Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Book Review)

Where do I start with this graphic novel?


Let’s just say yes, this is a masterpiece and yes, I loved and hated reading it. Watchmen is a master class in storytelling. From brilliant use of foreshadowing to memorable characters and plot moments, this comic book/graphic novel is absolutely one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time and I wish I had done it sooner.


However, the journey to the end of this book wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it was downright depressing. Though I would definitely read this graphic novel again, let’s start off with what I hated about the book.


The world of Watchmen is extremely dark and gritty. From the haunting tale of a man marooned on an island, to the flat color palette of the city, to the extreme violence used to extract information from thugs. Watchmen is not a feel good comic and doesn’t have the bright splendor of a Spider-man or Superman comic.


The “super heroes” are really just vigilantes. None of them have super strength, or the ability to fly (without devices), or turn invisible, or do anything extraordinary. The only true superhero who is possibly the most powerful being in the universe is Dr. Manhattan. He can travel through time, see the future, teleport to distant planets, vaporize people with a single thought, change in size, Dr. Manhattan is the only hero with super powers and he doesn’t give a sh** about the world. That’s right, the one guy that could save everyone doesn’t care because he no longer feels a connection to the human race.


This is my first problem with the book. The heroes are extremely corny and so are their costume designs. Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandius, all of them suffer from ugly costumes, dumb gadgets, and no super powers whatsoever. For me, the allure of a super hero comic book is to see heroes do something heroic and look awesome doing it.


None of these characters are heroic. Not Dr. Manhattan, not The Comedian, not Silk Spectre, not Rorschach. Maybe Nite Owl but he’s the blandest and most uninteresting of all the characters despite being the one who most wants to be a hero. The breed of heroes in Watchmen won’t save someone from falling off a building or prevent a bridge from collapsing, but they’ll definitely be the ones to call if you want someone beat up.


In fact, the entire premise of this book is that the world would be better off without superheroes. That they’re a bunch of lunatics dressed up in tights whose actions are turning the world into a more violent and dangerous place. Truthfully, this book made me feel depressed. Everything I loved about heroism and the people who risk their lives was non existent here.


Even the pirate short story that runs parallel to the main plot was intended to be foreboding and demoralizing. Quite frankly, it would seem that this book was written by a depressive pessimist who has given up on humanity and the world. There’s implied rape, an innocent woman being murdered, and a rather gruesome tale involving dogs and a little girl.


This novel pulls no punches and some of our main characters are downright despicable. Though I have to say, of all the characters I liked the least, it would have to go to the only female character lead, Silk Spectre. She’s whiny, has a horrible costume, childish, doesn’t want to be a hero, and feels more like a plot device than an actual character. She’s the main reason Dr. Manhattan decides to get in touch with his former human side but asides from that, she doesn’t really do anything worthwhile except for getting a character laid. As someone who loves female protagonists, Silk Spectre was a massive disappointment.


This reader defends the Silk Spectre (Laurie) character and makes some valid points. I personally didn’t find her storyline very interesting. You can click here:




Okay, complaint session is now over. Now let’s talk about why Watchmen is absolutely brilliant!


If you’ve seen the movie, pretend that it never existed and read the book. Most of the surprises will already be ruined but I enjoyed the book way more than the film (and I saw the film first). The cinematography and composition in each panel within the book is extremely well done and memorable. There is clever use of zoom outs, clues hidden within the panels, and artwork that appropriately conveys emotion through color. From splashes of red to show fear or anger to flat purples in order to create a downtrodden, gloomy city. The panels convey more than just visual information but feeling and atmosphere as well.


It’s the subtle work in the coloring and the artwork that make these panels pop. Though the characters are generally horrid people, there’s a human, relatable element to each of them. Rorschach who is probably the craziest of the bunch, has some of the funniest moments throughout the book. From breaking into Nite Owl’s apartment to eat a can of beans or sugar cubes, to his insane but funny dialogue, Rorschach is the most interesting character of the group (and also the most important.)


Actually, that’s a lie. The most important character in the book is the one who dies in the very first panel and that’s The Comedian. His death is what spurs the book’s plot which is to figure out who is behind the deaths and disappearances of the world’s heroes. To say more than that would be a massive spoiler and if you’ve never read the comic or watched the film, then you absolutely need to pick up a copy.


What amazed me about this book, what truly made my jaw drop was the fact that everything was intricately linked together. The foreshadowing is subtle but present and once you reach the point in the story where the clue becomes relevant, everything immediately clicks into place. You remember what you saw earlier and put the pieces together in a massive eureka moment.


The dialogue is spot on. Each character feels unique and distinct and none of the space is wasted with unnecessary verbiage. There is growth and evolution for each character, except for Rorschach which is so perfectly fitting. Everything is masterfully put into place leaving you guessing at every corner while blatantly telling you what’s going to happen and how it’s going to end.


The only non spoiler thing I can say is this, everything comes full circle. When you get to that ending and see how the loop closes, you can’t help but sit back and go, “Wow. That was effing genius.”


Other people who have poured over the pages and text have created a much better analysis than I could ever hope to achieve. Therefore, I will send you over to them instead: https://vimeo.com/121064479


Despite me thinking the heroes were campy and the world dark and depressing. This was a well earned five star book. From the artwork, to the prose, to the plot, it is no wonder that this book is considered a masterpiece. If I could write even a fraction as well as this team has, I could die happy.


5 stars.

Wilmar Luna