Unbounded artistic genius, bubbling with the bottomless, murky depths of complex allusions.
The plot of this graphic novel is not overly complicated: it’s a simple whodunit mystery. The central storyline focuses around a band of retired costumed heroes who are being picked off one by one for unknown reasons. However, the fleshed out characters, sticky subplots, rich backdrop and alternate history world-building combined with interwoven bits of paralleling metafiction all contribute toward the plunging depths of story.
A big strength this work has going for it, is the fact that it is a self-contained story. There is a beginning middle and end. This is not some sort of ongoing soap-opera type plot that looks to introduce a new supervillain for next week’s adventure.
The tale told is both big and small. Individual characters must come to grip with past life choices and personal philosophies all within the context of a world that is changing, has changed and will change more. The author (and artist) does an excellent job in pitting different worldviews against one another without having the characters come across as flat. A multitude of individual character arcs compliment the various subplots and bring things to a thoughtful and satisfactory conclusion. The main characters are fully fleshed out, while secondary characters are developed just enough to compliment the main storyline as they fade into the background leaving behind a lingering glimpse of the world in which they inhabit.
The setting of this story is in a gritty 1980’s urban landscape. In present time, we meet retired costumed heroes who are akin to stereotypical comic book figures, yet different. For the most part they lack special powers that give them any kind of advantage over wrong-doers. Instead, these would-be heroes are more like vigilantes with high-level athletic prowess and varying levels of egotism balanced against altruism. Per the author and artist’s intent, the characters are very much real-life superheroes. Their paths take realistic journeys as their effectiveness and popularities wax and wane.
Everything changes when a new hero emerges who has actual superhuman powers. His arrival is particularly explored. Not only does the story address his god-like abilities, but also his impact on the other heroes and the world at large. Echoes and downright references to cold-war history are examined and alluded to.
It’s very difficult to sum up the sheer awesomeness of this book (or collected series of comic books). However, let me note that this book came to me pre-hyped. Very often, when you are told that something will be fantastic it will fail to achieve the level of amazing that you hope and expect. This is not the case with “Watchmen.” This book delivers, and it does so on many levels. The artwork (this too is masterfully woven into the work and has many layers), the characters, the storyline, the micro and macro philosophies that are delved into…it’s infinitely complex and yet also simple and easy to understand at a basic level. That is the mark of a truly great work. This is one of those pieces of art that can be revisited multiple times and each time something new can be uncovered—without detracting from any of the joy of those first few times it touched us.
Lastly, I’ll add that this can be enjoyed by anyone whether or not they are a fan of the comic book medium. It just has so many layers. A great way for someone unfamiliar with the related genres and works to dive in and try something new (but also great for the longtime fan).
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).