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JediCole's Recommended Reading #5

Welcome to a very special edition of Recommended Reading...
I suppose you could call this installment "All Watchmen, All the Time!" Indeed if any one title on my list of Recommended Reading titles deserves the solo spotlight it is Watchmen. I have so very often proclaimed that this is the single best comic story ever produced in the 100 plus year history of the comic book medium.

Watchmen (Alan Moore (w), Dave Gibbons (a); DC Comics

Absolute Watchmen (Alan Moore (w), Dave Gibbons (a); DC Comics

I've held out on Watchmen for Recommended Reading's fifth installment solely because I always intended to give it the coverage it deserves. The entire column! Given the sizeable variety of ways one can find and read what I personally consider to be the greatest comic book ever written in the entire over 100 year history of comics it deserved to have an entire edition all to itself. Originally published as a twelve issue mini-series starting in 1986 it would go on to be reprinted in two trade paperback editions (by DC Comics for the direct or comic shop market and by Warner Books for the bookstore market) and a slipcased hardcover edition (by Graffiti Designs). And that was just during the early years after the comic ran its course. It has since been reprinted in two editions of a trade paperback, a hardcover edition, and the enormous Absolute Edition (all by DC Comics).

Don’t get me started on Watchmen!

Too late!

Watchmen simply has no equal, despite really changing the way comics were written almost from the moment of its release. While I will grant that Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns also broke new ground, it lacked the level of beginning-to-end seriousness and unprecedented attention to detail that define this series.  I would go so far as to say that Miller simply broke ground but Moore laid the foundation upon which these changes were built.

Originally published in 1986 as a 12-issue mini-series, Watchmen quietly appeared in comic shops and became a sensation. There had simply been nothing quite like it! If The Dark Knight was a trailblazer then Watchmen put down the steel and concrete highway upon which all others followed with considerably more ease. This was the comic book taken to the level of art. It is little wonder that it is one of the only works of graphic fiction to consistently land on “top 100” lists of literature. Yes, the comic book has been legitimized thanks to Watchmen!

But why devote an entire installment of Recommended Reading to just one collection of a single series? The answer is simple. I can’t say enough about Watchmen, all of it good! This is literally the antithesis of what your mother used to tell you do if you could not say something nice about someone. Indeed I can’t say enough nice about this series. I have read it so often I could not accurately report on the number of times, easily 200 by now. Several times a year I will break out one of the copies of the trade paperback in the collection, the “reading copy”, and read Watchmen again. And each time I read it I discover something I missed in the countless previous readings! How many comics can you say that about?

This is the part where I tell you that if you have never read Watchmen you need to drop everything and rush out and buy a copy.

"If you have never read Watchmen you need to drop everything and rush out and buy a copy!"

Told you. But seriously, I cannot recommend this series enough. It is the most cleanly written, cinematically presented, and intelligent comic series ever written. Alan Moore outdoes himself with this work and his close collaboration with Dave Gibbons shows in every panel of the story. Some years back I was told by a friend who had been sent an artists’ sample kit from Marvel Comics that the script they sent along of the brief tale they wanted soliciting artists to illustrate was so minimal and sketchy that the end result would be vastly different from artist to artist. It was also revealed in an article I read once that most comic writer’s scripts are just as limited and that after the artist has illustrated the script they add the dialogue post facto! Is it any wonder that sometimes the words coming from the characters’ mouths does is not reflected in their actions or expressions as drawn by the artist?

Nothing about Watchmen was left to chance in that way. Moore’s scripts (the entirety of the one for the first issue appears in some volumes) are elaborate and highly detailed. And a result of close consultation with Gibbons, who contributed many of the pertinent aspects of the story including the super-hero name Nite-Owl. While many traditional comics are produced in an almost industrial fashion with little to no contact between the production of story and art, this particular work raised the bar to such heights that few others have come close to reaching that pinnacle.

And for those who need some big statistics to fall back on, how about this one:  Watchmen is the number one selling graphic novel/trade paperback of all time!  And with good reason.  While it may seem that the hype surrounding Zach Snyder's incredible cinematic adaptation fo the graphic novel that had long been held as "unfilmable" drove sales of the book to levels that DC Comics was ill-prepared to anticipate, that is only a half-truth.  The reality is that the movie trailer and other media hype got people who had never read a comic in their life to discover Watchmen.  But even before this, the trade paperback already held the best-seller status on the strength of the story, art, and everything about it.  The first screening of the movie trailer simply added considerable fuel to a fire that had never stopped burning.  If I recall Watchmen sold over 1 million copies in one month after the trailer was screened!  New readers simply discovered what fans have known for decades.

All of that aside I recommend Watchmen because it is more than a comic book.  It is a novel and a movie rolled into one.  You might be prepared to say, "JediCole, I've seen the movie, why do I need to read the comic?"  To which I would have to say, please read above where I told you about what you need to do if you have never read this book!  While Snyder did an incredible job of bringing this story to the silver screen he did so with considerable liberties and no shortage of flaws.  If you have seen the movie and are reading the source material for the first time I have one recommendation.  Set the film aside in your mind.  Read the comic for itself, not for the basis of the feature film.  Otherwise much of the true magic of the original work might be lost in comparison.  Read the trade paperback with a mind toward looking forward from the comic to the film, not back from the film to the comic.  Then you will see the aforementioned liberties and glaring flaws.  You will discover the salient points that were glossed over out of the necessities of filmmaking that shine out in the actual comic.  You will see Watchmen as it was meant to be seen.  In its original form!

So in closing I will say that of all of the recommended reading choices to date this is the most highly recommended.  Every geek, fanboy, comic creator (professional or aspiring), filmmaker (as with comic creators), and just well-rounded person in the entire world should read Watchmen!  It's just that good!

P.S. Pay close attention to Rorschach when he is examining Blake's apartment and especially the closet.  It is the epitome of subtlety in graphic story craft!  Abolutely brilliant use of visuals without dialogue or captions.

Oh, and one more thing... It's Watchmen, not The Watchmen!  Just a little something that gets my goat every time!  Watchmen is the title of the book/series/story, NOT the name of a super-hero team (as in the movie).  Long before the movie it always got to me when people refered to the Crimebusters (the actual short-lived team name in the comic) as the Watchmen.  Then Snyder hauled off and did the same thing!  I would suspect it was more pandering to the studio's desire to make it seem approachable to the unsophisticated general public who would not be able to grasp the concept at hand.  Like I said early in this article, don't get me started on Watchmen!


I sometimes wonder if you had to read Watchmen when it originally came out to get how different it was from everything else out there. The nine panel layouts, the noir feel. I've had several younger folks tell me that they read it and it wasn't all that. But when you contrast it with the rest of the work in 1985 (other than Dark Knight) it soared. Reading it monthly made you aware of just how detailed and well thought out this comic was. I was skipping all the back-up stuff until JediCole told me that it fills in some of the blanks nicely.

I wish Watchmen could have lived on its own and seemingly every writer that followed hadn't tried to say write their own Watchmen (except with the actual characters not the pastiche that Moore worked with). The grim-n-gritty movement pretty much can be laid at the feet of Watchmen and Dark Knight. So while I love the mini-series, the ripples it caused are still being felt in the super=hero industry today.

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