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Smileyface graphic

The trailer for Watchmen — adapted from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — was released last month. On the surface level, it's a whodunit murder mystery. On a deeper level, it's a statement that superheroes couldn't work in the real world. Some of those insights were told in a humorous fashion in The Incredibles.

The trailer was positively-received at this year's San Diego ComicCon. Some of the love was from Zack Snyder's faithful adaptation of 300; most came from fan appreciation of the source material. For instance, if you're old enough to remember the actual Muhammad Ali, the Michael Mann film "Ali" was nothing more than Will Smith pretending to be Muhammad Ali (at 10 years old, I did the same thing for a lot less money.)

The film won't be in theatres until next year. This trailer has what appears to be an error (Nite Owl II looks too buff), questionable casting decisions (see Age of Characters chart) and costumes (Ozymandias learned nothing from Joel Schumacher). At the risk of sounding like Rorschach, it makes one wonder what other subtleties got missed.

Comparing the characters' ages with the actors who portray them
Age of Characters
Character Actor (DOB) Actor Age
at Filming
(2008)
Character
Age in Story
(1985)
Difference

*Osterman was 30 at Gila Flats. Perhaps the powers preserved his physical appearance.

Sources: Charcter Ages, Actor Ages/Movie Stills

Nite Owl II/Daniel Dreiberg Patrick Wilson 35 45 -10 years
The Comedian/Edward Blake Jeffrey Dean Morgan 42 61 -19 years
Silk Specter II/Laurie Juspeczyk Malin Akerman 30 36 -6 years
Rorschach/Walter Kovacs Jackie Earle Haley 47 45 +2 years
Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt Matthew Goode 30 46 -16 years
Doctor Manhattan/Jon Osterman Billy Crudup 40 56/30 -16 years or +10 years*
The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

To be fair, the characters age at least 20 years, so it was probably cheaper to make young actors look old than making older actors look young.

Readers under 30 years old might not understand the graphic novel's effect on the industry and fans, and probably wonder what all the fuss is about. I feel the same way about The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

It's easy to say "people were dumber back then" or "guess you just had to be there". While there's an element of truth in both statements, it's more constructive to define context by understanding the era as best as possible. Much like backing away from the Water Lillies, the picture becomes much clearer. This is the same methodology high school students use to understand Shakespeare.

All in Color for a Dime

During the industry's infancy (1939 - 1962), comics were thought of as a commercial, disposable extension of Children's Fiction. The editorial voice was "adults telling stories to children". There were lots of genres to choose from. Publishers survived by (a) paying talent as little as possible and (b) following market trends. Can you imagine running a business based on the whims of teenagers? If you can't, here's pretty much what happened back then:

  • January: Company A publishes a western comic that turns out to be a hit
  • February: Company A publishes 5 imitations of that same western comic
  • March: Companies B-Z flood the market with imitations of the popular western comic
  • April: Everyone is sick of western comics. Company B publishes a crime comic that turns out to be a hit ...
Fantastic Four #1

The Fantastic Four were introduced in 1961. While proving innovative superhero fiction had short-and long-term profitability, this effectively killed off all other genres. The Big Two still published a few western and romance comics. However, they used second- and third-string talent, dooming the mission before it started. To this day, it's impossible to tell if other genres would've survived. Mainstream non-superhero books were as credible as the dreaded 49ers running game.

By the early 1970s, the talent pool began to change. In my opinion, this is when mainstream comics lost their roots. Kids were expected to outgrow comics by high school. With Marvel's popularity — like Apple Computer's aura of "coolness", kept a market base longer than originally intended. The previous era's professionals were getting replaced by young adult fans. The new editorial voice became "arrested adolescents telling stories to other arrested adolescents".

As an actual adolescent and Marvel Comics enthusiast at the time, I thought this was a brilliant approach. I said so in my high school book report on "Origins of Marvel Comics". Citing the book as my only source, my report didn't grade very highly.

Notes from The Underground

Zap Comix #1 - Cover

Running parallel to this was the underground comics movement. Rebel cartoonists made uncensored personal stories, with emphasis on drugs, Jimi Hendrix, sex, violence, contempt for social conformity and distrust of the government. There weren't a lot of Nixon/Agnew supporters buying Zap Comix.

Like rebels of other mediums, the underground stretched boundaries of the possible into the probable. Some mainstream creators got so interested in boundary-pushing they lost sight of the superhero genre's larger goals.

By 1980, mainstream superhero comics were formulaic, script-heavy and predictable, but still profitable. Editors treated researching anything but other comics as a waste of time. Adolescent emotions were presented as adult thought. With some notable exceptions, the underground market and influence was reduced to Golden Gate Park.

