I remember being told about this book for years. About how brilliant it was, about how literary it was, about how Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (and Frank Miller) helped shape the comic-book world we see today, adding complexity, textuality, and structure (both emotional, cognitive, and in terms of psychoanalytical meaning) that hadn't really been done before in the context of a deconstruction of the superhero genre (at least to my knowledge, if you know of a way then feel free to prove me wrong), and revolutionised a genre.
It did this for the good, and the worse. There's been a lot of bad imitators over the years, a lot of characters needlessly given complexion when their stories were only ever designed as ecapist fluff. That only reinforces that works must be taken on their own merit, and a stylistic function shouldn't be shoe-horned into a piece of writing, or art, without careful thought.
When I first read Watchmen, I thought it was pretensiously up its own ass and monsterously infuriating. There were bits I liked, but it felt so alien in terms of its intent. Whereas others saw a story with maturity and intextutality, I saw something which sat on the page and sporadically spat out dialogue which read like a sledgehammer to the face in terms of coherent meaning, as well as some writing choices which felt thrown in to make it feel darker. In short, I was incredibly disappointed that I didn't enjoy it, as well as disturbed that the comic-book had become something the majority of fans saw as a classic. It was similar to my first experience of reading an LXG comic-book, where I felt it was cold and distant to the eye, something which I couldn't relate to in any way, shape, or form because it was so based in a literary approach.
Then I posted a (less wordy and paraphrased) version of the above here, and people disagreed. They told me why they disagreed, but I couldn't agree with them. I vowed to re-read it, to figure out where I went wrong, but couldn't. It never came alive. To me, it sat there expecting me to do the hard work, not wanting to reward me with anything other than a symbol or a short snatch of superb dialogue (of which there was some, second time around.) I actually recall getting in some incredibly heated arguements about it. I'm a naturally volatile chap, so it doesn't take much to get me going, especially when my opinion was being questioned. Now I realise that wasn't the case at all, rather that people wanted to make me see that while I didn't like it, dismissing it wasn't the right idea because it had such meaning and layers beyond what you see.
In The Prestige, we're advised to look closely, to see beyond the world that we're being shown and peer into the cracks that are evident. I didn't do this first or second (or even third, fourth and fifth) time, but then I went on a trip through the New Year to Italy, and it led me to one of the best reading experiences of my life, a catharthic moment that made me fall in love with a piece of art.
Watchmen, if you push for it, is a tale of such beautiful complexity that it will send a shiver down your spine. Its a story that is designed to challenge your conceptions of right or wrong, to make you question morality, to make you think about moral ambiguity, and political, sociological and psychological viewpoints beyond their terminology and into their representation. To think about religion, extremism, fascism, totalitarianism, dictatorships, politicians, romance, heroism and what being a vigilante means. Not just why something is done, or for what reason, but how a mind can rationalise that the decision made is made for the right reasons. About how a child is born; a one in a million occurance where the birth of a child comes about against all odds, against all logic, against every moralistic fibre of society which tells us that we aren't allowed to feel a certain way, but someone felt it anyway and it crystalised itself in a miracle.
It also contains great moments. Moloch dying, the death of Edward Blake, the moments with Laurie and Jon on Mars, Laurie and her Mother at the end. The book connects these into a hole, every single fabric of the story merged into a whole that pulsates with life, with meaning, with the nature of a full-blown society within a comic-book page. It gets better, moral standpoints presented and none chagrined, just shown as they are and revealing complexities behind characters in the form of flashbacks, time distortion, world creation and destruction at the hands of a man who sums up the brilliance of the work.
Adrian Veidt does something so insanely, amazingly evil that in any other comic-book he would be a sinner, a monster, someone who our heroes would kill and be right to kill. But the masterstroke, the thing that makes this more than a mere comic-book, is that just for a second... one second... it makes him right. It makes him the saviour of the entire universe, a hero, a man who singlehandedly ended the wars that threatened to destroy the Earth. And even better still, it doesn't matter if you think he's ultimately right, because the comic-book doesn't condone his actions. The heroes MIGHT understand them, but they don't comprehend them, and they realise that the moral quandry they are in is more than man was meant to go through, a point emphasised near the end when Jon tells Veidt nothing ends, and we get that awesome panel of Veidt realising that this peace won't last, and eventually he will become a forgotten figure, a footnote in the lower texts of history.
So we have terrific characters, a story that goes against the nature of the genre, and a rich history that is so damn good and well-written that it makes even minor characters such as Byron intriguing enough to make you almost wish they'd tell another story, while retaining the knowledge that Watchmen is the best start to end comic-book story of all time, a work that is so symbolic, so resonant, and so fantastic that we are able to sympathise with a man who tried to commit rape, who shot a pregnant woman, who killed kids, and yet couldn't understand (until it was too late) the concept of peace through killing.
An outstanding piece.