Watchmen is Creative Genius Showing Off

Part 1: The Comics

Note: There are NO spoilers in this section.

Photo from a previous @SpiderKidReads Instagram story

I first started reading Watchmen several years ago, when I was still in high school and going through a superhero phase. At the time, I only finished eight of the twelve issues, but even ¾ into the collection, I was able to conclude two things:

  1. Watchmen was the most unique set of hero stories I had ever encountered.
  2. Alan Moore was officially one of my favorite writers.

The form interested me at least as much as the content, and that was certainly a new experience for me. I was endlessly fascinated by the final pages of each issue, where the panel format would give way to some other genre. It might be an autobiography excerpt, a newspaper clipping, exchanged correspondence—a different thing with every issue. The flexible form expanded my understanding of how writers and artists could add meaning to a narrative, sometimes in surprisingly non-narrative ways. Issue after issue, I kept remarking to myself, “I didn’t even know you were allowed to do that!”

I finally got around to completing the comic maxiseries this year, in 2020, because of the HBO Watchmen (2019) series release. (I refused, like I often do, to watch the show without having fully read the book. And my God, I’m so glad I did!)

I think the most noticeable thing about the comic characters was their brilliant, unique, psychological profiles. If there was a central question the comics asked of each character, it would go something like this: “Forget the whole ‘saving the world’ BS, what’s the real reason you decide to dress up in some glorified Halloween costumes and go around beating people up, hmm?” And for almost every character, the question produced extraordinarily fascinating answers—answers which varied surprisingly from character to character. One thing I’m sure they all have in common, however, is that every last one of these characters is stark, raving mad. And somehow, as opposed as some of them might be to each other ideologically, all of them are right, in some way, about something. That takes some incredible writing skill to achieve.

The plot was a surprisingly slow burn. Perhaps Watchmen is not as action-packed as your average costumed hero tale. Where bombshells do appear, though, they are ruthless. The writers don’t give a damn about your shock and are not interested in easing you into comprehension. Things happen, then they’re done, and you’re left alone to deal with the consequences, as a reader, just like the characters are. The dominant thought in my head when I reached the end of the maxiseries was, “WTF did I just read?!” It’s worth mentioning that the heavily political climate of the overarching story was invaluable. It helped me understand the significance and motivations of several key characters. Much of world politics doesn’t make sense to me, so it was a surprise that I appreciated its role in Watchmen. But I admit, in the context of this story, all the costumed heroes would have seemed frivolous in the absence of such high stakes.


Part 2: The Comic-Based Series

Note: There are NO spoilers in this section.

HBO Watchmen promotional poster

I don’t know that it’s possible to talk about HBO’s Watchmen without shouting. Personally, I have never seen brilliance like this before, but I hope to God that one day, I’ll see brilliance like this again. Maybe even help make brilliance like this before I die.

In this world, there are people who like reading. There are people who like watching TV. And there are people who love story. Once upon a time, I might have fallen mostly into the first group, but over the years, I’ve become primarily a member of the third. So, for me, the fact that I cannot talk about HBO’s Watchmen series in isolation from DC’s Watchmen comics is a huge part of the brilliance. This is how you do story!

HBO’s Watchmen isn’t an adaptation of the comic books; it’s a continuation. A sequel, if you will. I suspect I’d have been confused as hell if I’d gone into the show with no idea of the original story. The series does what it can to fill you in, but I still believe that to fully appreciate the genius, reading Issues 1 through 12 of the comics first is your best bet.

The continuity might have been the most impressive part, for me. It seeped through every aspect: motifs, typography, themes, characters, timeline, even plots and individual scenes. People familiar with the comics might immediately recognize the motif of the Comedian’s bloody, smiley-face badge. I was almost irrationally excited to see that motif replicated in the HBO series with the bloody police badge. Additionally, it was a small but beautiful aesthetic detail to have all the subtitles for non-English dialogue in the series appear in the yellow sans-serif font that graces the cover of the graphic novel collection.

The choice of artform does lead to significant differences, though. The graphic novel was more preoccupied with character psychology than character development, but the series did so much better with the latter, not only with the newer characters like Looking Glass and Sister Night, but also with older ones like Laurie and Jon.

I may inevitably sound like a snob here, but in terms of plot twists and revelations, I honestly believe that there are things that will absolutely not hit you quite as strongly as they should if you aren’t already familiar with the graphic novel. I can’t articulate which scenes those are for the sake of spoilers, but if you’re thinking of watching Watchmen, I strongly recommend you go and find the comics to read first. That’s all I’ve been trying to say for the last 400 words.


