them are wealthy. None of them have superpowers. They're just regular people who've costumed up for reasons as varied as their own personalities. Some of them really want to make a difference. Others hope to boost their careers. Some are on a power trip. A few just get off on the pretense. One is only in it because her mother has forced her. Moore comments on their place in the world via short excerpts from relevant sources, (autobiographies, scholarly papers, etc.), tacked onto the end of each chapter.

I say that none of them have superpowers, but that's not quite true. Jon Osterman --aka Dr. Manhattan--is the lone superpowered superhero in this world. Jon gains his powers during a horrific accident in which his corporeal body is annihilated. He gains the ability to see and understand all things at all times. He knows the past, present and future as one. He can see exactly how subatomic particles come together. He has complete control over his own reformed body, which is blue and glowing. And his powers have changed him, mentally as well as physically. He's not your standard, "I must use my powers to fight crime and save the world!" superhero; neither is he the typical, "I shall use my powers to enhance my own personal glory!" kind of a supervillain. He just... is.

He's had a huge impact on the world at large. The US won the Vietnam War, with his help. His ability to see and control subatomic particles has led to massive scientific breakthroughs, including efficient airships that have largely replaced airplanes and electric cars powered by public power hydrants. The world looks very much like our own, but it's really not. The changes are small, subtle, and absolutely vital to the way we react to the story. They don't sound like much on the surface, but they go deep. It's brilliant.

Perhaps the most interesting shift, though, occurs within this alternate world's comic book industry. Faced with real-life heroes like Hooded Justice, Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan, comic book creators feel no need to inundate the market with fictional heroes. Instead, comic books focus on pirates and ghouls - the very storylines, in fact, that came under so much scrutiny in our own world during the 1950's. Moore asks us to consider the comic book as escapist literature, as an art form, and in terms of its creative development. I find comic book history just fascinating, and I loved seeing how Moore's alternate world had diverged from our own where comics were concerned. My very favourite end-of-chapter excerpt dealt with how the government vetoed the creation of the Comics Code Authority, the organization that held such sway over our own comic industry for so long.

Moore blends all these elements so well that you'll never notice the seams. He's crafted an absolutely fantastic piece of work that forces us to consider not only the society within the book but also our own world and its own brand of heroics. There's so much here. I haven't even scratched the surface.

On the downside, Dave Gibbons's art is a little dated now. You'd never mistake this for a contemporary work; the use of line, coupled with John Higgins's colours, has a distinctly 80's feel to it. There are also some Cold War themes that may not resonate as well with those who didn't live through those times (translation: me).

But on the whole, it's excellent. I highly recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in comic books. It's a hefty tome, so far as graphic novels go, but it is most definitely worth it.

(A slightly longer version of this review originally appeared on my blog, Stella Matutina).
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LibraryThing member alana_leigh
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 Magazines 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 "superheros" 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.

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.

PS I got through the whole review without mentioning The Incredibles and how they totally Disney-fied the idea of super heros sent into exile! Except for you know, right now. Dammit.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
Watchmen is a superhero graphic novel that has earned so many accolades — one of Time magazine’s best novels, Hugo award winner — because it transcends genre. It posits an alternate history where costumed vigilantes actually fight crime. Most are ordinary people augmented by physical prowess, high intelligence, technological gadgets or just a good PR person. Only one is a true superhero: Dr. Manhattan, who is transformed by a nuclear accident into a being capable of manipulating matter at the molecular level. As such, he is more god than superhero. Fortunately, he works for the U.S. government.

Watchmen weaves together the stories of several of these heroes, who in the telling become much more than vigilantes running around in silly costumes. Each one has human flaws and complicated motivations for putting on a cape and tights. One, a psychopath named the Comedian who also works for the government, is thrown from his apartment window to his death as the story begins. Another, a vigilante named Rorschach who hides behind a constantly shifting mask, suspects the Comedian was targeted because he wore a costume, and he begins investigating. This leads him to team up again with his old partner, Nite Owl, who hung up his costume when vigilantism was outlawed and has since lived an aimless life as a super-rich hermit. Together, they begin to unravel a complex conspiracy with a shocking ending.

Each character has a chapter devoted to them, and additional documents are provided as between-chapter filler to augment our understanding of who these people are and why they became superheroes. The narrative structure intertwines the past and present so that the plot advances while we learn each character’s back story. This complex structure adds dimension to the characters and helps us understand why they make the choices they ultimately do. For example, the Comedian’s psychotic nature is revealed little by little in the memories of those who attended his funeral. Dr. Manhattan’s story — one of my favorite chapters — jumps from moment to moment in a non-linear fashion, illustrating how he experiences time, with each moment happening simultaneously. Another unique structural element is the “comic book within a comic book”; one of the minor characters is reading a horror pirate comic as the story unfolds, and the events of the comic reflect — in more ways than one — what’s going on in the larger story.

