Heroes and Villains

February 9, 2009

watchmen1

Although WATCHMEN’s cover boasts its status as “one of TIME magazine’s 100 best novels,” it neglects to mention that it is in fact the only graphic novel in TIME’s top 100 list. What exactly sets this apart from other comic books and graphic novels? What exactly have author Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons done that outshines other comic book creators before them? To shrug the scrutiny and intellectual baggage of simple-minded “comic books” and assert its place amongst an exclusive list populated by the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald?

What exactly is so great about WATCHMEN?

This is a BIG question. So are the ones preceding it. They are big in the sense that they are expansive and intricate. One blog posting could in no way answer this question, for indeed, there is a plethora of overarching points and subtle details that must be identified and considered (most likely requiring a tome of intertextual references), and when it comes down to it, there is no clear cut answer. No right and no wrong. Which I think – if I were forced to (which academically I suppose I am) – is probably the most prominent (or at least my favorite) quality of WATCHMEN itself. In the world of WATCHMEN, there is no clear division of right or wrong. The world and its characters are nuanced in a way otherwise unprecedented (at least to my knowledge) in the comic book / graphic novel medium.

The Comedian is a rapist / misogynist who committed atrocious acts in Vietnam. Silk Spectre cheats on Dr. Manhattan with Nite Owl. Dr. Manhattan is a cold and unfeeling automoton, while he is supposed to keep the interest and well-being of the American people in mind. And the closest thing to a “villain” or “bad guy” is Ozymandias, regarded by all as the smartest and most pragmatic man in the world.

Even the Minutemen of the “golden age” of costumed vigilantism are rife with their own problems, ranging from insanity, sexual perversion, and scandal to untimely violent deaths. By presenting these “super heroes” as faulted characters with complexities and deeper-seeded weaknesses than an unfortunate allergy to kryptonite, WATCHMEN advances the graphic novel medium by challenging the simple dichotomy of right and wrong, good and evil. Which to some (perhaps many) is confusing, scary, and very un-comic-book-like.

Ozymandias’ grand plot is a faked alien invasion and attack that, while wiping out most of New York City, prevents M.A.D. by uniting the superpowers against a common villain. In a way, it’s a capitulation to the dichotomous relationship of good and evil, us versus them. To stop “us” from killing ourselves, Ozymandias creates a “them,” an “other,” and perhaps in doing so, “saves the day.”

watchmen film action figures - do you really want your kids playing with these?

watchmen film action figures - do you really want your kids playing with these?

Director Zack Snyder’s WATCHMEN film looms like doomsday itself. And while it has been hyped by viral marketing campaigns and an ever curious public, it has simultaneously been slammed by “die hard” fans and even Alan Moore himself, creating an even bigger question of how the film will live up to the already colossal graphic novel.

Personally, I genuinely believe that while WATCHMEN’s refusal to divide its characters into two distinct “good” and “evil” / “hero” and “villain” piles is what makes it such an incredible graphic novel, I fear that this exact quality will prevent it from being a faithful and successful cinematic adaptation. Superhero movies (and action movies in general) have always relied on a clear sense of right and wrong and good and evil. It makes stories more digestible and comprehensible, which are extremely important qualities to have when frames go whizzing by at twenty-four frames per second. The movie-going public doesn’t buy tickets for big blockbuster flicks like THE HULK and SPIDER-MAN to be blindsided by philosophical conundrums. They pay to see people run around in spandex and blow stuff up, not writhe around in the throes of existential chaos. So why should they feel any differently about WATCHMEN? And so I wonder- at the end of the WATCHMEN film, which “heroes” will we cheer for when the “villains” are slain?

And will there be any cheering at all?

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2 Responses to “Heroes and Villains”

  1. Cnthia Allen Says:

    Josh,

    I actually SAW the first 18 minutes of WATCHMEN and the subsequent panel with Dave Gibbons on Saturday at ComicCon. I have to say objectively that what I saw was INCREDIBLE! And, Dave Gibbons said he was very pleased with the film as a whole and with how “he was treated” by Zack Snyder and Hollywood.

    According to Gibbons, what you post is somewhat inaccurate. Alan Moore “did not slam” the film. Moore took issue with Hollywood and how bad he had been treated by Hollywood in the past and how his graphic novels have been savaged. Moore has taken the position that he did not want his name on WATCHMEN, to see the film and even be contacted about it. He gave all his royalty monies to Gibbons with the proviso that he (Moore) NOT be contacted.

    So, according to Gibbons, Moore never issued any statement con or pro concerning the WATCHMEN.

    In any event, even with the ending, Gibbons felt strongly that the film ending represented the ending concept and was faithful to Moore’s ending idea — maybe not choosing the squid — but some other visual image.

    Cynthia

  2. garrett Says:

    shut up watchmen is great and the fact that you are taking it so seriously is dumb


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