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Tag Archive: Before Watchmen


Frank Miller The Master Race DK 3

Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  Comic book readers all remember first reading Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  Most of the world would acknowledge it is one of the top 20 most influential graphic novels of all time and belongs on many a top 10 list for any kind of novel.  We all look ahead each week to the next good read, and can’t wait to read the next DKR.

We just don’t mean that literally.  We once thought that is exactly what we wanted, once upon a time.  Then Frank Miller delivered what we thought we wanted with his sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, or DK2.  It was pretty much unreadable, made worse because it was released on Miller’s trademark staggered “I’ll release it when I feel like it” schedule (remember All-Star Batman and Robin?).

So DC Entertainment just issued a press release late Friday announcing The Dark Knight III:  The Master Race.  Really?  The Master Race?  From the guy that wrote the offensive, bigotted Holy Terror?  What is DC Comics thinking?

DKR 2

The Dark Knight Strikes Again, DK2. Be careful what you wish for.

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BF Manhattan nite owl

Before Watchmen is a series of titles that was beset with controversy from its inception.  Years before the launch of the series last year, DC Comics had looked at a prequel concept for the much-ballyhooed Watchmen mini-series turned graphic novel, but squelched it before anything came of it.  Watchmen, continually one of the biggest selling graphic novels, has a sort of sacred status to many.  And loyalists believed that if Alan Moore didn’t write it or at least endorse it, then it wasn’t for them.  Still, whether you hate or love the original Watchmen, how do you pass up a series of titles from the likes of J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello, Len Wein, Darwyn Cooke, Adam Hughes, Joe Kubert, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee?  See our early review of the first issues of the series here and here.

In an era where you can either read single issues or wait out the run—especially with a mini-series—and get the graphic novel in hardcover or trade version, as consumer you have decisions to make.  You could read the monthly and then you don’t necessary “need” the trade edition.  If you love the monthly you may just want the trade version on your shelf for future reading.  With ordinary monthly series waiting for the trade editions actually can hurt the ability to ensure series and creators you love continue, since publishers bank on weekly circulation numbers.  If everyone waits for the trades, the publishers may cancel a series based on low sales.  That doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case for mini-series, which publishers only plan for a few issues.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

An initial reaction to the Before Watchmen series, after first learning of all the spinoff prequel titles, could have been “Where is the Crimson Corsair?”  He is of course not missing but his story got relegated to two-page issues in the back of the other titles.  So the problem is sifting through titles to connect the story together.  The result is you probably just give up.  Especially if you’re not reading all the Before Watchmen titles.  I planned to read them all but have decided to throw in the towel after the first issues of all the new titles have finally been printed and I finally made my way through them all.

I have read comments online now from those who loved Watchmen and then either love Before Watchmen or hate it.  Then there are those that merely like or hate Watchmen and either love or hate Before Watchmen.  For me, I appreciate the original–but don’t love it–and the verdict is still out on all these mini-series titles.  So far I have liked Minutemen, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl.  The Comedian was grim but compelling to the point of making me continue coming back for more.  But with Ozymandias, particularly the bizarre story and equally bizarre artwork, DC Comics started to lose me.  The eagerly awaited title Rorschach should have been a slam dunk, yet the grim for grim’s sake story didn’t work for me, and Lee Bermejo, whose incredible work included Batman: Noel last year, seems to have been wasted on this title.   Then the crown of all books, a J. Michael Straczynski and John Hughes pairing no less, landed on my stack with Dr. Manhattan. 

Straczynski is a writer that comic book writers look up to.  I doubt I know any comic book writer that doesn’t plain idolize this guy’s work.  So it’s a struggle to not rave about something he writes.  Did I miss something?  Is it me?  If the question is whether this Before Watchmen title, in its first issue, has captured the original character from Watchmen, then I answer: absolutely.  The problem is that I already knew this guy, this monotone, unfeeling, detached, all-powerful entity.  And he is still as bland as ever.  I was hoping Straczynski had something more to add and Issue #1 hasn’t given me enough to look for Issue #2 next month.

