The best books are the ones you remember finishing. Not just the ending, but where you were when you finally got there. I finished Watchmen in band class, in my freshman year of high school. The teacher was working with another section or something, and with just a chapter or two left to go, I went for it. Watchmen is one of those rare books that satisfied my love for superheroes, and literature, in one neat little package. It is hard to explain why Watchmen is as great a read as it is, but its greatness is rarely questioned. For me Watchmen succeeds in Alan Moore’s way of weaving together several different completely unrelated plot lines, for one enormously satisfying climax. In a way that never feels forced, but quite to the contrary, seems perfectly calculated.
Despite how edgy Watchmen feels (especially for coming out of the 80s), the abject imperfections of these heroes serve as foils to typical heroes like superman. The impurity of these people that we know are supposed to be spotless highlights the odd purity to be found in antihero Rorshach’s unwavering moral compass.
Watchmen is different, because ultimately, the good guys fail. The antagonist is stronger, and his madcap plan for a twisted world peace actually succeeds. For the heroes, not only is it easier to look away, it is arguably more practical. Rorshach defies uncompromisingly till the end, in what may be one of the greatest moments a comics team has ever inked.
I hold Alan Moore’s work on Watchmen in very high regard, and it is this regard for it that has led me to decide against ever watching the movie. This is me at my most close minded for sure, but I have a space in my mind, reserved for Watchmen, which I simply cannot bear to have sullied by a film that simply doesn’t get it.
One rather famous shot from the movie is one where an enraged Rorshach drives a meat cleaver through the skull of a murderer. “Men get arrested; dogs get put down.” he growls. This is a brilliant depiction of Rorshach’s raw justice, with a pretty great line to boot, but it’s lazy filming. The book only hints at this but never really shows it, while the movie drops it right on the table carelessly. The movie attempts to shock with the sight of gore; cleaving a man’s head is pretty uncharacteristic of anyone, even a sketchy vigilante like Kovacs, but the act itself is shocking on its own, without the over the top imagery.
In the 1935 film “A Tale of Two Cities” a peasant assassin sneaks into the room of french aristocrat the Marquis de St. Evremonde. He rises over the man’s bed, raises a knife, and with a quick crescendo of the score thrusts downward. We don’t see any blood, or even the stabbing itself, but we practically feel the killing stroke. A scene doesn’t need gratuitous gore to make a death impactful.
Even Quentin Tarantino, the king of Gratuitous violence himself, understands this; though he may not always direct accordingly. His 1992 neo-noir picture, Reservoir Dogs, features a rather intense torture scene, where rather than zooming in on the grotesquity, the camera pans away, staring at the wall, letting the screams, and completely out-of-place Stealer’s Wheel song do the trick.
Let’s not forget the climax of “To Kill a Mockingbird” which is shown almost entirely from an indirect point of view, focusing more on young Scout Finch. Not only does this enhance the story, but the chaos and confusion that the scene creates adds more tension than a straghtforward filming of the fight would convey.
Something that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons clearly knew while working on Watchmen was that no created image, could ever be more horrifying than what the human imagination could muster up on its own. When I think about Watchmen, I am gratified, and horrified; saddened, and inspired, all at once. Its one of those books that just sticks with you. Quite simply, I’m not willing to let anything take that away.