Just because a book has pictures doesn’t make it “light” reading. It just means it’s likely to take less time to read because half of the content is visually displayed instead of relayed via text. Which is good, because I didn’t want to spend too much time on this. Just part of a day. I suppose I could’ve put on the movie instead, but when dealing with comics it’s best to stick with the original material.
That’s why I reread Watchmen as a precursor to issue one of Doomsday Clock. As a refresher, because it’s been some time since I last watched or read it. You know, aside from the changes due to time, the movie is an amazingly faithful adaptation of the comic, down to including the music cited here and there and acknowledging the background of the various characters. It’s such a good adaptation that when I read the graphic novel nowadays, I can hear the actors’ voices and the soundtrack music playing in the background.
It’s a terrifying story though. The political tensions, the clock ticking ever closer to doomsday, the uncanny echoes in today’s world…it doesn’t make for comfortable reading. Which is, of course, what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons intended. Watchmen is not intended to comfort us and say everything will be okay. It’s intended to make us look deeper, to stare into the abyss and come to terms with what we find there.
What can I really say about Watchmen that hasn’t been said? It’s a great book, and my copy says “One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels” right on the cover, in line with the note that this won a Hugo award. And this is the sort of story that you say “of course it won an award.” Stories that resonate, that make us feel something beyond ourselves, that’s what we want awards to go to. It can’t just be artsy or dramatic (which is where so many people complain about the Oscars), it has to encapsulate emotions and forge a real connection with its audience. It can’t be something that, once you finish it and put it down, you forget about it until someone or something brings it up again.
Watchmen the movie came out when I was in college and, before I went to see it with friends, someone handed me a jump drive with a PDF of the whole comic on it, saying I should read it first. Well, as someone who generally prefers books to movies, I saw the logic and sat down with my laptop. Four hours later, I closed my reading window and stared blankly at the wall, trying to process what I’d just read. Then, just a couple hours after that, I saw that story, with minor changes, brought to life on the big screen.
I wouldn’t call Watchmen one of my favorite books, nor even one of my favorite graphic novels. But I would call it one of the most memorable and influential, even if I don’t see it as having had such a big impact on my own life.
People say that the United States likes to view itself as Superman, the perfect hero, the Boy Scout, the one everyone idolizes. People also say that the United States is more like Batman, skulking in the shadows, spying on the world, using its money to do what it perceives to be necessary regardless of what public opinion believes. Both of those heroes are idealized versions, lacking the grit found in Watchmen. Or at least, they were idealized until the comic industry decided to take a darker tone with so very many of its properties.
When I reread books, I often go from remembered moment to remembered moment, filling the gaps in between as I go. Key points stand out, but the pages between them tend to be lost to the intervening months and years. Not so for Watchmen. Sure, I was rusty on a few things, especially those elements which didn’t make it to the big screen. But I remembered almost the entire story. I think that speaks to how powerful a piece Watchmen is. Even if I had expected myself to remember the whole story, I would’ve reread it anyway. Because again, it helps to have everything fresh in my mind as I go to the sequel.
So, issue one of Doomsday Clock. I did not expect it to be so expensive. My Power Rangers comics run $3.99 apiece, but this was $5.99. I used to buy novels for that price, before inflation hit the mass market paperbacks again. I suspect all twelve issues will be the same price, although I hope not. The default cover (because for some reason DC wants us to collect covers?) is a lenticular featuring Rorshach with one of his usual “expressions” (read: one of his usual facial patterns). Tilt it, and those marks warp into three familiar symbols: Superman, Wonderwoman, and Batman. Furthermore, the iconic clock icon in the lower corner of the cover has Superman’s symbol situated where midnight would be. All in all, a decent design telling the informed viewer what to expect. Watchmen meets the main DC universe.
The tone of the first issue takes me back to the beginning of Watchmen, especially when the original was discussing the riots leading up to the Keene Act. (The Keene Act is the one that forced the majority of the Watchmen into retirement.) It is 1992, seven years after the events of the first series, and the world looks as dark as it ever did. Most of the issue takes place in the world of Watchmen, only going over to the main DC universe for a short bit at the end. To me, it seems this was included to reassure readers that yes, they will be doing the crossover, we just haven’t gotten there yet.