Part 3: My Unfiltered Thoughts on the Whole Thing

Note: THERE ARE SPOILERS in this section!

The Crimebusters from the Watchmen maxiseries

One recurring thought when I finished the comic maxiseries was that Adrian Veidt and Thanos would have gotten along splendidly. I think both villains had very good points! It’s something I think about nearly all the questionable characters in Watchmen: Everyone is mad, but also, everyone is right. Rorschach was deranged, but I could see his point of view. Ozymandias was a murderous megalomaniac, but he also made hella sense. Dr. Manhattan didn’t have the emotional spectrum of an actual human being, but he said so many brutally true things! (Of course, to my surprise, in the HBO series, he does develop the emotional spectrum of an actual human being.)

Lady Trieu though? I’m sorry, but I can’t find a way to redeem her madness with logic. I mean, at least Ozymandias was trying to avoid an impending, worldwide disaster. And he was more interested in neutralizing a dangerous, nearly apathetic god, rather than becoming one. Regardless of how Trieu tried to justify herself, it just felt like she was a megalomaniac for megalomania’s sake. I mean, if you want to kill Dr. Manhattan to prevent evil racists from stealing his power, I may not approve, but I can at least understand your thought pattern. But going the extra mile of taking that power for yourself just sounds like overkill to me.

Speaking of Dr. Manhattan, though, I found his evolution pretty stunning. For most of the comics, I thought of him as a cold, unfeeling god who was utterly bored by humanity. It came as a genuine surprise to me when he decided to help save the world because of the “thermodynamic miracle” of Laurie’s father, of all things. What I never expected was for Jon Osterman to fall so deep in love that he would masquerade as a human, even become a human, so he could make the woman he loved happy. That was the most anti-Manhattan thing I could possibly think of, and that was what made the bombshell of Calvin so profound. I promise you, when I heard the “rumor” of Dr. Manhattan masquerading on earth, I thought it might be Topher. Topher seemed too emotionally advanced for his age, too cold and logical, and he was able to do at least one physics-defying thing in the series. Topher, not Calvin, was the most Manhattan-like human in the series, before the big revelation. In any case, I didn’t think it was possible to do with Dr. Manhattan what the TV series successfully did with him, and for that, I was blown away.

In the comics, the first time I found myself really liking Dr. Manhattan was during the scene with Laurie on Mars, particularly the conversation about Laurie sleeping with Dreiberg. I laughed my head off at Laurie’s frustration with Jon for being shocked at something he already theoretically knew he would be told. It was my favorite scene in the entire graphic novel. I was delighted to find that the mood of that scene was replicated with Angela, in the scene where Jon finds out about her parents’ death. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed the consistent parallels between the Laurie-Jon relationship of the comics and the Angela-Jon relationship of the TV series.

Another thing I enjoyed immensely was the brilliance of the Adrian Veidt subplot. I would commend all those who figured out immediately that the Lord of the Manor was Veidt, because I was lost for a hot minute. There was a meta-quality to the Manor scenes, in that everyone on Europa had a role to play in the theater of Veidt’s captivity. The irony, of course, is that Veidt himself was the director of this theater of captivity, to help him cope with the reality of his captivity. And even more of a head-f*ck was the fact that within this theater of captivity, he actually had his servants enact plays in a theatre setting!

As fundamental as Veidt was to the graphic novel’s plot, he didn’t appear much until near the end of it. The series thus gave me a much deeper insight into Veidt’s character than the comics were able to. Like I said, the series was much better at character development than the graphic novels were. Old characters were sincerely refreshed.

Take Agent Blake, for example. It took my brain ages to accept that she and Laurie Juspeczyk were the same person. Her character had evolved, and hardened, even more than Jon’s character had evolved. A mystery I haven’t quite managed to solve is how, if the identity of her father traumatized her so much, she grew up to completely adopt his last name. Blake/The Comedian was never married to Laurie’s mother. Throughout his life, he never claimed Laurie as his own. So what’s Laurie’s logic in adopting his legacy, even nominally? The best I can come up with, considering Agent Blake’s new fatalistic cynicism, is that she has resolved to intentionally embrace personal trauma and tragedy, because what’s the point of rejecting something that continuously follows you all the time, anyway?

