It’s been getting a lot of traffic with the Watchmen film coming out, so here’s a link to Just Imagine…Stan Lee’s Watchmen
Yet the movie is ultimately undone by its own reverence; there’s simply no room for these characters and stories to breathe of their own accord, and even the most fastidiously replicated scenes can feel glib and truncated. As “Watchmen” lurches toward its apocalyptic (and slightly altered) finale, something happens that didn’t happen in the novel: Wavering in tone between seriousness and camp, and absent the cerebral tone that gave weight to some of the book’s headier ideas, the film seems to yield to the very superhero cliches it purports to subvert.
Despite being an avid fan of Watchmen, purchasing multiple copies over the years and tracking down issues of magazines like Amazing Heroes and The Comics Journal from the period of the series’ release, I can’t help but look down on the upcoming cinematic version (you know, the one with the action figures, coffee, condoms, ad nauseum.) If you know me, you’ve heard me scream that Watchmen is at its core a comic book, much like Citizen Kane is a movie. It uses its medium’s strengths and weaknesses to the story’s advantage throughout, doing things that can’t work on screen, even if you take each and every panel from the book, carefully edit the voiceovers into it, and ensure that each line of dialogue is exactly as it appears on-page. I can go on and on about the technical aspects, but there’s a more important element that’s sitting at the core of my misgivings about this slick-looking piece of superhero cinema.
Watchmen is at its core a drama. Yes, there’s a mystery that brings its main cast of players together, but it’s really about broken people and the fucked-up lives they lead. Laurie and Walter’s respective relationships with their mothers; the way Dan’s nostalgic values and fierce devotion to an intellectual ideal leads him down a lonely path; Adrian and Jon’s parallel devotion to logic, with the first becoming more alien as the other is held aloft as the height of humanity – all of these make the book work, and that’s where the real power of Watchmen lies, not in the (elegant and rewarding to be sure) investigation into the murder of Edward Blake. Even as they peel apart the superhero meme, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons devote a considerable amount of the book’s pagecount to exploring the common man in all its diversity (the newsstand vendor and the kid who reads pirate comics, the lesbian couple’s relationship woes, the psychiatrist who becomes obsessed with Rorschach.)
It’s this elegant dissection of people that allows Laurie’s realizations about her father to have a greater impact that the multiple pages devoted to Veidt’s final solution and its implementation. Moore is telling a story about everyone while Snyder, with his video game cutscene aesthetic and the stilted, too-mannered performances that pervade the clips available of the film, seems to have missed that point entirely, focusing on the costumed identities and the mystery. Yes, these are a few short pieces of scenes from a movie with a 2+ hour running time, but they seem quite telling. The riot scene from the 70s becomes high camp thanks to music by KC And The Sunshine Band and a jump that takes place in slow motion because it looks cool. Laurie and Dan’s re-emergence as superheroes is positively generic in its execution, lacking charm and tension entirely. Perhaps in the context of the film, these scenes have more power, but as someone who has read the book at least a dozen times over the years and knows how each beautifully-constructed simulacrum of a scene from the book fits into that story, I can’t help but pre-judge.
The more I see of the film version of Watchmen, the less I like it, and perhaps more importantly, the more I dislike what it represents: the dumbing-down of something greater for the sake of a false “authenticity” that’s apparent only to those shallowest of readers of the source material. Zack Snyder may have a made a movie that’s called Watchmen, features a cast of characters directly from the book, and liberally makes use of the book’s contents, but I’ll be very surprised if it has any of the original’s heart.
While Spurgeon, as usual, provides just about the most comprehensive guide to shopping for comic book fans, I thought I’d throw a few coins into that bucket and offer up an even ten items that came out this year, are relatively easy to find and should be (hopefully) be just outside of the norm for most comics buyers. While I think things like the Garth Ennis Punisher omnibus are fantastic, it’s unlikely that someone who really, really wouldn’t want it would just get it themselves or just outright say “Yes, please get me this massive book about a dude that kills dudes” to you over breakfast.
The new hardcover edition of the venerable king of metafictional looks at “real world” superheroes is basically a tiny homunculus of the core of the Absolute Edition of the book, with John Higgin’s touched-up color and art that looks sharper than ever. It’d be a nice thing to give to someone who’s already a fan but has either lost or worn out their original copy. Amazon also has the paperback edition at a very nice price, if you didn’t feel like splashing the $30 or so that I’ve seen the $40 retail hardcover go for.
I was initially skeptical towards what I saw as Dave Gibbons’s blatant cash-grab in the wake of the film, but the final Watching The Watchmen tome is a very nicely-produced look at the process behind the series. Chip Kidd does his usual nice job with the presentation, working with Mike Essl and Dan Scudamore’s photographs show off the texture of the art beautifully. It’s not essential, but one of the things I like about holidays is that they give you the chance to give people gifts they wouldn’t necessarily buy. There’s a direct market edition from Diamond Comics Distributors that you’ll likely have to special order through your shop that features a different dust jacket, some additional pages, and some portfolio-style cards based on the original art.
