Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Report: Watchmen

For a time, I was a comic collector. As I've mentioned before, I love superheroes. I was lucky enough to be interested in the medium at the same time it was truly growing up. Of course you can still buy the Marvel and DC funnybooks with heroes in spandex costumes, which I love, but even they are trying to tell deeper, more compelling and more human stories instead of concentrating on the bad-guy beating of the week. And beyond that genre (sub genre? Sub sub-genre?) are all the other books that really take a great story and marry it to great art to create something as thought-provoking and moving as any book while simultaneously as exciting and visually interesting as a Monet or Renoir (eg: Maus, V for Vendetta, Persepolis, etc...).

Watchmen is fascinating. It takes the superhero conceits and penetrates them, explores them, satirizes them and reconstructs them, forcing the reader to think beyond what makes a hero to what makes a human being. Along the way, the central story of a murder investigated by a masked vigilante is supported by parallel stories of an alternate 1985 where Nixon has remained president for four terms, the Soviet communists have remained in power, and the world stands only days away from nuclear war. Each parallel story involves other characters, ordinary people with ordinary problems whose struggles reflect some light on the character of the costumed adventurers who populate the core tale. The question, "what kind of person dons a costume and fights crime?" is turned on its head and becomes, "what kind of costume do ordinary people wear?" Supplementary text (journal reports, diary pages, police blotters...) provide background at the end of the chapters and add depth to the stories told in the illustrated sections.

Watchmen is about images and expectations, dreams and reality, despair, hope and a thousand other dichotomies. It's about what must be sacrificed to find some moral compromise between those dichotomies, and at its end it is about the complications that arise from those compromises.

Ulysses Rating: 5 -- I'll read this again and again.

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