While we’re speaking of character development, I’d like to say that Angela Abar’s character development was sexier than any other character’s development in Watchmen… except maybe for Will Reeves. These guys’ backstories take the cake. So much more fascinating and formative than Ozymandias’ backstory, or Jon Osterman’s, and even Rorschach’s. I mean look at how that sweet little girl turned into this savage! And see how that furious Black policeman became this laid-back old man who acts like he’s just in the world to have a good time, to the bafflement of everybody around him.

Now, Hooded Justice certainly played with my emotions. From the first time I saw his costume in the Watchmen comics, with that rope around his neck, I thought, “A symbol of lynching? This guy has to be Black.” But then the little glimpses I got of his eyes consistently suggested that he was a white man, so I forced myself to accept that I was wrong about his race. And then Watchmen the TV series happened, and I SCREAMED. Man, this is how you do story! And let’s talk motifs and legacy. Isn’t it fascinating that Sister Night’s costume involves a black spray-on eye mask, the complete inverse of HJ’s eye makeup, designed to make him look Caucasian!

On the topic of legacy. I love the play of the Smartest Woman in the World being a direct descendant of the Smartest Man in the World. It just goes to show, chale. No matter how smart you are, if you’re a fool, your foolishness will still show you pepper. In any case, I really love what they did with Nostalgia. Veidt came up with a fragrance, and Trieu turned it into a drug. Talk about family business, huh?

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: Reckless

Author: Cornelia Funke

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Sometimes, I get very inconsequential thoughts like, “Ah, I’m too old to be reading this stuff.” I know how to rationalize it, of course: I read children’s fantasy because I hope to one day become an author of children’s fantasy. This, while true, is only a corollary of the truer reason I read this stuff, or why I even want to write this stuff: because I enjoy it.

Cornelia Funke is one of my favorite writers, and I think I can safely conclude now that magic/fantasy is my favorite genre. (Of both books and movies. And if you can consider Jon Bellion’s music magical, then music too.) I’ve read Inkheart (twice), Inkspell, Inkdeath, Dragon Rider and The Thief Lord, and not a single book of hers has disappointed me yet. Reckless is no exception.

Let me start with what drew me to the book in the first place:

  1. Cornelia Funke’s name was on it.
  2. It was at a used book sale section of my city library, for one dollar. Why wouldn’t I buy a Cornelia Funke book for one dollar? (Lowkey, these small-small literary expenses are the things most likely to make me broke in life. Issa weakness.)
  3. The title: Reckless. It’s inviting, it’s exciting, and it’s a freaking cool word. I bought the book without reading the blurb. Quite a reckless move, wouldn’t you say? (That wasn’t funny? Well, okay then.)

As anyone who knows me should expect, I really liked this book. I absolutely adore the idea of remixing fairytales, and this world that Funke has built (it’s called the Mirrorworld, and Reckless is only the first book in the Mirrorworld series) is a world of remixed, mish-mashed but seldom explicitly referenced classic fairytales. I love this perhaps for many of the same reasons I liked Sarah Ockler’s The Summer of Chasing Mermaids and the ABC series Once Upon A Time. But there is something Funke adds to the idea of remixing fairytales that makes it even sexier: her own heritage.

Cornelia Funke really does a good job of owning the world she has made, particularly because she is German. Many Western fairytales, as you may know, came from a collection of stories compiled by two German writers, the Brothers Grimm, and are usually referred to as Grimm fairy tales. These writers are not exactly authors; as the story goes, they travelled through Europe, collecting old stories and folktales from different areas, and simply wrote them down. We will, perhaps, never know how much of their own creativity they applied in the written compilation of their stories. But my point here is that these are tales from Europe collected by Germans/Europeans, and are now being creatively utilized, remixed by a German, who can probably lay more legitimate claim to them than Adam Horowitz or Edward Kitsis (the creators of ABC’s Once Upon A Time).

Cornelia Funke’s Mirrorworld sees no need to translate culture into “American” before it begins to be creatively remixed. Thus, it feels more organic to me. And this feeds into my next comment on how organically she wrote it.

When I began reading it, the book was actually hard to get into; I really didn’t have a bloody clue what was happening. There was no soft process of leading a reader slowly into the magical, easing them comfortably into an unfamiliar world. (It did with Inkheart, which is probably one of the reasons this caught me off guard.) The Mirrorworld saw no need to explain itself; it merely was, as though it had always been, and it was I that had simply never heard of it. When I as a reader stepped in, it was like walking around entirely new territory without a tour guide. Such experiences are so uncomfortable that, although you may find the new world around you fascinating, you can’t help but feel, for the first few moments, that you want to go home, simply because you do not enjoy being lost. That’s how I felt; I temporarily wanted to stop reading because I felt I couldn’t “get into it” fast enough. Which is silly, really, because that transportational (yo, apparently, this is not a word) factor is one of the reasons I like fantasy so much in the first place.

