I am not what anyone would consider a comics geek; I also don’t, for the record, consider that a slight or a slur. I grew up reading comic books–I read everything I could get my hands on, frankly. My sister read Millie the Model and every iteration of Archie that existed at the time; I read them when she was finished with them. I moved on to super-heroes quite by accident. I had no interest in them whatsoever, but the Jewel where my mom would do her grocery shopping had a comic-book vending machine in the front (anyone else remember those?). Comics were twelve cents at the time. Mom would always give my sister and I a dime and two pennies every time we went to Jewel–the comic book would keep us occupied while she shopped in peace–and I accidentally pressed the wrong button–so instead of Jughead I wound up getting an Action Comics instead. I was quite distraught–and this was also neither the first nor the last time that I didn’t get what I wanted by not paying close enough attention. My mother told me, as always, “it’s your own fault for not paying attention, so just read it.”
I did….and became a fan. I never bought another Archie comic again (there really wasn’t any need–my sister still got them and I could read hers).
My enjoyment of comics continued, all the way through high school–until the cost of comics rose to a point that I wasn’t willing to pay for them anymore. I occasionally dip my toes back into the water, but not enough to be a geek or a nerd or any of the other terms used to describe big fans. I did eventually branch out into Marvel in college as well, but I always liked DC the best–more, probably, out of the fact that those were the comics I read as a kid more than anything else. I also don’t understand why you can’t be a fan of both–but there are clearly battle lines drawn between the fandoms, with some crossover, of course.
I don’t remember when I first heard about the Watchmen graphic novel; but I did hear about it, now and then, throughout the years; great things. But I never read it. I didn’t see the film when it came out a few years ago, and in all honesty I might not have watched the HBO series had it not starred Regina King–whom I will watch in any and every thing. No, that’s not true–she was simply a bonus. I like super-hero stories, and I enjoyed Amazon’s The Boys, so yeah, I would have watched Watchmen.
Enjoying the show as I did, I decided to go ahead and get a copy of the graphic novel.
It was about time, after all…and once I opened it and started reading, I could see why it is considered one of the greatest graphic novels/super-hero stories of all time…
If anything, the hype about how terrific Watchmen is actually underplayed how actually terrific the graphic novel is.
The depth and complexity of the characters–and the detail in the world-building–is simply staggering.
I’ve always wanted to write a super-hero novel; obviously, as someone who’s been reading about them and watching them on either television or film most of my life (I remember when Batman aired in prime time), it would sort of make sense for me to try my hand at it. I’ve brainstormed about it a lot over the years as well; what would it mean to have powers beyond those of other people, the whole responsibility of power, and so forth. Marvel and DC both have done a terrific job of exploring those themes over the years, and quite frankly, I’ve never been sure I could develop a super-powered character appropriately, or tell his origin story–plus, almost every kind of super-power has already been explored somehow and some way; what could I possibly come up with that would be new and original? The reboot of DC in the 1980’s after Crisis on Infinite Earths also allowed them to add more depth and dimension to their characters–I always thought the pre-Crisis Green Arrow/Black Canary characters were the most human and most realistic developed–as well as crises of morality and faith and belief in themselves, as well as in humanity and the rest of the world.
Having now read Watchmen, I can see its impact on the industry, and on DC in particular.
Watchmen is set in an alternate timeline, on a different Earth; one in which the greatest, most powerful super-hero of all ended the Vietnam War with an American victory, resulting in Vietnam becoming the fifty-first state. The Keene Act banning masked vigilantes has been passed, and most heroes have either gone to work for the government, or retired. The book opens with the murder of the Comedian, a right-wing Fascist monster of a super-hero; one of the ones who went to work for the government. Rorschach, another hero who refused to retire and continued with his work despite it making him a criminal, starts investigating the murder and starts checking in on the others–not only to warn them but to see if they had any involvement. The comic also didn’t flinch from dealing with politics–fascism, racism, communism, etc. Also, the world is also on the brink of nuclear holocaust, with tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union growing with almost every page. The world Watchmen depicts isn’t that different from the world we lived through in the 1980’s; and like all great art, Watchmen makes you think by showing multiple perspectives without judgment…and that is part of its astonishing brilliance. The script is brilliantly done, the juxtaposition between the text segments–Rorschach’s memoirs, newspaper accounts, magazine articles, etc.–and the comic panels especially striking.
It also asks terrific questions about morality, right and wrong, and responsibility.
If you’ve not read the graphic novel, I highly recommend you do so–and then watch the HBO series (which deserves its own entry, quite frankly, and so I am going to give it one at some point).