Red Right Hand: WHO READS THE WATCHMEN?
*He is not a secret agent. Not at all.

 

WHO READS THE WATCHMEN?

In which I ramble like a geek who overthinks shit sometimes...

Yes, I am excited to see Watchmen. Yes, I think it could suck hard, though it seems to pretty damn faithful for being a movie adaptation. I also understand that that faithfulness might not make it work as a movie. I've always held that the Watchmen is not a movie and probably never should be. Maybe it could be an HBO mini-series, but even at that, there is a problem.

The problem goes back to never ending discussion me and my cohorts back at Dreamland Comics used to have as we hanging around the store flinging foam stress balls and sending neighborhood kids on DQ runs for us. It's a common discussion in four-color circles. What do you give non-comics readers to hook them. A lot of people just instinctively answer Watchmen. Watchmen or Kingdom Come (which suffers some of the same problems that I'll get to in a mo').

While anecdotal evidence has suggest that this plan actually works, I think it's ultimately a wrong move. It can't be the only start option, so go somewhere else because Watchmen wasn't written to be that. I see it as the opposite of that -- the other end of the spectrum. Is Watchmen beginner's comics or is it advanced comics?

It's interesting to note that DC has a promo campaign called After Watchmen, which reprints some notable comics with the trade dress that tells new comics readers where to go after you've read Watchmen. One of the destination books is Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday, which aside from being an amazing book that is readily enjoyable by anyone who digs cool sci-fi adventures and edgy writing, also riffs on comics in their past and current states as well as on some other mediums and genres. It is best enjoyed after the brain has had some comics seasoning. The seventh issue, for instance, takes aim at the Vertigo comics of the 80s and 90s. It's still a fun story, but you're missing a lot of you're not aware of John Constantine, Transmetropolitan, the connective tissue between the two and maybe a little of (not Vertigo but certainly influential in the imprint) Marvelman.

Watchmen was written as a reaction to the state of super-hero comics. Specifically, the state of super-hero comics as they were in 1985. So aside from the beginner/advanced question, is it also not a product of it's time and does it need to be framed that way. There's the who cold war thing as well. There actually was one in 1985. Do the five-minutes-to-midnight elements resonate as effectively now. The buy-in to the alternate history has gotten bigger in the last 20 plus years.

Now, in 2009, it's not only so far removed from the state of the medium it was riffing on, it's now also not even in that medium. Additionally, the medium of comics has spent a lot of time moving in the direction of Watchmen. It has embraced the criticisms and become them. Rorschach and Comedian were images of what was to become. Such characters debuting now barely rate a raised eyebrow. If Watchmen came out now, it'd be a cool story, but it would never be what it became.

The movie carries none of this history with it. You have to walk in and enjoy it for what it is. I do like the way Snyder tried to use the movie to the same thing Moore did with comics but with other Super-hero movies. Just look at Ozymandias's costume and then look at the Schumacher Batman flicks.

Now yeah, there's a core story in there about people and that's where things really happen, but it's also so wrapped in this cocoon of what it was and what it was meant to be, that that story is just a piece of the experience and that, perhaps, without coming into it with the right background reading, you're not getting the full experience. And the movie might just suffer from that.

A lot of reviews I've seen are split between really good and godawful and many of those reviews seem to fall along the lines of good=people who read it and bad=people who didn't. (There's also a notable category of people who've read it recently (what? as opposed to reading it in the 80s. Well, yeah)). Maybe it'll fall out that way, I don't know and won't until...well, soon.

I'll know better what I think Saturday night at the Arclight.
©2016 Michael Patrick Sullivan