Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dr. Manhattan (or: how I learned to stop worrying and hate “Watchmen”)


The movie “Watchmen” came out yesterday and I can’t say that I am going to be buying it.

On paper, it looks like the perfect fit for a comic book fan. The director is Zack Snyder, who did the successful “300″ a few years back, which was based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. The actors are all top notch. The visuals look like they were drawn to perfection by the original artist, Dave Gibbons. And Malin Ackerman is so pretty. But it fails. It fails so brilliantly. Like I’ve said, I am not the most hardcore of comic book fans. I know people who can tell you how many panels there are that feature the Smiley Face logo. I know people who are so devoted to the source material, they refuse to see the movie. I don’t land in either of those camps, or at least I didn’t when I bought my ticket for the midnight showing back in March. I was beyond excited. I watched the Muse-dubbed trailer several times in anticipation, but while I don’t know if I admitted it to myself at the time, I could see the mirage starting to crack even there. The first hint was pointed out to my by Newsweek. The trailer called Snyder “visionary.” That is a title for someone like George Lucas or Stanley Kubrick or Quentin Tarantino. Not someone who has only had two films under his belt, both of which are re-makes/adaptations of some a classic zombie movie and a historically dubious graphic novel (’Dawn of the Dead” and “300″ respectively). I could go on and on about the instant legend mindset of today, where anyone who has a $100 million dollar hit movie becomes our generation’s John Hughes/John Ford/John Huston, but I feel that tangent is necessary except needless to say that Snyder does not fit in with any of those Johns.

My big hang-up with “Watchmen” the movie is that it completely disregards the whole importance of “Watchmen” the comic book. What makes the comic book so special in the hearts of readers is that nothing like it had been done before. The book was released in 1986 at the dawn of the “Bronze Age” of comic books, or rather at the end of the “Silver Age.” To make a short example of what these terms mean, imagine every thing you know about comics. The bright colors, the heroic, unnatural dialogue, the bizarre death-traps that the hero gets out of at the nick of time, the entire lack of actual danger or real suspense. Now add all of that into the campy 1960s Adam West “Batman” show and you have the “Silver Age” of comics that went through the 1960s and 70s. When “Watchmen” started, nothing like it had really been published in the mainstream and it really opened up what comics could do following the decline of “Silver Age”-type story lines. It was truly revolutionary (here is where I am plugging this book). Now look at “Watchmen” the movie and see that everything on that screen has been seen before. Dark heroes (“Batman Begin/The Dark Knight,” “Spawn”), comic book period-piece (“The Shadow,” “The Rocketeer”), a team of superheroes (The “X-Men” films), ultra violence (The “Blade” films, “Sin City,” “300”), all that is on the screen has been done before in either comic book movies or movies in general. The only thing that hasn’t been done before is, to borrow from the analysis done by Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times, an “oddly off-putting Owl Ship sex scene and, of course, the unforgettable glowing blue penis.”

When I saw “Watchmen,” I almost walked out. The only thing that stopped me was that I had gotten a ride and didn’t like the thought of sitting in the lobby by myself. But the ending just completely ruined it for me.


It is about the failings of man, that’s the whole story. The original ending is about a third party threat, a fake alien dreamt up to wipe-out New York by the villain, Ozymandias. This unknown alien threat brings the impending nuclear war to a halt and returns the world to sanity. The movie’s end, with the reveal of Dr. Manhattan being the source of the destruction, would not have brought the world to peace. Dr. Manhattan is shown through out the film to be an American. He was on the American frontline in Vietnam and is on the American government’s payroll. If an American government worker blew up a foreign building, don’t you think there would be repercussions to the United States? And the beauty of all of this is that in the original, everyone just accepts it (except the black-and-white world view of Rorschach). There is no secret vendettas or slug fights, just a quiet, cowardly acceptance, a complete reversal of the heroic nature of the comic book super heroes that came before. That is completely lost in the movie and why it ultimately fails.

“Watchmen” the film is an clear example of the continued misinformed views of comic books as it turned one of the greatest examples of a comic book into an average popcorn flick (at best). Even with amazing comic book films out there (the new Batman series springs to mind immediately), there still exist those who box in what a comic book film can do or what it should do. This is a medium that is older than television and yet it can only muster the likes of Zack Snyder to represent it.

So please, do yourself a favor. If you find yourself holding thirty bucks, staring at a copy of the “Watchmen” DVD, just put the money into your pocket and save it until you can get a copy of the paperback version of “Watchmen.” It’s worth the money.


Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Neil Gaiman, BAMF

Forget Harry Potter. As the rest of the world is focusing on the boy who lived, I spent my Sunday focused on another Brit, comic book legend Neil Gaiman, who made a special appearance at Comix Experience in San Francisco.

I had been at my comic book store, The Comic Book Box in Rohnert Park, when all of a sudden, the owner, Kathy Bottarini, very nonchalantly informed me that Neil Gaiman was going to be in San Francisco in about a week.


For a comic book reader, this can be one of the biggest deals. Gaiman has been on the scene since the 80s, when his seminal comic work, “The Sandman” hitting the stands in 1989. “The Sandman” and his work in other books have firmly established Gaiman as one of the top writers in the business, on par with legend Alan Moore. I have been somewhat of a fan since 10th grade, when my English teacher, Mr. P, opened my eyes to this book. I have since reawakened my love of Gaiman by introducing my friends to his work. In a smart move, the Sonoma State Library has all ten of the “Sandman” trade paperbacks.

