(author's note: This entry has been put in the Articles section because of its limited appeal to our general audience)
Watchmen is exactly the kind of book that merited the creation of the term 'graphic novel', although I feel it would sound pretentious if I used it. Fortunately, better men than I have dissected the book and cataloged it many times in the last twenty some years since its release, so thankfully, that responsibility doesn't fall on me.
My aim in this review is merely to jot down my thoughts as a reader having come at the book backwards, that is, I saw the movie first. These are my observations of the book:
- I was struck by how faithfully the movie followed the comic down to nearly every detail, but the result was a little like the secret in cat. Cutting open the book and putting it on screen drained all the blood out of the story.
- I had heard that this was the book that "changed everything" in the world of comics. I think it would be hard to debate that point. You can see its effects everywhere. I have a litmus test when it comes to media consumption. For a work of art or literature to merit my time (of which I don't have much), it has to either be excellent and meritorious in its own right, or at the very least be influential and serve as a corner stone for future work. Watchmen is both the pinnacle and the foundation of modern comics. It is an incredible accomplishment.
- The narrative is incredibly dense. This is not a quick or an easy read for a book with so many pictures (wink).
- The biggest difference between comic and movie (other than the fact that the comic is genius and the movie was derivative) is the end. In the move, Viedt's plot is far more nefarious and far reaching. His character is much darker and his plot serves to exile Dr. Manhattan from earth. In the book, his scheme is much more far fetched (a giant psychic squid explodes killing half of New York), but doesn't kill nearly as many people. His motives seem much more altruistic, if no less insane. This was a forgivable, but significant change. The movie also moves Viedt's backstory way up in the telling. I think it works better at the end of the story where Alan Moore originally placed it.
- The movie fails to capture the spirit of book after the first 30 minutes. The "Times they are A Changin'" montage perfectly captured the heart of the book, but that was in the first half hour. The rest of the movie should have had a wearier tone to it, like that of Dark Knight. Instead the over the top 'comic-fication' in the movie violates the central tone of the book which is a sort of blunt realism disguised as a pulp comic. Having read the book, I hold to all my original objections to the movie even more strongly.
- The Tales of the Black Freighter theme was amazing. Anyone who has read the book certainly doesn't need me to tell them that.
- This is a book that I will continue to digest and consider for many years. It is an important book about important things. My only regret is that I saw the movie before I read it.
Ultimately, my recommendation is this:
Buy Watchmen. Read it several times.
Then, if you enjoyed it (which you will if you like comics at all), watch the movie and appreciate it for what it does right.