The Dim-Post

February 28, 2009

Watchmen: I’m not married to the squid

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 7:59 am

alan_moore(Minor Watchmen spoilers)

I don’t trust movie reviewers – they spend most of their lives watching terrible films so when something slightly less mediocre comes along they tend to praise it to the skies. So I’m not encouraged by the good press The Watchmen is getting from the critics.

The original graphic novel by Alan Moore (pictured, right) and Dave Gibbons is often called ‘the Citizen Kane of comics’, which is now very apt because when most people watch Kane for the first time they wonder what the hell the big deal is. That is the best movie of all time? But just as Citizen Kane changed the way movies are made, The Watchmen influenced almost every comic written in the last 25 years, something that will seem like a big deal if you read a lot of comics, not so much if you don’t.

For example, The Watchmen deconstructs the classic superhero narrative. Superman spends all his time fighting to save humanity – Alan Moore realised that if someone really was superhuman they’d feel no empathy with the human race and be indifferent as to whether our species was wiped out. Superheroes also tend to work with the US government. In Watchmen Moore points out that a villan who enjoys raping, torturing and murdering people is much more likely to wind up working for Uncle Sam than some goody two-shoes. And if a supervillan really is a world class genius then they’ll be able to anticipate that the heroes will attempt to stop them and make sure that they can’t.

This kind of cynicism was astounding in the early 80’s and is commonplace now, although few writers have the balls to end their stories the way Moore and Gibbons did.

The ending to The Watchmen is one of its most celebrated qualities – apparently the film has changed it, getting rid of the notorious ‘squid’ in favor of something else generating squeals of outrage amoungst the comic book fanboy community. I’m not married to the squid, but I will be disappointed if they abandon the spirit of the ending, which is that Veidt’s intellect makes him unstoppable (‘it happened thirty five minutes ago’), and he has presented the world with an overwhelming external threat.

I’m betting that the new ending will miss the point, simply because I doubt any of the people making this movie actually ‘get’ Watchmen on anything other than a superficial level. They know its cool they just don’t know why. So they’ll try and stay as faithful to the source material as they can but in the process of adaptation they’ll be forced to make creative decisions that undermine the point of the characters and the story.

Watchmen isn’t my favourite Alan Moore comic – I think From Hell (the subject of another terrible Hollywood film adaptation) is his masterpiece, although I haven’t read The Lost Girls yet. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series are also a lot of fun. Reading any of them will certainly be more rewarding than watching the upcoming film.


  1. I’m not married to the squid, but I will be disappointed if they abandon the spirit of the ending, which is that Veidt’s intellect makes him unstoppable (’it happened thirty five minutes ago’), and he has presented the world with an overwhelming external threat.

    But I think that is missing the point. Half the twisty fun of the comics is that Moore and Gibbons took all the cliches of the superhero comic, and serve it up with a very nasty twist — like a perfectly made martini laced with the worse acid ever.

    The squid is the point. Veidt is the perfect comic book super-villian — right down to the last minute “Welcome To My Lair — Let Me Explain My Vast, Elaborate and Utterly Fucking Ri-dikulous Plot (Which You Monkeys Were Never Quite Smart Enough To Figure Out) To You At The Last Moment So You Can Stop Me” moment.

    Now comes the kicker:

    “Do you think I’d tell you all this, if there was any chance you could stop me? I did it twenty minutes ago.”

    A flare of white light envelops New York. End of issue eleven.

    Issue twelves opens with pages of bloody bodies. Characters we’ve seen through the series — strangers. Mountains of them, blood like water. And that fucking stupid squid doesn’t look quite so stupid anymore.

    Unlike the comics ‘Watchman’ is subverting, we’re not allowed to look away from the yawning gulf between Veidt’s grandiose rhetoric and the brutally ugly reality of what happens where people say “millions die to save billions – a fair trade”.

    Instead, we’re told my the movie-makers that that’s somehow “insensitive” in the wake of 9/11, while somehow Doctor Manhattan and Laurie standing in the middle of mountains of rubble (!) — after millions of people have been neatly vaporised in a sweet FX shot — isn’t at all.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — February 28, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  2. I have a soft spot for D.R. and Qunich myself

    Comment by Doug Clover — February 28, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  3. Sorry Quinch (damn faulty memory)

    Comment by Doug Clover — February 28, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

  4. So, I just read your anticipation review. What did you think of the movie now that you’ve (presumably) seen it?

    Comment by Anonymous — March 26, 2009 @ 2:10 am

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