Posts Tagged ‘watchmen’

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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Who Understands the Comics?

January 25, 2009

understanding comics by scott mccloud“Understanding Comics” was an incredible read. In the first two or three chapters alone, McCloud legitimizes the medium of comics (opposed to bolstering its status as the “bastard child” of fine art and literature) in a comprehensive and well worded / drawn argument. Having interned with a development office in a major studio for two summers now, I have been sadly accustomed to the treatment of comic books and manga as pulp-y stepping stones to the “higher art” of cinema.

I recall one especially depressing moment in which I was handed Kazuo Umezu’s THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM (adrifting-classroom particularly gorey and markedly sexist manga from 1970s Japan that, in one of its “tamer” sequences, features the horrific vivisection of a fourth grader in the mandibles of a large mutated space insect) and was told that a neighboring production company wanted to option it in hopes of developing it as a light family romp in the vein of early Spielberg. The integrity of the work was obviously being compromised (or wholly neglected), and I really didn’t know how to feel about that.

I understand why as of late, stacks of graphic literature (“sequential art”) have adorned the already crowded desks of Hollywood producers and their Creative Executives. Comics is a hip, fresh, and fun media that is raking in a mainstream following and box office dough.  With its inherent commingling of visual art and text, many might believe that comics may easily be transferred to the screen. And considering the recent influx of these “comics movies” in American theaters, it seems as though this belief has been widespread and firmly rooted amongst both Hollywood shot-callers and their audiences and benefactors. Does this in turn affirm the illegitimate status of comics? How could it not?

“There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t.”

– Alan Moore, on the eve of the release of  Watchmen (dir. Zack Snyder, 2009)

don't be surprised

a very possible future

While McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” was published in 1993, way before the current “comics movie” craze, I am curious as to how he would respond to it. Additionally, while his book undertakes an incredible analysis of the comics medium, it does so from the visual angle much more than the narrative / story angle. In the context of our class, I was looking for hints at what kinds of stories suit the medium of comics versus that of film, literature, theater, music, or any other. While I understand the profound differences between comics and other mediums, I am left wondering why these differences matter, and more importantly what kinds of stories can utilize these differences the best.