I just finished reading Watchmen for my Science Fiction Literature class, and frankly I thought it was a huge turd. Supposedly it's the epitome of graphic novels (read: comic books), and it really didn't live up to the hype in my mind... the characters were confused, confusing, and it left me disappointed as a whole.
Here's the journal I wrote on it:
This novel makes me want to retreat back to reading all the classic authors - Heinlein, Asimov, Pohl...
Reading Watchmen, was a new experience for me, as I've never been all that interested in comic books, so I haven't sought one out to give it a try. I found it to be more like watching a movie, than reading a book... perhaps “reading a movie” would be an accurate description. Whereas giving a close reading to a regular text involves just looking for trends in an author's prose, this medium lends us to having to watch for details that are visually present – repetitions, allusions, etc. The fortunate part of a “graphic novel” is that the pictures don't move or change as in when watching a film, so you are given a long time to study each frame for intricate details. This advantage may be why it took me the better part of two weeks to read this novel in its entirety.
When considering the stereotypical understanding of comic books, I tend to imagine superheroes, and supervillains, all moral issues are black and white, and superheroes are only limited by their conscience in their actions. Watchmen attempts to counter this by presenting the heroes as not only tragically flawed, but totally useless. None of the “heroes” of the story actually accomplish anything heroic (excepting a short rescue from a burning building). The only character who seems to manage any sort of change ends up vaporised shortly thereafter – I mean the newspaper salesman, not Doctor Manhattan. Ironically, the one who manages to bring about world peace is the hero turned supervillain, Ozymandias.
The other main expectation in comic books is that there is always a happy ending – the hero saves. This story brings us so close to that ending, but then snatches it away in the last frames. This is another way that Moore works to turn the idea of superhero comics on its head. However, it is not a satisfying story in any sense for me. There is little resolved by the end of the story, and I can only assume that it is self-referencing the comic book genre as a whole. This meant that much of the depth in the story was likely lost on me – leading me not to enjoy it as regular readers of comic books might have. I didn't know what to expect when reading it, so I was left confused and disappointed with the story.
I think Moore's goal with this story was to critique the story telling quality of the comic book genre, by showing that there are other routes that a story can take. Again, not knowing much of the history of comic books, I can only speak from stereotypical references, so I think that Moore was saying that there was a lot more potential for the graphic novel genre than was currently being utilized, despite laws which limited the story telling capacity at the time.