If you know the background of Dr. Manhattan, he was originally based on Captain Atom.  Captain Atom is a character I have read off and on since I was a kid.  I found him interesting, far more than Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, and as mirrored here in Before Watchmen.   There are countless directions to take such a dangerous character in, and instead we get a Schroedinger’s cat retread story.  I love time travel and parallel universe stories in books, comics, TV and movies.  But Dr. Manhattan’s story seems done before.

Admittedly, when I heard Adam Hughes was taking on Dr. Manhattan instead of Silk Spectre, I thought, huh?  Folks at my local comic book store asked the same question.  Why wasn’t Hughes chosen for Silk Spectre?  It wasn’t just me.  So I figured it was because Silk Spectre would have a key role in Dr. Manhattan.  Not so, at least from what we see in the first issue, despite the cover.  Hughes is known for his retro-realistic drawings of women, and his Batgirl covers over the past year have a stunning 1940s magazine cover quality, just beautiful work.  So an editor selecting Hughes to draw the first and second Silk Spectre is a no-brainer.  Yet Issue #1 is all Dr. Manhattan.  And hey, the pencil work is solid.  My eyebrow frown comes from wasting Hughes on such a basic story.  It’s not like Hughes has time to churn out unlimited work.  And no doubt Dr. Manhattan, or any Before Watchmen book, was unthinkable to pass up for any young or old comic book professional in DC Comics’ arsenal that was asked to work on the series.

I will give Dr. Manhattan one more try with issue #2, but I will be bailing on Rorschach and Ozymandias, despite Rorschach being the Boba Fett of the Watchmen universe.  And instead of letting the rest of the Before Watchmen series stack up, I will be taking a second look at the other titles.  With so many New 52 titles continuing with good storylines, these “event” series need to remain interesting and even exciting to continue to earn my ongoing support (aka dollars), and unfortunately that hasn’t happened.

By C.J. Bunce

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Green Arrow, and in advance of watching the preview to the new CW Network series Arrow and seeing the actors on their panel, I gawked at the new Green Arrow suit at the DC Comics booth at the San Diego Comic-Con.  The nicely polished display cases made it difficult to get great photos because of reflections.  I tried with two cameras but ultimately perfect shots would have only been available after the crowd dispersed after hours.  But, for the benefit of any cosplayers, here is what I was able to get:

The Green Arrow suit was designed by Academy Award winning costume designer Colleen Atwood.  The costume features a great choice for the shade of green and a combination of both fine suedes and more rugged, practical fabrics.

Close-up detail on hood of new Arrow costume.

Detail of bow carvings and boot from Arrow suit.

Detail of arm darts on new Arrow suit.

Deathstroke villain mask from new Arrow series.

Also at the DC Comics booth were Watchmen costumes, presumably advertising DC Comics’ current summer series Before Watchmen.  They showcased two costumes, the Comedian, and Nite Owl’s polar suit.  Both of these were worn by the actors in the Watchmen movie:

Warner Brothers featured some new costumes from the coming Superman reboot movie, Man of Steel.  Here is the hero suit from the movie:

Far across the convention center, I spoke with Joe Maddalena about his TV series Hollywood Treasure, which I enjoy watching for all the various props and costumes and owners that unearth them.  He had several costumes and props on display, including Marlon Brando’s costume as Jor-El from the original Superman film and one of Johnny Depp’s suits from Edward Scissorhands:

Profiles in History also had some screen-worn Star Wars costumes on display, including this Snowtrooper helmet from The Empire Strikes Back and a Stormtrooper helmet and rifle from the original Star Wars.

The Snowtrooper helmet in particular illustrates how time is not always kind to materials used for productions, never intended to survive much beyond the studio shoot.

