Celebrating Alan Moore's "Unfilmable" Watchmen on Its 30th Birthday

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 - 12:38PM
DC Comics
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 - 12:38PM
Celebrating Alan Moore's "Unfilmable" Watchmen on Its 30th Birthday
Today in 1986, the first issue of Watchmen hit comic book stores, and revolutionized the comic medium forever. It became not only one of the most celebrated comics of all time, but one of the most celebrated novels of any genre, making Time's Top 100 books of the 20th century. 

In his justification for picking Watchmen as one of the Top 100 novels (and top ten graphic novels), critic Lev Grossman described it as follows:

Opening quote
Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.
Closing quote

Watchmen was not only a great novel in its own right, but it marked an acceleration of the "evolution of a young medium," because much of its artistry was directly tied to the graphic medium. Moore utilized the rigid structure of a comic to his advantage, varying the nine-panel format when it suited the narrative, and making visual choices that reinforced character arcs, such as Rorschach's squiggly dialogue boxes once he starts to become unhinged. According to the below video, that's why Watchmen is virtually unfilmable (although it didn't help that Zack Snyder was at the helm). The movie tried to emulate certain creative choices with film equivalents, like slow motion instead of larger panels, but it couldn't even compare.




And by placing a superhero narrative in a world that was recognizably our own—even while still trafficking in some superhero tropes—Watchmen was able to make a poignant commentary (and unsettlingly accurate predictions) about our modern society, even thirty years later. In a NYT review for "Absolute Watchmen," book critic David Itzkoff said:

Opening quote
When the first issue of Moore's 12-part magnum opus, "Watchmen," made its debut in 1986, what made it so remarkable was how conventional — and authentic — its universe felt. The preliminary notes of the illustrator Dave Gibbons... envisioned an alternate reality of geodesic domes, airships and submarine freighters. But the world of "Watchmen" is indisputably our own, one in which Richard Nixon was elected president, the United States waged war in Vietnam and Kitty Genovese was murdered in Kew Gardens, Queens, while her neighbors stood by.

Nearly 20 years after the original publication, "Watchmen" shows an eerie prescience: the symmetry between current events and the conclusion of its story, concerning a villain who believes he can stave off real war by distracting the populace with a trumped-up one, and an act of mass murder perpetrated in the heart of New York City, is almost too fearful to bear.
Closing quote


Happy birthday, Watchmen!
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