Published in 1987, Watchmen has long been touted as the best…graphic novel…ever.

How can a volume, even by someone as gifted as graphic novel virtuoso Alan Moore, possibly live up to that kind of hype?  I decided to find out for myself (more on what I thought of it later) as the internet release earlier this year of a trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation sent fanboys everywhere into apoplectic apocalyptic overload.  Certainly the iconic Christchurch institution of Alice in Videoland isn’t immune either if the “graffitti” that recently turned up on the side of their building is anything to go by.

As it turns out, the twelve chapter tale of superheroes in an alternate eighties where the doomsday clock ticks ominously towards a global nuclear conflagration…really is that good.  I don’t know what I was expecting exactly but Watchmen is a gripping, multi-layered, post-modern masterpiece.  It’s literary and cinematic at the same time, every pane containing some thematic element to remind you that this is a story about the end of the world, humanity, the nature of fate, all the “big stuff”.  Literary, biblical, and historical allusions abound but the flawed characters and their very human struggles with having the mantle of “superhero” keep it grounded at a level that the reader can relate to.

The film version, which is currently slated for a March 2009 release is directed by Zack Snyder (the man responsible for CGI-fest 300, also based on a graphic novel).  The making of the movie has been troubled, mired as it was in development hell, and suffered a further setback in February of this year with the launch of a lawsuit by Fox against Warner Bros.

Writer Alan Moore has said that he will not see the film when it comes out but he is notoriously grumpy when it comes to film adaptations of his work.  In some cases this has been justified (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or From Hell both spring to mind) but he also had issues with the movie version of V for Vendetta, which was a great piece of cinema.

How successfully Watchmen translates to the screen remains to be seen though in the meantime it’s definitely worth checking out the original graphic novel first, or perhaps some of Moore’s other work.  Watchmen fans should also get reserves on for Watching the Watchmen by illustrator Dave Gibbons, which “gives an account of the genesis of Watchmen”.