Anatomy of a Book: Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins.

“That’s strong glass, man. You trip against it, even a big guy like that, it don’t break. I think you’d have to be thrown.”

There is a dead man, fallen to the street from twelve stories, and the police want to ignore it as an aggravated burglary. A masked vigilante named Rorschach takes interest and discovers the dead man, Edward Blake, was known as The Comedian, one of five crime fighting people Rorschach knew, including Nite Owl, Doctor Manhattan, the Silk Spectre and Ozymandias.

This is the start of graphic novel The Watchmen (a comic book on steroids). It is an excellent story with wonderful imagery, and these two components balance perfectly with the moody text.

The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “save us!”, and I’ll look down, and whisper “no.”

This is the voice of Rorschach, a man who has gone beyond being part of society, is wanted by the law, and is who takes a violent and personal view on correcting criminal behaviour. In his investigations his isolation and resentment rise, while a larger plot reflecting a distain for the grubbiness of the whole of humanity begins to unfold.

The Watchmen is not perfect. There is a sub-story about pirates that is questionably metaphorically relevant, and the relationships of city folk, centred around a newspaper stand, is uneven in its apparent attempt is to personalise story conclusions. (Note that neither of these elements was given significance in a recent movie version.)

The book reads like watching a movie. The images excellent, with cinematic protocols of early establishment of issues, villains and heroes, and setting all used. But it is not as compact at a film, and it is more visual than a text based novel. It is a graphic novel that shows the ugliness of the world, as unrelentingly as only truth can.

It is well worth the read, has influenced generations of readers, and it applies the same norms of all gripping stories:

Changing Status: Each major character is on the outside of something they want to be a part of. Knowledge, respect, and understanding humanity all are goals that are to be obtained.

Real Characters: A device used here is writing some chapters in the tone (the voice) of select characters. While it doesn’t rapidly advance the central plot, it does make each character interesting and draws the reader into understanding each personality. Also, additional mock excerpts from newspaper clippings, character autobiographies and other essays are supplied to create more believability and backstory in the world.

High Stakes: The status of the main characters is changing because they are either wanted by the law, or for some reason they are under a threat of death. This, and the world is on the verge of nuclear self-destruction, is something our characters must ultimately decide upon.


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