Art School Confidential

1980 was also my first year of art school Being in an environment dedicated to Art was an important developmental step for me. History, literature and painting slowly became more interesting than whatever Chris Claremont was babbling on about. I still loved the art form, but began to hate seeing it used badly. When compared to older works (Windsor McCay, Milton Caniff, Alex Toth, Noel Sickles, lots more), the 1980s mainstream comics were soul-less, hacked-out reminders of better work.

As my 1986 graduation approached, I almost exclusively bought works by my favorite artists and writers. Consistent with the dynamic of reading two children's books per day for six years, the good ones stand out. In other words, Watchmen came out at the perfect time.

Burn Hollywood, Burn

recent photo of Alan Moore

Alan Moore: Blending in

Like lots of creative souls, Alan Moore's always had a complicated relationship with management. Creative and management need each other to survive, but sometimes it's like neither one's learned a thing from "The Defiant Ones". At times, it seems his public actions were solely crafted to irritate publishers. In the manner of "just 'cause someone's crazy doesn't mean they're wrong", he has a strong point when it comes to Hollywood adaptations of his works. "V for Vendetta", "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "From Hell" were distorted beyond recognition. If Alan were more of a personable guy, could he have worked with the producers to make better movies? We'll never know. Based on current history, the odds don't look good. Frank Miller was as pro-active as possible on RoboCop 2, and it still sucked. (Can you imagine Irvin Kershner's misery of listening to Miller yap about character development?)

At first, I thought Mr. Moore's stance on movie adaptions of his work was refreshingly hands-off. If I were lucky enough to be in the position of adapting a popular work from a living author, I'd need complete autonomy in order to succeed or fail.

Then it hit me: Alan Moore is a public isolationist. A true isolationist is never in the public eye. When's the last time anyone heard from Salinger? On the other hand, Alan Moore will talk about his isolationism to anyone with a working microphone. It's worth noting that Entertainment Weekly, The Onion and MTV mention how "rare" his interviews are.

Does this mean the graphic novel is perfect? No. The portrayal of professional psychoanalysis is embarrassing. Moore himself said his segue technique became a burden; using unnatural dialog to make the transitions work.

Despite of zealous fan complaints, it is possible to make a decent movie from comic books without being 100% literal. Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman immediately come to mind.

Inna Final Analysis

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Watchmen is a terrific graphic novel (especially for those who hate superhero comic books)
  • I was a terrible high school student
  • Superheroes have lived way past their 15 minutes
  • I was a brilliant art student
  • Alan Moore is a chatty isolationist
  • Filmmakers need complete automony in order to produce
  • Statistically spaeaking, most filmmakers use that automony to make terrible movies

Oh yeah, there are worse things in life than sitting through a terrible movie.

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Comments So Far ...

Anonymous kel says:

In the film's defense, I read somewhere that Patrick Wilson had to gain weight for the role of Dan Dreiburg rather than wear a fatsuit, so perhaps it is just the Nite Owl suit that pulls him in at all the right places. To be honest Nite Owl does look a bit chunky yet contoured in the trailer.

And in regards to the ages of the actors, I heard somewhere (perhaps on the production video blogs? Can't remember) that they decided to cast the actors as the mid age range that they appear in the comic, and then age them up or down according to what period the scene is.

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Anonymous Charlotte says:

Great work.

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Anonymous Brian says:

I'm scared of seeing the Watchmen movie. Honestly. I'm scared for many reasons. Reason #1 is that when one of, if not THE most important comic books of our era is being made into a movie it can ONLY be BRILLIANT or SUCK. Add to that that the movie-going fans of superheroes who don't know what they are going to see are going to FREAK. Probably in a bad way.. Watchmen is a Bad, bad, bad book where bad, bad, bad things happen. Reason #2 is that Watchmen freaked me out when I read it. That story did bad things to my head. I love superheroes. I love team books. I love historical superhero books. This story just bent over my favorite medium and went at it prison-style like it was a newbie in the shower. Brutal, ugly truth. It blew holes in so many of the things that superhero fans have built their understanding of comics in. It took all of the heroic achetypes and showed how the people who fought as heroes to be weak, ineffectual, broken people... the people who made the biggest differences were the most disturbed. Seeing this on a big screen scares the bloody piss out of me. I really don't know if I even want to deal with it, to be completely honest.

----

Given my druthers, I'd rather see a movie edition of Mark Gruenwald's genius act of comicbook clairvoyance... Squadron Supreme. He was able to show the humanity of heroes without totally destroying them... and he forshadowed events that would happen over ten years later in the DC universe.

Thoughts Dave?

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Blogger AzS says:

Every time one work is adapted for another medium, things have to change, and they have to be changed very carefully. Snyder has failed miserably twice.

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Anonymous Anonymous says:

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

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