Thursday, April 29, 2004

Watchmen Movie

According to Ain't it Cool News there is a Watchmen movie in the works. I am both excited and deeply aggravated by this news.

Excited? Because the Watchmen is one of the comic limited series that brought literary attention to comics as a medium. It is a "cold war" tale in a world with superheroes. All in all, it is a pretty good book. I say pretty good because we comic geeks tend to overrate (become fanboys) stuff that adds legitimacy to our hobby. In reality, it is no more sophisticated than a good episode of the Twilight Zone or your typical Golden Age SciFi tale. What I have just written is close to heresy, but when people look at this without the emotional lens of comic book love, it's true. I mean no disrespect, being compared to "The Zone" or the "Golden Age of SciFi" is no insult, it's a complement. Let's be realistic here though...Watchmen is not the freakin' Don Quixote of comics.

Aggravated? If you can't tell, I'm aggravated because of the exclusive place that Watchmen holds. Since it received critical acclaim, it is the favorite of the "arty" comics crowd. The higher than mighty Kevin Smith types who look down at those who buy mainstream titles. As I said, Watchmen is good stuff, but how many of these high brows know the origins of the characters they love? The Comedian? Oh, he's Peacemaker. Dr. Manhattan? Oh, He's Captain Atom. The Owl? Blue Beetle. Ozymandias? Peter Cannon Thunderbolt. The eponymous Rorschach? The Question.

These are all old Charlton characters. I love these characters and they have a warm place in my heart. So, of course, my criticism of Watchmen fan's fanboyness stems from a fanboyness of my own. The point is that these characters where "cold warriors" when they were created. They expressly dealt with the society of the late 50s and 60s. Want to understand "cold war" culture's oppressive nature? These were great books to see those tensions.

I guess where my ire stems from is the whole, high art vs. low art distinction. Watchmen = high art. Charlton=low art. Bah, I wish the Frankfurt School could have learned to embrace the art of the proletariat rather than promote the hegemony of the artistic elite. Fuckin' Adorno had the audacity to call Jazz debased music. If the Frankfurt School had at least used Schiller's distinctions that would be one thing, those are aesthetically debatable. The same goes for Burke's standards. But the Frankfurt School's premises, and those like them, require an elite to decide what is or isn't high art. So what if some stuffy pipe tobacco smelling snob in New York thought Watchmen was the greatest comic ever? Gibbons' art is average. The writing derivative. Now, the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams... Good stuff. Perez on the Avengers. Batman the Dark Knight Detective, also O'Neil (not referring to the Miller). Werewolf by Night. Ploog's stuff on Man-Thing. Sgt. Rock (need I say more?)

Course that was just a rant. What I am trying to say is that there is a heckuva lot of good stuff to be found in the "Comics Universe." To be fair, there is a lot of crapola as well. If you don't believe that comics had sophistication before Watchmen check out Lichtenstein's prints and then compare them to the panels he is RIPPING OFF from various comics titles. Often the War or Romance comic he is imitating has greater subtlety than his work. Pop art of all types can produce wonderful and valuable pieces, often without intending for them to be art at all.

Maybe that sums it up. Watchmen was made with the intention of being art. I succeeded, no doubt. Don't let my rant steer you away from that fact. It is a good miniseries. But Neal Adams' run on Batman is art that was just trying to tell a story dynamically. Both have had lasting effects on the industry, but only one has been a force which is contributing to the shrinking pool of comics readers.