Profiles in History also showcased a nice Wolverine costume from the X-Men films, worn on-screen by Hugh Jackman:

The guys from The Prop Store in London had a great booth again this year, attended by staff from both their London and L.A. offices.  The focus piece at their booth was this classic spacesuit from the original Ridley Scott movie Alien:

Finally, across the aisle from the Alex Ross art display was the giant display of Iron Man suits from Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers. 

All of this led up to the later reveal of the new Iron Man suit to be featured in Iron Man 3.

Definitely impressive displays this year of screen-used costumes–something there for everyone.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer/artist and New Frontier creator Darwyn Cooke is the visionary of Before Watchmen in the first two books released over the past 8 days, Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1, and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1.  In Minutemen, he serves as writer and artist, and he shares writing credits on Silk Spectre with Amanda Conner, who also serves as artist on Silk Spectre.

We know Amanda Conner from her run as artist on Green Arrow/Black Canary during the duo’s attempt at marriage.  My take was that her art style was a bit too cartoony for the serious story of Oliver Queen’s doppelgänger trying to kill Dinah on their wedding night.   Here, her artistic style is perfect for Silk Spectre, and this is high praise considering I had pegged Adam Hughes as perfect for the Silk Spectre standalone mini-series (but we can look forward to his work on the coming Dr. Manhattan series).  In this retro/throwback world of Before Watchmen, when innocence reigned in America, the young Silk Spectre and her new boyfriend would easily fit into the pages of Archie Comics.  That may not sound like a good thing but it works perfectly for the story being told.  In fact, this may be Conner’s breakout project, showing her character depth as we’ve seen with Gail Simone’s complete command of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and Oracle, and the retro portrayal skill we’ve seen from… Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke’s artwork on Minutemen reminded me over and over again of his retro look at the golden age of DC Comics in his New Frontier series.  It had to have been the easiest decision in the world to tap Cooke for the retro world circa 1939 of the Watchmen back story.

Skipping over the contrived controversy surrounding Before Watchmen, anytime you mess with people’s icons you’re going to get people who won’t even check it out (like someone I knew who loved Star Wars the original trilogy so much they completely ignored and avoided any subsequent books and movies), they’ll give it the ol’ college try, or if it’s good, flat-out embrace the nostalgia of it.  Unlike my pal Jason McClain, I don’t hold Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with any particular reverence (see Jason and my earlier discussion here), so my hope is a story like this could stand on its own.  Presumably the entirety of this new line of mini-series will intersect according to some grand master plan, culminating with the Watchmen series itself.

  

I have read Watchmen twice across a span of time so I do not remember all the nuances, other than Gibbons’ nine panels on a page that had symbology and often contrasting images with dialogue.  I caught enough in Minutemen to know I am missing a great amount of the subtlety and symbology that I assume is present here.  For those reading Before Minutemen before trying out Watchmen (yes, I am sure those people are out there!) I won’t give up spoilers here.  But the future of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, to me, was the best part of Watchmen, and these two were my favorite characters in the movie adaptation.

As to Minutemen issue #1, Cooke excels at giving us a Justice League-worthy back story for some Captain America era characters.  The dialogue in both Minutemen and Silk Spectre is appropriate to the time period, better than I am finding in Ed Brubaker’s noir Fatale series, for example.  Minutemen #1 introduces these Minutemen superheroes through the eye of an aged Nite Owl and his tell-all book Under the Hood.  The innocence quickly fades as we meet Edward Blake, the Comedian, a seemingly well-intentioned do-gooder with serious psychological issues that forecast his ultimate downfall.  Other characters are less familiar but entirely interesting despite getting less time devoted to them: Dollar Bill, who might as well be Captain America, a very cool Space Ghost mixed with Batman-type character called Hooded Justice, Mothman Byron Lewis who seems to foreshadow a sad and brief story, the slick-looking and tough avenging angel Ursula the Silhouette, and Captain Metropolis, wealthy ex-Marine who will put together the team.

