Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Watchmen is proof that being a literary pioneer is a mixed blessing.
The graphic novel has earned numerous accolades, and deservedly so, for its mature and inventive re-imagining of the superhero concept. Unfortunately, it was so innovative that it changed everything in the field that followed.
The idea that America would regulate and ban masked heroes is now old hat, having been used in everything from X-Men to The Incredibles. Want to see angst ridden superheroes that resemble Sam Spade more than Superman? Superhero love triangles? Discussions on the nature of a 'hero'? Amoral vigilantes with no qualms about killing? Thanks to Watchmen you can see it all, in the form of a hundred inferior clones created in the last twenty years.
What was original is now cliche, and I fear many young people will read Watchmen and be left wondering what all the fuss is about.
Watchmen tells the story of a group of masked heroes who retired in the wake of a government ban on their profession. Only a rogue vigilante remains on the loose, and it is he alone who investigates the murder of one of their own. Soon a conspiracy to eliminate the group is uncovered and they must all once again don their costumes and seek an end to the threat.
It remains a powerful and thoughtful piece of literature, 'comic book' be damned. This is a hefty novel that requires thought, one I couldn't finish in a single night. But while I stand by my praise and unequivocally recommend the novel, I want to point out that Watchmen is not, despite everything, a book that raises the graphic novel to par with standard prose literature. It is in truth a hybrid, deriving a fair portion of its character and plot development from prose chapters scattered throughout its length.
As I said, I unequivocally recommend this; if you haven't read it already, you need to pick up a copy. Today.