Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Watchmen, and stacks of books

It's about time that I revived this blog, don't you think?

I haven't been writing lately, but I have been reading. My in-laws came to visit, and not only did they come bearing Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (squee!), but we went to two bookstores during their three-day visit. You know that two bookstore visits mean a lot of new books. I have two stacks of new reading material on my dining room table, although half of that is science books for my husband, and one is a cookbook (50 recipes using green tea, how could I resist?).

One of the things that we picked up, in anticipation of the movie's release next month, was The Watchmen. I decided to read that first out of everything I had, as I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I just didn't get it.

Ok, I take that back. In some ways, I did get it. I can see how the concept of a grim story, featuring heroes who were deeply flawed and not always heroic, was a groundbreaking idea when it was written in the 1980s, and has since been widely imitated. And I liked how the story explored an alternate history, where the actions of the characters had greatly changed the course of events from what we've all grown up with.

My problem with The Watchmen is that the characters are so flawed as to be unlikeable. Yes, it can be argued that in some cases, they were drawn to a life of vigilantism because of their flaws, and that in other cases, their mental issues were either caused or worsened by the things they did and saw... but it could also be argued that any of them could have been seeking professional help instead of ruining the lives around them with their issues. I couldn't find one character to identify with, and I rarely sympathized with them.

Sometimes, as with China Mieville's Bas-Lag trilogy, I can overlook flawed, unlikeable characters, and still immerse myself in a truly good story or fascinating world. And Watchmen drew me in, but when I finally left its world, I didn't feel like I was improved by my time there. I felt disgusted and disappointed by the characters, the ending, and how the one person who tried to do the right thing ended up punished for it.

I'm still going to see the movie, of course, but I may end up being there more for the visual effects than the story, and to see how much they've changed it (aside from giving Silk Spectre a tight leather-looking outfit, as opposed to the weird oh-so 70s/80s one she had in the comic).

Soon, I'll post the rest of my reading list.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the Eight Deadly Words for me. I'll see what you think about the movie before I even consider putting it on my Netflix queueueue

Anonymous said...

I liked Watchmen when it came out, but, like Alan Moore's other influential comic-book Miracleman, it takes those premises to their logical conclusions, effectively making them into storytelling deadends. I much prefer Kurt Busiek's approach with AstroCity: it accepts the silliness of various comic-book conventions and premises, but it twists them around. One is the Lois-Lane-tries-to-unmask-Clark-Kent situation, with very sad results.

AJ said...

Ah! That's the first I've heard of the Eight Deadly Words, but I've certainly felt that way about many stories. Good to know there's a term for it.

I'll be sure to post my opinion about the movie here, even if it just ends up being a link to my Collector Times review (assuming I write one, since I'm sure several other people will).

Serge, I still need to check out AstroCity. It sounds like it may be more up to my speed.

Anonymous said...

About Busiek's AstroCity... It's published irregularly, but comics stores might be able to get the trade paperback reprints. Highly recommended. Interestingly, when Alan Moore came back to comics a few years ago, he wound up abandonning the total-realism approach in favor of one not unlike Busiek's.