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Monday, May 03, 2004

Returning to the Watchmen

Let me say a few things out of the gate. Try as hard as I might, my rant appeared negative against Watchmen as a comic. I didn't mean for that to occur; my rant was against a type of fan and not the book itself. I loved it and wrote a "crit studies" paper on it as an undergrad. It does indeed have a sophisticated presentation of a political philosophy in it, but as I read material from the era which Watchmen has as its source material, I found that same political philosophy in much of the entertainment of the "Cold War" era.

My comment about the Twilight Zone and Golden Age SciFi may have seemed dismissive to you, but it is actually a compliment. My tone in this case may have made it seem otherwise. As we all know, The Twilight Zone is almost universally considered one of the most thoughtful television shows of its era, if not television history. (And I did say "GOOD" episodes) Regarding typical Golden Age SciFi, one could find oneself in worse company than The Foundation Trilogy, Dune, Heinlein's Past Through Tommorrow, Philip K. Dick, Clarke's Childhood's End, etc. These are Genre fiction, but also legitimate as literature as well. Which was my actual point, that genre fiction has a legitimate place and that comics have attracted since the Watchmen and audience, whom I refer to as the Kevin Smith types, who value certain comics as "legitimate" and others as "vulgar."

I am always happy when new people come into my hobbies, but not when they come at the expense of the hobby itself. Speculators in the early 90s who viewed comics as an investment are an example of this and will get their own screed at some point, I am sure. But your anecdotal experience aside, comics are dying. There are a number of reasons for this. Not the least of which is the afore mentioned speculator boom of the early 90s, but another is that the editors are seeking more and more to please the "Watchmen" or "Vertigo" crowd and forgetting that children are the future. If kids are not habituated into a form of entertainment, developing and eye and understanding for the narrative devices, they will not seek it out or continue it as adults. Think of modern audiences and Silent Film. Few people have developed the "eye" for watching this type of entertainment and it is difficult for them to follow the narrative. Besides there are other media they get more pleasure from having been habituated into them. Burke talks about this in his enquiry on the Sublime. Though obviously he wasn't talking about comics and movies.

I was very happy to see in your list of books that you have read since Watchmen so many of my favorites, but I was shocked at how many are "Trade Paperback" in nature. Hopefully, in addition to the Alan Moore Classics (and I intend no irony) you have read his run on Supreme and his ABC comics. These show that Alan, though he may not have liked that I picked on one of his books, actually agrees with some of my underlying sentiments. In these books, unlike Watchmen, he does not "deconstruct" the heroic narrative. Nor does he even try to reinvent it. Supreme contains the Superman stories he always wanted to write and his ABC stuff is filled with black and white morality plays. Comics needs these. The world may be a grey place and narratives that represent that are more sophisticated in many ways, but they are only sophisticated if we are familiar with the b/w morality plays that proceed them.

Case in point, in Watchmen, we have Rorschach (based on Charlton's "The Question" by Steve Ditko), where is The Question's Objectivism shown in the Watchmen character? Rorschach is used to delve into the psyche of the vigilante to good effect, but Ditko had a character with a specific political world view. Where is the response to that? Where has Moore drawn inspiration from that? "The Question" was pretty interesting stuff. Different narrative style than Moore, different politics than DCs run (which made The Question more Buddhist), but the book was good.

The same is not true of Peacemaker, who only had a 5 issue run, Moore adds detail to the character. The original is the son of a diplomat who becomes a UN diplomat who uses force when negotiations break down. I guess there is a political philosophy there, ie Iraq policy, but it isn't the same as the individual complexity that Moore gave the Comedian. DC, on the other hand, in the 80s and early 90s turned Peacemaker into a homicidal psychotic killer whose father was an ex-Nazi. This was in many ways DCs critique of the Charlton character's political philosophy. Which, while not as detailed as Moore's was still apparant in the Chalton stuff.

Speaking of deconstructing characters, why is it that Moore has the "anti-communist" in Moore's tale is also a KKK member? Are these inexorably linked? Is this an ad hominem attack? Or is this representing a "type" of anti-communist? These are questions Moore leaves open in his book, and given the book itself I would not say that it is an ad hominem attack against the opponents of communism generally.

Good links, buy I am fairly sure that the annotated site is incorrect about Silk Spectre. I am pretty sure that she is a version of "Phantom Lady" and not Nightshade (though she does have some of the qualities and is probably and amalgam). Phantom Lady was a Quality Comics character, who came under the ownership of Charlton, but was never published under their label because she was too racy. The other Quality Comics character in the Watchmen is Blue Beetle (the Owl) another Charlton buy out character. Interesting side note is that a character too racy for the code ends up having sex in the mini-series. AC comics, famous or infamous for their Femforce books, has a character called Nightveil based on this character. Moore also references some old Archie Comics heroes in the book, as the rights for these were owned by DC as well (The Black Hood, and Hangman and arguably the Comedian could be a cross between the SHIELD and Peacemaker).

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