“On Friday night, a comedian died in New York. Somebody knows why. Out there, somebody knows.”
In an alternate world superheroes are real and helped to win the Vietnam War, becoming trusted caretakers of the nation. Soon enough though, the public turned on them, forcing the passage of legislation in 1977, essentially banning the existence of superheroes and raising the questions, “Who watches the watchmen?” In this world it’s 1985 and Edward Blake, otherwise known as The Comedian, is dead. Authorities have no leads but an old friend named Rorshach has taken it upon himself to discover the truth. Instead he finds Blake wasn’t the first to die under mysterious circumstances. Someone is killing superheroes and Rorshach wants to know why. He contacts former colleagues to warn them and they in turn become involved, lead on a merry chase filled with red herrings, all with the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union looming large on the horizon.
I think I was rather spoiled with this book as it was the first graphic novel I’d ever read and I doubt anything else I read in the genre will measure up. The attention to detail is amazing. I really liked how there were things going on in the background that informed the reader on the story. Whether it was graffiti or newspapers, it was an economical way of communicating, to fill in the gaps without taking up space on the page. As well, throughout the book there are documents and reports interspersed, with coffee mug stains and words purposely spelled wrong to create authenticity. This makes the world feel more real.
As well, the characters are an interesting study in human nature. We see a broad cross-section of all types, from the regular Joe of Night Owl, to the brilliant and successful Ozymandias, to the unfeeling and logical Jon. The dialogue is realistic, covered in a thin film of grit. The reader is surrounded by amoral characters and good guys who commit atrocities, painting the world a dark grey. But the story I believe is the strongest aspect of the novel. Alan Moore did a fantastic job. It may have slowed down in parts, i.e. plot interruptions in the form of a comic book but I found overall that it was really strong. He showcases the anti-hero that was popular during the 80s highlighting the fact that not every superhero was sunshine and rainbows. At their core the majority were regular human beings with a unique set of skills they put to use.
One thing I didn’t like was the comic book story wedged into the plot. While I understand the tie-in to the main story, it felt more like filler than anything and I don’t think the novel would have been the lesser if it had been removed. I was also not a fan of the explicit violence splayed across the page. I’ve never been a fan of guts and blood so this was somewhat of a turn off. Fortunately Moore’s story was compelling enough to hold my interest.
If you enjoy a good story with realistic characters then read this graphic novel. I highly recommend it.