When I heard about this appearance, I got a huge nerd rush, but that was almost immediately crushed as Kathy informed me that there would only be 100 people let in. I was certain that there was no way that I was going to get in. But, either as an act of faith or my hidden love of being immensely let down, I asked for the web info on the event from Kathy. I followed up and called the store, asking, in vain as I was assumed it would be, if there were more spots available. To my great shock, there were “plenty.” I silently celebrated. The ticket was pre-ordering the most recent Gaiman collection “Whatever Happened to the Caper Crusader?,” which is about the recent death/disappearance of Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Even though I already had the single issues of this story, this is Neil Gaiman we’re talking about. I could deal with owning two copies. I also informed two of my friends of Gaiman making his way to San Francisco and they too had garnered admission.

The night before going was like the night before Christmas. Since I had also managed to get my boss at the Press Democrat to let me cover this, I was all sorts of nervous. I placed all the things I would need (wallet, id, audio recorder, index cards for notes, several pencils, and a note reminding me to get batteries for the audio recorder) on the table with the utmost care. I paced my apartment several times, obsessively looking anything I may have missed (notice how that list did not include camera). But I calmed down and eventually went to sleep.

After traversing the epic hills of San Francisco, I arrived at Comix Experience and was 29th in line. I would’ve been 28, but my friend Mike DiGrande hopped in front of me when he showed up. Since I still got to meet Gaiman, I don’t hold it against him. The wait in line, wasn’t too bad. Almost immediately, I got to talking to the guy next to me. I jumped into the conversation he was having about Todd McFarlane that just turned into bad-mouthing Todd McFarlane’s work and morally questionable actions. What followed was about an hour of discussing Gaiman, Batman, and comics in general. We almost missed our first glimpse of Gaiman, who calmly walked passed the growing line as if he were walking to get some grapes at the market next-door. I had to double-take and ask Mike if that actually was Neil Gaiman.

We were let into the store and before Gaiman was even out, I was in heaven as I usually am with comic book stores. I began to think of what I would be buying. The owner, Brian Hibbs, quickly established himself as a nice guy in my mind. He had been pacing the line to make sure everyone knew what was going on and he had been really receptive of me when I had asked about covering it for the Press Democrat. He even had a small amount of coffee and donuts for everyone. He welcomed Gaiman out to the applause of the 100 people now crammed in the store.

I immediately thought “Neil Gaiman is so cool.” On top of my idolization of him, he just had this air of confidence about him. Even surrounded by people who knew far more about him than he knew about them, Gaiman commanded the room with his calm, almost indifferent British voice. He explained his history with the store that involved Hibbs “demanding” Gaiman sign in his store in 1989 and Hibbs furthering his image as a nice guy by giving potentially valuable comic books for free because he cared more about the comics than the money.

After being in the industry for as long as he has, Gaiman joked that he had still not figured out how to read a comic aloud, so he did a half hour reading of the new book, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” that features pictures his girlfriend, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, in various scenes of death. Gaiman contributed pieces of prose and poetry to the book.

The first was a contemporary retelling of an old fairy tale inspired by a photo of the dead Amanda Palmer with jewels flowing from her open mouth. The story featured Gaiman’s odd expository prose that was only punctuated by the way Gaiman read it. He followed it up with a short poem of a man eating dinner every night with the corpse of his love sitting on the other side of the table. The eyelids of the love have had eye painted on them, to give the appearance of life. “I painted the eyes on myself,” Gaiman stated. The next piece was a love letter to a 1950s Palmer who committed suicide in a gas oven. Gaiman also read story of a man and woman who floated around the world while the man wrote his novel on an old typewriter. The man and woman begin to argue and the man drops the typewriter over the edge of the balloon. When it descends to the earth, it killed Amanda Palmer. He finished with the opening piece that reveals the massive culture that has been built around Palmer’s death. She has become Elvis, but to such a higher degree. Children wrote rhymes about her, killing her with the last line. There are sub-cultures of Amanda Palmer. Amanda Palmer drag queens roam the streets. But it doesn’t change the fact that Amanda Palmer is dead.


Following the reading, we were led back out while the store was put back together. We were also informed that Gaiman would only sign two things, three if you were one of the lucky few who bought a copy of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” I was not one of the lucky few, but as we got closer to being let back in for the signing, I had a wonderful idea. I took one of my index cards and folded it in half and drew on one side, effectively turning it into a home-made copy of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” When I had Gaiman sign my two things (My copy of “Caped Crusader” for me and an index card for my friend, Kelli), I also asked if he would sign my copy of “Amanda Palmer.” Without a moment’s hesitation and the laughs of the staff around us, he politely obliged, giving me three copies of his signature.

I can count the amount of famous people I’ve met. A few comic artists, Joel McHale a few months back, and I saw Danny Glover at a Giants game (which has another story to it). But none compare to Gaiman. On top of being so unbelievably talented, he is just the nicest guy around. And for someone who has written some dark stuff, he seems so filled with light. Neil Gaiman is just an all-around good guy and if you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing him at a signing or a reading. But remember one thing: it was not he who killed Amanda Palmer.

Photos are courtesy of Michael DiGrande

New Blog, Old Stuff

So, I now have a second blog that will hopefully be around for a while. It's called Four Colors and it is about comic books and it is hosted by the So I now have a legit blog on a legit site. Not to say that I don't care about this blog (even though I haven't posted in a while), but any Tom, Dick or Jane can have a blogspot account. Not true with the (although, it was far too easy to convince them that a comic book themed blog would be a good idea). Anyway, to the loyal six readers of this blog, I will not leave you behind. I will continue to post about Teddy, mostly because this is the only space for him until I drop Teddy into the laps of the PD. But that is a another plan for another time. So, I will be posting from the new blog onto here or you can start checking it out by following this link

Good times are on the horizon