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Watchmen | comic | Moore/Gibbons
by: Ice Cold Astro 03 may 04
Blood trickles into a gutter. A Smiley Face badge lies in the trickle, a small splatter of blood obscuring one eye. A dreary quote is given over the top. The scene pulls back, the gutter broadens to road, the road dwindles to a trickle: the view from a skyscraper penthouse suite.
"The streets are extended gutters," goes the quote, "and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"… and I’ll look down, and whisper "no." "
So begins Watchmen, the greatest of all comic series; the greatest of all graphic novels.
Originally released as a 12-part comic series in 1986, Watchmen is now available only in collected form; much like this review. Watchmen helped to re-invigorate the Comic as an art form, after it started to flag following the high times of the 60s, which gave way to the poor movie adaptations of the 70s.
What do I mean "much like this review"? To pay honour, by way of review, to something of such cultural value which is no longer available in parts, I reviewed each of the novel's 12 issues across 12 weeks, as weblog entries: the relationship between reader and read is personal, so my weblog seemed the perfect place to put the mini-reviews. Each weblog entry, shown below, is the most pertinent quote from that chapter, summing up the storyline and part of the developing story arc. Those weblog entries are now collected together for the first time in this review.
To fit in with the theme of comics, and the culture that has grown up around them – their value as collectors' items – I wrote weblog / chapter eight as four different issues: Old Ghosts 1st – 4th Iterations. One Iteration was given to prominent Collective members, past, present and future. The quotes in each Iteration were pertinent to the person, and chosen carefully.
To further seal the comics-culture, I reviewed Watchmen 'behind the mask'. I chose the screen name 'Doctor Manhattan', a Nietzschean-superhero who plays a subtle role throughout the novel, coming into his own only at the end, as the witching hour chimes in.
So what’s Watchmen about?
The first few pages of Watchmen appear to be a murder-mystery. An aging government operative is thrown out of his penthouse window. There is no obvious motive. Quickly, though, the comic puts us firmly into familiar territory – yet with a difference.
Watchmen is set in a world where superheroes are real. A world where people don masks and tights, and go out at night hunting criminals and bringing foreign military juntas to justice. Unusually, this is a world where, with one exception, all the superheroes are humans. They are frail. They grow old. Eventually, when the midnight of their lives approaches, they take their masks off, put away childish things, and live as all others. Quiet lives, with memories gathering dust between the borders of picture frames.
Against this backdrop, the initial murder-mystery plot develops. The government operative - a former masked adventurer - is joined in death by other masks, famous and infamous. Conspiracy theories abound - is there a Mask Killer on the loose?
Masked adventurers come out of impotent retirement. Costumes are dusted off; old enmities bridged. Fingers are broken, relationships shattered, long-buried emotions exhumed and decades old lies and betrayals re-animated.
The worth of ordinary mortals is tested against a god. Will the mask killer dare to kill a god? Will the death of a god trigger nuclear armageddon? The future of humanity is debated, and trans-dimensional aliens invade (possibly).
The ghosts of the past haunt the comic's streets. Newspaper vendors, pirates and Antarctic biodomes assume roles of metaphorical power.
Watchmen is a superhero novel like no other. One of the first comics to seriously explore what happens to superheroes as twilight glooms into view, the comic takes this serious element and develops it out of the realm of the graphical. Each issue of the original comic came with several pages of text, from the reality of the Watchmen world, which either directly or by inference supported the emerging story and characters.
In issue six, 'The Abyss Gazes Also', we are presented with psychiatric reports of one of the more extreme masked adventurers, Rorschach.
Issue four, 'Watchmaker', is a paean from son to father. The issue brings Nietzsche into the nuclear age, showing the sub-atomic destruction of a nuclear physicist and his relativistic/quantum mechanical reformation through a pure will to existence, and ends with a political essay on the use of ultimate weapons to maintain stalemates in superpower relations.
At the other end of the scale, 'Two Riders Were Approaching' (issue ten) ends with copies of marketing memos, from the corporate entity of the world's smartest man, a former masked adventurer turned philanthropist and world-dominating business mogul.
