Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Watchmen

I finished this book ages ago and am now reading "The Last of the Mohicans", but of course, completely forgot to write about it here. Please pardon the tardiness.

I was inspired to pick this up after seeing the trailer for its film adaptation by dull, overpraised director Zack Snyder which is being released sometime next year. I had read in various places about it being one of the greatest comics of all time, it being one of the most unfilmable stories ever, and it being by Alan Moore. Of course, the last of these traits is what really motivated me to pick it up.

The story starts with the murder of The Comedian, one of the legendary team of heroes known as The Watchmen. A day or two after he is beaten up and thrown out of the window of his high-rise New York City apartment, the police began to investigate, but Rorschach, another Watchman and quite the black-and-white moralistic right-winger with a scarring past, decides to investigate the murder himself. In the backdrop of the prideful nuclear arms faceoff between the United States and Russia that is the Cold War, the mystery takes the story through the history of the rest of the team members such as Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre and others, the interaction between themselves and society, and a shocking hidden conspiracy boiling underneath it all.

This is definitely one of the greatest stories I've ever read in my entire life. Another literary jewel, and perhaps his most popular, by Alan Moore, "Watchmen" has a very in-depth but straightforward, magnificent plot and storyline. The characters, who are superheroes viewed through a much more realistic, grey-area lens rather than the problem-of-crime-solved-with-superpower perspective that comics are built upon, are meaningful with life and emotions passing in between them, questioning what it means to be a superhero or even questioning which morals are to truly be considered morals. The story within a story "Tales of the Black Freighter" which coincided with another individual plotline within the greater narrative, was also a small but powerful part of the graphic novel experience that gave it a world within a world feeling.

Here's my thing, though. Ozymandias, whose name is supposedly taken from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, is held by Wizard magazine to be one of the greatest villains of all time. The villains on this list come from all formats: film, book, comic, video game, whichever. Now, I don't know about this. Ozymandias worships power (or symbols of, such as Alexander the Great and Rameses II) and sees himself as one of the greatest beings ever, mentally rendering other people's lives to nil. Furthermore, his actions at the end of the story made me seriously question where he stood morally, as they had both great and terrible effects and he claims to have done them for the greater good of man. So, he is a bit of an interesting character with some intriguing complexity, but I would not say one of entertainment's greatest. Alonzo Harris from "Training Day"? Yes. Vincent from "Collateral"? Definitely. Agent Smith from "The Matrix"? Most certainly. Even Davy Jones from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" should have some rank in the list. But I don't know about Ozymandias.

Regardless, I of course recommend anyone looking for an intriguing and epic masterpiece of a story to pick this up and begin it immediately. I certainly see this as one of those books that have to be read once or twice a year.

Monday, December 8, 2008

V For Vendetta

I started this graphic novel a little while ago after being completely blown away by the film, even with its misleading commercials and trailersnote below. But I stopped reading 1) because the artwork and drawings were too dark and rustic looking in their bold lines and pale, pastel colors. Perhaps this is something Alan Moore was aiming for (although I didn't really see why), but almost all of the characters, kind of, visually blended into each other and it was quite difficult to tell which character was who. 2) Because after about pg. 30, I didn't know what the hell was going on plot-wise. This was last year or somewhere around that area. A week and some change back, I had seen the trailer for Zack Snyder's (unfortunately) filming of "Watchmen", another well renown Alan Moore comic series and quite possibly what put him as a great artistic staple in the public eye. I was impressed by the trailer and immediately wanted to buy the graphic novel so that I could know the story ahead of time. But I felt....I don't know....incomplete. It would always hang over me that I didn't complete "V For Vendetta" if I were to just start reading "Watchmen" instead. Like I was running away from it or something. So, I bought "Watchmen" and dove head first into "Vendetta" to clear the conscience. Although the animation was still pretty crummy, I now don't understand what I got confused about plot-wise the first time around (I remember being confused about who is named who though). The story, most before the third act, was pretty straightforward and in-depth simultaneously. It is also one of the greatest stories I've ever read.

The story starts in the future, November 5th, 1997 (this was published in 1988). A young factory worker, Evey Hammond, hits the streets of totalitarian England in this oppressive, dystopian world ruled by Norsefire, the fascist government. She is starting her job as a prostitute, as factory work is not able to pay her bills. Upon approaching and soliciting the first man she meets, she finds, to her own dismay, that he is an undercover cop. Before a gang of policemen gather to rape and kill her, a mysterious figure in a conical hat, cape and Guy Fawkes mask appears, reciting lines from a Shakespeare play and dismembering the group before rescuing Evey. Up on a rooftop, the figure introduces himself as V before showing her Parliament being blown up right before her very eyes. From here, the fight for freedom begins.

V himself is an anarchist, and throughout the story he discusses the importance and meaning of an anarchic society, how exactly the totalitarian government oppresses society, and how the society just allows them to do it. Themes of past sins, hypocrisy, corruption and tyrannical order all also play important parts in the story. I remember seeing, around the time the movie came out (2006), titles and posts on imdb.com asking if it was ok to promote terrorism at a time like that, when America was still somewhat sensitive to 9/11, the Iraq War and xenophobia. And while thinking that this was an asinine sentiment at best, I admired the Wachowski Bros. (the producers of this film and the directors of The Matrix Trilogy) and James McTeigue (the director of this film) for putting forth a story that spoke of not letting the government restrict your freedom and life through fear and terror. V never takes his mask off (although, for the film, if you know the actor, you know exactly what he looks like), and the story uses this to symbolize that he is solely a representative of an idea, or of the ideal that every person should strive to achieve in their own rational ways. The message of the graphic novel is clear, and the story is highly entertaining and intriguing. I'd recommend to everyone.