Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Watchmen #1 (1986)


Watchmen #1 (September, 1986)
"At Midnight, All the Agents..."
Writer - Alan Moore
Illustrator/Letterer - Dave Gibbons
Colorist - John Higgins
Editor - Len Wein
Cover Price: $1.50

First off... welcome to my two-hundredth daily post here at the blog.  I wanna thank everybody who has followed, or just checked my stuff out from time to time.  It really means a lot to me... it's helped me actually begin enjoying and loving this hobby again.  After several (too many) years of just buying and reading comics out of habit... or fear that the sky would fall if I stopped, I've finally been able to locate that missing passion through blathering on here, and meeting a lot of really cool people.

I've never really considered myself a "commentator" of any sort, and I don't quite feel comfortable writing for an audience.  The way I look at it, I don't have a whole lot to contribute that hasn't said before and better (anybody I've "freelanced" for over the past several months can attest to my writer-confidence issues)... but, the endeavor/exercise has helped me out a whole bunch over the past several months.  Again, if you've popped in from time to time, I sincerely thank you.

Now... with all that said... I shall ruminate and ruin a book of legendary status... Watchmen #1.  This being a "milestone" post (if a post penned by me can be called that), I wanted it to be special.  I highly doubt I'll ever hit another "hundred consecutive" post, so why not go big today?  I toyed with discussing this issue for the big 2-0-0 since I hit post 150 or so... and I've been nervous ever since!

Let's see how this goes!

--


We open on the iconic scene of a blood-stained smiley face button drifting toward a sewer grate amid a red torrent.  The "camera" goes skyward to a broken window several stories above ground where an investigator comments on how far a fall it must have been.


We soon learn we are inside the apartment of a man called Edward Blake.  He had a prominent scar on his right cheek, and did diplomatic work for the government.  The pair of investigators posit that it may have been anything from a simple burglary gone wrong to an orchestrated hit.


The pair leave, and make the first mention of a Keene Act that passed into law which banned all superheroes that weren't in cahoots with the government.  They agree that this murder should be kept on the down-low, lest any masked vigilantes get wind of it... especially a certain loony called Rorschach.


Speak o' the devil and he shall appear.  A masked fellow retrieves the bloodstained smiley from the gutter and proceeds to climb the building from which it fell.  Inside, he does a little bit of detective work and locates a false wall inside one of the closets... which reveals the costume of the one they called The Comedian.


We shift scenes to a pair of old friends sharing a late night drink.  We soon come to find that both these men once went by the name Nite-Owl.  The younger Owl, Dan, decides to call it a night and heads home... where he finds Rorschach chowing down on a mouthwatering can of cold beans.  He breaks the news that the Comedian is dead, as he starts snacking on sugar cubes.


Dan suggests they go down to the garage to continue their discussion.  Downstairs, he still maintains his old Nite-Owl lab... though at this point it is covered by a bit of dust.  They reminisce about days passed, when they were a team.  Dan seems to remember those days fondly, to which Rorschach reminds him that he had "quit".


Next stop, Happy Harry's Bar.  A scuzzy joint, covered in graffiti.  In the foreground is a newspaper strewn on the sidewalk... with an actual headline that means something in this world!  Inside, Rorschach is looking for info on the killer of Comedy.  He comes across a jerk-ass, who comments on the way 'schach smells.  Bad move, buddy... I see a pair of broken fingers in your future.  The bar is a dead-end, so our man heads out.


Next stop, the penthouse offices of Adrian Veidt, the man once known as the hero Ozymandias.  There are several action figures in his likeness atop his desk.  Veidt apparently gave up heroing a full two-years before the Keene Act was passed.  He suggests that perhaps the Russians killed the Comedian due to his work with the government... even going so far as to refer to him as a nazi.  Rorschach takes that a bit personally, as I guess he doesn't see himself as altogether different from ol' Blake.  He gives Veidt the warning that there may just be a "mask-killer" on the loose, and heads out.


Next stop, the Rockefeller Military Research Center... the home of a couple more former heroes.  Rorschach easily slips passed the guards and prepares to visit with Dr. Manhattan and the former-Silk Spectre, Laurie Jupiter Juspeczyk.  


He breaks the news of the Comedian's death, and is met with perhaps an unexpected reaction.  Manhattan isn't affected at all... he sees life and death as abstracts in his quantifiable world.  Laurie is rather pleased, apparently Blake beat and raped her mother (the first Silk Spectre, and the Comedian's teammate on the Minutemen team).


We learn here that that elder Nite-Owl from earlier (Hollis Mason) had written a tell-all book about his time in the Minutemen that had some less than savory information in it in regard to the Comedian.  The book was called Under the Hood, and six-pages of it are included in this issue.  At Laurie's request, Manhattan tells 'schach it's time to go.  Despite his protests, our man rapidly finds himself standing outside.  A nice exhibition of a tiny part of his powers here.


With Rorschach out of the way, Laurie thinks about getting in touch with Dan Dreiberg for dinner.  Doctor Manhattan is completely cool with it... even though the indication you get here is that their relationship is at least somewhat romantic.  He is unmoved and unbothered by her request.  And so, she sets a date for later that night at an Italian restaurant.


That night, Dan and Laurie meet up.  Here we learn that she stays at the research facility only to keep Jon (Dr. Manhattan) relaxed and happy... there's another indication of just how powerful and dangerous he might be.  The issue comes to a close with the pair reminiscing about Captain Carnage, a pervert who would bother them pretending to be a supervillain so they'd beat him up... that is, until he tried it with Rorschach!  In the final panel... one of them (it's not clear which) finally addresses the fact that the Comedian has died.


