Grayswandir (_grayswandir_) wrote,
Grayswandir
_grayswandir_

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Watchmen

I really, really wish the cover of Alan Moore's Watchmen was not plastered all over with "Groundbreaking!", "The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced!", "Peerless!", "A landmark!", "Staggeringly complex!" I really wish it wasn't.

Because I'm positive that if I'd come to it expecting nothing more than a graphic novel, with superheroes in capes and stuff, I'd have been very, very impressed. Overwhelmingly impressed, no doubt. But instead -- in spite of my best efforts to ignore the reviewers and banish all preconceptions -- I came to it expecting the greatest graphic novel ever written. And hell, maybe it is the greatest graphic novel ever written. But when something has been praised that highly, what you bring to it is mostly judgment, and unfortunately most of what I've ended up thinking about it is simply, "Well, it wasn't that amazing."

Which, like I said, is almost certainly purely a consequence of having been told -- by the blurbs on the book itself, by the reviewers on Amazon when I bought it, by the previews for the upcoming film -- that I would be, you know, completely blown away by its epicness. I really wish that I had somehow stumbled across it by accident, because then I could have actually been blown away. Why the devil are we so incapable of seeing past our own preconceptions, and appreciating something for what it is and what it was intended to be, rather than some shapeless anticipation of the impossible?

It seems to me that if people were able to judge things -- including each other -- for what they are and what they're intended to be, half the world's bloody problems would be solved right there. But hell, that's a whole other topic.

Anyway, I liked Jon a lot. Actually, chapter four, where Jon is on Mars, is my favorite part; that was the one section that made me think, for a while, that the reviewers might not be wrong in proclaiming the utterly nonpareil magnificence of the book. It was very Kurt Vonnegut, I suppose: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. But it made sense for Jon, far more than for Billy Pilgrim -- being able to see his life spread out like a mountain range, and living all of it at every moment, even while living each moment distinctly. It was still a very comic-book sci-fi sort of story, but I guess the fact that Jon was such a neat character made the silliness of his genesis sort of disappear into the background.

His indifference was just so sincere and straightforward; there was no pretense about anything he did. He really was a god, and I think his distance from humanity, and his inability to understand humanity, was the foremost proof of that, more than his strange abilities and powers. He was pretty much incapable of doing good or evil, simply because everything to do with humanity was so far below his notice. Although curiously, he did seem compassionate, in a detached sort of way. I guess in that sense he reminded me a lot of Destiny from Sandman: already knowing the past, present, and future, knowing that fate cannot be changed, knowing that it is futile to have any feelings about it at all -- and yet still subject, apparently, to a kind of vague regret and pity. A helpless god.

Yes, I liked Jon.

The only other character I liked was Rorschach, though I use the word "liked" a bit more loosely in his case. I think what I mean is respected. He seemed to be practically the only character with any real integrity. Unlike Jon, he had no apparent compassion at all, and it's kind of hard to say what his motives were for being a "hero," if he can be called that, since he had no personal qualms about killing or torturing innocent people if he thought they stood in the way of finding the guilty. Pretty much a loose canon, that guy. But he was clever and detached and realistic, and stayed calm and methodical, whatever the circumstances, despite being by no means invulnerable. So I was impressed. And at the end, he was the only one to whom the truth was more important than utopia, and even though I can't say morally whether that was right or wrong, I do respect it, because for him it wasn't even a choice. When he said he would never surrender, he meant it. "Not even in the face of Armageddon."

It's harder to say what I thought of Ozymandias. His story felt very cliche and pretty... over-the-top comic-book-villain ridiculous to me. I mean, maybe I expect too much from my comic-book villains. But, you know, super-genius-guy as villain is nothing new, and neither, I should think, is that Crime-and-Punishment-descended idea of committing terrible evils in the name of an ultimate good: of becoming a Napoleon, an Alexander, and recognizing the sacrifices that must be made on the way to the utopia of a united world. I mean, I guess it's a pretty profound moral question, and if it wasn't something I'd already given so much consideration to, thanks to Dostoevsky, it might have felt more remarkable here. But, you know. Nothing new under the sun.

Mainly, though, it was the whole, "So I built a giant alien monster with a psychic human brain that will teleport and destroy half of New York, thus averting global warfare" bit that was just... what. I mean, seriously, what. Not only is that plan just outlandish and overly complicated, it doesn't even make sense. I mean, if he'd staged an actual alien invasion somehow, okay, maybe. People will unite against a common enemy, yes. But why is a trans-dimensional monster exploding in New York a good reason for Russia to pull out of Afghanistan? You can't band together against an enemy that self-destructs upon contact with your dimension. There's not even any reason for America or Russia to suspect that the "aliens" destroyed New York on purpose, and there's no way to predict if or when it might happen again, or to defend against it... Why the hell would world peace result from one instance of exploding alien? I just don't understand.

I realize Ozymandias had plans to continue uniting people by some other, future method, but even so. I just wasn't buying it. Especially after he tried to get rid of Jon with that Intrinsic Field Subtractor thing. I mean, maybe he knew Jon would come back, but just figured it would take him a while? Even so. For the smartest man in the world, the guy was not terribly bright right there.

