Saturday, May 2, 2009


NOTE: Beginning what I hope will be a regular feature here at the Prattle, Call for papers is a series wherein I let y'all, the readers sound off on whatever's on your mind. This first entr was too good to pass up, as it all began when the superlative Gillan D. of Incantations fame tld me she was reading Watchmen for the first time.

I was intrigued to see what she thought, as she's not as deep into comics as I am and Watchmen is very much "comics about other comics." The end result is elucidated below and was quite interesting, I thought. Wonder how many people who read it when the movie came out felt like this?

Unlike the rest of the world, the Watchmen series passed me by until quite recently. It was during the adverts before the Dark Knight film that I saw the new about the new Watchmen film and I was instantly intrigued.

While comics aren’t new to me, the concept of an adult comic is. Living in a small Welsh village tends to place restrictions of the availability and choice of reading matter, so it wasn’t until a recent visit to the city that I managed to buy the complete graphic novel.

Now, graphic novels are new to me and I began with a great amount of interest. However, that interest quickly waned as I trudged through it. Seriously, it felt as if someone had attached a lead weight to both of my eyelids.

I’m aware that this was written in the mid 1980’s and I definitely felt it to be dated. I found the dialogue to be pretentiousness and it weighed down the story, making it more a feat of endurance than something enjoyable.

I had the impression that the writer was trying to create a work of art and trying far too hard as the finished story felt contrived and artificial. I would almost have thought it a clever parody, had I not known otherwise.

The speech given by Rorschach in the first chapter made me laugh out load. It was saturated with melodrama and reminded me instantly of Bela Lugosi in the 1931 version of Dracula - “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make”. It made such a strong impression that I could actually imagine Rorschach speaking with a hammy Transylvanian accent.

The Black Freighter storyline, which was apparently supposed to echo the story of Adrian Veidt, made absolutely no sense to me and only appeared to be there to bulk out a failing plot. I felt that the story was far too stretched out so that it would make twelve chapters, corresponding with the clock ticking up to midnight.

There were a few things that disturbed me about the story too. For the sake of brevity, I’ll mention just two. The attempted rape turning into a consensual sexual relationship was tacky to say the least. At the risk of sounding sexist, I would say that particular plot reveal was typically written by a man. Also, the U-turn at the end of the story, where the all-knowing, all-powerful Doctor Manhattan is unable to find out Adrian Veidt’s plan because of the influence of tachyons, seemed far too contrived. After all, as tachyons travel beyond the speed of light, wouldn’t Doctor Manhattan already be familiar with their effects upon him?

In conclusion, while I’m aware that this story is highly regarded, I think this is very much a case of The Emperors’ New Clothes, where no one dares disagrees for the fear of appearing foolish. I believe this story is trying to be something it isn’t.

It’s a little as if Homer Simpson appeared as Othello. Instead of being dramatic, it becomes ridiculous.



Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Hmm. Well, to be brutally honest, the analysis is a bit simplistic for my tastes; the bit with the tachyons, for example, is just basic suspension of disbelief - no more contrived than accepting that green rocks from Superman's homeworld can kill him. Still, it's always interesting to get the perspective of "outsiders", so to speak.

Kazekage said...

Does this mean I can count on a Call For Papers from the illustrious Diana Kingston-Gabai someday? ;)

Well, it came to me, and this is how I pitched it to Gillian: "Every time someone says 'Oooh, I wish I could be you, experiencing this cool thing I've been into for ages for the very first time!' I roll my eyes. Just once, I'd like to see someone try something and hate it.

That was my idea initially, anyways. The more I thought about it and heard her reaction to it (along with turning a bit of a Moore interview wherein he said something similar to "it's comics about other comics" and it became a more interesting thought experiment:

Comic fans "get" Watchmen because we're immersed in the grammar of superhero comics up to our eyeballs--read enough and it becomes an unconscious thing.

Either that or you're busily getting off on Rorschach beating people up, but that's neither here nor there.

I was curious to see how someone who wasn't in the bubble at all would respond to it, and would they get anything out of it, and moreover, with an outsider's perspective on it, am I induced to take a more critical look at it?

