Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 2, 2009

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Fifteen people attended this discussion at A. T.’s house, including one first-time attendee.  At this meeting the group discussed its first graphic novel, Watchmen.  The book is a superhero story set in an alternate version of the 1980s, and it served as the basis for the then-forthcoming film of the same name. Six of us had read Alan Moore before, and three read Watchmen when it was new. Thirteen of us started the book, and nine finished it.

One person loved it and would recommend it to lovers of comics. The story was deeper and broader than she expected from comics.  She liked several alternate-world touches, like Robert Redford running for President instead of Reagan. She felt we knew all the characters by the end. She initially felt the all-powerful Doctor Manhattan seemed out of place with the other non-powered heroes, but gradually understood his role. She definitely felt the story was science fiction.

We loved the detailed looks into the characters. A reader pointed out that the heroes do not consider themselves superheroes, but rather costumed vigilantes. In many ways, their costumed personas were their true identities. We felt that Doctor Manhattan was a tragic figure. He wanted to be a hero, but now is an alien.

Our favorite character was Rorschach, the character with an inkblot mask. One reader felt that he was a psychotic version of Batman. Another simply loved the segments with Rorschach’s narration, which sounded like the rants of political rants of people he knew.  As one person pointed out, from Rorschach’s view everything was literally black and white.

Several commented on the book’s political subtext. They liked the exploration of Nixon serving a fourth term, which started as a background element but later became a key element of the story.  The idea of heroes working for the government was creepy but seemed realistic.

The female members of our group felt that the book’s treatment of women’s issues were dated. One though the feminist themes are cliché.  Another said the women characters felt like afterthoughts. She was disturbed when one of the male costumed heroes attacks a female colleague.

We had a mixed reaction to Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic-within-a-comic. One person did not feel it related to the main story. Others felt that the events in Black Freighter were an allegory for the story of Ozymandias, one of the heroes.  Some thought Black Freighter felt like an EC comic.

Another commented that Alan Moore likes dystopias, but doesn’t like tying them up well. He had problems with the Greater Good/Great Man theory detailed in the book.

There were comments about the art. One person liked the recurrent imagery, including the smiley face and doomsday clock. Another liked the use of color. A couple of people felt the onstage violence and gore were excessive. We generally agreed that the artist’s style was not pretty, but most of us thought it was appropriate for the story.  Several of us noted that the first and last images in the book are the same.

A few readers had little prior experience reading comics, and struggled with the technique of reading this book.  One person read all the words and then went back and looked at the pictures, and had trouble assembling them into a coherent story. Another was often confused about the order in which to read the panels.  One person was confused by the segments relating the point of view of Doctor Manhattan, who sometimes experiences things in non-chronological order.  Another just gave up because it was too much work. These readers all found that the book took longer to read than expected.

One person said that the book required multiple readings to fully understand. She thought it was dense and interesting. It reminded her of difficult fiction she read as a college English major.

Overall we liked Watchmen, and most of us appreciated reading something different. After the meeting, many of us had a nice dinner at Waterloo Ice House.

— A. T. Campbell, III