I’m late to the world of comics, just really getting into it now at the age of 32. But I think this gives me a bit of an advantage over the average joe who started reading comics as a teenager, believing that “pow” and “boom” are the height of literary sophistication. Starting later has pushed me into the realm of comics that have something to say, instead of the ones where the action is the sole purpose of their existence.
Starting with Sandman, moving to Hellboy, and Hellblazer rounded out my horror collection. At that point, I was forced to admit that I liked comics, no matter the stigma around the genre and I branched out to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hatter M and finally Sin City and Watchmen.
Watchmen was beyond anything I’d expected; there was a complexity to the story that is beyond most novels, let alone fiction published in graphic format. And that’s what Whatchment truly is - it’s a novel that happens to incorporate visuals as a medium of storytelling.
The story itself is compelling: during the 40’s vigilantes in costumes are accepted, even revered as folk heroes. In the 70’s they fall out of favor as they’re used too frequently and the abilities of the individuals become super-human. But for these people, the life of an ordinary citizen just doesn’t fulfill them. They need to be meaningful in a way that protects the populace, but after being forced to retire there isn’t any way to legally fill that void.
It’s within this setting that the questions start coming up. What happens when deterrents are removed? Can the future be changed? What is the nature of evil? Do the ends ever justify the means?
The beauty of this story is that it doesn’t attempt to answer the questions it poses, instead it leaves the reader to try to figure out their own answers. The moral ambiguity is the point, not the plot device. Each subsequent read of the story is different, biased by foreknowledge and the ability to muse on the problems posed to the characters. In the pages the timeline is short and fierce, the characters forced to react quickly or miss their opportunity. This is in stark contrast with the readers experience. They are allowed to reflect and repent at leisure, posing the questions again and again until they come up with an answer that they like.
I wish that there were more narratives like this: complex, deep and thought provoking. The genre could certainly use them to get a readership outside of the stereotype.