The attention to detail across the series, and the subtle clues, pop culture references and characterisations that sit behind this tale of a world on the brink of nuclear armageddon are only part of what captures the mind as well as the heart.
Further, it is the skill of writer Alan Moore (Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta) and artist Dave Gibbons (2000AD, Green Lantern) that really bring this to life.
The art is sensitive, respectful and incredibly well researched; splashes of primary colour, harking back to the golden era of comics, are juxtaposed against finely detailed renderings, which bear gazing and drooling over (even now, 15 years after I first read the series).
The narrative is complex, interlinking and so rich in hidden detail that even on reading it for the fifth time, the reader can still find new elements. There are hidden details and plots running behind the apparent storyline.
What is it darting behind all those superheroes running around investigating the consequences of a murder, and the nuclear armageddon that threatens to annihilate the world? What is it behind those watchmen, who shore up the walls of world freedom?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
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Here are those weblog entries / original comic titles / quotes, as seen on Collective U575470 between February – May 2004.
1 At Midnight All The Agents…, F?thread=380492
Why does one death matter against so many?
2 Absent Friends, F?thread=386247
(Oh! The door. I wonder who it)
3 The Judge Of All The Earth, F?thread=387285
At play amidst the strangeness and charm
..ten minutes to midnight..
4 Watchmaker, F?thread=390481
Things have their shape in time, not space alone. Some marble blocks have statues within them, embedded in their future.
Without me, things would have been different... Am I to blame, then?.. Which of us is responsible? Who makes the world?
Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. Perhaps it simply is, has been, will always be there...
A clock without a craftsman.
5 Fearful Symmetry, F?thread=396000
(Without my face, nobody knows.)
Been running through names... Waiting for a flash of enlightenment in all this blood and thunder.
The stories are recounted as small, self-contained tales within the larger narrative that frames them, and are all effective if predictable...
...Maybe you can help me.
(Nobody knows who I am.)
6 The Abyss Gazes Also, F?thread=397497
"None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me."
7 A Brother To Dragons, F?thread=400650
Some facet of the experience had struck a chord in me, forged a connection between my dulled and jaded adult self and the child who lay sprawled in faint starlight while the great night hunters staged dramas full of hunger and death in the opaque air above me. An urge to experience rather than merely record had been rekindled within me, prompting the thought processes, the self-evaluation that has led to this current article.
8 Old Ghosts [In 4 Iterations]
1st Iteration, F?thread=403773 : It's like all our old nightmares come back to haunt us, y'know?
2nd Iteration, F102022?thread=403774 : Oh how the ghost of you clings...
3rd Iteration, F118876?thread=403775 : Those glorious days; that innocence...
4th Iteration, F122670?thread=403776 : I still can't believe it... Him comin' here every day, nobody realizin'! Still, that's life: lotta stuff happens under the waterline...
9 The Darkness Of Mere Being, F?thread=406878
"And there was this toy, this snowstorm ball, with a tiny castle inside, except it was like a whole world, a world inside the ball...
It was like a little glass bubble of somewhere else.
I lifted it, starting a blizzard. I knew it wasn't real snow, but I couldn't understand how it fell so slowly.
I figured inside the ball was some different sort of time.
...And inside there was only water."
10 Two Riders Were Approaching, F?thread=409974
Rider #1: Y'know some nice straightforward brutality, after wading knee-deep in this conspiracy weirdness for so long...
Hell, it'll be like coming home.
Rider #2: I was returned, splashing noisily through the encumbering shallows, sun mulling the horizon behind me, a poker in a glass of sack.
I was home.
11 Look On My Works, Ye Mighty…, F?thread=412129
"We in this country, in this generation, are by destiny, rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom."
[excerpt from undelivered speech, due to be delivered by John F. Kennedy on the day of his death]
12 A Stronger Loving World, F?thread=415547
I want you to love me.
I want you to love me because we’re not dead.
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