Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
And the fanboys whine like bitches. The “unfilmable” graphic novel, WATCHMEN – has been filmed! Cry the beloved comicbook and let slip the dogs of nihilism.
WATCHMEN is epic and sexy and bloody; sensual and visceral and brutal; more than a comicbook, more than a messianic cry of madness; flamboyant costumed heroes, a plot that shakes the world, and Dr. Manhattan in full frontal ectoplasm.
WATCHMEN is a triumph! …Unless you’re a fanboy.
the rorschach test:
one fan’s classic is another fan’s bubastis.
And the writer of the graphic novel, Alan Moore (V FOR VENDETTA, 2005) has once again spat the dummy and insisted his name be removed from the WATCHMEN movie, leaving only mediocre artist, Dave Gibbons, credited as “co-creator.” There’s perfectionist – and there’s bitchboy. Alan Moore is the latter.
Directed by Zack Snyder like the graphic novel panels are emblazoned on the insides of his eyelids, WATCHMEN the movie – like VENDETTA – is ardently true to the spirit of the source material and reverently recreates the world of an alternate 1985, where Nixon has been in office continually since the Viet Nam victory (!), where costumed heroes are part of the crimefighting landscape, where colors scream and morals bend and we hit the ground running in thigh-high boots that are not removed for mile-high sex.
The opening montage, showing how the world assimilated these heroes into its culture, is crafted with such care and creativity (with source music from Dylan to Hendrix), I shed a tear at watching the pages of Watchmen come alive. And this was only the opening!
under the hood:
battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster…
WATCHMEN (written by mad prophet bitchboy Alan Moore, drawn by Dave Gibbons, published in 1986 by DC Comics as a limited 12-issue series) is a “celebrated graphic novel” because the fantasy world it presents train-wrecks into our reality so closely it hurts our Gotham nerve.
BATMAN BEGINS (2005) portended this trend of superhero films being no longer the provenance of teens vicariously living out fantasies with towels tied around necks; THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and HANCOCK (2008) continued this journey; now WATCHMEN takes it beyond the Bubastis, raising the bar into dark adulthood, where every sin is a necessity, every moral an ambiguity.
None of the heroes have supernatural powers; except for the atomic anomaly, Dr. Manhattan (victim of an “intrinsic field chamber” accident and able to manipulate molecules at will, and perceive future time streams), they are all versions of Batman and Captain America, well-trained and well-educated athletes with a penchant for vigilantism.
And vigilantism – as in this real world – is only tolerated so long. Nixon outlaws “masks” (as costumed heroes come to be called) – after they help him win Viet Nam, mind you! – and we are thrust into this roaring, breathing work of art during the second generation of masks after they are disbanded.
When one of the Watchmen, the abrasive, cynical Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, love-child of Robert Downey Jnr. and Javier Bardem) is killed mysteriously, the last Watchman on active duty, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), goes on a solitary manhunt to find the killer.
He warns fellow ex-Watchman, Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), “An attack on one is an attack on all of us!”
Rorschach is the nihilistic conscience of WATCHMEN, a sociopath with principles, wearing a mask that shifts its Rorschach ink-blot patterns continually. He considers this shifting palette his “true face” – mirroring the ineffable, morally relativistic face of the New York he holds no love for… “The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘Save us!’… and I’ll whisper ‘No.'”
As each Watchman entered the equation, I recognized them immediately – the last such perfect casting being X-MEN (2000). There was, of course, Rorschach’s wondrous ever-changing mask; the worrisome dweeb with the weak Chevy Chase lips had to be Dan Dreiber aka Nite Owl II (the faux-Batman guy); the bumblebee hooker with the Pert hair and bad bangs must be Laurie aka Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman); the Bowie-thin Brit is Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and lemme take a guess that the shimmering blue, hung, naked buff is Jon Osterman aka Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).
And my own chiseled six-pack hardened with delight when I saw Ozymandias’s exotic, mutated lynx, Bubastis!
WATCHMEN is a wet dream waterfall.
The key to WATCHMEN, the grand concept that elevates it above the jungle of super-beings who bust bank-robbers and petty thieves (which are merely the outlying strands of a much larger sociological problem) is Ozymandias saying, “I fought only the symptoms, leaving the disease unchecked.”
Now, as Nixon and the Soviets edge toward nuclear war, Ozymandias, “the world’s smartest man” with unlimited resources, takes it upon himself to attack the disease. To save humankind from itself.
Hero? Villain? Spandex-wearing looney? When Spock said “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” he was regarded as noble because he was sacrificing himself. Ozymandias plots to destroy life as part of a bigger plot to save life. The Comedian’s death was a small cog in this world-shaking coup. And the moral dilemma falls to the other Watchmen to either stop him, or stop the truth being told.
Though Dr. Manhattan is acclaimed as, “God exists – and he’s American,” Ozymandias’s plan to kill millions to save billions is nothing short of godlike. (“…lest ye become a monster.”) Superman saving kittens just wouldn’t get it.
Thus the graphic novel’s slogan: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (Who is going to guard the guards themselves?), or simply, Who watches the Watchmen?
gazing into the abyss:
one man’s artist is another man’s autist.
As with any great movie loaded with cerebral thematic grist, it is impossible to convey the innumerable hooks and references, analogies and cultural touchstones contained within its hurricane walls.