When I eventually did get into it, after being patiently impatient with myself and the book, I found that I really enjoyed it, particularly the main character, Jacob Reckless, with whom I now like to think I have a very healthy platonic relationship. (One-sided, of course, since he is unfortunately fictional.) I didn’t fall recklessly in love with him (pun intended) like I did with Theodore Finch or Artemis Fowl. Instead, it grew on me gradually that this guy is actually a very cool badass. Like, we could be besties if he existed.

With this book, Cornelia Funke did two things that I really appreciate when storytellers, especially those of fantasy, do:

  1. Subtle gender-bending

When it comes to mystic things and fantasy, there are some things that are, unfortunately, classically gendered. I suppose I blame Disney for most, though certainly not all of it. For example, fairies, unicorns, mermaids, are usually thought of as classically feminine things. The usage of them as a marketing tool frequently tends to turn male potential consumers off from whatever is being marketed. Yet, some of my favorite mystic/magic storytellers have handled this problem so well. Eoin Colfer make boys like reading about fairies; in fact, he did it so well that he turned a lot of girls off from the Artemis Fowl series; J. K. Rowling used unicorns in Harry Potter that had nothing cutesy or rainbow-like about them.

It is so interesting to me what Funke did with unicorns and mermaids here. The unicorns were vicious, lethal creatures, not magic wish-granters, but more like deadly security guards. Heck, they aren’t even white. I distinctly remember Jacob Reckless passing an annoyed thought within the narration about how unicorns are so often “whitewashed.” In the Mirrorworld, they are designed to look very much like regular brownish horses, ponies and arses, but just like, with a horn. It’s lit.

The mermaids, referred to as Lorelei, are basically river-based, soulless murderers. Men are their prey. In that way, they remind me very much of the sirens of Greek mythology, whom I met for the first time in the Percy Jackson series. I actually became terrified of the Lorelei too, when after one character killed one, the other Lorelei ate their dead companion. Cannibals too. Ew. I prefer Mami Wata saf.

  1. Very good use of the concept of villains.

In most cases, I am of the opinion that useless villains ruin stories, and that fantastic villains make amazing stories.

If I had, at the times when I was a very young child, understood what the heck was going on in the Batman movies that I watched, I would have considered The Joker a truly phenomenal villain. As it is, the first time I recall becoming conscious of fantastic villains was watching Once Upon A Time several years ago. Aside Rumpelstiltskin being excellently crafted and written (for the most part, or up to a point), I liked how his and Regina’s (the Evil Queen) stories unfolded. It is the first time I remember stories really giving the audience insight into the personhood of villains, so much so that one may generate empathy for them. A fantastic villain, I suspect, is empathized with, or admired, perhaps as much as their villainy is acknowledged.

Reckless’ narration style allows a reader to see into the thoughts of the “bad guys” and I like that there are multiple “bad guys,” although, understandably, we don’t read as much of them as we do of Jacob. Aside that, I like how powerful and unstoppable the villains seem to me. It would, of course, be far less impressive for a hero to triumph over a bunch of trifling idiots. The villains need, in many cases, to seem like they are entirely capable of destroying the heroes – and sometimes, they must succeed.

That being said, I really like how Reckless seemed to end with a near-perfect cross between the tragic tendencies of the actual Grimm fairytale stories, and the hopeful kind of ending that Disney is known for. It makes me excited to seek out the sequel. 😊

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: All the Bright Places

Author: Jennifer Niven

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After finishing this book, I am distraught. And highly upset. My review could end here.

But it won’t.

Wow, what a beautiful book. What beautiful writing. Maybe I am biased because I am an absolute sucker for American YA fiction but I don’t care. I have met yet another character, by name of Theodore Finch, who has made a room for himself in my heart and moved in comfortably without my permission. What can I say about him? He’s the hottest male YA character since Augustus Waters. Even crazier. And I love, love crazy.

