Reading Watchmen

I finished Watchmen today (thanks to a friend lending it to me), having already seen the film this year. I must say I’m thoroughly impressed by most of it – certainly is likely the one graphic novel worth reading if you read no others. I found it more interesting comparing bits of it to what I remember from the film – having read other posts when the film came out about the differences, I do pretty much agree – both are somewhat flawed in their ways, I think, but still highly entertaining (warning, spoilers ahead, skip to “So…” at the end to miss them all, um, and read I guess a one paragraph end. Discussing this book, well, almost anything you say would be a spoiler since it gets into the story really well really fast).

The Detail!

I loved the nuanced detail in the Watchmen graphic novel. Interlinking and overlapping narratives, lots of analogous pieces set side by side (such as the meta-comic-in-a-comic, the look at the normal lives of people in the alternative reality 1980’s and so forth work really well). You could skip the extra book material – I found it interesting to have the standard panels broken up by having book excerpts and news stories, something that would just be a boring set of strips but is fascinating to read. The film does a reasonable job of just keeping the normal comic sections, which do enough for the plot to make it comprehensible.

Certainly I’m pretty impressed by it all, enough so to write about it. You get the dealings of each person, usually in turn, little bits of detail coming forwards about the past – and frankly, the story in the present is pretty boring compared to the history presented in the book. The fall and rise of characters, their reasons for doing what they did and some very dubious actions by most of them really put into light the vigilante nature of it.

A shame the film can’t emulate most of this, although it does have a good stab at the main present-day plot.

The Ending

One way however the film is better, is it doesn’t involve psychics and alien excuses, sigh. I think the best way to describe this is, even with a big blue nuclear-accident superhero walking around, going into the realm of psychics and monsters is very, very cartoony. I guess it fits in some way (and the monologue is done much better then the film in the novel) as it is a comic (and might be just a jab at such superhero events), but is a bit like a crap punchline on an otherwise in depth joke. It was disappointing, I’d have felt disappointed reading that even not seeing the film.

I was told of this in advance, and briefly skimmed a plot synopsis, but man, it was frankly a little silly end to it all.

So, the film does end it better – a reasonable excuse for why Jon had to disappear, since he was portrayed as causing the destructions in several cities – and a better reason for the entire world to put down their nuclear missiles – ie; it isn’t just New York under attack in the film. There is a lot of detail missed out, but even with the monologue being much shorter, it still adds the mark that perhaps Adrian Veidt’s plans will not bring ever-lasting peace, and that work will have to go on.

I think the work is pretty inspiring at the end too – Super Heroes in general don’t have moral dilemmas, they simply are pretty rubbish in that regard (perhaps the most moral dilemma being “who to save and who to let die”). Therefore I am entirely enthralled by Rorschach character, and moral supremacy over even the god-like Dr Manhattan. His death was an amazing force of character. The others were all middle-ground, and seeing the “necessity” of it. I also love the hint that, even though he’s dead, his journal might just be picked up as a new story in the political newspaper he loved.

Which first?

I guess I should have read the novel first, to be honest. The film misses out, but doesn’t conflict with (most) of the backstory and extra bits in the novel, but has a better ending by far. However, the film does two things really badly away from the book (I’m just repeating this, everything I’ve read about the film pretty much says this) is that almost all the actors are terribly, terribly young (too young to be in their 40’s by far), and that Adrian Veidt is pretty much never given much backstory – he’s instantly shown as a big businessman who has that sly hint of “something’s not quite right here”. Entirely too suspicious, although the novel does give enough clues even before half way that he’s not entirely perfect, which are interesting to note later when it’s explained.


Read the novel! The film has however excellent moments (and a better ending as I’ve said), and Rorschach is portrayed by an excellent actor. I think it’s a book I’ll re-read in the future, there are bits I am sure to get more out of a second time. If you haven’t already, go check it out, certainly it won’t take too long to read, and the story is fascinating. I suppose since there are so few self-contained superhero books like this (such high quality, and surprisingly doesn’t contain sound effect captions, which is great), I won’t be picking up many comics, but some are getting more tempting now…I just need to find some recommendations 🙂

2 thoughts on “Reading Watchmen”

  1. Recommendations, eh? Well, since you enjoyed Watchmen, the good news is that there is a litany of other fantastic comics by Alan Moore, and that’s not a bad place to start:,2199/

    If it’s detail you like, then I suggest From Hell, Moore’s meticulously researched (put it this way – it’s the only comic I have read that includes copious citations) deconstruction of the Jack the Ripper murders. The sheer amount of period detail about Victorian England is worth the price of admission alone.

    V for Vendetta is another popular choice, and for good reason. It is probably a bit more palatable than From Hell, and things move along at a brisker pace. Still quite dark, with plenty of interesting ideas and characters.

    For pure, frothy fun there’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Top 10, or Promethea if you prefer that your entertainment with some heavy mystical/occult overtones.

    But if I could only recommend that you read one other comic by Moore, it would have to be his run on Swamp Thing. If you see the words ‘Swamp Thing’ and are tempted to dismiss it outright, then your initial reaction is similar to mine – but trust me, it is some of the absolute best writing you will find in any medium. It can be pulpy at times, and there are lots of DC-universe characters running around that might be unfamiliar to you (they certainly were to me), but the rewards are more than ample.

    Aside from Alan Moore, a few other favorites of mine that you might enjoy include:

    For more personal, non-superhero stories…
    Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
    Blankets by Craig Thompson
    Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
    Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories by Gilbert Hernandez

    For humor (admittedly subjective, but I consider these pretty safe bets)…
    Madman by Mike Allred
    Fancy Froglin’s Sexy Forest by James Kochalka
    Any collection of Life in Hell comics by Matt Groening

    A few other classics that I can’t recommend highly enough…
    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
    The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
    Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

    Whew! There are more, but I think that should do for now. Again, if I were to narrow it down to one or two suggestions, I’d go with Moore’s Swamp Thing and probably Gaiman’s Sandman. Failing that, anything else written by those two tends to be a good gateway drug.

  2. Wow, that’s a lot to get through 🙂

    I’ll have a look around for Sandman I think, I’ve heard of it before (and it’s not been made into a horrible film, unlike Swamp Thing back in the day…*shudder*).

    Time to visit the local comic shops I think 🙂 Thanks a lot Jamey 😀

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