Monday, March 02, 2009

What Watchmen Means To Me, Pt. 1

On Friday, March 6th, 23 years of waiting will come to an end as one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time, Watchmen, comes to the big screen. This week leading up to Friday's premiere date I would like to tell you a little bit about why I like this graphic novel so much. In order to tell you about what Watchmen means to me, I must first tell you how I was introduced to the story.

It was the early 1980's. I was living in Kent, Ohio and worked for the Kent State University Library. I was 29. I had always liked comic books, having been a fan since I was a little boy in the 1960's. Although I had quite a collection, my buying dwindled steadily from the mid to late 1970's, until I wasn't buying any at all by the time I graduated college in 1979. For a good 3 years after that I felt curiously self conscious about browsing comic book spinner racks in stores. There were not many comic book stores at this time, and comics were sold in places where they sold other stuff like department stores, drug stores and tobacco shops.

Finally, in 1982 or so, I began to browse the comic book racks once again. Still feeling somewhat self conscious, I noticed something fascinating: comic books were changing! The cover prices were higher. Some of the comics were printed on better, shinier paper. And many of the new titles looked really cool, like they were designed less for kids and more for adults. So, I dove back in and began reading some of my old favorites titles again like Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Daredevil. I tried some new titles like Atari Force. I liked what I was experiencing.

Late in 1985 (I believe) I saw an ad in a DC comic book for a new "limited" comic book series that was coming up called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It looked so delightfully gritty, with an aged Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to become The Batman one more time, and thereby eradicating his personal demons. It got media coverage about this radical (although "imaginary") change to a beloved comic book character. I timed the appearance of the "Prestige Format" first issue and bought it off a newsstand in Kent where I would go to buy comics. I read it and realized that this was a comic book like no other. The American public, fueled by media coverage of this publishing event, thought the same way and the issue sold out.

It was around this time that I remember seeing the first promotional ads for another new 12-issue (!) comic book series featuring revamped versions of Charlton Comics characters that DC had acquired. It was going to be scripted by a writer that I was already familiar with. Alan Moore was writing one of my favorite comic books since my return to the fold, DC's (Saga of the) Swamp Thing. The new comic book series was going to be called Watchmen.

I forget if Batman: The Dark Knight Returns had concluded with the fourth issue by then, but eventually, later in 1986, Watchmen #1 appeared on the stands. I bought it, took it home and read that issue a number of times. I was floored.

The one-two punch of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen left me with the realization that comics, from this point on, were never going to be the same. But it was Watchmen, and Alan Moore, that had me absolutely mesmerized.

Tomorrow: Life during the original 12 issue run of Watchmen.

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