It is on Time magazine’s 2005 list of 100 best English language novels, and although your columnist isn’t a big fan of such listings, the fact that a comic book appeared on this one is something.
It was the first comic book to win the Hugo Award, the world’s top honour for science fiction books.
Many pundits believe that it reinvented the genre.
So, to begin this edition of CF with a mea culpa of sorts, the only reason Alan Moore’s Watchmen has not been the subject of a column here is this writer’s perversion.
A hit even after 20 years
Watchmen is, in many ways, the finest comic book (or graphic novel) ever written.
The emphasis of that sentence is on the last word, written.
If it had not been a comic, Watchmen would likely have achieved the cult book status it continues to enjoy 20 years after its release simply because it is very well written. In Watchmen and From Hell, a retelling of the Jack the Ripper story, Moore reaches a level of writing that is missing from many of his later works, although it does raise its head in last year’s Lost Girls, a sexually explicit retelling of the stories of Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz), Alice (Wonderland), and Wendy (Peter Pan) that was the subject of the first CF.
Watchmen’s central premise is best expressed in the postscript to the book:
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
A Latin quote from Juvenal’s Satire VI, it simply means ‘Who will watch the watchmen?’ (It is often translated as ‘Who watches the watchmen’).
Power does things to people. It is difficult to imagine that their superpowers leave the minds of superheroes and superheroines untouched. Surely, all that power does something to them? Moore’s argument is that it does. The result is a book spread across 334 pages that is perhaps the most human look at superheroes.
The plot and the writing are adequate to make Watchmen a classic, but the book’s appeal doesn’t end with them. Dave Gibbon’s illustrations and John Higgins’ colouring (the way it works in comics is that the illustrations are done by one person and the colouring by another) that draw from the comics of the Golden Age (read as: old comics) add to the book. As does Moore’s split-panel storytelling that appears in some parts of the book (it’s what students of literature and reviewers who like to use words such as ‘post-modern’ call ‘metafiction’).
The only thing better than Watchmen is Watchmen (Absolute Edition), a large format book that spans 464 pages and weighs in at an impressive 5.5 pounds (about 2.5kg).
Write to Sukumar at email@example.com