In 1985, Alan Moore released what is considered by many to be one of the greatest superhero comics of all time: Watchmen. A story about five ass-kicking pricks wearing costumes (for no apparent reason), and one actual superhero in an alternate history 1985 where Nixon just won his 5th term in office after the repeal of the 22nd Amendment, and the Cold War is even more tense then it was in the actual 1985, with the suspicion that it’s only a matter of time before the bombs drop.
Now, as for myself, I’m not much of a comic book fan. The reason is, I have always found something wrong with reading stories or watching movies out of order, and considering most major comic book series are almost fifty years old, it would take me at least a decade and several hundred dollars to catch up, and that’s if I ignore eating and sleeping. Of course I could just say fuck it and start reading Spider-man comics now, but that would feel like starting War and Peace at chapter 37 (I don’t know how many chapters are in War and Peace but I assume it’s more than 37) instead of the beginning, and then when one of the characters say something like: Hey, remember that time- I’ll get pissed and rip the book in half because I don’t remember that time. It’ll feel like the book hates me for getting into the story so late. Damn me and my not being born until the ’80s.
Thankfully, Watchmen skirts around this little problem by having the entire story, including all the backstory, take place in one book. There are not fifty years worth of issues to go through, everything is in this one single tome. So after reading the book and watching the movie I know everything there is to know about the everything in the Watchmen universe, and considering I now know everything I think I can make a pretty accurate judgement of the Watchmen…I want to say franchise but considering it’s one book that’s not exactly accurate…STORY! The Watchmen story, and that judgement is…it sucks.
That’s right, get your eggs and tomatoes ready because I’m about to bash what is considered by many to be the greatest superhero comic of all time, the Watchmen. Even the back of the book, not surprisingly, gives rave reviews, such as: “Remarkable.” “Peerless.” “Groundbreaking.” “A brilliant piece of fiction.” “The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced.” “Holy shit Watchmen is awesome, now give me a minute while I suck it’s balls.” Okay, that last one I made up, but you get what I’m saying. I’m reminded of this one time I went to what was ostensibly supposed to be a town hall meeting with the leader of the NDP only to find out it was more like a political rally than anything else, and everyone was taking turns to metaphorically suck him off. I was probably the only one who found it as creepy as I did, not because I disagreed with them (not that I did or anything) but because there were no dissenting opinions. No one stood up and disagreed with the statements made by any of the politicians there, and I have always found that creepy. Like some type of hive mentality has taken over, or a mind control gas, or maybe Jack Layton is a Jedi, I don’t know.
But I think the real reason people sing the praises of Watchmen has to do with an old children’s fable: The Emperor’s New Clothes. The story goes that these two con-artists extraordinare, con the Emperor out of millions of gold pieces by promising to make him a gold suit, with one caveat: only a fool would be unable to see it. Now the suit actually doesn’t exist and they simply use their expert miming skills to pretend to make it and put it on the Emperor, but no one says anything about the suit not existing because they are afraid of looking stupid. Until this one kid shouts: “Holy shit the Emperor’s naked!” That’s the moment they all realise: “Holy shit the Emperor’s naked and we’ve been conned out of a million gold pieces!” The second point followed very closely. People praise Watchmen because they are afraid of looking stupid. They are afraid people will say, “you just don’t get it.” That it goes over their heads. Well I can honestly say that it really doesn’t, it goes below my head. I get Watchmen, I get what it’s trying to say, and it’s not the greatest thing ever written. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, it’s just not great. But enough explaining that it’s crap, let’s move on to the why.
First are the characters, they are described by many, including the back of the book, to have “complex psychological profiles,” and I’m no psychologist but I’m not too sure about that. See, I don’t believe the phrase “complex psychological profile” can be used to describe any character who’s complete personality can be described in ten words or less.
