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Tag Archive: Watchmen


Review by C.J. Bunce

Probably the second best-known work writer Alan Moore is known for in the U.S. outside of his Watchmen series, Batman: The Killing Joke was both a retelling of the origin story of The Joker and the story of his using a physical assault on Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl to attempt to torture and ruin Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon.  The book is one of the 1980s big four revolutionary comics (along with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Watchmen) that caused a shift in how superhero stories are told (and it was the only comic director Tim Burton had ever read, setting the tone for the dark 1989 Batman movie featuring Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker that Burton would begin filming only weeks later).  It’s a controversial graphic novel–the sexual assault and gunshot that resulted in Barbara Gordon losing the use of her legs and resulting in her change of persona to the deskbound computer whiz called Oracle angered many readers, and the ending is ambiguous and perplexing–why is Batman laughing at the end of the story?  Following the lead of the Marvel Comics new library of novelized adaptations of comic books and graphic novels, Batman: The Killing Joke is now the first of at least three new hardcover novel adaptations of DC Comics stories (to be followed by Batman: The Court of Owls on November 13, 2018, and Harley Quinn: Mad Love on February 12, 2019) published by Titan Books (also the publisher of the Marvel paperback novels).  Written by Christa Faust (Peepland, Fringe, Supernatural) and Gary Phillips (Violent Spring, Peepshow), their adaptation is a straightforward, faithful take on the graphic novel with a few updates.

The impact of the graphic novel cannot be overstated.  A key draw was the prestige format and the fact the book was a one-shot story, not like the three big predecessor books mentioned above that were monthly single issues compiled into a trade comic.  At the time we didn’t think the story would be absorbed into the regular continuity of DC Comics, but it slowly became a reference point even beyond its impact on Batgirl stories for the next 30 years.  (The book was so popular we couldn’t wait a minute to read it–one of my oldest friends was reading his copy on his music stand during our high school band practice, prompting the band director to throw it across the room, to our horror).

So how is the new novel adaptation?

You can’t really come up with enough synonyms for vile and despicable to describe The Joker in the original story and in this adaptation.  Before this story–and only about nine months before DC Comics would use fans to allow The Joker to kill Batman’s sidekick Robin with a tire iron in the pages of the Batman monthly comic book–The Joker was a bit of a silly villain.  Sure, he was always dastardly and Batman’s age-old key foe, but readers never saw him in such “true crime” acts so explicitly.  This is commonplace in the Batman stories now, but before you wouldn’t find a character shot, stripped naked, and photographed and another one stripped naked and tortured, both as plot devices ultimately used by The Joker to get Batman to show-up for the battle.  Authors Faust and Phillips do the most justice to Commissioner Gordon’s character, whose focus during his torture in a revived old amusement park is only the thoughts of his daughter’s safety and survival.  By the end of the book readers have learned that they couldn’t blame Gordon were he to walk away from these events as a destroyed pool of a man.  On the flipside, Barbara Gordon’s attack is handled partially from her viewpoint trying to understand what happened to her in real time, and partially from the view of one of The Joker’s stooges.  Barbara plays a more active role here in saving her father (and surviving), and instead of seeing herself as the victim she uses the bystander stooge to help further her superhero self into a new persona in a smartly conceived update via a coda to the story.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It helps to know upfront that Scottish comedian and personality Frankie Boyle always wanted to write comics.  His inspiration wasn’t from the decades of superhero comics, but Alan Moore, whose attitude, as Boyle sees it, was “that comics had sort of run their course.”  A fan of the writing of Ed Brubaker, David Lapham, and Jason Aaron, Boyle embarked on an ambitious project, asking “what sort of comics do you write after comics have been done already?”  The result was first published in serial format in Mark Millar’s short-lived CLiNT magazine, and with two new chapters to wrap up his story a complete, graphic novel-length story arrives next week from Titan Comics, called Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd.

Ambitious is the key word to describe Rex Royd.  At its worst, Boyle has touched on Alan Moore’s outrageous depravity as seen in his Lost Girls.  At its best, Boyle has created a character that will appeal to fans of the disconnected and dispassionate Dr. Manhattan and the idiosyncratic and self-absorbed Ozymandias in Moore’s acclaimed Watchmen series.  With his protagonist, the Lex Luthor-esque supervillain scientist and CEO Rex Royd, Boyle has created a brash reflection of non-mainstream comics in the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe era.  His “hero” is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond if you remove all the tropes that make us actually like Bond, all the fun things that keep us coming back for more and not just dismiss the character as a misogynistic, unexpurgated blunt instrument.  Boyle is fully in on this, as his lead female character Eve–as in the biblical partner of Adam–resembles Bond’s confidante Eve Moneypenny in the last two Bond movies.

