What if superheroes weren't perfect? First published in 1986, Alan Moore's The Watchmen is a graphic novel classic as it took the superhero convention and turned it on it's head. The Watchmen are a group of self-appointed superheroes, only one of whom has any special powers, and that was by accident. All of them have their own issues; Rorschach is deeply conservative and hates society, the Comedian has committed some outright atrocities and Dr Manhattan is incapable of empathy. The story opens with the murder of the Comedian and the suspicion that there might be a mask-killer, someone out to get the superheroes/vigilantes. Whilst Rorschach investigates, the West teeters closer to a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. But is a morally ambiguous world worth saving? And does the end always justify the means?
I picked up The Watchmen from the library because my husband practically forced it on me! In many ways, I wasn't the right reader for this book as I didn't grow up with comics. I like graphic novels but I'm not especially drawn to superhero ones and I'm not particularly familiar with the conventions of comics. So I'm sure a lot of the genre changing/ challenging elements went right over my head! That said, I still enjoyed The Watchmen as it is at heart a good story that makes the reader think. I was surprised at how my opinion of certain characters changed over the course of the story (I didn't expect to ever like Rorschach but I did by the end) and at how much I found myself questioning the actions and motivations of the key players. I do like a book that makes me think, a book that shows the world as something apart from black and white.
However, I did have a few issues with The Watchmen. Like I mentioned earlier, the impact of the plot on the comic genre was completely lost on me and making superheroes flawed is hardly a new idea now. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the original and that the newer stories are the copies. I thought the ending was silly (apparently the film ending is different?). The main female character, Laurie, was criminally under-used and just seemed to be there to get in a bit of romantic motivation. All of the male watchmen had interesting back stories; she was boring and under-developed by comparison. I also didn't love the old-fashioned style of drawing:
Fans of The Watchmen should take my criticism with a pinch of salt because I wasn't the ideal reader for this book. What I will say is that the plot and characters have somehow managed to worm their way into my brain without me realising it, because I'm still thinking about them almost a week later. Overall, The Watchmen wasn't a perfect read for me but it was definitely thought provoking and I'm glad I picked it up.
First Published: 1986
Edition Read: Titan Books, 2007
Score: 3.5 out of 5.