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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.

Comments

(Deleted comment)
duck2ducks
Mar. 16th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Kavalier and Clay was like that for me. I remember reading it on evenings when I had nothing else scheduled, reaching the end of a chapter ... and closing the book. Not because I was done, but because I was so stunned by what I was reading that I needed time to absorb it all. Five minutes later I would open it back up and start reading again.

Watchmen took me about a week of dedicated reading (in a week when I had very little free time). Unlike normal comics, which take about 10-15 minutes to read, each chapter seemed to take closer to 45 minutes. It was that wonderfully dense! So, figure about 8 or 9 hours total?

Fortunately, I finished reading it about a half hour before we rushed to the IMAX. :)

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