Morse may be better known nowadays as one of Pixar’s team of designers and artists, but his comics have been drifting just under most readers’ radar for the last few years. These are his two newest books, both of whom were distributed by Adhouse, my favorite record-label-disguised-as-a-comics-publisher. Notes Over Yonder is a small squarebound book with pretty straightforward pair of tales that work with music and a sense of isolation, reflecting each other as they build their own allegories. It’s a nice piece of work, really, but seems a bit empty compared to the other pick.
Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, on the other hand is a more personal work, exploring the life of the artist as creator, citizen of the world, and father. It’s a pretty stunning work that I’ve read twice since receiving last week and plan on diving into again. The oversized format allows Morse to expand and contract his more-lush-than-usual art in tune with the themes and even those unfamiliar with his work will soon understand why he uses a tiger to represent himself on-page.
At first glance, nothing could be more dissimilar than Brian Wood’s look at a dozen years in a restless young woman’s life and Jonathan Lethem’s retelling of a Marvel Universe oddity, but both books touch on the theme of isolation, intentional and not and would be perfect for the more thoughtful readers you know. The Oni hardcover edition of Local is a Very Nice Object, with a size akin to one of those oversized hardcover collections that Marvel puts together and lots of extras, reproduced on high-quality paper with a handsome paper over board cover and silver ink on the spine. It’s a well thought-out, beautifully illustrated comics series that gets a reproduction that’s up to the material.
Omega The Unknown is a funny, literate look at a neglected character created by the late, great Steve Gerber. It manages to update the original story’s strange blend of superheroics and psychotropic monologues without seeming and with the help of Farel Darymple’s scratchy, organic art, the entire effort comes off as a distinctly human endeavor, something I’ve not seen a lot in the Marvel Universe of late.
With sleeves designed by Sean Phillips and Darwyn Cooke, this pair of Criterion DVD releases is a slam-dunk for the fan who likes either artist and has exhausted their comics repertoire for the time being. Blast of Silence is a lean piece of film noir that makes up for its low budget with careful craftsmanship. A fantastically downbeat narration underscores the story of Frank Bono, a hit man who’s going through some trying times. Fans of Criminal can see why Phillips was picked for the box art: movies like Blast of Silence inform his work on the title.
The four movies in the Monsters and Madmen box set are drive-in fodder, low budget science fiction and horror pieces that have more style than their peers. It’s easy to see why Cooke agreed to do the art for this: four period design experiments that revolve around each film’s title and content. I leaned more towards the junk science-fiction of First Man Into Space and The Atomic Submarine, but the horror Boris Karloff double feature of Corridors of Blood and The Haunted Strangler is nothing to sneeze at. The journeyman director Robert Day helmed three of the pictures and it’s a nice snapshot of the genre B-picture era.
It’s hard to imagine two pieces of samurai fiction that are as different than Inoue’s meticulously-drawn, deliberately paced reimagining of the Mushashi Miyamoto story and Tezuka’s cartoonish, mile-a-minute Dororo, but both got lovely rereleases this year. Vagabond (which I believe is still being printed in its traditional format) began to be republished in the VIZBIG format that combines three of the previously-released volumes into one oversized book with extra color art and sketches, a better value for shelf space and for the wallet. The larger format works greatly in the book’s favor, as Inoue’s detail and background could be pored over for hours and the opening salvo of the projected 10-volume series feels that much more epic. For $20, I can’t imagine a more substantial gift to a manga or samurai fan.
It honestly took me the first forty or fifty pages of the first volume of Tezuka’s Dororo to get it, but I just finished the second last night and am fully invested. There’s a reason Tezuka’s so revered, and his varied oeuvre can give almost any comics reader an entry point into his unique combination of melodrama, goofy exaggeration, and perfectly-timed moments of quiet amongst the Carl Barks-like (Barksian?) hullabaloo of each story. As there’s only three books, it’s an easy set for anybody to complete, and Vertical’s design is, as always, sublime.
There’s lots more out there that I think is worth looking out for, but I wanted this list to be manageable for readers and myself. If you’re still not quite sold anything, you might want to check out my Reviews (where I’m reminded that the Joker graphic novel would be a nice adjunct to that Dark Knight DVD) and What I’ve Been Reading categories. Good luck with your holiday shopping!
I’m pretty sure that any “faithful” film version of Watchmen is going to be not-for-me because I think that the story told is deeply, deeply rooted in its native medium. Moving it to film requires a lot more than a simple transposition of scenes: it necessitates a ground-up revision of the work, perhaps commenting more on cinematic clichÃ©s and how the form speaks to its audience versus using the comic book as a storyboard.
I’m also pretty fucking sure the guy who made Dawn of the Dead and 300 ain’t gonna do that.