Watchmen (1987) by Alan Moore

Alan Moore’s Watchmen looms as a breakthrough text in graphic novel history. So trying to read it and then comment on it, when so many have done so already feels intimidating and redundant. I, for one, know that I cannot offer the same level of insight as some of the papers on the text might. That said, I would like to share what the book made me feel.

Reading it was quite an experience. It was definitely not a fly by, taking me almost two months to get through. It was entertaining, presenting a diverse range of dysfunctional, tragic characters. It was insightful, offering a glance at the problems that society faced then and, in some ways, still faces now. It was also an eye opener as it made me realise how much the film changed about the graphic novel, and in doing so warped its message completely.

I remember when I watched the film as a teenager, I fell in love with Rorschach’s character. Uncompromising, honest, just. It took a long time and this book for me to realise that he was a bigot who only saw himself as better than the rest of society. That in his mind, no one was good or good enough.

The film changed many other things but I shall not get into that as I want to focus on the book’s version of the characters.

Aside from Rorschach, Veidt is a character that fascinated me. He is entirely machiavellian in his design, justifying any action so long as it serves his end goals. Unlike Rorschach, he has the tools and brains to function at a much higher level. I tremble to think if someone like that exists in our world. He is, in many ways, a benevolent god but not an omnipotent one.

He is contrasted through Jon, superman transcendent, a character so powerful that he no longer feels human. Omnipotent but no more benevolent. It made me realise why I feel like a true god doesn’t exist. Why, after all, would he bother with us instead of just starting over?

I guess, what I am getting at is that Watchmen’s characters provide insight to different people at different stages in their lives. This is why it’s such a valuable text, as it does a great job of reflecting society back at itself. I know now the flaw in Rorschach’s thinking. That perceiving oneself as just and uncompromising is exactly how fanatics think. That, in reality, the world would be a better place with empathy and patience.

I also see the fault with Veidt’s belief that the world needs something drastic to change. Perhaps, what it needs is people to stop meddling in each other’s business and to accept that none know better.

In a way, the story’s weakest characters, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl are the most human and thus the best. They are simply trying to do right by themselves and each other. Not creating grand schemes or trying to fix the world, but just fixing themselves, through each other. Perhaps even here I am missing the point and as I age and experience more, I shall realise something else about these characters.

But that is what I have to say for now. The incredibly illustrated and colored graphic novel that is Watchmen leaves you philosophically shaken and emotionally vulnerable.

My only criticism is that the pieces in between providing world building and background information are sometimes too long and tedious. I imagine this is because I am reading it at a stretch and not on an issue by issue basis.

Otherwise, yes, something that most literary enthusiasts should read.

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