Classic Cuts - Watchmen
By Glenn Carter
Story: Alan Moore
Art: Dave Gibbons
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: A plot is uncovered to remove masked heroes.
I expect everyone to have heard of this one. This seminal work in the history of comics, changed the face of comics for ever. Everyone who has enjoyed Preacher or Transmetropolitan or countless others owes a debt of gratitude to Alan Moore and Watchmen. You see, without Watchmen, none of these titles would probably have existed. Twelve issues, supposedly on a monthly basis when originally published, although delays almost inevitably occurred towards the end of the run. An almost last-minute change to the structure and characters, when DC decided that didn't want Moore to play around with the Charlton heroes that they'd just purchased (presumably they wanted more than just one appearance from each of those due to be killed off by Moore), and told him he'd need to come up with some originals.
When Watchmen was originally published by DC, the comics world was totally stagnant. The majority of comics were kids' tales about superheroes, with very little being well-written or thought-provoking. The comics of the time mostly shied away from adult themes as well, and because of this comics were getting a bad name as just being kids' stuff. Watchmen changed all that and practically single-handedly re-invented comics as a valid art form. OK, so maybe this is a slight exaggeration - it at least served as the catalyst of other, more low-key revolutionary changes, and along with "The Dark Knight Returns", I think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that Watchmen is the most influential book in the recent history of comics.
The thing about Watchmen is that it's clever, it has a plot (in fact it has numerous sub-plots), it is set in a modern world and doesn't view it with rose-tinted spectacles. It deals with adult themes. It covers politics, rape, mass murder, power and numerous other issues, virtually unknown in comicdom prior to its publication. This book is a true work of contemporary art.
However, fashions for modern art have proved intransient, these days no one quite agrees just what art is, so I ask the question exactly how well does Watchmen fare in today's comics scene? A scene, which is varied and ripe, full of promise, full of comics which are inspired by Watchmen itself? When Watchmen was originally published it has no real competition, but now when there are many varied mature comics does Watchmen still deserve classic status or is it time for us to re-evaluate that? Does Watchmen stand the test of time?
At first glance things are not looking good, the art is, although clearly defined, often garish. It does the job, but it doesn't sparkle when put next to some of today's modern titles. In places it does in fact seem ugly. The proof is in the reading, however, and when you start to read Watchmen you realise that the ugliness of the art doesn't ruin the work, in fact because of the nature of the world Moore has envisaged it compliments it perfectly. The world is ugly and Gibbons is merely illustrating that in a drawn format.
Moore's world is populated by monsters. Not fantasy monsters with horns, but with real human believable monsters, which are scarier. The main focus of the work is on Rorchach, a masked vigilante who, in confronting monsters, has become something of one himself. The idea that in facing monsters you may become a monster is an ongoing theme throughout the work and Rorchach has many parallels within the story. Watchmen is full of little literary devices such as this.
It is the little touches in Watchmen that make it stand out, for example, the text pages between chapters, which give an impression of gathering evidence for a court. The text pages provide background information and, although, you don't have to read them to follow the story they can greatly enrich the experience. They certainly make Watchmen all the more believable for them.
And, Watchmen is nothing if not believable, there has evidently been a lot of work gone into this comic to make it as realistic as possible, the only thing that might let it down in that area is some newer readers may not understand the context. Watchmen was written when the shadow of the cold war hung over us all and the threat of nuclear war seemed very, very real. It reflects those times well, but younger readers may not understand the fear that people had in that situation, and the strong feelings that echoed during the time.
Nevertheless, all readers should appreciate the twisting weaving plot structure and well-written dialogue. The story is full of sub-plots and twists yet never lets you forget that you are heading in a very definite direction. It has a flow and the more you read the more you are being pulled along with it, however, Watchmen is never too predictable. It can take your expectations and impressions and turn them inside out with its many plot twists and devices yet this book is always engrossing. The writing of Watchmen is quite simply a work of genius.
This is a brilliant work and although there are many like it now, I think it is still one of the best. This is to be highly recommended to everyone, it is a fantastic work and may it be recognized as such for many years to come.
If you haven't already bought it, buy it. If you've already got it, buy it again.
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