I have finally read Alan Moore’s superb graphic novel, The Watchmen. Here’s just a few quick thoughts. I won’t be bothering with a plot summary. It came out over 20 years ago, go to Wikipedia if you need one.

A terrifically involving story, the novel is less about its plot, but more about the way it’s executed. It’s not exactly a superhero story, though certainly at least one character fully qualifies as a superhero. It’s more about superhero comics than it is about superheroes. In a clever twist, superhero comics don’t really exist in the Watchman world; they have been replaced by pirate comics, since this world actually has superheroes. And the pirate comic within the comic was awesome, by the way.

Powerful writing abounds. Right around the time it was initially published was during my most active period as a comic book fan, but my 12-year-old self wasn’t aware of it, since I was a Marvel reader deeply immersed in the world of Secret Wars, and I paid little heed to the DC universe or publications. I’d lament that this caused me to overlook The Watchmen at the time, but I really don’t think I would have been capable of fully appreciating it, anyways. The appendices, flushing out the backstory, were an especially great touch, as it gave a lot more word-space than a graphic novel can usually afford.

I was especially impressed with the 6th issue of the book. The backstory of Rorschach is an existentialist nightmare, some of the bleakest writing I’ve ever read, and it moved me in a way that no graphic novel has ever done in the past.

I’m greatly anticipating the film, though I do have some worries. The trailer captures many of the action sequences beautifully, but the novel was not about action sequences, and it doesn’t end with a big sequence, but rather more of an intellectual debate in an unlikely location, not long after an intellectual debate in an even more unlikely location. Zach Snyder isn’t exactly known for subtlety, but if he handles the material properly, he’s certainly capable of making the film that the novel deserves. I just worry that it’ll disappoint fans of adaptations like 300 if he stays faithful to the source. And I find it a little depressing that the incredibly beautiful Carla Gugino was cast as the mother of a character who was, in the novel, about exactly her age, while Silk Spectre 2 was cast to an actress in her early 20s. Hollywood, I guess, and I do expect that at least Carla will be more a flashback character.

There’s a matter of some irritation about Alan Moore’s attitude towards the film; Moore has indicated that he thinks it shouldn’t be adapted to film, and any adaptation would insult the source. Sorry, dude, get over yourself. While From Hell did kind of suck, V for Vendetta was a very worthy adaptation of its source. Give it a chance. I hate it when artists or fans of a piece of art from one medium refuse to acknowledge that it can be done justice in another. It smacks of arrogance, of believing that your form of artistic expression is superiour to another. Christopher Tolkein is a prime example; I know that movies rarely-to-never do justice to a great book, but Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation was a very long way away from suckage, and I’d like to think that J.R.R. would have enjoyed it. The Godfather was a better film than a novel. It can happen, and I do think that comic books, as pre-made storyboards, have more potential to be adapted to great film than many others. Sin City, anyone?

A final note is that, I have to say, the clear imitation of the first season of Heroes makes me quite depressed about the series. I mean, the first season kicked ass and got us all hooked, and it’s now clear to me that they borrowed very heavily from Moore; the watchmaker parallel makes it very clear, and the whole concept of eradicating a significant portion of New York’s population in the interest of all humankind was too close to ignore. I guess maybe that’s why Heroes has had so much trouble since Nathan flew Peter into the clouds; the writers weren’t sure who to copy next. Last week’s episode indicates they’re turning to X-Men for their source material; I can accept borderline plagiarism if, at least, it makes for some entertaining television.

Glad to have finally read this modern masterpiece, and I strongly encourage anyone with even a little interest in this genre to read it immediately if they haven’t already.

UPDATE: Having read some more about Moore’s objections to the film, I can see my initial reading mis-represented him as having a blanket objection to film adaptations of his work. Further reading shows me that his concerns are specific to the film – largely the choice of Snyder as director – and have also arisen through his conflicts with the studio over V for Vendetta. My apologies.

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