Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes.

With the new Watchmen film looming large, I think it's a good time to introduce my readers to the source material.

Watchmen was originally published as a 12 episode series in 1986 and 1987. Written by the acclaimed Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. The accolades for this work say it all.

Kirby Awards: Best Finite Series, Best New Series, Best Writer, Best Writer/Artist

Eisner Awards: Best Finite Series, Best Graphic Album, Best Writer, Best Writer/Artist

The Hugo Award

Listed by Time Magazine as one of the 100 greatest English language novels

Listed by Entertainment Weekly as the 13th best novel in the past 25 years

The influence of this work permeates the entirety of modern comics. It, along with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, was the first of the dark, mature, style of comics. Eschewing the boy scouts in brightly colored spandex in favor of complex protagonists with very complex, and questionable, ways of doing things. However, no story does it so succinctly, and literally, than the Watchmen.

DC comics had obtained a the intellectual rights to a number of characters created by the failing Charlton Comics. Alan Moore was commissioned to create a series built around those characters. He took a concept called "Who killed the Peacemaker?" that Charlton decided against using. What he came up with was Watchmen. DC execs took a look at his ideas, and realized that if they let him use the Charlton characters for this storyline, they wouldn't be able to use them again. However, they also knew they had something special. So they gave Moore the greenlight to create Watchmen by using modified versions of the Charlton characters. So The Question became Rorschach, the Peacemaker became the comedian, Captain Atom became Doctor Manhattan, and Alan Moore became a legend.

In 1985, the world of Watchmen is not too dissimilar from the way history actually unfolded. The main difference is that America won the Vietnam War, and riding the endorsement of that victory, Nixon altered the constitution to allow him to remain as president.

Watchmen kicks off with a murder. Edward Blake is hurled through the window of his 20th story apartment. Masked vigilante Rorschach, sneaks in to investigate. Upon finding a switch that reveals a hidden costume, Rorschach realizes that Edward Blake was none other than the Comedian, one of two state sponsored masked heroes. As Rorschach begins to dredge up old problems in an effort to find the killer of the Comedian and bring him to justice, a dreadful plot begins to come together. The implications of these schemes are shocking, even in Watchmen's cold war world, which lives constantly under the Sword of Damocles that is the threat of Nuclear War.

The artwork for Watchmen is very clean, though the colors are a little on the drab side, with a lot of yellows and greens. However, there are layers within layers in the art. Look for the smiley face. The writing is masterful, and even deeper than the art. The characters are complex, and with one notable exception, are all normal people. Realism rules the majority of this novel. The masked heroes are exactly the sort of people who would don a costume and fight crime in the real world. By that, I mean mentally unstable. Megalomania, Apathy, Idealism, Absolutism, Nihilism, and pretty much any other neurosis you can think of make their appearance.

In the end, Watchmen is as fine a deconstruction of a comic as will ever be written. The expansive metafiction lends itself well to the medium. This is a work with every bit the weight of any notable written novels. As perfect a comic as one could find. I can only give it a 10/10.

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