In 1986, Alan Moore shook the comic book world with his 12 part series “Watchmen”. Not content to merely re-examine the idea of costumed heroes, Moore destroyed the established ideas and built up a clearer, more human interpretation of what it means to be a hero, and what effect those heroes would have on the world. This sprawling tale of love, conspiracy, idealism, and fanaticism hit readers like an atom bomb, with much of the force provided by Dave Gibbons stupendous illustration work.
20 years later, DC has given Watchmen the Absolute treatment, re-packaging it in an oversized hardback that gives readers a clearer view of Moore’s brave new world. Included are Moore’s original notes for the series, as well as his biographies of the characters along with Dave Gibbons original sketches. This is a must have for fans of graphic novels and well-written sci-fi alike. There’s a reason this is listed among the greatest books of the last century.
In 1986, writer Alan Moore (along with illustrator Dave Gibbons and inker John Higgins) unleashed Watchmen upon an unsuspecting comic book audience. Cynical, bitter, dark, and gritty as hell among a wasteland of brightly colored tights and mytical battles, Watchmen had the sheer unmitigated gall to explore the concept of the superhero in a way no one had ever had the guts to try. By placing their characters in a very real enviornment, Moore and Co. asked (and answered) the most perfect What If? of all time: What If costumed heroes were real? How would our world be different? What would be the result of their actions? These questions (and many, many more) were taken on over the course of 12 issues of Watchmen, and by the time they were done, readers had a sublimely realized understanding of just how our favorite heroes would change our lives, were they to step from their 4 color world and into ours.
Twenty years later, most readers can point to multiple titles on the racks and see the long-lasting influence of Watchmen, but as good as they may get none of them have ever had (nor will they ever) have the same impact and pure world-shaking influence as Watchmen. To this day the image of the smiley face button with the drop of blood remains one of the most iconic images of the field. Thankfully, DC has finally seen fit to give Watchmen the treatment it deserves with a new entry in their Absolute line. Let’s take a gander, shall we?
Watchmen may be the single best example of a literary comic book. Sure, other comics have tackled heavier themes, or more novelistic stories, but Watchmen holds the distinction of being the most literary of the superhero genre. While it’s true that being the most literary of the cape-and-tights set may be a pretty indubious honor, Alan Moore ignored such swipes and set the bar almost impossibly high. It’s a novel (and an amazing one) in it’s own right, but while writing it as a novel might have garnered more acclaim in the literary world, we should all be thankful that Alan went with the graphic novel approach. Why? Because otherwise we’d be left without Dave Gibbons jaw-dropping visuals. Gibbons and Moore may very well have achieved the most perfect pairing of words and images acros those 12 issues. Gibbons’ style just explodes on the pages, drenching the reader all the grime, grit, and filth of a dirty city.
It’s a difficult storyline to sum up, but basically Watchmen is the story of 1985 America had costumed heroes actually taken to the streets at the same time as their comic-book inspirations. In this world, the heroes have been outlawed since the late 70’s, with only a few remaining in the service of the US Government. Rather than delve into the indiviudal stories, I’ll just urge each and everyone of you to pick up a copy and give it a read. It’s a conspiracy story on an epic scale, it’s a small personal drama that explores the inner lives and motivations of those who wanted to stand up and make a difference in the world. It’s a character study on the psychology behind those same movtivations and how they can ultimately twist and destroy their wielders. It’s a cautionary tale about unchecked power and the evil that can be committed in the pursuit of a greater good. It’s got crime, violence, sex, politics, and philosphy. It’s just a damn good story with astounding visuals.
The Absolute edition, while being a bit pricey (Amazon lists it at $49 USD), is the kind of package that should win over non-comic book fans with it’s oversized hardcover presentation, along with a great protective wrap. The expanded size allows for much more detail to be discerned from the visuals, and makes for an easier read (it’s a very text-heavy series). Sadly, Alan Moore’s recent spats with DC publishing may have been the reason the extras are all from 1988, but it’s entirely possible Alan Moore felt like he’s said everything he has to say about the book. Included at the back of the book are short essays from both Moore and Gibbons, as wel as Moore’s original pitch to DC for the comic, along with his character descriptions. These are enlightening documents, as they explain why Moore went with creating new characters, rather than using older, more established characters. It’s fascinating how they decided to go ahead and give the illusion of a a rich, textured back-story for everyone without having to really get into the mechanics of showing the reader those backstories. Gibbons original sketches for the characters are included, along with his hand-written notes about the characters. To finish it off, are multiple versions of the various covers that were rejected by Moore and Gibbons for the existing canon.
All in all, it’s a must-have for fans of great comic books and it’s a perfect introduction for readers who want to discover just how powerful and imprortant this oft-neglected form can be.