Silk Spectre #1 flashes forward to the origin of not the original Silk Spectre of the Minutemen group, but her daughter, and the elder’s priming of the daughter to take over the Silk Spectre superheroine role.  The elder’s public and disreputable past is thrown at the daughter from every angle, and we witness her breaking apart from the Kato-like training practice and peers that have casted her out of favor.  With the bits of darkness and tragedy, Conner’s pencil work also draws out plenty of humor surrounding the angst of being a teenager in 1966 (applicable to any other time period, too).

Other interesting features include a tucked in ongoing secondary story in each issue (not enough to make any judgment on yet) and a higher quality cover shiny card stock.

So far the scope of Before Watchmen is epic, and the storytelling poignant.  It makes this reader want to go watch the Watchmen movie.  Nice work so far!

By C.J. Bunce

With the Before Watchmen series announced last month “coming soon to a comic book store near you,” now there is more reason than ever to catch up on the current exploits of one of the characters that inspired Doctor Manhattan himself, Captain Atom.  Of all the 52 of DC Comics New 52 series, Captain Atom is one of the titles I am still reading after 6 months, up there with All Star Western, Batgirl, Batwoman, Justice League Dark, and Wonder Woman.  Yes, I like it better than all the Batman titles I tried on for size and the much praised Animal Man.  Captain Atom has probably gotten lost a bit in the shuffle between umpteen Bat-titles and all the Justice League headliner superheroes.  So if you are someone whose pull list hasn’t dabbled yet into the rest of the DC universe, this is the first book you should grab to get caught up.

The trade paperback to be published later this year will compile the first six issues, written by J.T. Krul with art by Freddie Williams II, plus it will include additional materials.  Spoilers ahead!

In Issue #1 we meet the New 52 Captain Atom in a story along the lines of those found in some other New 52 titles–we fear that which we do not understand–as Captain Atom is attacked by those he wishes to protect.  Captain Atom can absorb energy in great amounts but to protect the eastern seaboard he must harness the energy of both a volcano and a nuclear reaction.  Uncertain of his abilities, neither he nor his supporters know what can happen.  As to comic book intrigue factor, Captain Atom’s abilities offer a “Wonder Twins” meets MacGyver brand of problem solving–and decisions that could result in his own destruction.

Of course with unprecedented devastation, including natural and man-made disasters, society does what it does best, cast blame, and Captain Atom becomes a target in Issue #2.  We learn his back story–that of a Captain, Nathaniel Adam, a volunteer in an experiment gone wrong–and that his new “condition” was inadvertently created by a Stephen Hawking-level genius named Dr. Megala.  Where some New 52 titles offer no origin story or bombard you with back story, Captain Atom gives readers just what they need to push the story forward.  If you liked the superhero-themed TV series Alphas, you will see Captain Atom exhibiting a “seeing” ability much like Gary, the autistic character on the show (for me the best character on Alphas).  One of Freddie Williams’ best images to-date is in this issue, an incredible multi-layered splash page of Captain Atom reaching between two worlds, into this new realm of being, laid out over the shadow of the mere mortals mocking him.

Captain Atom struggles with similar, but different, conflicts as Superman in Issue #3–you have all the power but not all the time to fix everything and a superhero must make choices.  Honing in on a boy with cancer, Captain Atom moves from volcano blast to Fantastic Voyage–battling an equally large war but on a microscopic scale and moves on to try to literally take on everyone’s problems.  In his first team-up, with Barry Allen’s Flash, possibilities of JLA partnerships are opened up for future issues.  Behind the scenes there lurks a grotesque abomination in the streets that surfaces in the background of each issue.  Unlike the grotesque art in the pages of Animal Man (where I just couldn’t continue moving forward with the series because it looks so…ugly… and I can hardly wait to read how Jeff Lemire takes on Justice League Dark), here the grotesque is more stylized and nuanced–less off-putting for the average reader.