Watchmen is one of those rare creations: absolutely engaging, a suspenseful page-turner, that also provides a lot of insight into who we are, why we need superheroes and what motivates someone to play god. I would definitely recommend reading it before the movie comes out next month.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Watchmen is highly addictive – once I began it, I wanted to do nothing else but read it, but, alas, life and its duties called. The art work is beautiful, with an array of both dark and bright colors used, realistically drawn figures, scenes filled with extraneous background details (which do, however, shed light on the happenings of this alternative history version of the world), and violence that is stylized enough not to be too disturbing but that still conveys the atmosphere of the dystopia created by Moore. The story itself, plot wise, isn’t all that different from typical “action” stories and movies. However, the way it unravels is done with perfection. Moore gives all of his characters fierce emotions, motivations, and back stories. Flashbacks are frequent in the novel and are transitioned into very well, both visually and textually. Moore also inserts another comic book within the pages of Watchmen – a fictional comic called The Tales of the Black Freighter. The narrative of this comic is interspersed within the narrative of Watchmen to underscore specific points in the story. In addition, Moore does something I find quite innovative for a graphic novel – at the end of each chapter he includes an “excerpt” from something within his fictional world (a memoir by a former superhero, clippings from a newspaper, etc.) which is mainly textual. Overall, a wonderfully executed book, both visually and textually, which I think would appeal to many, even those who don’t normally read graphic novels.… (more)
LibraryThing member danconsiglio
If you like comic books and like to think of yourself as intelligent, you are supposed to think this one is amazing. I think this one is amazing.
LibraryThing member jengel
I know. I know. This is an important book. I know the reasons why. But on an entertainment level, I thought it rather long and tedious. Not a fan of the coloring or Gibbons artwork either. Overrated
LibraryThing member OnorioCatenacci
Maybe it's because I'd always heard how good this was before I read it or maybe it's too much of an artifact of its time but this book seems really overrated to me. I've read other work by Alan Moore and this is not his best work by any means.
LibraryThing member CliffBurns
Overlong, convoluted, tries desperately to be "adult", while the writing rarely rises above the juvenile. Typical graphic novel.
LibraryThing member theforestofbooks
It’s difficult to write anything new about Watchmen. I read this book about five years ago, pretty much before I really got into the whole sequential art as a way of story telling. I’ll admit I was fairly nonplussed when I read it then. This time around, for whatever reason, I just got the story. The plot is dense but superbly written and the art just somehow fits with the book. The prose background pieces inbetween each issue made compelling reading as well. It’s easy now to see why this book is held in such high regard. An undoubted classic.… (more)
LibraryThing member satyridae
Entirely hopeless, totally grim, and filled to bursting with characters one simply can't like or even find common ground with, this graphic novel still packs a huge, reverberating punch.

The scope and clarity of the vision is immense, maybe even epic. The quality of the illustration is very high indeed. The text bits interspersed were a welcome relief from the intense graphics. The comic book story about the bleak ship of the damned, which was both part of and not part of the narrative, was intense and haunting. I'll probably never forget the imagery of that raft. *shudder*

It's a tour-de-force with no one to like, no one to love, and certainly no one with which to identify. This combination gave a certain necessary distance which allowed me to finish the book without running screaming into the sunset. I kept thinking of the exchange between Boromir and Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring, where Boromir is afraid to venture into Lothlorien because he's heard that no one comes out unscathed, and Aragorn responds: "Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth."

I have not come away from this book unchanged.
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LibraryThing member kiacyclic
Alan Moore's classic examination of morality, ethics, and compromise through the prism of "costumed adventurers."

I have read this book at least 20 times, and each time it gets better.

I have no doubt that the movie will suck.
LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
This was the first graphic novel I’ve read—and I’m hooked. This was a superhero story unlike anything I’ve read before. Most of the superheroes had no “super” in them at all. The cast was a mixed up group of people who used to get a kick out of dressing up and fighting crime (with one rather blue exception).

The writing has depth. I loved the way Moore used parallel stories from different media to inform the main plot. This, led to characters who felt like real people. The cast is flawed, and you’re never quite sure who to be sympathetic towards.