When @Chelsea_AO entered my Whatsapp to tell me to read this book, alarms went off immediately – because her recommendation was accompanied by smiley faces as well as a broken-heart emoji. The alarms only rang louder when I went on Goodreads to find a synopsis that called it a cross between The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) and Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell). Neither of these books ended well, in my opinion. The alarms in my head became earth-shattering when I caught the gist of the book and its characters: suicidal teens. And what did I do? I went ahead and read it anyway.

To tell you the truth, this book was the most exhilarating book I have read in a very long time. Quite a paradox to be affected so positively by a book about suicidal teens. And I know it is because I read it partially through one of the most exhilarating characters in my memory, possibly ever: Theodore Finch.

The story is told through alternating perspectives of 2 characters: Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Jennifer Niven possibly did an even better job of thoroughly being both characters than Veronica Roth did with Allegiant. Nevertheless, for reasons that I think should be obvious when you read the book, it is Finch that hooked me and dragged me down with him into the depths of his very-far-from-normal mind.

What I liked a lot about how Jennifer Niven handled the issues of suicide, bereavement, guilt, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder is how she was so intimate with the way characters dealt with them, but more importantly, descriptive, not prescriptive. Or rather, shall I say descriptive before prescriptive. This is important because it is not sensible for the world to jump into trying to solve things they don’t understand. (Even if sometimes, understanding something could mean getting rid of the delusion that you understand it.)

I have to say that as ridiculously exciting as reading Finch was, it was also creepily eerie, the way he poured out suicide facts and quotes as casually as if he was describing ingredients of his favorite recipes – how suicide attempts were frequent and nearly mindless, and the battle between wanting to live versus being hauled in the opposite direction by his own brain. I have probably never read a character so dangerous. (Okay, dangerous to himself. As for dangerous to other people, Drake Merwin of Michael Grant’s Gone series takes the cake. Voldemort is not evil next to that boy.)

I love reading things that make me want to read more things! And All the Bright Places definitely made me want to read about, and the works of, Virginia Woolf. And I cannot deny the very present allusion to Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. I haven’t read it yet, but The Bell Jar is definitely moving upwards in my “to read next” list. Plath and Woolf. Some of the world’s most famous literature suicides. What a book All the Bright Places was, honestly.

Yes, of course I want people to read this book. But not without knowing that if your heart and mind are not prepared, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

Quotes I liked from actual authors, which I learned through this book:

“Writing is so difficult that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.” – Jessamyn West

and

“My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery – always buzzing, humming, soaring, roaring, diving and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?” – Virginia Woolf

-Akotowaa

 

My Thoughts: The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseni

kite_runnerThis is a very highly acclaimed book. And I can see why. It’s also the third Khaled Hosseini book I’ve read – and as far as I know, he only has 3, so clap for me. Now that I’ve read all, I think it’s safe to say my favourite is And The Mountains Echoed, even though The Kite Runner appears to be his most famous.

Hosseini has interesting, and perhaps very unique storytelling skills. I love the way he tells his stories, and that placates me when his characters are annoying me to death. I like that the main character of the story (Amir) was not the title character (Hassan, also known as The Kite Runner), and so it’s difficult to tell if the story was about Amir, Hassan, or both.

I also like how Amir, the person through whom the story was told, was not flat. We got to see his growth in character as he grew in age and how he reacted to a lot of things unravelling. (You might not understand, but the word “unravelling” here is a triple entendre I am proud of.) Hassan was very flat. It was an act of wisdom not to tell the story through him.

This book took me a relatively short time to go through. It was engaging and the language, though not entirely simple, was easy for me to breeze through. I think Hosseini just writes exactly in the way I find it comfortable to read – but the book felt very long. Why? Because of secrets and lies and plot twists abounding! Just when you’ve accepted what has happened and you think you understand how the story is going to go from then on, you realize suddenly that someone (sometimes you) has been duped.

When I finished this book, I said I was emotionally tired, and I meant it. While I read, I wailed nearly incessantly to my mother about all the twists, whenever she was within earshot.

I have something (not really a spoiler) to say about the end: it was not a conclusion. It was more like a roller coaster evening out into an ordinary road.

Somewhere in my heart, I know that this book was heavy. It’s just that…after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I know what heavy really is, and so I can’t complain about this.

But yes, it’s a great book, and a fantastic debut novel – so I’d recommend it.

My favourite quote:

“With me as the glaring exception, my father molded the world around him to his liking. The problem, of course, was that Baba saw the world in black and white. And he got to decide what was black and what was white. You can’t love a person who lives like that without fearing him too. Maybe even hating him a little.”

-Akotowaa