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March 6, 2009

Watching The Watchmen Watchers 09: Grady Hendrix And Frank Santoro

* the writer and critic Jeet Heer pulls out Frank Santoro's concise appraisal of Watchmen's importance because it deserves to be pulled out and examined.

* this quote from Peter Travers' review makes me think we might have some sort of Jeffy Draws The Strip situation going on: "You have to go back to the comic to learn that the freaks in Watchmen are not only for geeks, maybe that's not so bad. Just sayin'." In general I enjoy film review quotes that sound like they were made by a middle-aged man holding a bong in his lap. Here's a no-nonsense negative review by AO Scott.

image* as far as general coverage, it seems to be all over but the comedic youtube videos. And Rick Purdin's sketchbook, from which the image at left, Alan Moore by Brian Ralph, is taken.

* as far as the movie reviews have gone, at least in aggregate measure, continuing yesterday's trends the overall reviews have settled in positive/negative fashion in the 60s and the top critics (critics you stand a greater chance to have heard of) has stayed in the 40s, both respectable numbers for a movie like this one and a general reaction I can't imagine will have any effect on box office.

* and...?

* the Grady Hendrix article at Slate has a halfway decent chance of causing howls around the superhero-centric Internet. I do think there's a pair of decent arguments in there. The first is how the mainstream companies and creators only reacted to the surface qualities of the work and how with Dark Knight this led to years and years of generally constipated, ridiculous, death-obsessed funnybooks. The second is how the fantastic, even hopeful elements of the superhero concept have outstripped this best attempt at laying them bare to the point that movie itself may be a celebration of things which the book criticized. I have sympathy for both of those points of view. In fact, as to the second, you could argue that Watchmen got away from Alan Moore almost immediately if you compare his take on Rorschach (a stunted human turned near-serial killer with a mask) to the how readers embraced the guy (an uncompromising ass-kicker that always has your back and is able to scare people in bars which would be awesome).

The great weakness of the piece is that it inelegantly defines Watchmen strictly as a superhero work, and comic books as superhero books. This is a general problem that yields specific difficulties when analyzing Watchmen because the attention paid to that work was as both a/the great superhero work and one of the superhero genre's main contributions to a growing body of comics works that adults could read without feeling dumber after the experience. My memory is that the book was as frequently paired with Maus as it was with Dark Knight. Although Big Numbers gets a mention, I think more attention could have been paid to the wider story where the medium simply wasn't ready to handle sustained attention based on the merits of the quality new work being released. We got a couple of great Michael Dougan books out of that time, but comics was still at the point where a group of good books would cycle through every three or four years rather than every other week. In other words, it wasn't Watchmen's failure, it was everyone's.
posted 7:10 am PST | Permalink

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