That other Watchmen (comic) review

[This entry is 100% SPOILER-FREE]

The movie is coming out at the end of this week, and in anticipation of the film’s release I’ve reread my copy of the graphic novel.

This was my third full read of The Watchmen. I first read it in 2006, with a second read in the summer of 2007. I have to say I’ve warmed to the book, and while my first impressions are probably of some value – there is no reason to go into them here. Instead, I present to you a brief outline of my reactions to the text.

What I liked about the comic:

  • I love Silver Age comic book artistry. Compared to the anime-influenced art of the late 90’s early 00’s or the style of illustration used in many compics today, I prefer the art of the early/mid 80’s. I should probably be naming specific artists I like, but I don’t want to make a fool of myself by getting a name wrong.  None the less, the artwork in The Watchmen is exactly my cup-of-tea. But beyond that, it has a richness, attention to detail, and coloring that takes it all a step further. This is one of those books I would not want to see Bruce Timm or some other modern illustrator mess with (even though I admire their work on other subjects).
  • I like the “expanded universe” content. The supplemental material (personal files, news clippings, medical records, etc.,) adds to your attachment to and understanding of the characters. The story told in The Watchmen inovles many characters over many years – the extras are a clever (and ahead of it’s time) way to fill in holes and build connections.
  • I like the story itself and the sophisticated manner in which it is told. If you’re a LOST fan, you will appreciate the use of flash backs and multi-character centered story telling.
  • The characters are flawed and grounded. Even the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan has qualities which we can associate with real people. For a Silver Age DC comic, this is almost unthinkable.  It’s this quality of characters which had me a Marvel fan more than DC at the time.
  • Although I didn’t at first, I’ve come to like the characters themselves. At face value, they seem a bit corny, but when you realize they are to represent potential real world versions of the Golden Age and Silver Age heroes of comic-dom, then you view them a little differently. They are what they are supposed to be, and each of the players fits his/her role perfectly.
  • I like the ending. It could’ve gone a variety of directions, I like the direction that was chosen.

Although I genuinely enjoyed the story, I can identify two qualities of the graphic novel which threatened to dereail my reading:

  • It’s very intense. I’m not saying I wish it were a popcorn, feel-good, slapstick or action movie-style story- far from it. In fact, I found the story to be very engaging. But this is not light reading. I first read The Watchmen on a red-eye flight from Phoenix to New York. You can’t read this book when you’re tired. There’s a lot of subtlty and depth to the story, and you need to be able to give it your full attention or you can feel like you’re missing something. Like LOST, this book jumps all over the place at times. It ties it together nicely in the end, but mid-reading you can get frustrated.
  • It’s long. Sticking with what I said above, reading The Watchmen is an investment, and it doesn’t really pay off (or satisfy you) unless you make it to the end. That’s a lot of reading… . Even as a fan of comics, and someone who reads quickly and often, this took several months to start and several days to finish. It was worth it, but it was quite the “nerd hurdle” to borrow a phrase.

Which brings us to the movie.  I’m pleased to see from the trailers that the film is true to the comic book: literally pictures brought to life. Visually, I think it’s going to be a masterpiece. It had to be a monumental task to produce this picture, but they appear to have done a great job.

I don’t know if I’ll go see it, however. It’s not that I don’t think I’ll enjoy it: I’m sure I will. It’s more an issue of having no one to go see the film with. My wife will have no interest in it. Yes, its’ a character story, but the context will scare her away. My kids are far too young for the film. Even if it’s “clean” enough, it’s still too sophisticated for pre-teens. I may go alone (I’ve got no problem doing that), but I’ll probably wait until the film is on video.

So this weekend will come and go without much Watchmen fanfare for me, but I’m glad the film was made and that it was made in this way.

Next up?  Green Lantern, due out Christmas 2010… ooooooh!

Contributed by: Scott Copperman


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