The back cover of this states that this book changed an industry and challenged a medium, and I can believe it. This is a graphic novel written by someone who knows how to write graphic novels and drawn by someone who knows how to draw graphic novels. There is a near perfect amount and tone of dialogue in every panel, a stark attention to artistic detail that underlines and flawlessly supplements this dialogue, and, when it is needed, both parts that are only text and parts that are only pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this despite my disinterest with some of the content (I wasn’t brainwashed by hero propaganda in my childhood, so the brutal realism felt more mundane than shocking), and above all, I love how the themes, characters, and situations are woven together into the grand narrative. It’s great—but it’s not perfect. If I had to state the two things about this novel that I didn’t like, it would be (1) the bolding and (2) the somewhat broken flow. Yes, I know that bolding key words is common practice in comics and such, but I find the practice annoying and unnecessary when the writing is good, which is the case here. As to the flow, the downside of this novel’s format of going through every major character’s backstory is that the sense of pacing simply flops. The middle part is where I started getting kind of bored (Manhattan = Boring), and until the jail break, I felt like the story was going nowhere. However, as I’ve said before, this novel manages to weave all of those backstories and themes together, leaving us with a satisfied, albeit anticlimactic ending. Actually, its anticlimactic nature was why it was satisfying.
Characters. This is, of course, a character-driven narrative, and had the characters sucked, this novel would have sucked—good thing they don’t. Every major actor (and some minor ones) in this play are put through this pattern of being fleshed out well, playing their part, and then leaving the stage before they overstay their welcome (except boring ol’ Manhattan). My favourite character is without a doubt Rorschach, but the true lynchpin of this narrative is without a doubt the Comedian. He is the dead central character of this novel who connects to all of the other major actors whether by history or theme and whose mark is featured on the cover and many, many times in the backgrounds of various panels. He is the one who introduces this story (notice that his part is played before his character is fleshed out), and he is the one who does, in fact, end it. Everything that he says, does, and thinks possesses a double meaning, and the *SPOILER* main “antagonist” Adrian would fall utterly flat as a character had the Comedian not been his reflection in the mirror. And in fact, the Comedian is the only link we have to the one “mystery” of this novel—Hooded Justice. This individual caught my attention early in the novel as his name was repeated just enough to make one feel suspicious (he was my candidate for main antagonist), and in addition to being the “beginning” of the costumed heroes and their philosophy, he also reflects the “end” of Adrian’s plan, Justice in the guise of a Monster. However, we have to ask ourselves whether or not Adrian really lives up to that title. Hooded Justice, possibly the one true hero of this novel, exits the stage long before the play even begins. Does that mark the unveiling and release of justice or its quiet and quickly-forgotten demise?