In Issue #4 the inevitable surfaces as the “Captain” in Captain Atom takes front stage and we see that Atom must face similar pressures as Steve Austin in Phil Hester and Kevin Smith’s Bionic Man series–the influence of the military industrial complex surfaces with questions harkening back to 1930s science and the ethics of mass destruction.  Captain Atom is a classic superhero in every sense, only he has more than the one-note power you find with other superheroes, such as the Flash with merely fantastic speed. Atom here could take on the Earth’s mightiest mortal, Captain Marvel, because of the enormity of his power, and yet he suffers a social fate similar to Rogue from the X-Men, he can change matter, he can absorb energy, he can be everywhere.  But can he fix everything?

With the end of Issue #4 and the beginning of Issue #5, Atom becomes scarier and the reader joins the naysayers on the question of whether Atom should continue on unimpeded when he’s unable to control his power.  In Issue #6 Atom faces himself and his biggest threat, and a double-page spread shows the mirror reflection of Atom and his enemy.  Both villains who were initially typical baddies: a pain in the ass general and would-be Jack McGee/Ross archetype (from Marvel’s Hulk) and a monster of sorts, are written to be somewhat sympathetic in the end.

J.T. Krul writes a complete story in the pages of Issues #1-6 with the creativity seen in his Fathom and earlier Green Arrow work that eclipses his work on the current Green Arrow series that he also has been writing (I chalk that up to a Green Arrow character at a stage in its history where there is not much exciting that can be done by anyone).  There is plenty of character development in these first six issues.  The climax of this first Captain Atom story involves another team-up, a surprising one at that–that forecasts and unleashes endless possibilities for future issues.  And we are left with a great cliffhanger to boot.

Williams’ illustrations are refreshingly unique in the New 52.  He varies his styles and drawing and painting techniques in way I have not seen anywhere else.  He doesn’t just draw panels like he is getting directions from a script and plodding ahead.  The pages are nicely balanced, employing what reminds me for lack of a better phrase as “special effects”–bubbling imagery of  dematerializing hands, edges that are almost undefinable for Captain Atom himself to give the feel of heat and energy, panel borders that converge in a way similar to what J.H. Williams is doing on his Batwoman series.  And kudos to Jose Villarrubia for his coloring, which really draws out Williams creative effects and highlights Captain Atom in particular.

One last thing–although it is neither targeted to young readers nor a mature title, Captain Atom could be recommended for every age.  Compared to other New 52 titles, you won’t find here pole dancers (Voodoo), human skin removed and used as a mask (Detective Comics), rivers of blood (Animal Man), or T&A overload (Red Hood and the Outlaws).

I am looking forward to the continuation of this series with Freddie Williams as series artist and J.T. Krul as writer.  Their contributions combine for a solid series and these first six issues, with one complete story from beginning to end, will make a good read for those who pick up the trade paperback when it becomes available.

By C.J. Bunce and Jason McClain

As we discussed yesterday, DC Comics has announced a new limited series to be released this year, Before Watchmen, focusing on the backstory, prequels, of each of the main characters of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic comic book series, Watchmen.  Moore has been pretty vocal any time someone takes one of his works and converts it into another medium.  This happened with Watchmen when it was made into a movie, with From Hell when it was made into a movie, with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when it was made into a movie, with V for Vendetta when it was made into a movie (there’s a pattern here).  Moore’s a proprietary guy, yet the way publishing rights work, he has no legal control over the characters from books he created years ago.  To many, Moore is a comic book god.  An icon.  To others, he himself tears away at characters writers before him created, the definition of iconoclast.

