What’s the Deal with “Watchmen”?

On March 6, 2009 a long awaited movie adaptation of the graphic novel (collected comic book series) “Watchmen” will be in theaters. What started as a project originally tapped director Terry Gilliam stated was impossible to translate to film is now being brought to the big screen by director Zach Snyder of “300” fame. Those of you who know comic book fans, who at this point are in a near ecstatic state, may find yourself wondering, what is the big stinkin’ deal about “Watchmen”?

I have generally found myself hesitant to write about comic books here on The Magical Buffet. I do not feel I have the knowledge of the history of the medium to discuss it intelligently, or the intellect to discuss the medium in such a way that does it the justice it deserves. My explanation of why “Watchmen” is such a big deal is my opinion alone, and undoubtedly will not do this book justice. I could fill pages mentioning the awards and acclaim this collected comic series won, and I could quote experts in the field on the importance of “Watchmen”, but this isn’t a collegiate write up, this is hopefully an everyman accessible glimpse at why “Watchmen”, and its upcoming film, are such a big deal. Aimed especially for those who are not comic book readers.

In order for me to explain why “Watchmen” matters so much to me, I have to start out at the beginning. Like most girls growing up, I wasn’t a comic book reader. I would read “Garfield” and “Peanuts”. Occasionally my mom would pick me up a “Misty” or “Archie” comic book at the grocery store. My only other experiences with comic books were their translation onto the big screen, like the “Superman” movies. I didn’t read any other comics until the middle of high school when my friend Doug loaned me his copy of the graphic novel “Season of Mists” for the comic book series “Sandman” by Neil Gaimen. This book was eye opening for me. First, I had not known that comic books were sometimes bound by story arc into books, generally referred to as graphic novels. In addition, I was unaware that there were comic books that didn’t deal with superheroes. The complexity and passionate stories told in that first book impressed me so much that one of my first comic book purchases when I moved to New York was to buy every “Sandman” graphic novel….all at once.

Why does that bit of background matter? It shows my atypical introduction to comics. Until rather recently, I had never read a “superhero” comic book. No “X-Men”, “Spiderman”, or even “Batman” had been touched. Which, from what I’ve been led to believe, is not how it normally works. (Much the way that I didn’t start my role-playing experiences with “Dungeons and Dragons”.) Shortly after my now husband and I started dating we had a very important book exchange. One of those tests. If you “get” this, then you’re okay, kind of things. I loaned him “Neuromancer” by William Gibson and he gave me the graphic novel “Watchmen”.

I’m not going to give you some sort of plot synopsis or character outlines. Instead, I’m going to tell you what really matters to me about the book.

Why would a normal man choose to don a mask and fight crime without the backing of the police or superhuman abilities? What happens to a normal man who can rewrite reality but has no human connection to the reality in which we live? Is it ever morally correct to comprise? Are love and hate more closely connected than we would like to believe? Does doing whatever it takes to save your loved ones make you a monster? What happens to a masked vigilante when they quit?

All those questions, and more, are asked and explored within a back drop of an alternate history of the United States in the 1980s where vigilantes have been outlawed, we’re moments away from nuclear war with Russia, and someone is murdering retired masked heroes. For me, this is what a “superhero” comic book should be.

That is what the big deal is with the “Watchmen” movie. The best of everything comic books can be will be translated to film and offered up to the general population. Will the film live up to its source material? Will people unfamiliar with the book “get” it? We’ll have to wait until March 6 to find out. And the waiting is killing me.