A nice touch is the four pages at the back of the issue featuring an array of supplementary material such as newspaper articles, ads, and even a menu relating to the issues contents. I always enjoyed those inclusions in Watchmen, as they allowed for bits of extra exposition without detracting from the story as a whole. They were in-character extras, and it’s nice to see Doomsday Clock continuing with that tradition. Also at the back are black and white images of the various covers for this issue, each topped by quotes from Watchmen that may help to steer readers towards the mindset the writers seek.
Really, the whole layout is very similar to the the original, complete with font choices, a few pages of story before the chapter title, etc. Just like the movie, you can feel the appreciation for Watchmen in everything. Even the color pallet is a factor; Watchmen was done primarily in oranges, greens, and purples. Off-tones that help set the mood as being somewhat jarring and unsettling. In contrast, the bit at the end of the book, the main DC universe part, is done primarily in blues because, of course, most comic books rely on the primary colors. I do so appreciate little touches like that.
It’s a longer comic issue than the ones I’ve been reading of late, forty-four pages long instead of twenty-six or twenty-seven like the Power Rangers. And yet, it seemed short. Mostly because, as the first issue, Doomsday Clock needs to establish the world, what’s happened in the past seven years, and lay clues and groundwork for where the story is going to go from here. Yes, there was some action, but it’s not what we’ve been craving. Not yet. All in all, I’ll say it’s a good start, a good hook, and I’m glad I decided to pick up the actual comics instead of waiting a year or more to find out what happens.
Yes, buying the comics will be more expensive than waiting for the trade, but that’s the trade-off of impatience versus cost. At least this way I can support my local comic shop. They’re good people and I appreciate that they exist and always have what I want in stock.
I also read some Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers today. Rereading issue #19 and opening up issues 20-21 for the first time has been interesting. I have to say, the team writing these comics has definitely been looking to explore the Power Rangers mythos in more depth while still keeping it to the original series. And also to have fun with…color choices.
The revelation at the end of issue 19 and the story of issue 20 tells me that I might have been wrong in my earlier predictions concerning Grace Sterling…but there’s no guarantee. After all, it’s not unheard of in any story, inlcuding Power Rangers, for people to switch sides. More than once, even.
It’s also important to see that Zordon may be a wise floating head, but he’s still capable of making mistakes. It’ll be interesting to see how he does when confronted with this one and how the teens take it.
Without getting into spoiler territory, these issues continue to show the depth of character and world-building I’ve come to expect from the comic series. New elements are introduced, old ones are explored, and it’s a fun ride the whole time. Although now I kind of want to go put on that first team-up between the Space rangers and the Galaxy rangers…
The last thing I read today was an odd old book I found at the convention earlier this month. Catwich, by Una Woodruff and Lisa Tuttle, is a beautifully illustrated children’s book. Divided into six chapters, it tells the tale of Jules, a kitten who became a witch, and his adventures helping his human friend. It’s not the most complex of stories, but it doesn’t need to be. Woodruff’s art is amazingly detailed and appears on almost every page of the book, including some brilliant splash pages. It’s a book I can easily imagine being read to a child, as they’d be fascinated by the pictures while the text echoes in their ears.
Sure the story was predictable and simple. But it doesn’t matter. Catwitch is a children’s book and doesn’t need to be held to the same high standards as my normal reading. Oh, it would be nice if I could do so, but I’m not going to make unreasonable demands for something aimed at five year olds. I’m glad I got the opportunity to read it and examine its lovely illustrations, but it’s not something I’ll keep for myself. I don’t have any nostalgic attachment to it, which means I can’t overlook the minor complaints about the story enough to retain the book.
So I guess that makes today a picture book sort of day, as everything I’ve read has been as much visual as textual. That, along with lengths that are rather short in comparison to most books I read, made today a nice break. Of course, given that I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything, that’s only to be expected. I’m not sure what I’ll pull from the Pile next, whether it’ll be a novel or an anthology. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the latter, but only time will tell.