Watchmen & Other Comic Books | The Super Wonderful World of Graphic Novels

I’ve been reading a lot of comics lately. I blame Watchmen. The recent release of the movie reminded me just how much I loved the graphic novel in my American Novel course back in college. Reading Watchmen was a revelation to me—a colorblind fellow who had paid almost no attention to comic books up to that time. Writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins created an alternate United States that was wholly captivating.

So when the long-awaited Watchmen film hit movie screens, I had a plan: Re-read the book and then go see the movie. But as of this writing, I’ve done neither. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with a fear of disappointment. Will the book be as good as I remember it? Will the movie do a kind of retroactive damage to the way I originally experienced the book? Wouldn’t it be safer to leave the book on the shelf and the movie unseen? No superhero worth his tights would let these fears stop him, of course, but the only tights in my house belong to my dancing wife and daughters.

Still, the mere act of thinking about Watchmen got me thinking about comics more generally, and soon I was reading quite a few. I started with the Jodi Picoult issues of Wonder Woman from a couple of years back. I had collected the novelist’s five issues of the comic, but hadn’t actually read them. Truthfully, it might have been better to leave it that way.

It would appear that the popular novelist was given a task that would have tested the fortitude of Wonder Woman herself. The problem is that Picoult’s storyline is not self-contained. Rather, her issues tie in with the Amazons Attack issues released at the same time. Ultimately, Picoult wasn’t even allowed to bring her story to a satisfactory conclusion, ending her run on a cliffhanger. There’s little here for Picoult fans or for Wonder Woman fans, but if you’re interested, the issues have been collected under the title Wonder Woman: Love and Murder.

Around the time I was finishing up the Wonder Woman series, I heard that DC was killing off Batman. One of the Dark Knight’s possible successors was the subject of quite a bit of buzz: Batwoman (a.k.a Kathy Kane) turns out to be a lesbian. This, however, wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as the news that Neil Gaiman was writing a two issue wrap-up of the Batman storyline entitled Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Gaiman, like Moore, is a legend in the comics world (as well as being a darn good novelist and short story writer), best known for his Sandman series.

And his two Batman issues don’t disappoint. Supported by great art by Andy Kubert, Gaiman imagines a funeral for Batman at which his friends and foes recount his life and death. Each story is different—a fairly ingenious reference to the ways in which the storylines in comics mutate all the time—and Batman hovers above the proceeding trying to sort things out in the company of a mysterious figure. I don’t want to reveal too much here, so it will have to suffice to say that Gaiman rather brilliantly ties up his story. Indeed, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is a good deal more satisfying than Moore’s 1986 effort for the reboot of the Superman mythos, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Though the new Star Trek movie has stirred up some of the old excitement I used to feel about the series. So when I spotted Star Trek: Countdown—well, a Ferengi wouldn’t have acquired it faster than I did.

The collected four-issue series is the “Official Movie Prequel” and reveals the origin of Nero, the new film’s villain. In true Star Trek time-twisting fashion, the prequel is set not prior to the events of the film, but many years after those events, allowing favorites from The Next Generation to play pivotal roles. The story, credited to four people, is solid and replete with various series conceits (i.e., the truly universal appreciation of Shakespeare) that should please fans. David Messina’s art is arresting and his character rendering is excellent.

Nevertheless, I was disappointed that this incarnation of the Star Trek story falls into the same trap that has been dogging the series since the 1960s. All of the primary women in the comic are either villains or victims—and they all wear revealing clothing. Only male characters from The Next Generation appear and none of the strong women from later series appear to balance out the old boys’ club. That’s not boldly going; that’s going backward.

This run of comics reading hasn’t run its course quite yet. Next up for me: Roger Langridge’s four-issue The Muppet Show comic book.

Visit the Index for more book reviews and articles about Iowa authors.