Watchmen is quite possibly the most celebrated graphic novels of all time. It was written by the man who was responsible for some of the greatest stories ever put to page: Alan Moore. The general public might know him for his work on V for Vendetta (that story with the mask that the hacker group Anonymous adopted), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (that story which was butchered to create a god awful film) or Batman: The Killing Joke (the definitive Joker origin story). Most people who spend their time looking through comics and literature, however, know about the soaring masterwork known as Watchmen.
This satirically thought-provoking take on the superhero genre is the only graphic novel ever to be immortalized in Time Magazine’s 500 Greatest Novels of All Time. Yeah, that’s how good it is. I could just pick the ball up here and go on writing a never ending article as to how every single facet of this story is mesmerizing, but I chose to use some restraint and talk about a very specific portion of it. My favorite portion of it. Chapter IV: Watchmaker. The origin story of my second favorite comic character ever, Dr. Manhattan. When Batman takes top billing there, second place is not half bad.
The story begins with a naked blue man, holding a photograph, sitting on a rock on the surface of Mars. The first thing I’d like to say here is that one does not lose continuity when one starts looking into this story from this specific point. To paraphrase Dr. Manhattan himself “Humans insist on viewing time from a specific edge not understanding that time happens everywhere all the time”. The prelude to the story manages to send shivers down my spine every single time I look into it. There is a hint of the scale and scope of the story to come in these first few pages. In true Alan Moore fashion, he refuses to dumb the story down for his audience. He trusts his readers and goes all out into his material with the greatest of care fuelled by well written and deeply affecting characters.
The deftness of the writing combined with the striking/iconic artwork elevate a chapter filled with exposition to a plane achieved only by the rarest of literary works. All this chapter is, is an origin story. The origin story of the sole superpowered being in a story filled with masked vigilantes. The story addresses the alienation/God-complex a person who possesses those powers might feel amongst mere mortals. The intricately constructed narrative offers up a truly three-dimensional look into the pros and cons of having said powers and goes the extra mile by discussing the moral, psychological, religious and political effects they may have on the person and the people around him.
I’m making a conscious effort to avoid spoiling what might be the most original characters/stories one might ever lay their eyes on. I remember the first time I looked into Watchmen, the novel. Truth be told, I had a great time with the first three chapters. I could recognize that it was a good book but as soon as I eased into chapter four, I was in unchartered territory. I was 24 at the time and there I was thinking I had seen everything and nothing could shock me anymore. And then Watchmen happened. My eyeballs were glued in and I could not think of anything else until I finished reading those pages. A moment like that is hard for me to come by as I am a bit of a dick with my cynical attitude towards most things. It was pure joy and mind-bendingly fantastic storytelling.
There are multiple layers of this story I would like to discuss but then again, I would love for any reader of this post to discover those layers for themselves. I have no shame in admitting that it took me close to four reads of that chapter before I could confidently say that the story had no more secrets left to show me. That is not to say I’m anything but truly enthralled when I look into it again. There is so much to be entertained by and to show appreciation to. I’m damn near reduced to tears almost everytime I read this because I realise how beautifully some stories can be told. I well and truly appreciate a writer who puts the effort into his craft with the sole intent of giving his audience the time of their lives whilst addressing questions about humanity itself. Alan Moore was a personal idol of mine long before I wandered into reading his magnum opus. But after going head first into Watchmen, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, the man can worship a second century snake god or be a member of the occult, it does not change the fact that he is one of the premier literary minds of the modern era and Watchmaker, the chapter, and Watchmen, the novel might just be his crowning achievements.
This 1/12th in the world of Watchmen is burnt into my soul, just like The Dark Knight or The Shawshank Redemption or The Road or Mad Max: Fury Road did. I can surely say that if we were to sink into a dystopian time and were to rewrite all our literature and pop culture based on human memory alone, I would be first in line to dictate a word for word retelling of this tale that oozes creativity.
The link to a video which has a fully produced dramatization of the comic is down below for all you folk who hate reading.