This week he was quoted in the New York Times as saying of Before Watchmen, “I don’t want money.  What I want is for this not to happen” calling the effort “completely shameless” and adding “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.”

borg.com Hollywood writer Jason McClain and I have a lot in common, and a number of books and movies where we find ourselves on the opposite sides when it comes to analyzing works, especially ones receiving abundant critical acclaim.  Jason introduced me to the graphic novel Watchmen several years ago.  I read it and was not blown away by it.  I didn’t care about the characters, in part knowing the cast was all based on Charlton Comics characters that DC Comics decided in the end they did not want updated by Moore in his series.  In particular I didn’t care for either Dr. Manhattan, Moore’s take on Captain Atom, or Adrian Veidt, Moore’s take on Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.  That said, I liked Rorschach–he was Moore’s take on the Question, a character I’ve always been a fan of.  I also liked Nite Owl, who although based on Blue Beetle seemed to me like a Batman knockoff–a good thing as some of my favorite characters fall in this category.  And I liked Silk Spectre, who was based on Nightshade but heavily influenced by Black Canary.  I liked these characters enough that I revisited the novel in advance of the movie premiering in March 2009 after Jason and I gazed at the cool Nite Owl ship at Comic-Con in 2008.  I really liked Watchmen, the movie. Jason didn’t.

So we decided to investigate each other’s views further.

CB:  Jason, why do you, and countless others, think Watchmen, the original comic book series, is such a major work?

JM:  I read your email during a basketball game at a sports bar.  It got me thinking so much that I realized I wasn’t watching the game anymore but thinking of a response.  Two things come to my mind.  The first is the design.  My friend Kevin Eib pointed out to me that the layout of the appropriately named chapter five, “Fearful Symmetry” as Rorschach investigates the death of The Comedian before he gets captured, has symmetry in the colors and the panel sizes.  If you start at the middle as Ozymandias hits his attempted assassin with a stanchion, you see the parallel in that panel, Ozymandias filling the left side and upright and in the right side, the villain, blood flowing out of his face as he falls to the floor head first and the “V” of “Veidt” centered in the background.  You saw a reason for the art and the design besides a “bam” and “pow” delivery system.

Second are the characters.  Before I read this, comics were pretty much the same, villain appears, hero stops him and everything is black and white.  This was different.  Were Rorschach and The Comedian heroes?  They certainly didn’t behave that way and they knew it too.  The Comedian got the joke.  He just defended the people with money.  That kind of grey reminds me of the Hard-Traveling Heroes stories of Green Lantern and Green Arrow that you introduced to me.  The landlord evicts a tenant who crawls back into his house to stay warm for the night.  In the eyes of the law, the ex-tenant is the bad guy and Green Lantern will stop him.  Green Arrow saw it differently, as the person with the capital had no compassion.  Who’s right?  Who’s the bad guy there?  I think Watchmen contemplates similar questions.  On the other hand, the movie, while it looked the same as the book, just didn’t convey that sense of moral ambiguity to me.  So, back at you, why did you like the movie?  Speaking of major works with bad movie adaptations, can you explain why you liked the movie version of From Hell (because I certainly didn’t)?  (I know we both liked the movie V for Vendetta and probably didn’t like the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I think I can definitely say there is a high Natalie Portman correlation between quality Moore adaptations and the non-quality ones.)

CB:  I do like your Green Arrow analogy.  In the comic book version of Watchmen, I just didn’t see the passion that the actors in the movie were able to bring to the characters.  I found the artwork bland in the comic book and it didn’t engage me.  I did recognize how either Moore or Gibbons liked the use of parallel panels, and I’ve seen that in other Moore works, but that seemed more like a visual gimmick to me.  In the movie, even what I considered the best part of the comic book, Rorschach, seemed to be a lot more than the character in the comic.  I guess I needed to see that facial special effect actually work.  His life is a disaster and you really feel for this guy.  And his relationship and past with Nite Owl was great.  Even Dr. Manhattan, who I didn’t care for in the comic, made me at least understand where he was coming from in the movie, and the struggle to have meaningful relationships with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre made me care far more about these characters than in the book.

In the movie, The Comedian was vile.  I didn’t have that reaction so much from the book.  My wife and I were discussing the movie for weeks afterward.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I prefer movies over comic books.  Definitely not the case.  I have read other comics over the years that dazzled me.  As much as I don’t care for most of what Frank Miller has created, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was a standout for me–it was incredibly interesting, novel and clever.  The same goes for what I think is Moore’s best work: V for Vendetta.  I don’t think Watchmen the comic book was presented as well or had as compelling a story.   Hey–was Natalie Portman in any movie based on a Moore work other than V for Vendetta?