--

I'm about to give you the least controversial lines you'll read all day:  Watchmen is a great book.  This first issue is a great piece of comic book work.

With that out of the way... let's discuss why I feel that way.  Keeping in mind we'll only be ruminating over this issue... trying to keep it "in a vacuum" if that is at all possible.  Well, we'll give it the old college try anyway... 

Let's start with the "package".  This is a 26 page comics story with six pages of text as a capper.  This is an ad-free book.  If you were to (for some insane reason) remove the cover... the inside front and back covers feature a large "W" and part of an "A"... I'm fairly certain we can deduce what's being spelled, but it's that level of detail I want to address.  I came into the hobby a few years too late to experience this "live"... and I was always kind of under the impression that this was something of a "sleeper hit"... like a book that kinda came out of nowhere and knocked everybody's socks off.  After spending some time with the single-issues has made me realize otherwise.  The back cover features the top hand of an analog clock... the time is just about 11:49.

Another reason I wish I was around to experience this live is... and I'm a bit surprised to be saying this... I think it actually reads better in single-issue format.  It affords the opportunity to reflect on the chapter you just completed before immediately diving into the next.  I feel in collected edition format, the chapter "endings" are kind of taken for granted.  I love the way this issue ends... reading this "in a vacuum" allowed me to "receive" it better.  At least that's how I feel, I'd never assume others would think the same way.

Onto the story... Here we have the start of a great murder mystery, and we are introduced to all of our main "players".  It's amusing that our point-of-view character is the most unstable... and yet, all throughout his tour/reunion, I can't help but root for him.  I've often wondered if it's just a case of me really liking a character's design... because, c'mon... Rorschach's design is absolutely wonderful.  He's has one of the more iconic looks in all of (superhero?) comics.

I always enjoy "where are they now" stories.  I feel they really help give insight, without coming across as forced.  It's natural for old friends or acquaintances to reminisce... this way of delivering information to the reader is utilized to perfection.  We get the feeling that Nite-Owl has regret... he still maintains his unused lab/garage... hell, he still has a standing weekly appointment with his heroing predecessor.  Ozymandias has "sold out" and gone corporate.  He looks as though he has no regrets, yet he has monetized his likeness... making his face somewhat synonymous with what passes for "superhero" in this world. 

Doctor Manhattan only sees things be how many particles they consist of.  He's cold, calculating... and quite dangerous.  Silk Spectre gives the impression that she just might be protesting too much here.  Refers to her heroic past in nothing but negative terms... yet, it seems as though it's all she can talk about.  It's understandable, I suppose... she's lived a unique and exciting life.

Then there's the Comedian.  We don't know a whole lot about him... other than the fact that he worked for the government, he once took a picture with Gerald Ford, he may have tried to rape the first Silk Spectre, and he's very much dead.  He didn't seem like a nice fella... which is always a good trait to have when you are the victim of a whodunnit murder.

The writing and art... Do I really need to--?  Okay... this is some incredibly crafted comics right here.  Alan Moore is at his best (or near best, depending on where you place this among his works), and Dave Gibbons has added an amazing amount of realism and grit to his work to differentiate it from things like his Green Lantern, which always came across as quite "clean".  I definitely don't want to leave out John Higgins' colors... this book is brought to a whole other level with its coloring.  It's all just wonderful.

There is so much done here... it's almost musical.  Images and words dancing together... marrying into something that is both comic book... and more than a comic book.  Scenes melt into one another almost seamlessly.  Visual symbolism and reference is employed in such a way that you could go crazy trying to notice it all... much less explain it all!  This is a dense endeavor... I could not imagine the amount of hours put into this by Moore and company.  There's a reason (many really) why I'm so trepidacious to comment on such a work!

So, recommended?  C'maaaaaan.... if you're looking for or at DC Comics review blogs, you already know the answer to that.  Definitely worth your time... easy to procure... it's a fixture on bookstore shelves in new and used condition.  If you haven't read this yet (yeah, both of you) definitely make a point to do so.  Do me a small favor though... try putting it down for a few minutes between chapters to let it all "sink in".  I feel I really deprived myself of something special the first time I plowed through this.

Before I go, I just really want to thank anybody who reads this.  Two-Hundred consecutive days was something I never thought I would do... Hell, I was shocked when I did a week straight!  I wanna thank everybody I've met, worked with/for, and chatted with while doing this.  You've all helped me rediscover my love of these four-color gems after too long'a time without it.

--

Et-Cetera:

Inside front/back covers
Back Cover

1 comment:

  1. I mean this is it. This, for better or worse, is the benchmark series upon which all superhero stories that follow are based. And there are upsides and downsides to it, to be sure. It does probably read better in single issues, but I remember the last half of the series having atrocious delays--the final issue took something like ten months to come out--which really lessened the impact of each issue. I think had it come out monthly as intended, it would have landed well. But since it didn't, the trade turned out to be the best option (and the only option, now...except for a deluxe hardcover slipcase where each issue is bound individually coming next year. There's more than one way to skin a Watchmen!) The trade is certainly landmark--has to be the first one to never go out of print, I think, with DKR following right behind--and it was also the second graphic novel to win a literary award, after Maus (I think this one got the Hugo Book Award, if I'm not mistaken.)

    You do mention it here, and others have noted it well, but it cannot be overstated how much this book "works" because of Dave Gibbons' art. It is the perfect combination of being realistic yet still mired in the same anatomy and structure of superhero comics. He lends a grittiness to the world, without drawing actual dog turds. Blood spews effusively from faces, but only gets "chunky" on a close-up. This is a comic book story through and through, commenting on its own structure while still remaining true to the language.

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