Don’t believe me? Let’s start with Silk Spectre, or as I like to call her, Silky. Silky is a girl who’s mother was a superhero called…wait for it…Silk Spectre. This is actually common in superhero comics, there have been five Robins one of which is, unironically, a girl. Anyway, Silky (the second one) can simply be described as a girl who’s following in her mother’s footsteps, and hates it. She feels forced into it by her mother and is relieved when superheroes become illegal. Okay, that’s more than ten words but you get what I’m saying, it’s hardly complex.
Next is Nite Owl, you may notice I’m using their superhero names instead of their real names, and the reason for this is, they are easier to remember. I mean I could look it up but I’m busy…got things to do. Anyway, Nite Owl is kind of like Batman, his powers come from his gadgets, and as for the character himself, he’s a moral, ethical and thoughtful man, who’s having a mid-life crisis. Again, not very complicated.
Then there’s the Comedian. He’s kind of like me if I was a sociopath. Basically he laughs to keep from crying, hence his name, that is until he gets really drunk and tells you how much he “loves you man.” He’s pretty much resigned himself and his world to doom, but he doesn’t let it get to him, however it means he doesn’t care about whether or not people live or die. Now of course he dies right before the story begins so there isn’t a whole lot we learn about him so maybe he is complex, we just never get to see any of his complexity which makes it kind of redundant.
Then, there’s Rorschach who’s name is as easy to pronounce and spell as Mr. Mxyuoeasoeuha. He is, once again, a sociopath, but more importantly, has a very right-wing, holier-than-thou point of view, he believes everyone is corrupt and evil…except him…and it’s his job to right the wrongs of society through murder. So basically he’s Rush Limbaugh if Rush was thin and physically capable of fighting crime.
Next, Ozymandias, or Ozzy Egyptianborne. Who is simply one of those idealistic, arrogant jackasses who want to save the world no matter how many bodies he has to leave in his wake, and he’s not even that bright about it. Oh, I almost forgot, spoilers abound. He has somehow found the most insane method of stopping nuclear war, and it involves killing millions of New Yorkers. This is ridiculous. It would have been easier, and less evil, to simply try and get the leaders of the USSR and the USA in the same room, bitch-slap both of them, tell them to knock it off and agree that nuclear war, specifically the kind where every single person dies (as if there is another kind) is a really bad idea, and that the end of the world is something they might like to avoid, and come up with some sort of treaty to that extent. Considering how powerful Ozzy is portrayed in the book, it wouldn’t be that difficult.
Finally, the last of the main characters, Dr. Manhattan. Who is god. Literally, he’s the only character with superpowers and damn does he have superpowers. He can manipulate matter at the quantum level, and can view the past and future as easily as we view the present, he can teleport, change his size, duplicate himself, and a bunch of other things that I don’t care enough about to mention. But with all these powers he appears to have a significantly altered perspective. He simply doesn’t care about humanity and is completely oblivious to certain social faux pas. Which I assume is because he’s distracted by the atomic configuration of water, because it’s simply not possible that he’s unaware that he shouldn’t do these things, because he was once human and should know from his experiences then that his girlfriend might be more creeped out than turned on by there being three of him while they are having sex, and pissed off that one of these clones is busy working while they are having sex. The only possible explanation is: he simply doesn’t care. Which is possible and in fact likely. So I will give them that Manhattan is a complex character, but that’s only because his experience is unique, no one else has ever had the powers of a god before…it’s unprecedented. So one character has a complex psycological profile. Just one.