JM:  No, my own little joke at the expense of the other Moore movie adaptations.

CB:  Nice.  As for From Hell I am not a “big” fan of either the book or movie, although the movie is better in my mind because the mood is well done and Johnny Depp performed well in this period piece.  Frankly I am tired of Jack the Ripper stories and think it is the most over-done subject choice for retelling in any medium.  I think the best achievement in Jack the Ripper story is Malcolm MacDowell’s Time After Time, a retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, with David Warner as the Ripper.  That is a compelling story, and a great spin on a classic Wells tale.  And The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was fun as movies go, but I agree it could have done so much more.  But some of that blame has to go to Moore for trying to do too much, I think.  But I don’t feel that work is trying to be as serious as his other works, so I am less critical of it.  Because of the jumbling together of all these figures, I always took it as more tongue in cheek.

JM:  I’m beginning to think it is a case of our feelings for the source material.  I really like Alan Moore’s writings and therefore don’t care much for the adaptations.  You’re probably not completely opposite, but because your feelings aren’t as strong for his written word, liking the movies become easier.  (Though I have to admit that I didn’t read From Hell before I saw it – that might have made the movie even worse for me.)

CB:  I love that you used the phrase “his written word” to describe his work (he really has that “comic book god” mystique, doesn’t he?).  But Moore seemed hypocritical to me in his comments in the New York Times last week.  In V for Vendetta, he re-worked England’s Guy Fawkes story.  In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he re-imagined the characters of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Ian Fleming, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and countless others.  In From Hell, he retold the real-life case of Jack the Ripper.  In Lost Girls (which makes my “all-time worst money spent on a book” list) he probably caused Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, and J.M. Barrie to turn over in their graves for not just sexually exploiting classic beloved characters Alice, Dorothy and Wendy, but for writing a boring tale.  He did the same to Barbara Gordon in Batman: The Killing Joke (although this is a great book).  And Watchmen itself is a re-working of several Charlton Comics characters’ stories.  Moore is in the business of writing retellings (he himself has called it “stealing” characters), so who is he to criticize writers decades later for re-working characters he himself adapted?  Am I off-base here?

JM:  I think you make a valid point.  I hadn’t thought of it like that until you mentioned it.  At the same time though, Alan Moore definitely made quite a few of these characters better after he played with them. He created new worlds, new stories and fresh dialogue.  (I try to go back to read some of the dialogue of the comics of my youth and can barely get through a few pages before I wonder what I was thinking.)  Anyone who creates something feels a sense of ownership.  It’s like Krusty the Clown says in “Krusty Gets Kancelled”, “If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you’re stealing my bit.”  How many retellings of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth or Othello have there been over the ages?  Or for more recent public domain works, A Christmas Carol or Emma?

I think Moore comes across as a crotchety old man who tells the kids to get off his lawn, but I think we all do that.  If I may extend the lawn analogy, what makes these characters popular is what he did to them, kind of like the weeding, fertilizing, watering and care that go into an old man’s fine lawn.  Before he took in the characters, they were mostly unrecognizable under the slew of ever-increasing publishing weeds overshadowing them.  (I may be overstating the lack of popularity of some these characters.)  If they were still in their old forms, they’d have less of a market and right now he’s probably fighting an uphill battle to get more money (or control if you want to call it by its more genteel name) for his contributions though he didn’t create the grass.  As I wrote this, I found myself thinking of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  They created Superman, but because they did it under contract for the longest time they and their estates didn’t get any of the royalties associated with it.  I’m sure Moore’s doing fine in comparison, but you still have to fight for what’s yours, even if you sound like Scrooge.

CB:  Thanks, Jason.  Next time maybe we’ll have to chat about Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

I’m probably not going to be the first to say it, but I think it is great that DC Comics is going to pursue prequels.