And yet, Rex Roydthe book–is like a writing experiment.  What do we get if we take out all these good elements and swap in the dark outcomes?  So it sometimes reads like Neil Gaiman writing a 24-Hour Comic (I’ve read that, this is probably better), but then, as in the ninth and final chapter of the book, we’re surprised with a clever sort of play on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with some Harvey Pekar-inspired attempts at making some meaning of it all.  So there’s a lot going on.  If you find linearity and deep meaning in the book, well, the joke may be on you, as the author has said when the artists needed some of his script to be explained, his response was, “It’s supposed to be a joke.”

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By Art Schmidt

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).

But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was.  Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow?  Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature.  And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes.  And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.

Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point.  The evolution of the superhero sans costume.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

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DKR original cover art Issue 2

If you’ve any doubt which is more popular and influential–Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, or Alan Moore’s Watchmen–a coming original comic art auction may end the discussion once and for all.  Heritage Auctions is auctioning the cover to The Dark Knight Returns Issue #2, with pencils and inks by Frank Miller.  Only slightly less iconic than the stunning cover to Issue #1, the cover to Issue #2 took the world by storm, showing the classic superhero like he had never been seen before, not as heroic and stoic, but as grim and mean.

Back in February 2013 Heritage began to auction off the 1986 original art to all but one of twelve covers to Watchmen by Dave Gibbons.  The cover to Issue #1 fetched $155,350, Issue #2 sold for $38,837.50 and Issue #3 sold for $22,705.00.  Heritage’s magazine said the other covers will be sold in a coming auction.  However, in May 2011 an interior splash page of The Dark Knight Returns–Issue #3, page 10–also from 1986, sold for a whopping $448,125, as we reported here at borg.com.  That said, that page (shown below) was simply stunning.  Personally, this reader would rather have the interior page on the office wall than the Issue #2 cover, but cover art is cover art and interior art is interior art–covers sell for big bucks compared to interior pages.  And the cover to Issue #2 is arguably the defining image of the new grim Batman of the 1980s that survives to this day in the dozen+ monthly comic book titles and Christopher Nolan’s grim movie trilogy.

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Issue 3, Page 10 original Frank Miller/Klaus Janson splash page art that sold for almost a half-million dollars at auction in May 2011.

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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 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

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Ok, here I am looking at a list of twenty characters that I have to cut to a quarter of that for this list.  I didn’t even go crazy thinking about everything I’ve watched or read to find that one person that stood out above the rest.  I just really looked at my bookshelf, which should contain most, if not all, of my favorites.  But, is it everything?  Do I have everything I want to own in pop culture circles?  (No! I don’t own Firefly or Stalag 17 or every appearance of the Legion of Substitute Super Heroes!)

That problem aside, at least I had an idea from the beginning to focus the list.  When thinking of my favorite characters, I chose good friends.  I chose characters that support their friends and family, though sometimes it takes a little personal growth to do so.

To help narrow down the list, I made a choice not to include any of the characters from a previous borg.com essay on characters to make it more of a challenge.*

* Side note, the list I made then had three characters not on the list I made now.  I bet I could make this list every day and find five new favorites. Eliminating Sam Gamgee and Hermione Granger though, those were tough blows to a list about supportive friends.

I then eliminated childhood favorite comic book characters since I know I’ll probably mine that idea for future essays just devoted to them.

That eliminated ten names.  I still have to eliminate five more.  Well, one actor played two parts so I’ll eliminate one of his.  Nine.  Picking one character from Doctor Who (or from Buffy, I can’t believe I forgot Buffy) seems unfair, so I have to lop them off.  Eight.  Ditto for Community** and The Simpsons.  Six.  Lastly, I have to get rid of Supes from Kingdom Come because as much as I love the friendship between him, Wonder Woman and Batman, it’s not about any one of them, it’s about how they approach things differently and yet work well together (eventually).