So yeah, I thought t was pretty worthwhile to have a fresh voice in the discussion. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

That day will probably come. Albeit later rather than sooner given the rather massive albatrosses (albatrossi?) circling overhead. :)

Well, that's the problem, isn't it? "Watchmen" isn't an entry-level book - obviously, it's going to be problematic for "outsiders". I'd be more interested to see what they make of something like "Bone" or "Runaways" despite the fact that they're not really representative of the mainstream (because even we Genre Savvy folks have trouble with that snake pit) - in general, books that aren't actively working to subvert tropes and therefore don't require extensively familiarity with those tropes to begin with.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Damn Blogger may or may have eaten my comment, so apologies if this is overly familiar. :)

Most likely, albeit later rather than sooner. I've got a few albatrosses (albatrossi?) to ditch first.

The thing is... well, it's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? I absolutely agree that "Watchmen" isn't an entry-level book, so obviously "outsiders" are going to have trouble with it. I'd be more interested to see what they'd make of books like "Runaways" or "Bone", despite the fact that they're not representative of the mainstream (because even we Genre-Savvy people have trouble with that snake-pit) - since those books aren't actively out to subvert tropes, they don't necessarily rely on you knowing those tropes in advance.

Kazekage said...

Albatrosses? Albatrii? What the hell is the plural of "albatross" anyways? :)

Well, I suppose yes, when you put it that way, it makes a certain amount of sense. But . . .I find myself wondering if it's really that good, surely some of that quality is going to resonate with people who aren't as deep into it as we are. The signal may not be as strong, but should come through on some level.

I'm not sure how I feel about the capital-G greatness of Watchmen if it's only good in the original Klingon.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

None of the above, apparently - it's just "albatross". Didn't see that one coming.

I'm not so sure... the most iconic moment in "Watchmen" is arguably Ozymandias' "I did it 35 minutes ago", but if you weren't versed enough in the genre to expect the traditional villain monologue (and resulting last-minute save), would that moment resonate at all? Or would it be, as Gillian suggests, pretentious dialogue?

Well... like all great works of literature, you have to be able to work with the "codes" the narrative employs. There's no lack of readers who don't understand the appeal of Hamlet because, like, why doesn't the guy just shoot his uncle in the head?

Kazekage said...

Bleedin' seabirds, as John Cleese so rightly said once.

But does it? I'm thinking of The Incredibles here and how everything they parody gets set up early enough in the film to where if you had wondered but never known, you had a term to link it with as a viewer or you now had a name for something you'd always wondered about. I don't know that Watchmen does that necessarily.

The snarky snark in me wants to answer "guns hadn't been invented yet" but I suppose that's true--to an extent. Even with stuff you don't like as a matter of personal taste (in my case 2001: A Space Odyssey) I can still recognise, on some level, that it's a genuine artistic statement. I don't like it, but enough gets through to where I can identify and contextualise it.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Hmm... that may be the difference in genres manifesting. "The Incredibles" is a parody - even if you don't know the whole tradition of villain monologuing, the standard comedy format lets them set up the joke and then execute it. I don't think "Watchmen" had the same capacity to establish the rules before subverting them.

But to do so, you need to analyze it - most people stop short of "I love/like/hate it".

Kazekage said...

Well, there are different mediums, but I'd take the position that certainly "Incredibles" is equal parts parody and superhero movie (There's plenty of laughs, but a couple of those scenes are full-on unapologetic superhero moments)--so I think "Incredibles" works double duty--the explanations work as both set-up for jokes and context for the superhero moments.

Well, true, but ordinarily that's as much analysis as most people do. Sometimes it's as simple as personal preference--mostly the analysis yields recognition of the "arty" bits.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Perhaps... though the question remains as to whether "Watchmen" actually has the capacity to provide that context before the story kicks in proper. I mean, you can't even read the Minutemen segments as a primer on genre rules because they're being subjected to the same treatment as their modern counterparts (ie: the Comedian trying to rape Sally, Hooded Justice living a double life, etc.)

I'm reminded of Andy from "The Office" trying to be a food critic. "This muffin tastes bad." :)

Kazekage said...

Which may be the problem. Because if it's so dependent on one's knowledge of the storytelling and genre tropes, that means "Watchmen," in addition to all the other damage it's inadvertently done, also pointed the way to comics fetishisation of its own history to the inclusion of everything else.