Nite Owl was a wuss. He was an interesting character, and his complete dorkiness was kind of cute sometimes, but really the guy had no actual... it really did seem to be all about getting dressed up and playing superhero for him. And the fact that he was so embarrassed about it only made that more obvious. It's hard to imagine how he ever kicked any ass with that kind of attitude toward himself and what he was doing. He was so uncertain and wavering about everything. It's amazing Rorschach put up with him at all.

Nite Owl/Rorschach were pretty OTP, though. That scene where Nite Owl gets all pissy about how difficult it is trying to be Rorschach's friend, and Rorschach is kind of like, whoa, did he just say...?, and they shake hands, and then Nite Owl gets all awkward and Rorschach just sort of stands there looking at his own hand for a minute. That was awesome.

But Nite Owl is still a wuss. He and Laurie deserved each other.

It's difficult for me to express just how intensely I loathed Laurie. I mean, in the beginning I found her a little irritating, but by the end I was about ready to strangle her for her sheer stupidity and vanity, and I could not even conceive what we were supposed to like about her. Practically all she ever did, for the entire book, was talk about herself, complain, or both. I think it was usually both. Egad.

The main scene that made me hate her was her argument with Jon on Mars, though. She complains over and over about how "emotionally disconnected" Jon is, and how he can't understand her, which, no, he can't -- but it is painfully evident for their entire conversation that he is trying to explain rationally the reasons for his own viewpoint, and she is not trying at all to understand him or to speak in terms that he can understand. There are plenty of perfectly good arguments she could have made to convince him to help humanity, arguments that would have appealed completely to his own sensibilities, and I kept thinking eventually she'd hit on one of them, just by accident. I mean, Jesus, the most obvious one is simply the fact that Jon's own consciousness, his own ability to appreciate the beauty of the martian landscape, the reactions of elementary particles, is a consequence of Earthly life -- that a universe so magnificent deserves spectators, like Jon, like human scientists who, albeit feebly, are trying to understand and assimilate the majesty of it all.

And I don't know, maybe that argument would have swayed him, and maybe not, but for god's sake, it would have been better than her crying and raving about her stupid childhood, irrelevantly and adolescently and just... argh. The one woman who had an opportunity to convince God to save mankind was too busy feeling sorry for herself to even try -- how awful is that? It was kind of offensive, actually, not because Alan Moore chose to write such a horrible female character, but because he presented her as if it was okay that she was so horrible. As if we were suppose to like her in spite of her being horrible, because women are just like that and they can't help it. Which just... argh. Argh.

Anyway, I guess that's enough of that. Oh, but the other thing that I did really like was the bit about how the whole world is like a goddamned blot test, and everything we think it means is just the result of our desperate human brains seeking symbolism in the mundane, the meaningless. That was another really great chapter, come to think of it, on par with Jon's coming-unstuck-in-time chapter. And really, there were a lot of very nice little observations like that, scattered through the book. The overall plot just didn't feel solid enough to do them justice. And there just... there was so little subtlety. I sort of felt like Moore didn't give his readers very much credit. Not as much as I'd have liked, anyway.

The pirate story running parallel to the various newsstand scenes was really neat, though. Very artfully done. And let me not forget to say: the art is fucking amazing. Start to finish, every panel, absolutely gorgeous. If I were being fair, I'd spend as much time talking about the art as I've spent talking about the plot and characters, but there's just not much to say except wow. No complaints, no criticism. The art was perfect.

Anyway. Those are my rather lengthy two cents.

Relatedly, and yet not: I've been rather depressed about how much publicity and hype The Dark Knight has gotten, and I guess now I realize why. Because it's like all the hype surrounding Watchmen, which made it so hard for me to appreciate it, so inclined to judge every little thing about it. I went to see The Dark Knight expecting your typical superhero flick (more respectable than, like, Spiderman or something, but still inevitably silly); I figured the best thing about it would be Bale in his batsuit looking pretty. I was blown away because I had no expectations. If I'd been looking for something revolutionary, profound, nuanced... hell, maybe I'd have been utterly disappointed. I don't even know. I hate that I keep hearing people saying they're not interested in seeing the Batman movie, and I can't tell them how good it is, becuase if I do, they're bound to be disappointed when/if they see it, because its greatness... is relative to what it's intended to be. Relative to its genre and what is demanded of that genre, and relative to the preconceptions you have about it before you walk into the theater. Or pick up the book. Or whatever.

I just wish we could see things as they're meant to be seen, and judge them as they're meant to be judged. But look, here I am quoting Pope again. "Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In every work regard the writer's end, since none can compass more than they intend; and if the means be just, the conduct true, applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due."

Amen to that.

ETA: I'm pretty excited about the Watchmen film now, though. I was skeptical before, and I'm still a bit worried about how much they'll leave out, but it has the potential to be very neat. Hopefully they'll do like they did with V for Vendetta and make the chick not suck in the movie version...
Tags: alan moore, batman, books, graphic novels, literary criticism, reviews
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