Writer: Alan Moore
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I had heard a lot about Watchmen, all of it good. I didn't think very much of it though - I mean, how profound could a graphic novel really get?
Incredibly profound, as it turns out.
Watchmen takes place in an alternate universe in the 80s where Nixon is still president and superheroes once "saved the world". At the beginning of Watchmen, most superheroes are either in retirement, hiding away from the world and dealing with their baggage, capitalizing on their superhero status to make money, or working for the government. The opening pages show a murder victim, who is one such retired superhero. The story follows Rorscharch and the other superheroes who try and piece together the mystery of their falling comrades while trying to figure out the right thing to do.
In one frame of the book, there is graffiti scrawled on a wall that reads, "Who watches the watchmen?" I found this an apt description of the purpose of the entire novel. You really get to see the dark side of these characters and the choices they make to keep people safe. The interesting thing is that for each character, they really believe they made the best choices and did the right thing. The consequences of some of those choices might leave you questioning their sanity and their moral compasses, but then again, maybe they really did do what was best.
There are so many interesting characters presented in this graphic novel, and my favorites were Rorscharch, Dr. Manhattan, and Veidt. You could say that these three propel the story, but I found them interesting because they had the most radical world-views. Rorscharch believes in a purely black and white world, and while he causes horrific and unpredictable harm to individuals, that's all he really deals with - individuals. He seems deranged at times, and at others he seems like the smartest of the lot. He's truly frightening because he is so unpredictable, but then again, you know that he's not going to cause any mass destruction and endanger millions of lives. Dr. Manhattan was interesting because he's one of the few truly superhuman characters, and his nonlinear perception of time makes you question how morally responsible he is for crises if he can already perceive that they will happen. There's also the question of whether he will even do what is in the best interest of humanity, now that he can hardly be called human. (view spoiler)[One scene that struck me was where Dr. Manhattan tells the Comedian not to shoot a woman at a bar, and is horrified when he does so anyway. The Comedian spits out, "you watched me. You coulda changed the gun into steam or the bullets into mercury or the bottle into god damn snowflakes! You coulda teleported either of us to goddamn Australia...but you didn't lift a finger! You don't really give a damn about human beings." (hide spoiler)] And Veidt was interesting despite the fact that he wasn't present for much of the book because of his rather deranged idea of what the right thing to do is. Technically, in the end, the net amount of lives saved is more this way, but morality doesn't always mesh well with mathematics.
I was pleasantly surprised with how much this book made me think. Not only was the twisted morality interesting, there was a lot of symmetry and parallelism in the form of the drawings and parallel story lines. It was a very interesting and engaging read, and I will definitely not be so quick to dismiss a book because of its format.