Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

How does one write a review for this? I haven’t even tried to go back through the years and read all the thousands of previous reviews for Watchmen – after all, I would then be spouting what all the previous reviewers had said about the book, wouldn’t I? Their opinion(s) would colour mine. So, here we go.

Watchmen is, first and foremost, a book. Something like this cannot be lumped together with ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novels’. That, my friends, would be sacrilege. The best writers in the business today would, I’m sure, give both kidneys to write such a multi-layered and astounding piece of work. Mr Moore, I would like to breathe the same air you were breathing when you scripted this, no doubt about that.

So, that aside, lets get to it: For those who haven’t read Watchmen, and you really should, your lives will be better for it, this is the basic premise:

Imagine a world very much like ours – Nixon, Robert Redford, JFK, America and Russia in the Cold War – with one small difference that starts off everything – people dressing in masks and prowling the night, bringing criminals to justice. They wear costumes, but don’t have powers. They aren’t rich playboys or respected journalists, but writers for bird-journals and mechanics and homeless crazies. And from the opening scene, you realize that they’ve had their day. Go on, retire, thanks but no thanks, us real lawgivers will carry on, thank you. By and large they weren’t rewarded or commended – in fact, they’re being killed. Someone is going around killing them, and New York and the world just don't really care.

Enter Rorschach, one of the best, most sublimely realized heroes I’ve ever had the pleasure reading about. This guy, to a certain degree, is like Michael Corleone in that he is single-minded and absolutely doesn’t care, because he knows what he’s about, and what he has to do – even if those who once stood in costume by his side have retired. He knows something is wrong, knows that they’re being targeted…

But this book is not only about him. It’s also about America itself, about the Russians of that time and the shared paranoia; it’s about how subtly different the world could have been if someone crazy enough had put on a mask and hit the streets to kick criminal ass; it’s about how even mass-murderers must go free so that peace (and as Watchmen shows, our idea of peace is twisted) reigns; it’s about forgiving even the vilest crimes and finding something to love in the perpetrator; it’s about the lone survivor of a pirate ship, slowly going mad; it’s about how even society's evils can create something that is a better example of justice than any court or judge; it’s a story about so, so many things, important things that we, all of us, have forgotten in the name of this strange idea of ‘peace’ that we think we know…

I was blown away by this. Utterly and completely. This will stand through the decades and centuries the way Shakespeare’s works do, I promise you that. But not because it’s brilliant, engaging, a mirror that offers understanding instead of reflection, or simply horrifying, but because it is ageless and speaks to the deepest parts of us that money and entertainment and civilization has can't touch.

Christopher Lee says that he reads the Lord of the Rings every year… Watchmen will be my come-back-to, because it’ll always offer something new, something deep, something timeless.

I’m not going to score this. And I defy anybody who ever has. This is brilliance, pure and simple.

Order your copies here for the US, here for UK and for those in SA, please follow the link at the top of the blog.

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