The ending . . . well, to quote the dearly departed Robert Jordan, “RAFO”.
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LibraryThing member caerulius
This is one of the most acclaimed graphic novels around, and for good reason. It is credited with legitimizing the comic book form as something beyond mere superhero capers (although enthusiasts of the medium could point out that superhero capers have frequently transcended the stigma they carry and made profound statements, but whatever). Which is actually rather droll, if you consider that Watchmen is the story of caped crusaders (But not THAT one). Not to mention that this story is the work of the great Alan Moore. And is a really good story.
The quote that runs through the book, "quis custodiet ipsos custode?", or "Who watches the watchmen?" comes from Juvenal, an ancient Roman writer who used the statement, and the work in which it appears (Against Women) to criticize Roman corruption. Not expecting this level of erudition from a comic about masked vigilantes? Then you'll continue to be surprised.
The Watchmen are a group of "masked adventurers" who used to fight crime, but disbanded after a tragic fiasco caused the government to outlaw their breed of vigilantism. The story covers 2 generations of adventurers, one from the 50s and another from the 70s (with some of the same adventurers). Aside from Dr. Manhattan (who was genetically altered during a scientific mishap), none are "superheroes"- they're just people who felt the urge to put on the mask and do something. Their motives are ambiguous- Some did it for power or acclaim, some for the common good, for atonement, or because they were expected to.
The story opens with the murder of The Comedian, and Rorschach (who refused to reveal his true identity and give up adventuring) decides to find the killer. His search is intercut with time-capsule style personal interviews, or old documents, or news clippings of the various adventurers, and an allegory in the form of a comic being read by a character, "The Tales of the Black Freighter".
There is so much more to this story, but I want you to pick it up and find it for yourself. It is a breathtakingly complex but sensitive story, that you can find new things in with each successive reading.
My only quarrel, as it were, is with the artwork. The style is very Golden/ Silver Age comics, which was deliberate, but at the same time... It's ugly. It's ugly in the way that badly done golden or silver age comics are, not the good ones. Although the visual storytelling devices and rendering are fantastic and effective, and the art style didn't impede the story or necessarily prevent my enjoyment of it, it jars me.
So, since it is such a treat for the mind and the imagination, it still gets 5 whole stars.
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LibraryThing member magicians_nephew
It's hard to know where to begin to talk about Watchmen Alan Moore's "Graphic Novel" about heroes and individuals and society. (Artwork by Dave Gibbons)

I mean the thing is a comic book, fa' Pete’s sake - garish four color printing in little boxes arranged in crowded little nine by nine grids on pages of cheap paper.

But it’s also a book with a lot on its mind.

Quick synopsis: it's 1988. Richard Nixon is still president. America has won the Viet Nam War, but the "Cold War" between America and Russia is still simmering along.

Guys (and gals) used to run around in absurd costumes and "fight crime" (Some of them anyway)

A paranoid government fearing the power of a group they cannot control has forced most of the "masks" underground.

"Dr. Manhattan" is one of the few "super" heroes with real power - and he has the power of a god. As the result of a lab accident he has become the atomic powered “ultimate weapon” The fact that he is more or less on the side of America is what keeps the Cold War from going over to "Hot Hot Hot".

(But perhaps his radiation causes cancer - - - doesn’t everything?)

As the book opens, "The Comedian" - one of the few "masks" operating openly - is found murdered. Rorschach another costumed vigilante suspects a "Mask killer" is on the loose – maybe from the government?

Rorschach is particularly unlikeable - he's paranoid and vulgar and prone to violence and not too fussy about personal hygiene. But he puts on his mask (one of the few times he is seen without it he cries out "Where is my face?") and goes out and tries to put away the bad guys. He's Batman without Bruce Wayne's money.

He tries to take responsibility for his share of the mess. His mask is an oily ink blot that shifts and changes shape like the smoke over a burning city.

But then there is Dr. Manhattan – does “Power corrupt”? Well in this case at least power isolates - creates distance. Dr. Manhattan who can see the past and the future in a single gestalt can see no reason to involve himself in the silly trivial affairs of mere mortals - (yes they talk like that) - and sits lonely on the moon and wearily waits for the rest of the universe to catch up. He's abdicated his responsibility – at least for now. Dr. Manhattan is cool blue – naked - invulnerable – untouchable.

And Adrian Veidt - who does have Bruce Wayne's money - has hatched a scheme to end the war and bring about a peaceful world - whether you like it or not. Maybe he’s right – but he doesn't care a rap if YOU think he's right or not.

I think Moore is fascinated by the concept of the individual as opposed to the hero - or perhaps the individual as hero.

These characters and others swirl around in past and present and we see some very vivid and complex character studies.

Why, indeed does a person wear a mask?
How do people "change the world"? By rescuing people from a burning building? Or by burning down the building to kill the mice?

