I saw the film version of Watchmen a couple of years ago and hated it. I saw it when my alcohol and drug consumption was at its zenith*, when I’d just begun utterly unfulfilling full time work, when my apres-mugging post traumatic stress made it impossible for me to piss without a locked door behind me, when I felt my dissatisfaction with life wasn’t yet worth contacting a medical professional about… When I saw the film version of Watchmen, it was just another appallingly shit thing to add to the list of reasons to hate the world. Funny voices, stupid costumes, poor use of a Leonard Cohen song, gadgets, superpowers, superheroes… About as much my kind of thing as the life I was leading at the time was.**
However, I am much more forgiving of an aesthetic when I feel that it is presented within appropriate confines. I do not like superhero movies, even anti-superhero movies, as I believe Watchmen is supposed to be. It’s mainly the stupid voices, which is the real reason I cannot stomach those AWFUL Christian Bale Batman films. Urgh. But there are no stupid voices in a book, unless the reader chooses to read, internally, in a stupid voice. Something I would NEVER do.
So, Watchmen, the book, is great. I enjoyed it very much. I forgave the superheroisms because the novel is well put together, viciously cynical, highly politicised, funny, intelligent and, in places, almost moving. The cleavage-heavy female characters irritated me a little, but I sadly had to accept that as part of the “look” of the thing. Also, there were many (small) female characters who were given the drawn dignity of appropriate clothing. So that’s something.
I know very little about superhero fiction (generally I find it dull and sexist) but I am aware that Watchmen is meant to be an exploration of split aspects of the traditional figure. One character is patriotic, one is the emotionally-stunted loner, one makes gadgets, one has super-powers, one is hyper intelligent, one is a sexy lady… Every character is flawed, every character has a back story, and every chapter (it was originally published as 12 separate comics, I think) has different themes and different character/plot focuses. But it drives onwards constantly – things happen, but it is not 100% reliant on plot as, I believe, most of these comicbooky things are. There IS characterisation, there is character development, there are still-relevant politico-ethico-philosophico issues discussed throughout… Unlike the film version, I felt this was entertaining, thought-provoking and made with effort and attention to detail.
I had only read V for Vendetta previously by Alan Moore, but having enjoyed this as much as (if not more than) that despite it being firmly rooted in a genre I have no interest in, I will delve further into his oeuvre when it next becomes time for my biannual read of a graphic novel.
Surprisingly good. Justifiably genre-defining. Give it a go.
*The zenith really wasn’t very high, I’d like to point that out. I’m mainly trying to be sensationalist.
**See a fictionalised examination of a normalised need for immediate self-gratification in my unpublished novel, White Lines, Black Truffles. Harrumph harrumph harrumph.