Friday, 13 January 2012

Books: Watchmen


Written by Alan Moore
Art by Dave Gibbons


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

A lot of people take issue with the idea of Watchmen being "The Best Comic Book of All Time" (TRUE FACT). But it's like getting miffed that when people say that Lord of the Rings is the best fantasy book of all time / Star Wars is the best sci-fi/fantasy/action/epic ever made / The Office [1] is best the fake comedy documentary set in an office: even tho that taste is subjective and there's no such thing as objective "facts" about what "the best ever" thing is and (not forgetting the fact most of the time that it's kind of a stupid debate to have anyway: as if ranking things really helps you to understand them - although there are always exceptions) and who cares anyway? Even tho all that: Watchmen is the best comic of all time. Ok? Deal with it.

Because - like Lord of the Ring / Star Wars / The Office (and I could throw in Citizen Kane and Ulysses in there too if I wanted to show off): Watchmen got there first and in lots and lots and lots of respects it got there best. Yes - there are antecedents with all the things I've mentioned - and there are people and things and books that Watchmen is indebted to in some way or another (but that's obvious - nothing is ever created in a vacuum blah): but just like no else gets to be Edmund Hillary - nothing else really comes close to doing so much and being so much and meaning so much as - Watchmen. Sorry.  These are the facts: Written by Alan Moore. Art by Dave Gibbons Watchmen is 12 issues that is  (depending of who you talk) either: A deconstruction of the superhero genre. Comic books as "serious literature". A mathematical equation in the shape of a story. A treaty on both the interconnectedness of everything and your lack of control over it. Or a bunch of impotent people in tights. It also gets better every time you read it.

Out of everything out there - Watchmen is probably the book I've read the most (I have a copy at home that's pretty much unreadable and - I'm not kidding - held together with gaffer tape). A major reason for  that is that I first read it when I was still pretty young and didn't have that many other books but also (and this is the main reason) is that there is just so much contained within it in some many different types of ways that you can pick several paths through the book (best example: try just reading Marooned by itself) - all of them equally fulfilling. Another part is that fact that it manages to take all the main superhero archetypes and make them seem human and desperate and real: and make every other superhero invented afterwards seem like a pale imitation - which to fair - in most cases it's because they are. There's a quote somewhere by Alan Moore (can't be bothered to track it down - because - let's face it - that guys sure does like to talk a lot) about how when him and Dave Gibbons made Watchmen they were most concerned about showing off and being as clever as they could possibly be - which makes lots of sense: as the thing that Watchmen is most 'about' (beyond the men in tights stuff and the inter-subjectivity "we all only ever see a small part of the world" blah) is Watchmen itself: Look at me! Look how clever I'm being! Look at how every small thing fits into every other small thing! Gaze upon my works and delight and despair! (I don't know if anyone has ever conducted any sort of studio - but I'd be willing to bet that there's quite a high cross-over between Watchmen fans and those on the autistic spectrum: [2] it's all such a beautifully constructed little world and there's so much great stuff to get lost in - I'm guessing it provides the same sort of comforting 'everything connects' feeling that Lord of The Rings is said to provide...)

It's not (prepare for shocked gasp) completely flawless (why exactly does Doctor Manhattan have a girlfriend? Anyone? There's that great Ozymandias line [3] about "which do you prefer, red ants or black ants?": which makes it all the more mysterious why that same - erm - being? - would choose to have sex with a particular ant - you get me?) and there are bits where characters do things because the story needs them to (the Laurie on Mars stuff particularly - which I guess kinda answers that ant question a bit) but - hell - it's got so much going on (Philosophy! Action! Mystery! Drama! Conspiracies! End of The World!). If you somehow somehow haven't already (as much as my mind struggles to imagine someone who hasn't already read Watchmen) - READ THIS.

[1] UK version (obviously).

[2] And - duh - as a bit of a comic book geek I've often been accused of that (most often by my girlfriend).

[3] And - man - apart from everything else if there's one thing that Watchmen has in abundance it's a host of quotable lines. From: "This city is afraid of me... I have seen it's true face." to "I never said, "The superman exists, and he's American." What I said was,"God exists, and he's American."" all the way to that penultimate goose-bump moment of: " I did it thirty-five minutes ago." I mean there's a reason that the wikiquote page is so long: it's all just so great.

Links: Comics Journal Interview from 1987 Neil Gaiman Interviews Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons,  Sean T Collins Review4th Letter ArticleSupervillain ArticleHooded Utilitarian Articles On WatchmenHooded Utilitarian ReviewGraphiContent Article 1 / 2, Hooded Utilitarian ArticleComics Cube Article: Reclaiming History: Dave Gibbons and Watchmen / What Watchmen Means To MeMichael Moorcock on Watchmen.

Further reading: Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsFrom HellBlack Summer, Astro City, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan MooreThe Perry Bible FellowshipMarvelsSupergodsThe Twelve, Flex Mentallo, The Death Ray.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

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