** Though I will say that I have to write a little about eliminated choice Britta Perry.  She’s a hippie, she mispronounces things and she can be a bit awkward (though can’t they all be a bit awkward.)  So, in those small ways, I can see a female me.  The similarities start to fail once you realize that I don’t want to sleep with Jeff Winger.  Now, if there were a Jennifer Winger…

So, without further ado, here are my top five characters*** in no particular order:

*** As of January 2012.  It could change by February and I may put back in some of the eliminated ones.  A good list is just a product of its specific moment in time.

Frank Cross – Scrooged****

Niagara Falls.  Every time I watch Scrooged I always know I’m going to cry at the end.  I can just think of little Calvin Cooley tugging on Frank’s sleeve and I start to get a little misty.  Yes, it probably has everything to do with Bill Murray’s portrayal as he makes every scoundrel he plays lovable.  But, for this role, you get to see his choices that led to being a scoundrel.  It’s not like they are bad choices, just everyday choices that he doesn’t want to admit were wrong.  As a friend, well, he’s not much of one until the end, but I think it was always there as a possibility.  He just didn’t have an outlet for it until the ghosts showed him what was out there for him like Claire, the folks he meets at the shelter, the Cooley family and last, but not least, his own family.  The S.S. Minnow, James, the S.S. Minnow.

**** He was the actor with two characters, though about any of his characters would probably qualify for a part on a list. The one I eliminated was Bob Harris from Lost in Translation as temporary friends we meet when we travel can be very powerful in our memories.  I almost think I should go back and include Bob.  Maybe summer camp and travel friends are a separate list. It would give me a chance to go back and look at Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer for great characters.  As an additional aside, I also think that credit should be given to Charles Dickens for his original creation of Scrooge that I feel Murray was born to play.

Jaye Tyler – Wonderfalls

Jaye.  Hmmm.  A good friend?  Maybe?  Well definitely, but not intentionally, which I think may be one of the points of the show.  You can do all the things that a good friend should do and still not be a good friend.  On the other hand, if you think you’re crazy and toys, stuffed animals and coins speak to you and you just do things to get them off your back, you can be a good friend by accident.  You stop thinking of yourself and how it works for you and instead you put yourself at risk for embarrassment just long enough to do something good for someone else.  The fact that it’s unintentional, does it mean it is any less good?

The Sundance Kid – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I think Sundance embodies the evolution of friendship.  At the beginning of the movie, Sundance defers to Butch because Butch is the smart one coming up with plans.  By the end, Sundance realizes that he’s the smart one that knows Spanish and Butch is helpless and he wonders why he ever believed anything different. Still, they’re friends and have been for many a year.  You don’t abandon something like that and at the end, as they hide, injured and desperate, Sundance has to have regrets, but I don’t think that their friendship is one of them.  Not going to Australia on the other hand looms large in the pantheon of regrets.

Rorschach – Watchmen

He’s crazy, but there’s one person that mitigates that crazy and that’s Nite Owl and I think that Rorschach knows that.  He’s at his best when he is with Nite Owl and he goes as far as to admit it, in a way.  He talks of the days that they used to patrol together as a team and he misses those days.  If Butch and Sundance would have made it to Australia, I think Butch would be like Rorschach and longing for the time that they were a team.  Without the tempering influence of Sundance, Butch’s plans would be left unsaid, festering into crazy at their unrealized potential to make his world better in his mind.  The friendship for Rorschach and Butch might be gone at that point, but it never really leaves, it just becomes a different form.  You can’t go back to going out night after night and fighting crime, the body and mind is not built like that.  Eventually the friendship matures and you find new ways to enjoy it.

Vladimir – Waiting for Godot

This one is personal.  Yes, the existentialist play is about two friends trying to pass the time and on that level it’s a fantastic look at all the aspects of friendship.  What elevates it to top five status for me is that I can’t think of the play without thinking of my good friend Jason Vivone.  We did an excerpt from it for a duet scene in high school. We saw a touring company version of it performed in Lawrence, Kansas.  We performed the whole thing as adults in Kansas City. It’s about friends and I will always associate it with a good friend.  I’ve known Jason for over thirty years and no matter what, when I talk to him it’s like we’ve seen each other every day over that time.

The reluctant friend, the unintentional friend, the friend who knows your faults and still hangs out with you, old friends that you may not ever be as close to again and the mature friendship that will never go away are all different ways to express friendship.  Believe me, there are many other ways out there as well and the good characters find ways to make that universal feeling we have with our fellow humans feel fresh again.  Like writing about characters and friends with the characters and great friends that contribute to borg.com.  See you next time.

Next up tomorrow–Art Schmidt’s favorite characters.

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