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Watchmen. Finally. For Reals.

So. I finally read this book. At least 12 years after I really should have.

I liked it a lot, and it's easy to see why it's almost universally praised as the best graphic novel of all time. Despite having an almost cripplingly-large cast of characters (for at least the first third, you're still spending time learning names and relationships), Alan Moore absolutely instills each of them with actual character. More to the point, it's the best kind of "from the inside out" writing, where each distinct character just happens to also be a superhero - rather than the typical group of superheroes, who also have the occasional accents or personality tics.

And the art from the pen of Dave Gibbons is not to be undersold; truly, he's a huge part of the success of this work. Not necessarily for the illustrations themselves - though they are clean, and visceral, and appealing, and direct - but more for his absolute and subtle mastery of page layout, an art far too often overlooked. He uses Steve Ditko's nine-panel grid as the basis for every page, serving to give the very form of the novel a rhythm and familiarity so necessary to the story being told - and which is upended to great effect in the opening pages of the final chapter.

But it must be said that while I greatly enjoyed the book ... I wasn't completely blown away. And part of this is surely due to coming to the book as late as I have. While most of the techniques on show here weren't used widely (or at all) when first published in 1986, the next generation of comic writers were eager to learn - and so what techniques were groundbreaking twenty odd years ago have been long incorporated since (at least, by those few comics authors who take real care to craft their art). Granted, even then it's rarely implemented as well as done here.

And it shares a frustration that I have with much of Moore's work, as well as Grant Morrison's, which can be summed up as: perhaps too much "head", not enough "heart". This is a story that may impress you, may wow you, may stun you and may shock you. But there's not a lot of emotional resonance. This is not generally a story that will move you to tears, of anguish or of joy. (The final book of Preacher did both, in quick succession.) Of course, with a book told as densely as this, as brilliantly as this, and as subtly as this, quibbling "too much head, not enough heart" is perhaps akin to complaining that the sunniest day isn't actually a plate of brownies.

Because there is so much going on in this book, just at a first read ... and it's so, so, SO obvious that there is so much more to be found upon reread after reread after reread. Having only just finished it, with a few days to process first impressions, I still have yet to do much digging into reviews, and discussions, and dissections, and explorations. Online annotations and independent research. Looking further beneath the surface, and further still, to see what exists under the deepest parts of this richly-layered work.

And in the end, perhaps that's the most salient thing. Most of the books we read - even ones we nearly love - don't call us back time and time again. But that strange novel that's so densely packed that you're already looking forward to what you pick up on next time round? That's a rare find indeed.


Mar. 12th, 2009 06:55 am (UTC)
I think your first paragraph above is very dead-on. I agree that such underpinnings are there ... but given how subtly they're laid in, they don't generally provoke an immersive, emotional reaction.

I did really love how the pre-BOOM chapter dealt more than any other with the normal people on the street, who we've been gradually getting to know all this time. How it all starts going wrong right before the cataclysm, even on this most human level. And the psychiatrist moving to break up the fight, even though his wife orders him not to - knowing that he can't NOT help someone in pain, knowing it may cost him the person he holds most dear - y'know, that really DID get to me, just for a second.

But that was just a second, and it was over so quick.

I still think my favorite works of Moore's are his SWAMP THING (because he may not move you to tears - but he can sure as hell creep you the fuck out) and PROMETHEA (because it lulls you into thinking it's a random Wonder Woman archetype story before GOING DAMN CRAZY!).

But again, this is all really just quibbles. Ideally, I love a story that will move me emotionally AND get my mind moving in high-powered, fascinating places. But if this lacks the one to some degree - in the other regard, it's in the stratosphere.

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