Watchmen

In what would retroactively be understood as one of the bleakest blankest segments of my life I had fully sacrificed pleasure reading time to the institutional and functional obligations of work and school – for close to if not more than a year the only material perused was brief news stories & related commentaries or texts required for homework assignments. The reality of this being no way whatsoever to live truncheoned the parietal bones of my skull with a 35-ounce aluminum baseball bat when for a short trip to visit relatives of my then-girlfriend I snatched a copy of Watchmen for the road (i.e. the train tracks) and mainlined the thing into myself through the eyeballs, not stopping to sleep on the blanket-bed laid out for me upon the floor (separate from the ex, a sensitive environment) until I reached the back cover that same night. For me to review it at all is a little like a man who’s been stumbling through a desert lost for a week writing a review of whatever particular brand of bottled water first seeps from his esophagus into the parched passageways leading toward his stomach. It was delicious, completely reinvigorating and refreshing and made him feel like weeping for euphoric rediscovery of long-lost love, simply because it was a story…

Though this may be true it seems no less arbitrary in the most honest view of criticism than any other criterion for greatness, i.e. it inspires sufficient passion so as to incite an effusive and presumably infectious apologia for its manifold merits, i.e. the urge as carrier to transmit is inevitably the impetus for the thereby somewhat specious reasoning. Perhaps a better perspective of my situation for these purposes is to remember that the interim between novels (graphic or not) was actually not in truth extremely unpleasant or bleak or blank but seemed filled with sufficient enjoyments until I was so much in thrall to this book that it led to one of those shimmering “Where have I been until now?” moments that overtake the too-long-sober soul upon intoxication and the routine-rutted soul upon travel. Why have such silly strictures been placed upon oneself, the lightened person wonders, why has so much raw and resonant truth been avoided until now…

It wouldn’t be too much of an effort to analyze this text and make it answer such questions, for it seems to traffic in epiphanies and wry metaphors overlapping each other inexhaustibly. Alan Moore once dealt LSD for a living – this is one of the foundational facts of the encyclopedia-consulting devotee – but he does not appear to have ever stopped, merely to have altered the physical medium and delivery mechanism of the same substance. There are so many layers of storytelling and devices of commentary that each part – whether the intermittent high-seas dime comic, the “main story” (itself exploring multitudinous levels of reality and symbols for institutional and social environments), or the intertextual journal articles and news clippings – can be viewed as a representation of all the others, or at least by simple juxtaposition and inclusion of seeming banalities with major action, the entire outside quotidian existence of the reader becomes implicated in its heady wash of significance. It takes one so many different places without faking any of them that everywhere one has gone previously and is going now feels more intensely real than it did before, compressing a God’s-eye perspective into a readable format that then induces some of the sensations of Godhood.

The lack of fakery includes the refusal to let the reader (and the author) off easily with a good surrogate hero to aspire to – i.e. every character in the book is despicable for at least a couple reasons – but any discomfort felt about not having someone to root for is actually a profoundly radical and humanizing gesture to the reader: we are not really weak and inconsequential by contrast with the powerful people toward whom our attention is perpetually redirected by mass media; many of these powerful people are actually monsters, if not just neurotic or infantile, and we ourselves (with our own flaws as well, our own sexualities, our own backgrounds) are just as due for whatever superheroic reverence we typically reserve for celebrities, entrepreneurs, and other frequent claimants of and leeches off of our envy. The far-reaching fantastical sweep of this book is thin cover for gritty truths and understandings that are much too often stultified by the unimaginative visions that unfairly lay claim to our sense of storytelling.

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