Who’s Watching The Watchmen This Weekend?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve probably heard about this little movie opening this weekend called Watchmen.  But what about the book that inspired it all?

watchmen

Acknowledged by comic fans worldwide as a masterpiece of the modern age, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins is a rarity in the genre as it’s one of the few works to have gained as much or more critical acclaim from non-comic book fans as it has from those who follow the industry.  In Time Magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 greatest English-language novels published after 1923, Watchmen was the only graphic novel to make the list, putting it in a rarefied air and giving it a mainstream acceptance that almost no comic work had ever been given before or has seen since.

Along with The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (also published in 1986), Watchmen helped to revolutionize the comic book world.  The tone of the book, with its inherently flawed heroes inhabiting an alternate world much darker than any that had ever been portrayed in a DC comic before, was a foreshadowing of a story-telling approach that would become commonplace in the industry in the years to come.  An even bigger influence of Moore’s masterpiece would be on the sale of comic books themselves, as places that had never carried the works before — libraries and bookstores, for example — all of a sudden could be found with copies of Watchmen waiting for discovery by people who might have never picked up a comic work otherwise.   Limited series telling a finite story were rare in the industry before the 1980’s, but the success of Watchmen helped to change that — as its success also did in aiding the explosion of collected editions of comic works becoming an indispensable tool of the medium.

The story behind the story is almost as interesting.  DC Comics had acquired characters belonging to the fading Charlton Comics (most notably, The Question, Captain Atom, and the Blue Beetle — all now well-known names to any DC fan).  It was these characters that writer Moore had originally intended Watchmen to revolve around, but while DC managing editor Dick Giordano approved Moore’s story ideas, he nixed the plan to use the acquired characters as its focus.  The decision, in retrospect, was the right one, as it allowed DC to utilize their newest acquisitions in other fashions in the years to come and led to Moore creating new characters that would be unforgettable, their stories as compelling now as they were twenty-three years ago.

Rorschach, modeled after Steve Ditko's classic creation, The Question

Rorschach, modeled after Steve Ditko's classic creation, The Question

While Moore has received the lion’s share of credit for Watchmen’s success over the years, the work of Gibbons and Higgins on the artwork cannot be ignored.  As fans of the book will point out, the level of detail that Gibbons poured into his work is astounding, and Watchmen has always been a book that lends itself easily to multiple readings, seemingly revealing something unseen beforehand with every viewing.

I won’t go into detail here on the story itself;  while Watchmen has been required reading for any comic book fan in the last two decades, there are still a number of people who’ll be seeing the movie who haven’t yet read the book, and I don’t want to spoil them here.  Moore himself has never been supportive of film adaptations of his works (he famously derided the big-screen versions of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta), and he would be the first to say that, if  you haven’t read Watchmen, you haven’t experienced it to its fullest potential, so I highly recommend it to anyone who’s planning to see the movie or to anyone who’s never picked up a comic book work before.  It’s an eye-opener to anyone who thinks comic books are just for kids, or who think the art form is solely an extension of the Super-Friends cartoons they saw as a kid, as nothing could be further from the truth.

Also worth picking up if you’d like to sample some of Moore’s other outstanding comic works are the aforementioned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta, as well as his classic Superman two-part Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?, his outstanding redefining of Swamp Thing, and Miracleman, a compelling yet impossible-to-find series (due to legal battles involving fellow creators Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane) — but well worth reading if you can get your hands on an affordable copy.

Will the big-screen adaptation of Watchmen, a project previously written off by Hollywood decision-makers as “unfilmable”, be all that its harshest potential critics — the comic fans – hope it will be?  Early reviews of director Zack Snyder’s vision have been positive, giving fans like myself hope that Moore’s defining comic work may now be an equally groud-breaking depiction of comic themes on the big-screen.  I’m hoping to be one of the masses who’ll be seeing the film over the weekend, and I’ll post a review once I do.  I hope you’ll be joining me.

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