Comic Review – “Watchmen”

Read this. Read it soon.

General Information

Title: Watchmen
Credited to: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Original Publication Date: Published from 1986-1987, collected almost immediately and kept in print ever since.
ISBN: 0-930289-23-4
Cover Price: $19.95 US, $32.95 Can
Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

Premise

A retired superhero is murdered, and one of his former teammates suspects it’s just the first in a string of superhero killings.

The Issues

This collects all twelve issues of the Watchmen miniseries published under the Vertigo adult label.

High Point

Rorschach’s identity.

Low Point

The 1980s colouring. The technology just wasn’t there yet. It looks like coloured line art rather than a window into another world, simply because they needed inkers to do a lot of the shading, and gradients simply weren’t available. It doesn’t detract much, and it wouldn’t have made the Low Point if everything else wasn’t so good.

The Scores

This may not read as original now, but if you remember that it was published over a decade before The Ultimates or the other recent dysfunctional superteam books, you’ll see why it was so highly hailed in its day. It still shines among its imitators, bringing a maturity and plausibility to the characters that I simply don’t get in The Ultimates. When reading it, I didn’t think “I read that in The Ultimates last year,” I thought “So that’s what Millar was trying to do…” Stack in the blurry ethical decisions that have to be made, and you get something that’s still unique. I give it 6 out of 6.

The artwork would be fantastic if recoloured today. Much like that in em>Daredevil: Born Again, the limitations are by the available technology. The line art is wonderful, and the colour tones chosen to dominate the panels are very well chosen. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story was extremely well written. The crime at the outset motivates this particular story, but the world it’s set in is worth examining on its own. There is a lot of history and back story to this particular reality, and I’m sure Moore and Gibbons developed even more that didn’t make it onto the page. The plot points and clues to all of the mysteries in this series (yes, that was plural) are laid out clearly enough for you to notice them, but subtely enough that you still have to think your way through the puzzles. I give it 6 out of 6.

The characterization was also extremely well done. Each member of the superteam and their friends has a complete, multi-dimensional personality, with motives, goals, and mental disturbances that set them apart in their actions, their dialogue, and their reactions. Some of these characters are instantly likable; others simply make me want to read more about them although I’d never want to meet them face to face. Again, it deserves a 6 out of 6.

The

emotional response this produced was excellent. This is one of those rare books that made me sit there for over half an hour after finishing it, just thinking about it. I found myself questioning whether or not the characters made the right decisions, and I still don’t have an answer to that. (This is in addition to all the times I stopped to think about things in the middle of reading it.) It’s not a happy story, but it’s a remarkably powerful one. I give it 6 out of 6.

The flow of the story was surprisingly fluid, given that each of the first 11 issues ends with a few pages of text “exerpted” from stories written in the fictitious world, and that several of the issues change from the main story to a story within a story. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, I’d have to say this is simply incredible. As I said above, it’s not a happy story, but it’s a remarkably powerful one. I’m having a difficult time coming up with appropriate adjectives to describe the scope of the story being told. If you’ve ever enjoyed a dark comic book, pick this one up. If you know people who like film noir but don’t bother with comics, pick this up for them. People have hailed this as one of the works that finally earned the field of sequential art respect among the critics, and I can easily see why that would be the case. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Watchmen receives 40 out of 42. Read it now. If you’ve already read it, read it again.

5 replies on “Comic Review – “Watchmen””

  1. UncleJam says:

    perfection
    I think the coloring is perfect. It works with Gibbons’ art in a way I don’t think any of the “more modern” coloring methods would. Too often I find more recent comics to be kind of muddy and drab in their palettes. Definitely no computer coloring for Watchmen. That would just suck. (I liked the coloring in DD: Born Again, too.)

    Speaking of backstory… Something every fan of Watchmen needs is the sourcebook for the DC Heroes RPG that was published back in the early 90’s. It contains a ton of this background info that never made it to the page or did so only in the vaguest terms. It is one of the only RPG books I kept after I stopped gaming over ten years ago, simply because it was so jam-packed with good info. Absolutely awesome.

    One of the things I love about Watchmen is the composition and detail that went into the script and the artwork. Subtle things, that I’ll sometimes only notice after having read it yet again. The way the captions often reflect not only the narrative, but also minor background actions that may not seem relevant at the time but become so later on. The thematic conceit of the covers and the way they interact with the interior art. There are just so many levels to this thing that I am still discovering to this day, nearly 20 years after I first read it. Watchmen is as close to perfect as a “superhero” comic (and my use of that term doesn’t do justice to the book) can get.

    Damn, now I’m gonna have to read it again.

  2. Babbster says:

    Two books I always recommend:
    “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen.”

    I remember that at the time Watchmen came out “my” comic book guy recommended it to me. He thought that I would really like it given that I was a fairly bright comic book-reading kid. I demurred at the time because I thought it sounded “boring.” That sure did show him how dumb I really was. Of course, I picked the trade up about five years later and I was blown away. The story and art melded perfectly together and the themes were (even five years later) radically different than most comic books.

    I was very sorry, though, that I didn’t read it as it was released. It was like missing a good movie on the big screen only to rent the DVD and feel bad about not seeing it the way it was intended. I still loved it but I missed out on the anticipation waiting for each subsequent issue.

    Anyway, I’ll “third” the review now and just say this: If you have ever liked a comic book, you owe it to yourself to read Watchmen.

    • babasyzygy says:

      Re: Two books I always recommend:

      “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen.”

      Allow me to suggest a third to that perfect pair:

      “Batman: The Killing Joke,” by Alan Moore (just like the Watchmen) and
      Brian Boland (my favorite comic artist, from 2000 AD just like Moore).

      The Killing Joke was very loosely the basis for the first Batman movie,
      and did a wonderful job of crawling inside the head of Batman’s most
      twisted nemesis, the Joker.

      Really, check it out. Almost everything Alan Moore does is incredible, he
      was de- and reconstructing old comic book heros to match
      archtypical tales well before Neil
      Gaiman got in the game (Gaiman took over Miracle Man from Moore in
      the
      80s before he went on to do Sandman, which borrowed heavily from
      Moore’s work on Swamp Thing).

      • UncleJam says:

        Re: Two books I always recommend:
        Preach on!

        These three titles are a large part of the reason why I say that mid to late 80’s DC was the second Golden Age of comics.

        Other good stuff includes:

        • Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One
        • Crisis on Infinite Earths
        • Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum
        • Morrison’s Animal Man

        And that’s just from looking at the TPBs on my shelf. There’s a lot more that could be listed here as well. Even Marvel was doing pretty good stuff at the time (Squadron Supreme, for instance, or Miller’s Daredevil).

  3. chad says:

    Grading Artwork
    This is the second review that I’ve read where you grade the artwork on modern standards. I do not agree with this philosophy and suggest that you consider grading the quality of the artwork by what was available when the comic was published. Should we, for example, grade the original Star Wars trilogy by the type of effects available today? Or perhaps Terminator 2?

    This is not a terribly important point, but I would like you to consider making the change.

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