Watchmen by Alan Moore (Illustrated by Dave Gibbons)

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Quick survey:  how many of you have actually watched Citizen Kane end to end?    Experts have lauded Citizen Kane as the most influential (and greatest) movie ever made.  But is it your favorite?  For us – the uninitiated – the greatness of Citizen Kane is obscure.  It takes effort to get inside it, requires a breadth of technical knowledge to appreciate its brilliance, to understand its influence.  I’ve had this exact experience with Alan Moore’s seminal comic Watchmen.

My knowledge of comic books is limited.  I was never a comic book kid.  I was more of a baseball card and video game kid.  Ken Griffey Junior’s Upper Deck Rookie card and Tecmo Super Bowl are touchstones of my adolescence.  As such, I’ll leave the technical analysis of Watchmen to the wealth of experts out there on the Web.  Much like Citizen Kane, the technical mastery of Watchmen was not readily apparent to me.  What was apparent, however, was the depth of Alan Moore’s character development and the subtle complexity of his story.

Originally published in 1986 as a 12-issue series, Watchmen transcended the common opinion of comic books:  from lowbrow juvenile frivolity to a serious medium of literature and art.  It virtually established the “graphic novel” genre.  Watchmen is still the only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award.  Alan Moore’s attempt at creating a “superhero Moby Dick” changed the comic book landscape forever, paving the way for later works like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which demonstrate a similar psychological depth.

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The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

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The 150-word Review: If you’ve ever been bullied relentlessly (been yoked); if you’ve ever had to desperately project a mole-like inconspicuousness as a means for survival; if you’ve ever withdrawn within yourself to a world of music, art, and imagination for solace; if you’ve ever hidden your devotion to another because it would mean suicide in your world; if you’ve ever somehow grew up, moved away, and found success; if you ever returned home in despair; Jonathan Lethem speaks to you.

“The Fortress of Solitude” is the story of a young motherless white boy and his equally motherless, preternaturally hip, black friend (masters of skully games, comic books, midnight graffiti missions, and superpowers) growing up in Boerum Hill (née Gowanus Houses), Brooklyn in the 1970’s. Featuring a deeply personal soundtrack, Lethem meditates on a not-so-idyllic coming of age, the struggle for identity, and how returning to ones youth can sometimes lead to redemption.

You would like this book if you’re a fan of: top-to-bottom burners, album liner notes, gentrification, early-era Hip Hop, intellectual punk rock, avant-garde art, genre bending fiction, and suspect magic realism.

This book would go great with: YooHoo, Rheingold, Manhattan Special

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm… Jonathan Lethem was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius” grant, in 2005.

Reading this book would impress: Fab Five Freddy, Philip K. Dick, DJ Kool Herc, Lou Reed, and Brooklyn hipsters.