Snyder and screenwriters, David Hayter and Alex Tse, have retained a layered complexity, yet removed superfluous characters and events (such as Captain Metropolis, and a non sequitur pirate story within the Watchmen story, and even (gulp!) changed the ending – okay, stop that puling, dorknozzles!) and recreated every imperative scene as meticulously as possible.
Like his ultra-violent battle hymn, 300, Snyder’s framing is breathtaking: Rorschach atop a roof as lightning silhouettes him, Dr. Manhattan’s clockwork bachelor pad on Mars, a cityscape with the Twin Towers in the distance… even the grimy understreets, the balletic breaking of bones, the mobs and the mayhem, all gloriously swank. Never has the ugliness of mankind looked so alluring – Snyder has a knack for conveying emotional darkness as visual beauty.
This movie has envisioned Watchmen better than the graphic novel and I’ll tell you wh– (Oh. Here comes Alan Moore and his gang of bitchboys to break my little cucumber legs. Marnoo! Bar the doors and windows, would you please. Onward…) –and I’ll tell you why:
Two elements go into making a graphic novel (as if real comics fans don’t know). Story. And artwork.
I give Moore all the credit he doesn’t want to deserve (hell, I’d be happy if someone would just buy my stories, let alone pay such rapturous tribute, man!) – but though his story is epic on toast, Dave Gibbons’s artwork is like watching paint dry – literally.
Gibbons is a great anatomist (he even depicts Dr. Manhattan as Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man in issue #4), but lacks superhero flair. His neatly-blocked nine-panel pages in the Watchmen comics make for some creative transitions and interesting gimmicks (such as the “Fearful Symmetry” issue #5, where the whole book is almost a mirror image of itself), but are flat, static and would go far to inspire accountants. In this medium, Artwork is King. They’re GRAPHIC novels fer chrissakes!
Bad artwork ruins a good story. Gibbons has no action lines.
Moore would pen the Batman benchmark, The Killing Joke in 1988, with Brian Bolland on poison inks. Now that was Art. So too, the driveway-gravel grit of Frank Miller, the sexual fluidity of Jim Aparo’s 1970’s Batman, the slamdown of Marvelites, John and Sal Buscema; pull up any number of X-MEN artists – you’ll be inspired to tie a towel around your neck quicksmart. Not with Gibbons. The WATCHMEN movie endows The Watchmen with skills, training and verve, whereas Gibbons’s drab panels don’t display any reason for them to be wearing such tight trousers.
kindle a light:
the darkness of mere being.
Each WATCHMEN character is more of an emotional pizza than is usual with costumed types because this series was written as a limited run – they did not have to sustain arena love for decades. Each of them is us.
If we had the impunity to be unchained, unholy, what would we do with that power?
The Comedian “saw society’s true face – chose to be a parody of it, a joke…”
Rorschach, breaking people’s fingers all over the place, says of himself, “This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.” No kidding, with a long trail of fingers to prove it… (The filmmakers admirably got Rorschach’s ‘hurm’ sound down – like the X-MEN filmmakers prided themselves on getting Wolverine’s ‘snikt!’ sound.)
I admit on the fanboyjury stand that Dr. Manhattan’s non-personality was ruined by the movie writers. This amoral, unfeeling wraith would slip further psychologically from humanity with each blue day, but in this movie he went from the cutting, “Existence of life is highly overrated” to a sudden Chick Flick epiphany, “Life itself is the miracle.” Someone call Julia Roberts.
Nite Owl II, a technophile who resembles Batman in more ways than one, only comes alive through his alter-ego. He can only get it on with Silk Spectre (in his Owl Ship floating in the clouds, no less) after they’ve had a costumed adventure together. Just like a woman, first thing Silk Spectre does when she moves in with Nite Owl is start messing with his vehicles.
Ozymandias, whose inspiration is Alexander the Great, wants “conquest not of men, but of the evils that beset them.” When you slide this slippery slope, the question becomes Dirty Harry’s in MAGNUM FORCE, “When police start becoming their own executioners, where’s it gonna end?… Pretty soon you start executing people for jaywalking, executing people for traffic violations, then you execute your neighbor because his dog pisses on your lawn.”
Let’s face it, Vigilantism is as malformed and unjust as The Law that it thumbs its nose at. Two sides of the same confused coin – how to embrace your freedom without being stultified or harmed by other idiots enjoying theirs. We all have built in radar for “right” and “wrong” – and we are all prone to what I’ve always called “circumstantial morality” so a cloudy mix of vigilantism and written laws should prevail.
But who decides what I think is right is wrong? “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25.)
Who watches the Watchmen?
from crimebusters to watchmen:
The times they are a-changing.
Interestingly, Watchmen is not the group’s official name. In the graphic novel, they’re called by the unofficial cheesy name of The Crimebusters. Watchmen is never mentioned. In the movie, they contemplate banding together as “Watchmen” but are ridiculed immediately and never get around to registering the dba. (Or whatever superhero groups like The Avengers and The Justice League did to protect their precious band names. Although, who’d be dumb enough to don underpants-outside-spandex and plagiarize a name that could get them hung by their nipples from the Golden Gate bridge with the ineffectual police powerless against the person who hung them there?) So there’s no such thing as a Watchman, Victoria…
Maybe that’s why the fanboys are bamboozled… they need the obvious frame-to-frame intrinsic field metamorphosis… anything less… is simply blood from the shoulder of Pallas…
What’s that incessant banging on my door? Ah yes, I’ve got some fanbitches to deal with. Marnoo! Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding; let me just slip my Rorschach mask on…. and I’ll meet you on the far side of crazy…