. . .the question is, does the succinctness of the review make it any more or less valid than 4 pages on why the muffin tastes bad? ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I don't know... there's a difference between relying on generic tropes and relying on specific historical content. For all that "Watchmen" makes the case for summoning the Ghosts of Comics Past, it doesn't really engage any history other than its own.

Ideally? I do prefer to hear the "why" of any review, if only because you never know what the agenda might be: the muffin tastes bad because the reviewer hates vanilla, but I like vanilla, etc.

Kazekage said...

The problem is, while Watchmen does create its own history, the facility to appreciate that history and the turns it takes does require a level of familiarity with the conventions, I think.

Well, to borrow a phrase from JMS (back when I would do such a thing) a good review should provoke vigorous discussion, passionate argument, and the occasional bar brawl. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? I mean, sure, it negates the book's ability to draw in a "new" crowd, but why is that considered a mark of success? Because the failing direct market's screaming for fresh blood?

And that's one of the very few times JMS and I agree on something. :)

Kazekage said...

It depends upon how you position it relative to what is and isn't an exemplar of the form.If you hold something up as the GoAT to the larger world, well . . .it would help from the uninitiated's perspective to make it at least partially comprehensible to folks without a degree in Advanced Comics. It's kind of the common courtesy cultural diplomacy.

This was back during the B5 days. When he made some small amount of sense. ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Good point. Of course, now I'm wondering whether moviegoers unfamiliar with the superhero genre felt the same way about the film adaptation... Would that be one way in which Snyder's compression of the miniseries might've made it more suitable for mass consumption?

Ah. Pre-Spider Spirit Totems, then. :)

Kazekage said...

Well . . .it was compressed to a great degree, but the "core" of Watchmen was lost completely (as you'd expect because Watchmen Only Works In Its Native Medium) and without that, it's a bunch of off-brand superheroes doing horrible things and who really gives a damn, isn't it?

Gotta run the clock back a bit further than that. Try "at the end of Season 4 of B5, when he still had a shred of humility." :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I'm of two minds regarding the film. On the one hand, I did think it managed to retain a large portion of the book's themes, the acting was quite good, and to be honest I find I prefer the film's denouement to the Giant Squid, if only because it's more rooted in the reality of the story: why would Veidt go to so much effort to create an unfamiliar threat when he had the familiar right in front of him?

That said, Nite Owl's Big No? In 2009? There's an "O RLY?" meme out there with Zack Snyder's name on it.

You mean there weren't any women on B5 who made evil babies with their boyfriends' best friends' fathers?

Kazekage said...

I'll have to take your word for it, Diana--I'm resolved pretty much that I won't be seeing it. I lament the Giant Squid omission if only because blaming it all on Dr. Manhattan--America's one-man deterrent--doesn't really establish a clear Third Threat that would unite the US and the USSR as allies.

Man, he did that? Oy. Zack "the master of subtlety" Snyder strikes again.

Nope. Not a one. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

As I said above, I do think there are reasons the Dr. Manhattan version works as well (if not better) than the Squid That Redefined Hentai. But yes, it does result in a slightly different creature than the book. Whether it's better or worse, I suspect, is a case of YMMV.

Not one of the film's finer moments, that's for sure. :)

Kazekage said...

Well, it just sticks out as problematic for me, in the sense that apparently the movie is otherwise slavishly faithful to the original to a fault, and the other problems with it I outlined in another thread . . .I just don't see how America's enemies peel back the "america" part from "America's weapon has apparently gone rogue."

The film has good moments?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think what Moore was trying to do with the Squid was go beyond nationality: it really shouldn't matter to the Soviets that New York City has been randomly destroyed, but it does - just as Dr. Manhattan's supposed destruction of various cities around the world go beyond national identity: in the end, it doesn't matter who got hit, just that it happened.

Oh, quite a few. Mind you, I've only ever seen the Director's Cut, so that might explain my favorable reaction to it while everyone else is commenting on the theatrical version.

Kazekage said...

Well, I gave my read on what the squid means for Watchmen and why it's so important(like Dr. Manhattan, it is itself a game-changer in a way) but by and large, I think when it comes to the movie, Comic Critics pretty much hit the nail on the head, far as I'm concerned.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Fair enough. A2D, as it were. :)