Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Watchmen

(glances at next item on the Book Blog To-Do List) Ah, yes. Watchmen.

I read this in fits and starts (and naps) back in February-March of 2009, when Astreja K. was laid up in bed with the Mesopotamian Death Flu. The beautiful madness of this book somehow dovetails with the delirium of those few weeks, and at the same time stands out as something really solid.

This is a comic book, but it is not an easy book and it is absolutely not for children. The origin story of Doctor Manhattan stands out as one of the most chilling things I've ever seen or read, and yet it's a critical part of the plot. The other members of the Watchmen superhero team -- The Comedian, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias and Rorschach -- all have their roles to play in this epic story, roles that bring them in conflict with each other and with a world that really doesn't want superheroes running around mucking things up.

It goes beyond mere dislike: After the 1977 Keene Act, which banned superheroes outright, only the Comedian, Doctor Manhattan and Rorschach are still actively fighting crime. The Comedian and Doctor Manhattan have the backing of the government; Rorschach is a vigilante acting in defiance of the Keene Act.

The story opens with the murder of the Comedian; then, things get really ugly. Someone wants the Watchmen out of the way.

Meanwhile, on the global front, the doomsday clock is ticking towards midnight and towards a fight that nobody can win.

"Tales of the Black Freighter" is a story-within-a-story, a pirate-themed horror story read by a kid who hangs around a newsstand in New York City. I see it as an allegory for good-intentions-gone-bad, the proverbial staring into the Abyss and having the Abyss stare right back.

All in all, Watchmen is a challenging yet approachable story that is a bit too real to be escapist literature.

Read this book, but be aware that you cannot unread it. Read it anyway.

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