7 March 2009

Who Watches The Watchmen?

This weekend sees the premiere of one of the most eagerly-awaited comic book adaptations into a Hollywood blockbuster. And it's definitely not for kids. 'Watchmen' is a twelve-issue comic book limited series created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colourist John Higgins. Originally published by DC Comics during 1986-87, it has achieved more lasting fame subsequently as a graphic novel. The story takes place in the Eighties, but this is a world where President Nixon has been in office for multiple terms; where the United States are on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union; where costumed vigilantes exist but have been outlawed. Most of these 'superheroes' are either in retirement or working for the government. The murder of one of these 'heroes' sparks off our story...

The graphic novel has become highly acclaimed by both comics fans and mainstream SF followers alike. The story was thought by many to be 'unfilmable' for over a decade, however Zack Snyder's movie version seems to be getting pretty good reviews so far, remaining true to the original material. It's violent and not an easy story to follow... but it's certainly thought-provoking.

Most modern film versions of the superhero genre set out to explore their source material whilst aiming to depict what life as a hero would be like 'in the real world'. It's not necessary to adapt 'Watchmen' - it's all here. In essence, Moore's original story is about power and its potential for abuse. The title of the series refers to the phrase "Who watches the watchmen?", the English translation of "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", the question posed by the Roman satirist Juvenal. The so-called heroes in this story are unpleasant, racist, out of control. They are without compassion, without an accurate 'moral compass'.

A good conversation-starter, this one.

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