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Alan Moore

Watchmen

Watchmen is a graphic novel that has been placed on such a high pedestal, that I have been nervous about tackling it, feeling I wasn’t ready for it. But with this ongoing quarantine, I felt it was the right time for me to take the time to read it. I paired it with Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic movie that added limited motion, voice and sound to the originally drawn panels. I took almost a week to watch two chapters a night, and I would read the pages alongside the animation on the screen.

Let’s just get this over with- I did not like the story. But is that the point? I have actually picked up this graphic novel several times in the past but would put it down, thinking that it wasn’t the right time for me to read this acclaimed novel by the supposedly brilliant Alan Moore. It’s one of those books, that you feel if you don’t get it, then you aren’t deep enough to understand it and will feel guilty.  However, it did include some heavy themes I have been thinking on a lot, and that is always a sign of a well-written novel.

Set in an alternative timeline to ours, a few key historical events have changed, leading to a 1980s NYC that is very similar to ours but is just enough different. A former superhero, The Comedian, now a government-sanctioned agent, is found murdered. Rorschach, a vigilante who never quit despite a national law that outlawed costumed adventuring, becomes the narrator of the story as he picks up clues that point to a larger conspiracy. He visits all his former comrades to warn them that they may be in danger; and soon Nite Owl, the second Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhatten and Ozymandias are part of a greater plot to bring about world peace at a great cost. The ideas of what makes a hero are explored, as they all are anti-heroes, and no one is blameless.

Divided into twelve chapters, I found chapter four to be the most intriguing, as Dr. Manhatten recalls his history in a non-linear format of how an accident with an atom reactor in 1959 changed him from a brilliant scientist into the only true superhero of the bunch. Between the chapters were additional backstory inserts that were supposed to be giving readers more insight into the Watchmen world. Some of the supplemental info is presented like reports and articles about the characters’ past and present. Some were more effective than others. A comic book story within a comic book story, the story Marooned from Tales of the Black Freighter, was entwined into the narrative, and at first paralleled the story of being lost and mentally unstable but then became pretentious and unneeded.

I believe what unhinged the story for me were the main characters. They were so unlikable, morally bankrupt and idiotic. I might have been at a disadvantage listening to the motion comic voiced by a man, but Laurie and her mother Sally were just the most petulant and shallow people ever. Moore at no time gave his women characters nuanced or authentic development. I’m sorry, but what Sally agreed to later with The Comedian was stomach-churning after what he had done to her years before, and that Dr. Manhatten’s decision to help Earth was based off that decision was shocking. I get that the characters were supposed to be a deconstruction of what we have come to expect in heroes, that was the whole premise of the book, but when you weren’t rooting for anyone, it becomes problematic.

The art was a mixed bag for me. Every page has a nine-panel layout, with only a few of the panels being enlarged. While a rather straightforward style, it allowed the artist Dave Gibbons to control the pace of the story. The cast of characters that he designed were an interesting lot, he didn’t draw them in a superlative style that we have come to expect from superheroes. The costumes looked homemade and their bodies were realistically proportioned, with Dr. Manhatten being the exception. The coloring by John Higgins was at times surreal, with deep shadows and a psychedelic color palette. All told it made for a distinctive, but not entirely attractive look.

Although I did not care for the narrative, I found the story refreshingly subversive for that era, and I applaud Moore and Gibbons for crafting such a unique story. That the characters, themes, and framework of the story are still being explored in movies, tv-series and other graphic novels today show that the story is a classic for a reason. While not a true fan of this tale, I am intrigued enough to explore some more adaptations of the Watchmen universe, and perhaps my feelings will mellow with time and I will come to appreciate how it changed comic book storytelling forever.

-Nancy

 

Banned Books Week: Graphic Novels

Banned Books Week this year runs from September 22nd- 28th, and I’d like to take this time to shine some light on how many graphic novels have been challenged over the years. The site Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an outstanding resource on how to fight censorship and this particular page guides you through specific cases of challenged comics and graphic novels.

As a librarian, it is important that we provide books on ALL topics for ALL people. While sometimes we might choose not to order a book or to place a book in a location that we feel is age-appropriate, patrons should have full access to books that they wish to read. I have read many challenged books, in all genres, over the years and am a better person for it. The following five graphic novels are but a few that have been challenged over the years.

Batman: The Killing Joke by  Alan Moore and  Brian Bolland

Reason challenged: Advocates rape and violence

This graphic novel about the Joker’s possible origin is considered a DC  classic, but it’s extreme violence and implied rape has put it on several banned lists.  The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story and changed the way graphic novels are written and illustrated.