The Dark Knight movies (which owe a lot to “Watchmen”) give us an idea of how people would really behave if some psycho in a costume suddenly showed up and started throwing his weight around.

The title comes from the Roman poet Juvenal – someone who knew something about decaying empires – and goes “Who Watches The Watchmen? Who guards us against the Guardians?”

To which Moore replies: Society consists only of the actions taken by responsible indivdual human beings. What do you think about that?

It's only an accident of history that George Zimmerman wasn't wearing a mask and cape on his "Neighborhood Watch" Bat-patrol in Florida.

Book Circle colleagues complained about the book being hard to read - I guess my eyes have grown accustomed to the form. But the little square cells and the obsessive detail is deliberate - part of Alan Moore's way of telling a story. We're used to literature giving us sly allusions and references that we may get and may not get. Why can't a "Graphic" literature do the same?

Like any new genre it takes time to learn the idiom. I would submit that taking the time has its rewards.

Watch closely. And don’t! blink!

No mask but truth to cover lies
As to go naked is the best disguise
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LibraryThing member PhoenixTerran
A groundbreaking work in comics, Watchmen is an incredibly complex series. Originally published in twelve issues, Watchmen has now been gathered together as a single volume graphic novel. Although a bit dated at times, it remains a remarkable accomplishment and continues to receive awards and recognition. Watchmen is one of several comics that helped establish the genre as a "respectable" format for literature.

Superheros, or costumed adventurers, are no longer accepted or condoned by general society and most have retired in their own individual fashions. But when The Comedian (who was never particularly well liked) is murdered, one of his old compatriots is convinced that the remaining heroes are also under threat. But what he manages to discover is a plan much more devious, one that may change humanity forever.

Watchmen portrays these heroes as real people with real problems and personal conflicts. The fairly gritty story is juxtaposed against illustrations that use a fairly limited palette of mostly primary colors, creating a feeling of disjunction that is quite effective. Some may find the story itself tedious, but it is a book well worth reading.

Experiments in Reading
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LibraryThing member jawalter
Reading this for what must be the third or fourth time, I'm mostly struck by the ambition. Moore has not only created his own new world with its own history and characters, but he's constantly playing around with the very act of how he tells the story. Jumping through time with little more than sight clues to guide the reader, echoing scenes and panel layouts, returning again and again to certain moments from different perspectives, even the interstitials, which, in the way they play with different formats are almost a precursor to The Black Dossier.

I guess there's little I can add to the chorus of acclaim, except to point out that the movie is likely to be a huge letdown.
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LibraryThing member kivarson
Through the actions set in place by one of a cadre of retired Superheroes, Ozymandias, the world's smartest man, Alan Moore's seminal work explores some very big ideas. Central to this novel is Nietzsche's Übermensch--literally the "super man", and his ability to shape the course of humankind. Equally influential to this work is the Machiavellian question--does the end justify the means?

"The Watchmen" merits multiple readings.
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LibraryThing member dr_zirk
Watchmen is something of a complicated work for me, since I feel like I am almost obligated to enjoy more than I really do. There's no doubt that Alan Moore has crafted a complex and intriguing narrative, but there are some fundamental problems here as well, even if they seem to have been largely intentional and part of the whole point.

The most obvious shortcoming of Watchmen is Dave Gibbon's rather pedestrian "DC Comics-style" artwork. While it's obvious that Gibbons wanted to place his images in a very specific tradition, it doesn't excuse the fact that the visual side of Watchmen is rather bland. Certainly there are panels that impress, including those that render Adrian Veidt's polar hideaway, but in the main, Watchmen is nothing special in the graphics department.

The crux of the problem for me, however, is simply the whole "superhero thing." As a child, I thought superhero comics were rather banal, and as an adult I think even less of them - they're just silly. Granted, Moore's story is all about the deconstruction of that shallow genre, but in aiming to hit a low target, he hasn't exactly launched a rocket.

Although the core characters in Watchmen are interesting, they're still stuck in the juvenile fantasy of men (and a few women) in tights trying to save the world, and it's all just a bit too goofy to be taken seriously as literature. Moore has very certainly mastered the form, but that's not the same thing as creating a really valid piece of fiction that has resonances beyond the page - at the end of the day, the overcooked "nuclear doom" scenario that runs parallel to the superhero antics just doesn't have much to say that hasn't been better articulated elsewhere.

On the plus side, it's worth giving props to the Tales of the Black Freighter story that is woven into the larger fabric of the Watchmen. Although inserted as something of a mirror to the main narrative, the Tales of the Black Freighter is the most interesting part of the Watchmen, and incongruously features the best artwork that Gibbons has to contribute to the overall project.
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