Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Watching the rest of the world catch up to Watchmen

Reading all the current mainstream reports of Zach Snyder's Watchmen is like being at a party that's suddenly getting flooded with mundanes who think they're hip. Take, for instance, this sentence in an article from Sunday's New York Times:

Even as “Watchmen” adheres to superhero formulas, it is dismantling many traditions of the medium.

Reading that makes me feel like a Shakespeare scholar auditing a high-school English class. "Remember," says the teacher, "even as Hamlet adheres to revenge tragedy, it is dismantling many traditions of the convention." Hello? 300 years of theatre criticism? And okay, that may not be as weighty as two decades of Comics Journal reviews, but anybody in the field, from creator to audience, has known this about Watchmen since, well, since the damn thing came out, really. How often do you know you're reading a classic as it's being created? (Short answer: Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Sandman, Preacher. All four written by Brits, and two out of four: Alan Moore.)

Here's another Shakespeare analogy. Peter Brook makes the point that, if Shakespeare had never been born, critics would be saying today that it would be impossible to do what he did and mix high poetry with natural speech or dark tragedy with low comedy in a single play. (Makes you wonder what else critics are saying is impossible. Handy definition of impossible: anything beyond a critic's writing capability.) It's the same with Alan Moore's Watchmen. If Alan Moore had never been born, people would be saying to this day that what Moore and Gibbons did in those original 12 issues would be impossible. Which makes it even more (ironic? tragic? sad?) that Moore wants nothing to do with the movie.

It's also a prerequisite of articles like this that Watchmen has to be divorced from all that childish funnybook crap with jabs like "weighty, grown-up ideas" (because regular comic books are basically weightless and adolescent) and "an exemplary work of postmodern storytelling" (a phrase that can be applied to everything from the second part of Don Quixote to that Cash4Gold commercial during the Super Bowl). Which is fine. If that's the password you think you need to give at the door to get into this party, go ahead, we won't stop you. But if you want us to share the room with you, then we're going to start handing you stuff like this:

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