Like many, Watchmen has been a bit of an obsession of mine over the years. I currently have five different versions of the book in my collection.
I’m proud to say that I was there at the beginning.
In 1986, I was eagerly visiting my local comic shop for each of the twelve issue installments. Sitting on pins and needles, it nearly killed me when the final chapter was delayed for over a month. Graphitti Designs, under license to DC Comics, compiled the series in a hardcover format in 1987, complete with Alan Moore’s original pitch as well as a number of Dave Gibbons’ preliminary drawings. Unfortunately, it was out of my price range at the time, so I opted to buy DC Comics’ first trade paperback version of the entire series. Little did I know that that first hardcover version would become a personal holy grail for the better part of fifteen years.
After winning a slew of industry awards as well as the prestigious Hugo award, some smart executive thought the series would sell in bookstores – attracting a new and larger audience in addition to the fans that had found the title in the comic shops. The Warner Books imprint produced its own paperback compilation version, a direct copy of the DC Comics trade. I bought that one too. Eventually, with the help of a good friend, I found that first hardcover book, now a prized possession in my personal library. Then, in 2005, DC reproduced Watchmen in its Absolute format. Of course, I bought that version too.
DC’s Absolute Watchmen compiled the entire twelve-issue series along with all of its compendiums, re-coloured it with modern processes while including all of the elements of the Graphitti Designs hardcover, a whole host of supplemental drawings and posters and a sample of Alan Moore’s script of the first issue.
The first thing one notices with the Absolute version is its size – its 8.5” wide by x 12.5” long. And it’s heavy. There’s a bit of a divine aura about the book as it slides out from its black slipcase package, a feeling which is fitting to the way the text has been both venerated and admired by fans and critics over the last twenty years.
This new size, perhaps, does not bring much more to the actual text other than a larger font for which aged eyes, mine in particular, can more easily read.
Art is the major recipient here.
The fresh colouring job by John Higgins, now with the aid of a computer, eliminates the muddy post-production palate of reds, grays and browns of his original work without losing any sense of atmosphere or drama. Shadows still linger and an omnipresent dread still lurks but the colours look and feel cleaner, smoother. A blood-soaked sidewalk on the first page of the first chapter feels wetter, more visceral. The planet Mars in the poetically written fourth chapter seems even more distant, even more alien then it did in the original series. With this Absolute edition, when compared next to the original, the reader really gets a sense of what place colour has in a comic – and how much it can affect story.
Most importantly, the meticulously detailed drawings of Dave Gibbons finally match the scope and grandeur of Alan Moore’s writing. They were always perfectly suited for the text but now readers have a deeper appreciation for the elements that make up a panel as well as the pace of the story evoked by the panels that make up a page. Readers are witnessing something special here: a narrative, an approach to story-telling that is larger than life both in theory and practice. The giant, blue Dr. Manhattan, striding about his “gluino” sensing machine – in his full monty – is as strange and awe-inspiring a figure as could be imagined in its enormous panel. As well, the images of destruction in the final issue are truly horrific and genuinely dreadful – elicited emotions in readers that are made more considerable because of the format change.
Many times in comics, words are read and images are merely glanced over, the eye moving instead from caption box to caption box, a quick pathway to the end of an issue. We cannot help but be as consumed by the pictures here as we are in the script. Gibbons’ attention to detail, as it relates to storytelling, is extraordinary. From his small, background-imbedded fallout signs on pages one and eighteen in chapter four which harkens that issue’s cover, to the smiley-face design in the very first panel of the series that continually finds itself as a repeated motif throughout the text, found in such places as the pirate sail, a crater on Mars, Veidt’s corsage and Seymour’s t-shirt in the infamous final panel. Size, specifically panel size, is Absolute Watchmen’s greatest legacy.
At a retail cost of approximately $100, the price is well worth it for collectors, completists or for those booklovers that love reading compendiums that include absolutely everything. I’ve seen the first printing of Absolute Watchmen fetching prices of up to $400. Luckily, this past winter DC set up a second printing for those that missed it the first time around.
In truth, softcover or hardcover, single issue or compilation, Watchmen was meant to be read and enjoyed in the comfortable confines of your home. It was and remains an important and influential work of fiction that is smart, reflective and, ultimately, tangible.
If you enjoy books, you will absolutely enjoy Absolute Watchmen.