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Comics, Optimism, & Watchmen

Book #6 – Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Comics/graphic novels are on the periphery of my geek-dom. I grew up in a household where reading, no matter what the reading material, was encouraged, but there was a certain implied hierarchy of quality. Toward the bottom were comics and fantasy novels. As a hungry little Star Wars nerd, I read Star Wars comics after the movies had come and gone. Later on in life, a similar push for completeness drove me to O’Barr’s The Crow and various X-Men series. But despite its ubiquitousness, I was never pushed in the direction of Watchmen.  Until last summer/fall when the movies hype started to really kick in.  Since this was obviously a *phenomenon*, I figured I’d better give it a read.

First, coming in late on a phenomenon, a classic of a genre, can be a disadvantageous thing.  There are many aspects of Watchmen that may have been groundbreaking at the time, but I’ve seen done since (or maybe even before).  The amorality of superheroes (or other god-like beings) especially has been played with many times.  Maybe some of this has only come from discussions I’ve had with Eric (who has had less exposure to Watchmen) about gaming concepts; I don’t know.  It’s hard to tease out the chickens and eggs sometimes.  Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to appreciate these things as philosophy-changing.

Second, I am an optimist.  Maybe this comes from a generally sheltered life.  I grew up in Omaha, a generally peaceable place, in a lower middle-class family that was untouched by tragedy.  While I lived through the Cold War, it was when I was still young enough to believe that the whole concept–mutual destruction by nuclear war–was an utterly silly.  Why would anyone do something that they knew they’d get punished for?  And it’s that sort of optimism that made me annoyed and impatient with the first six or so issues of Watchmen

Or maybe optimism is too strong of a word for what I have for the human race.  If the human race is good at anything, it’s persevering.  It’s not a fragile thing.  We have more in common with roaches and weeds than we’d like to admit.  We weather storms.  Conflicts occur between us, nations fall.  Humanity continues.  Without intervention.  So that makes me a little less likely to buy this story.

(Strangely, as dark as The Crow is, I buy into that story more.  Maybe it’s the supernatural aspect that I appreciate.  Maybe it’s because I read it in my 20s and not my 30s.  Maybe it’s a matter of personal violence and vengeance versus global issues.  Horrendous things happen, even on national levels, but Moore’s preoccupation is with the *end of the world*.  I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen by our hand.)

Overall, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read.  The movies is probably a decent spectacle, and I’ll probably see it on video.  But I don’t see myself reading it again.  The dialogue was, at times, awful.  (Why can’t decent dialogue be written in a medium that’s already being helped by using pictures?  I’ve rarely seen it done well.)  Also, Laurie is currently winning for more annoying character ever.  The art was interesting and I do like the nonlinear structure.  If anything, it used the medium of the graphic novel to a masterful extent, even if I couldn’t buy into the issues that the plot was concerned with.