Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review: The Watchmen

I've been seeing the book in the graphic novel section of the book stores for years. While others come and go this one title remains. Yellow with a smiley face with a blood splatter on the forehead and the subtitle "Who Watches the Watchmen?".

When I saw this trailer I knew it was time to finally read "The Watchmen".

The book takes place in the mid-1980s since that's when it was written. It reads a bit like "The Incredibles". In 1977, after widespread riots and police strikes, the US Government outlawed non-government sponsored vigilantes whether super powered or not. Most stood down. A couple work for the government. A couple still operate so as to keep off the police radar or in such a way as to elude the cops.

Dr. Manhattan was a mild mannered nuclear physicist that walked into the wrong room at the wrong time. The bonds between his molecules were destroyed. Over the next few weeks he reassembled himself and gained a god-like mastery of everything with molecules (i.e. everything). He works for the US government now. A walking blue atomic bomb that keeps the Soviets at bay.

Most costumed vigilantes have no actual powers. Nite Owl was a detective in a costume. When he was retired another detective figured out who he was and asked to take up the mantle. But this man had more money and thus more toys. Such as "Archie" the Owl Ship.
The book contains several chapters from the original Nite Owl's autobiography.

The Comedian is about as funny as The Joker. Mostly he's just violent. The Punisher without the restraints. He also works for the US government. He mostly gets dropped in war zones and left to destroy. He deserves much of the credit for winning the Vietnam War. Yeah, you read that right.

Rorschach is another detective. He was sane once but those days are long behind him. He continues to fight crime a decade after everyone else has quit. He's a detective first and a murderer as needed. He's what Batman fears he'd become if he was willing to kill.
His mask is an ever changing inkblot.

Ozymandias was often called the smartest man in the world. He's retired from crime fighting but has used his genius to build up a business empire and sells action figures based on his old persona. He still tries to use his fortune to protect the world.

Silk Spectre was one of the early costumed vigilantes. She worked closely with the original Nite Owl and was nearly raped by The Comedian. She retired and pushed her daughter to take up the role when she came of age. The second Silk Spectre is married to the big blue bomb.

The book tells about the history of all these people, members of the old super team known as The Watchmen. It also tells of a mystery. One old costumed hero was just thrown through a plate glass window and fell to his death. Another gets shot at. Another banishes himself to Mars. Only Rorschach thinks that someone is eliminating masks. Maybe the Soviets so they can't interfere in Afghanistan. Maybe an old enemy.

While reading the book it can often seem like a directionless, jumbled mess. Then you finish it and it all seems to have worked in retrospect. It's thick and takes awhile to read for a graphic novel.

Not sure if I'd read it more than twice. My copy is now circulating among my friends and coworkers. If you're into super heroes, particularly golden age heroes like The Shadow and The Spirit, then you'll like this.

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