Did I really write that?

When was the last time you saw a good prequel to anything?  Godfather 2 was sort of a prequel and a sequel all in one.  Hrm.  I’m not thinking of much else.  OK, Star Trek 2009 was fun and good for an odd-numbered Trek film.  And Enterprise is a decent TV series if you give it a chance.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the prequel to A Fistful of Dollars, so there’s a good one.

   

The Star Wars prequels—you either like ‘em or hate ‘em.  But would you rather never have seen them, or were they more fun as an experience than the other films out of that decade?  (Hold your answer for a later discussion).

So last week DC Comics announced prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ highly regarded (and revered, by some) Watchmen comic book series.  The new series will consistent of seven titles, all under the banner Before Watchmen.  Mainstream press has reported that comic book readers are all “up in arms” over this—“the debate rages” they say.  I call baloney.  I know more comic book fans that will be interested in checking out Before Watchmen than not.  Lots of highly regarded works have been revisited time and time again.  Why not Watchmen?

The mainstream press says Before Watchmen is all about money.  I call baloney again.  Sure, everything is about money to an extent.  Business is business and comic books are a business.  But what comic writer or artist wouldn’t want to get their hands on the Watchmen characters?  Why do some people think Watchmen is sacrosanct?  Our greatest superheroes are constantly re-imagined.  Does anyone really value Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl over Superman and Batman?

   

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Watchmen comic book, but I see the possibility for some cool things from the prequels.  If anyone is angry I’d think it would be other DC writers and artists that don’t get to work on this project, as there is a lot of doubling up at least as writing duties are concerned.

By way of background, DC Comics announced the following details of who will be creating what books:

RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

CRIMSON CORSAIR will be an added story in the various series.  Writer: Len Wein. Artist: John Higgins

I will be checking out two of the books in particular.  First, Rorschach, because I think he is the best character from Watchmen.  I thought Lee Bermejo did a great job painting the standalone work Batman: Noel last year.  I had been looking forward to his next project and Rorschach should be an interesting subject for him to take on.

Second, Adam Hughes is doing not just covers, but an ongoing series. (!)  One of my favorite things about the New 52 is Hughes’s covers for Batgirl.  His style is very 1940s, so he is a perfect choice for this retro-era comic book series, and since Silk Spectre must factor in greatly to Dr. Manhattan and his backstory, this might make the whole project worth doing.  My question is why Hughes isn’t drawing the Silk Spectre title? I wasn’t a fan of Amanda Conner’s work on Green Arrow/ Black Canary and Silk Spectre was in part based on Black Canary, so I can think of a lot of other artists I’d like to see on that title.  But I won’t pre-judge this one—her work on this new series may be great so we’ll just have to check it out when it is published.

   

All of Azzarello, Straczynski, Cooke, Lee and the Kuberts have their fan bases, so I am sure they will be pleased with these picks.  But honestly, to join–for a second–the other camp, you do have to ask, if you really want to see what these characters are up to, why not check out the characters Alan Moore based these characters on, in their current, New 52 or other recent books?  If you want to check out Dr. Manhattan, check out the awesome current Captain Atom series.  If you want to read about Nite Owl, check out Blue Beetle (especially Ted Kord back-issues).  If you want to see Silk Spectre, check out Nightshade in recent Suicide Squad back-issues, or Black Canary in the current Birds of Prey.  Want to see the Comedian?  Just look at Peacemaker in the pre-Flashpoint Blue Beetle series.  Want to see Rorschach?  There are tons of great series featuring the Question, and the recent Question, Renee Montoya, is as great a character as any.

   

Controversial news?  Sure.  A comic industry earthquake?  Umm…. no.  But they are prequels, so the odds are stacked against them from the get-go.  Ultimately, they will succeed or fail because they have good stories (or don’t).

Tomorrow, Jason McClain and I will dig a little into Alan Moore and Watchmen.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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