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Sunday, March 1, 2009


Alan Moore's Watchmen is my first foray into the world of graphic novels, a foray I took only because I was impressed that Moore's dystopian look at superheroes made Time magazine's list of 100 greatest novels written since 1923. This may sound overly bitchy and self-congratulatory, but I don't think it's even one of the 100 best novels I've ever read.

Obviously the movie has heightened interest in the story, so I don't think I need to go into more detail than to say that someone or something is threatening ex-superheroes (the government outlawed the profession a decade before the story commences) and some of the remaining costume wearers set out to figure out what's going on.

The novel is densely layered with backstory, partially provided with faux historical documents, including the autobiography of a former superhero and academic papers discussing the impact of the presence of a real-life superman. We also get stories of the earlier superheroes, the ones who inspired the current gang.

And, for some reason, we get pirates. Moore cuts away from the primary story to show us repeated scenes of a newsstand operator discussing world affairs while a bored customer reads a pirate comic book. These scenes are repetitive, boring, and seemingly interminable. They also fail at their only discernible purpose, which is to heighten the emotional impact of the novel's preposterous close.

The heroes themselves, despite being outfitted with expansive backgrounds, are largely uninteresting. There are simply too many of them, and too little space, to really characterize them in the way a true novel would. Instead of actual personalities they are for the most part given philosophical perspectives. This is dehumanizing and distancing, and to be completely honest, boring. (There's a reason I wasn't a philosophy major.)

I could go on a bit about each major character and criticize the plot elements I found most objectionable, but I know that many people are planning to see the movie so I won't spoil anything for them, although I imagine the movie will be drastically different from the book. Hopefully the movie scores better than a 3.8 out of 10.

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