I am reading The Watchmen, which was given to me by one of my players/DMs (we alternate) who, even though he works in IT, is so old-skool he doesn’t even have a blog. At least, not one he’s shown me. This isn’t the reason I can’t quite get into The Watchmen though. The reason is that it’s a bit… strange. It doesn’t quite hang together the way I would have expected from Alan Moore. It reads like an early work, where he was trying to fit his dark sensibilities into a classic genre. The whole thing is a bit ham-fisted, in my view.

I understand that this isn’t everyone’s view, and that everyone’s sense of what is ham-fisted and what isn’t (or  even which crude things are enjoyable) is a little different. This is why we have Grognards, and people who like theatre, and people who love 4e D&D. So it’s not as if my opinion is necessarily the only or the right opinion about the clumsiness of The Watchmen, but here goes…

It seems to me that it’s a clear attempt at a kind of meta-comic, where the comic as cultural icon has a self-conscious presence throughout the comment, and it tries in some sense to imagine a role for comics in society (shudder). Hence the inter-leaving of the Pirate comic books with the end-of-the-world motif, and the slightly outlandish heroes tracing their costume decisions back to ’50s comics. But I can’t see why, and it doesn’t seem to work. The interleaved Pirate story is just a clumsy attempt at the sort of inter-chapter stories of Steinbeck or Murakami, but it doesn’t mesh well and so it stands out on its own. The heroes in the story are just too ordinary, and their comic-inspired outfits just look stupid (as if they are trying to remind us that early comic books were bad). If you want to paint the role of comics in society you probably need to make them seem a little more… inspiring … than encouragement for a stream of b-grade heroes.

The thing that really jars though is Doc Manhattan. Here we have a completely normal bunch of guys who beat up criminals because they are tough from “working out” a lot, whose most special trait is maybe some armour in their costume; and then we have Mr. Space-and-time. It doesn’t work. I can’t see where it’s going because, for example, I just don’t see these guys as a threat. People rioted over these vigilantes in their costumes? Why did that kid scrawl “Who will watch the watchmen” on a wall when the watchmen consist of a bunch of guys in tight pants who “work out” a lot? They seem comical not sinister.

So I’m waiting to see where all this meta-comicery leads, but I think it will lead to a flop. I’ve been told  it takes a while to get into but I’m halfway through and still none of this stuff is coming together. Also the artwork is really ordinary, like any run-of-the-mill 50s comic with nothing special to recommend it. So I will try and finish it, but I’m unimpressed and I was kind of expecting something different, particularly from Alan Moore.

It will be interesting to see if my opinion changes by the end. If it does, I shall report back with an explanation…

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