So the characters aside, I have other complaints, such as the Black Freighter comic. You might be wondering: “What Black Freighter comic? I thought you were talking about Watchmen.” Well, sadly, I am. Every once in a while in Watchmen the focus shifts to a news stand, where we have a guy named Bernie is reading the Black Freighter, and we are given the opportunity to read the book with him. Now, when I say “given the opportunity,” I mean more or less forced at gun point for the same reasons I pointed out earlier, if I skip it, I feel the book somehow resents me for it. It feels like cheating, and a lot of the dialogue that takes place among the citizens of New York, which, if you ask me, is almost as important as the main storyline as it gives us insight into what the general public is thinking, is given alongside the Black Freighter comic, meaning if we skip it we skip a good chunk of the dialogue. Now why is this a bad thing? Because I don’t care! If I wanted to read the Black Freighter, I’d read the Black Freighter, I’m not, I’m reading Watchmen, and the Black Freighter has absolutely no impact on the overall story. Absolutely none! Some may say events of the Black Freighter are supposed to run parallel to the events of Watchmen. You know what else runs parallel to the events of Watchmen? …the events of Watchmen. I don’t care if it runs parallel, it serves no purpose and I got sick of it pretty quickly. Somewhere near the end of the book the story was once again interjected by the Black Freighter and I just said “fuck it” and stopped reading. I really didn’t care about the fucking Black Freighter, and to be honest, if they didn’t include it outside of the supplemental material, which is included at the end of every goddamn chapter, I probably would have been kinder to the book as a whole. Instead it took what was a good book and took a big shit on it.
Not only that, the Black Freighter is shallow and stupid. The whole point seeming to be: Assume nothing. We follow this guy as he’s stranded on an island, he builds a raft out of dead people, and gets to the mainland because he thinks the evil demon pirates of the Black Freighter boat, which the comic is named after, are going to his home village to kill his friends and family. He assumes that by the time he gets there he will be too late to stop them, and instead his only option is revenge. He ends up killing at least three people based on that assumption, including what I assume to be a member of his family, before he realizes: “Wait a minute, they actually aren’t here and I just did something very stupid.” Which I could have told him when he reached the fucking mainland. This is the same reason I hated Death of a Salesmen, the main character’s a fucking idiot.
Now, finally, the ending, I’m going to try to keep this spoiler free because I can. First off, I want to be clear, I like the overall ending. It’s interesting and ties up virtually every loose end. But it also creates a few. For starters, Rorschach’s Journal, which has information that could change everything, if it falls into the wrong hands, and it’s in the mailbox of the wrong hands. It could result in a drastic change for the sequel, which is referenced by Manhattan in the final pages, when he says: “Nothing ends, Adrien. Nothing ever ends.” An obvious hint at a sequel, unfortunately there is no sequel! There hasn’t been ever, and the Watchmen is 25 years old. They had 25 years to release a sequel and they haven’t. Makes me think they hate the book as much as I do. You don’t hint at a sequel and then not release it. It’s ridiculous. It makes the story feel incomplete, and with this very large plot thread still dangling, it can piss you off.
If you think I hate this book, you are sorely mistaken. I actually do like it, but considering I went into it expecting history’s greatest piece of literature, well it’s easy to get pissed off at that. It’s not the greatest thing ever written no matter what the Village Voice or USA Today says, it is overrated and greatly flawed. Is it worth $20? No, $15 maybe.
Now I know what the most common response to this review is going to be. “Maybe you just don’t get it.” Which, to be quite honest, is the dumbest sentence ever written. It’s basically saying, maybe you are a complete idiot who doesn’t understand the story, doesn’t understand it’s point. Now I think it’s pretty difficult to not understand the story, the sequence of events that lead the characters to the final confrontation. If someone doesn’t understand that, it’s a failure on the author, not the reader, and in the case of Watchmen, this is not true. I do understand what is going on in the story, I can guarantee you that. So maybe I’m misunderstanding the point, well that’s not the case either. I get the point of the book, it’s to tell a story, which it does very well, and the point of the story is that sometimes it’s necessary to kill a few to save many. Just like season one finale of Heroes. Beyond that, what else is there to get? Not a whole lot that I can see.
So maybe I am dim, I just can’t see what is right in front of me. But maybe that’s not a failure on the part of the reader, maybe it’s a failure on the part of the author, maybe the author should make their work more accessible instead of less accessible. Being needlessly obtuse is not a virtue.
Now, all that’s left is to talk about the film…2600 words…maybe some other time…probably 25 years from now.