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Reason challenged: Sexual content

So what exactly is so controversial in this boldly colored YA book that it has been on the Top 10 banned list multiple times, considering it was nominated for a Harvey Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book? Well, Callie meets twin brothers who get involved in the musical, and one is gay and the other is questioning. While their level of coming out to the other students is part of the narrative, this tween-friendly book is very accepting of their identity. Author Telgemeier said, “that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because ‘finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school‘.” Hell yeah, it is!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group

Author and illustrator Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, in a non-linear memoir. The Bechdel family lived in her father’s small hometown of Beech Creek in Pennsylvania, and her father helped run the family funeral parlor. Alison and her younger brothers named the funeral parlor, Fun Home, hence the name of the novel. Her parents were trapped in a loveless marriage, with the father hiding his homosexuality, although as the years wore on his affairs became less and less discreet. Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway. That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Reason challenged: Profanity, violent content

I first read this intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it and should be read widely for the message it conveys.

Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reason challenged: Sexual content, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, and unsuited for age group.

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! We learn that the main character’s two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child are strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and the book’s message of enduring love is more nuanced than you would think.

Celebrating free expression is important, for “Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the light on!”

-Nancy

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 2)

Huge capsules are raining from the sky and crashing down upon the earth. If that weren’t strange enough, they’re filled with… creatures. Hideous, deadly creatures from the planet Mars. Once again, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are called into service. They are split up: Captain Nemo, Mr. Griffin, and Mr. Hyde to defend the Thames River, and Mina and Mr. Quartermain to the countryside to find a Dr. Moreau who can give them a weapon against the invaders. When one of their number betrays them, however… can the League recover from their fractured numbers in time to save the world?

After the glowing review I gave the first volume, I’m hesitant to say I did not like this volume nearly as much. In fact, I hardly cared for it at all. The level of violence grew exponentially in this volume, and some of it was quite disturbing. I felt a little blindsided and I don’t think all of it was necessary. The writing is still excellent, as we learn a little more about some characters and their relationships here. The art was just as good as it was in the first volume. A great series, but if I’m in the mood for a reread, I’m sticking to the first volume.

– Kathleen

Moore, Alan, and Kevin O’Neill. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 2). 2004.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 1)

Wilhelmina Murray has been tasked with an intriguing adventure. She is to find and recruit gentlemen of certain talents for espionage work for the British Empire, as per her superior, Campion Bond. Allan Quartermain, an excellent marksman, is found in an opium-induced stupor in Cairo. Dr. Jekyll has been roaming about the dark side of Paris since his supposed suicide. Hawley Griffin – well, he could be anywhere, as he’s invisible. They are all assembled in due order and they travel on none other than Captain Nemo’s submarine. They learn that Britain was planning a moon landing on the year of 1900, but the technology to make it happen was stolen. The Cavorite has fallen into the hands of someone called the Doctor, but what he wants with it is an enigma, and it’s their job to find out.

In a word, it’s fun. The writing is tongue-in-cheek and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That many of the characters are references to literature of this period makes it even more enjoyable. Yet it doesn’t hesitate to touch on very adult themes, such as sexuality and PTSD. The art is fantastic: dark, sketchy yet very detailed, and highly atmospheric. The dialogue is also true to this era. I really felt I was reading a penny dreadful – if they were in comic book format! It could appeal to superhero, steampunk, or literary fans. It’s easy to see why it’s so acclaimed. A must-read graphic novel!

– Kathleen

Moore, Alan, and Kevin O’Neill. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 1). 2002.

Batman: The Killing Joke

the killing joke
Moore, Alan & Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke. 1988.

I needed to read this novel and see what all the fuss is about- after all it is on our Recommendations list. Did it live up to all the hype? Yes and no.

First and foremost,  I am not enamored of Batman for he’s grumpy and skulks around in the shadows. I am not typically a DC fan, so I am not aware of some of the background history of Batman lore, although I do know who Barbara was and will become. One of the reasons this novel is considered a stand out is that in 1988 the level of violence was more extreme than other comics in the past. But after reading Locke & Key and The Walking Dead recently, the violence in this novel did not strike me as excessive ( I am desensitized to it, which is actually kinda sad) . All of this already puts me at a disadvantage starting the story.

I was reading the deluxe edition, that is both drawn and re-colored by Brian Bolland. In this edition, his original concept is now done the way he envisioned it. The illustrations are beyond good, with eye popping bold colors added in contrast to the more sepia colored panels. Joker is a vision, and I liked this rendition of him better than others by other artists.

Alan Moore is a legend, so you know the origin story for Joker is golden, although highly suspect.  Some of Joker’s dialogue is spot on such as:

“So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness…madness is the emergency exit.”

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy”   His statements actually make…sense.

In the end, Joker’s manipulations don’t have the desired effect on Commissioner Gordon, but they just might on Batman. The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story. On my first read through, I thought the story was just meh. On second read through, I understood some of the nuances and got a lot more from it.

This deluxe edition has a lot going for it including a introduction by Tim Sale and an afterword by Brian Bolland. Bolland also adds a bonus story that true aficionados will enjoy, but did nothing for me. While this story did not even come close to making me a Batman fan, I do see why this story was groundbreaking and is loved to this day. As such, it was tuned into an animated movie recently, with mixed reviews.

-Nancy

Kathleen- I am calling you out, for I now have read several DC novels, and you have yet to review a Marvel one. I have been pleasantly surprised at some of the DC storylines, so now I want you to find a Marvel book and enjoy it!

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