Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reading the Watchmen: Chapter 1

Since the movie is coming out in a little over a month, my local comics shop's book club decided that Watchmen should be our next book up for discussion. This seemed like a piece of cake to me, since I had read the book first close to 20 years ago and several times since. However, once I thought about it, it's probably been over a decade since I sat down and actually read the whole thing, all the way through. Sure, I'd scanned through it on lazy Saturday afternoons, maybe even read the whole thing, minus the text pieces a few times. But I can't remember the last time I had made a concerted effort to read it all as a solid piece of work.

So that brings us to the purpose of this post, and the series that should (hopefully) follow it. I'm going to read each issue individually and try to type up my thoughts about it here. Though I'm sure it'll be tempting to blow through several of the chapters at a time, I kind of want to give myself the chance to really think on each one individually, and this will also help to serve as my "notes" for the upcoming discussion of the book over pizza and beers at the end of the month.

One last quick note, if you haven't read the book yet, I'll probably be talking about some of the stuff that will happen later in the book, so you may want to skip over this book and go and pick up a copy for yourself. Even though I haven't read it in a while, I still think it's one of the best books residing on my bookshelves.

Anyway, issue #1: We begin with the aftermath of the Comedian's death and the start of Rorschach's investigation into it. IT serves as a clever introduction into the world of the book, the conversation between the investigating Detective's providing us with the broad frame-work of what has happened to the super-heroes of the world and Rorschach's narration giving us a view into his pure black-and-white morality.

After discovering that the murder he was investigating turned out to be a former costumed adventurer, Rorschach then sets out to warn his former comrades: Nightowl, now a fat, middle-aged man who's only happiness lies in the past. Adrian Veidt, the smartest (and possibly richest) man in the world, who sold-out before heroes were made illegal and now makes a pretty penny on his image. Then, finally there is Dr. Manhattan and Sally Jupiter. Manhattan, the only truly "super" hero of this world who seemingly detached from life itself. Sally, his "kept woman", given a life by the government simply because she keeps Manhattan happy and relaxed.

With his warnings ignored, Rorschach sets out to find the killer none-the-less, simply because that is what he does, he realizes that he cannot save the world from what he sees as an inevitable fall into evil, but he does what he can simply because he must, as his morals allow for nothing less.

Following the comic proper, there is an "exerpt" from the first Nighowl's memoir, detailing his childhood during the Great Depression and what pushed him to become a masked adventurer. The most interesting thing about the text piece being is that he mentions that he was inspired by the early pulp heroes and comics, particularly Superman, but he then comments that no one probably remembers them, giving us a clue that, in this world where superheroes are "real", the fictional ones ceased to exist.

Overall, this is just a fantastic first issue, and it's still as fresh today as the day it was printed back in 1985. Re-reading it today the art is the biggest revelation. I've long been a fan of Dave Gibbons, but it's odd when you realize that large portions of this book are wordless, simply streetscapes of New York City with a lone character walking. Working in a fairly rigid nine-panel grid, Gibbons just does beautiful work. One of the biggest things I noticed is his use of facial expressions to convey very precise emotions. Gibbons is probably the single best artist I can think of at doing this, all of his faces just look real. The color pallet is very limited with a lot of deep-browns and greens, making everything look very dingy and decrepit.

Thanks for reading along, I look forward to sinking my teeth into issue 2 tomorrow night, (depending upon whether the Superbowl is interesting or not).


Bill said...

I remember reading somewhere that Gibbons and Moore made a concious effort to avoid, for the most part, any primary colors throught the artwork and opting instead for secondary as a way to challenge what was the typical comic format.

I think I'm gonna follow you along with this and read it again myself.

Jason said...

I think you're right. The edition I have has a ton of interviews and extra material from back in the day from the creators, but I'm holding off on reading that stuff until I'm done. Keep on piping in with your thoughts as I go through. Hopefully I'll have issue 2 up by Monday night.

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