I have tried writing this twice now. I really just can’t get my thoughts together in the proper order. Commenting on a 12-part story will do that to you. Especially if you’re commenting on it after you’ve read all 12 parts. Now I’ve got a bunch of stuff to praise and a fair bit to criticize. I should’ve just done it chapter by chapter. Gotta love hindsight.

What is this though? This is a review of Watchmen, a story originally printed as a 12-part (mentioning that a bit too much) maxiseries–in no way related to menstrual pads–that is widely available in graphic novel format.

Thanks to CBR’s Secret Santa and my Secret Santa, Mike Smash! (thanks Mike), I was able to read this beloved masterpiece. Okay, calling it a “masterpiece” might make you jump to the conclusion that I really like it. I don’t. Before I elaborate on that, though, let me provide this warning:

If you have not read Watchmen, don’t read further. I do not find it likely that there will be a reader who has not done so, but I’m not going to be a jerk. I mean, I am going to focus a fair amount on the last few chapters. So if you’ve read it or don’t mind having the ending spoiled for you, then keep reading. And if you fit entire neither of those categories and are still reading, leave now. Still here? That was my last warning. Let’s move on.

With that out of the way, I’ll expand on that statement I made earlier. No, I don’t like Watchmen. But I don’t like in the same way I don’t like The Scarlet Letter (someone else drew the comparison for me, for which I’m thankful). The Scarlet Letter is widely regarded as one of the classics, one of those pieces of literature people who like literature should read. It’s filled with history, romance, and action, all of which appeal to many. It’s filled with symbolism, imagery, metaphors, and many other rhetorical devices, all of critical value. Watchmen is no different in that sense. It’s one of the most technically well-constructed stories I’ve ever read.

From the parallels with The Black Frontier (a bit of metafiction there) to most of the backup pieces to the various items included in the art and beyond, Watchmen is wonderfully well-crafted at a technical level. As a reader, I was able to see into the minds of the various characters without thought balloons, a striking contrast to works of the time and likely the influence for the lack of those balloons today. I got into their heads other ways. Through what they say, what they write (especially with Rorschach), how they act, and so forth, I was easily able to understand the characters and their points of view. Even though this style of writing has become pretty standard in comics currently, few writers are able to achieve that. It’s astounding.

I promise that I’m getting to my negative thoughts. Just hold on.

The art is gorgeous. It includes the smallest touches of added realism that could just has easily been left out and not affected the story as a whole, like the graffiti on some walls. The art suits the tone, being suitably dark and pastel. And …and… There’s just a lot to appreciate in there.

But for all it’s great art, for all it’s connecting themes, symbols, etc., and for all it’s critical merits, Watchmen ends unsatisfactorily. It makes me think, it makes me create my own ending, and wraps up all the crucial plot points, I suppose, but the heroes lose. They lose. An explosion occurs in New York city that kills half the city. That’s fine, I suppose, as it’s big and dramatic, and shocking and all those things you want during the climax. But then you get to the aftermath. The heroes, save for Rorschach, give up. You win, Ozymandias. If we reveal your dastardly plot, the world goes to hell again. Really? What Veidt has done is unified the world’s great powers by having them perceive a potential threat to the entire planet. There is no immediate alien problem. That should readily become clear. The world stands united against what could happen. Whether or not there will be an alien threat for them to fight is not known. My point is that I don’t see why they can’t tell anyone. If the world is united on something that could happen, then why not reveal the ruse? Fear of the world reverting to the way it was? I guess? But that’s when you need a good speaker. Several good speakers. People who will make the public at large realize that this new society is worth keeping. I somewhat hope that the journal would get published, but I’m not entirely sure that it would be convincing enough. Rorschach was clinically insane after all.

Which brings me to another point. We get a lot of build up with Doctor Manhattan. He goes off the Mars to think. He builds a glass citadel. He has a conversation with Laurie, one in which she convinces him to come back. Yet he adds nothing. He comes back only to find the devastation of New York and the Ozymandias feeling like he’s on top of it all. No punishing the man for his crime of mass homicide, perhaps by killing him. No aid in the city. No presence in the world really at all. He comes back, suggests that Ozymandias is right (why we should take the word of a man who is clearly out of touch with the way people think and react I don’t know) and kills Rorschach for disagreeing. Then he leaves. That’s it. All that build-up to essentially kill Rorschach. And his journal lives on, a book that is only a little less credible than the writer.

Ozymandias is a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. Rorschach is insane. Overall noble, I think, but still insane. Doctor Manhattan never does anything particularly heroic within the confines of present-day story (he does some cool military work in the past, though). Nite-Owl and Laurie just give up and go underground. It’s a story about heroes with no heroes. One could argue that Ozymandias is the hero because he ceases the world’s conflict. The Cold War is over. But he clearly states that he’s not done. The next step is Utopia. Given that his inspiration in all this is Alexander the Great, I have no doubt that he wants to conquer. If not the world, then everyone’s mind.

An interesting thought: if they hadn’t stopped to drop off Rorschach’s journal, would they have made it in time to stop him? Maybe a bit ironic. Anyway, I digress.

I am very impressed by Watchmen. There’s a lot to see in it, a lot to appreciate. And it gets me thinking. I like when stories leave me thinking. I know it wouldn’t read as well in standard comic format. So, it kinda makes me appreciate decompressed storytelling a bit more as well. But, essentially, I don’t like it when Chapter 12 is included. Chapters 1-11? Fine. Minor quibbles at best. I just can’t wrap my head around the events of the last chapter. I enjoyed my reading experience. It’s compelling and engaging stuff. I recommend that others read it as well. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It gets a 4 out of 5.