Archive for the 'superheroes' Category

Shadows in the fog: WATCHMEN

Like everyone else remotely connected with comics, I’ve been considering the Watchmen film all week. My reactions to it (in the aftermath of a Wednesday night advance screening, thanks to some very kind local connections) are kind of strewn around the internet, largely on my Twitter feed, but also commenting on posts by Sean Collins and Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

[Edited to add: for the sake of preservation, here are those comments:

  • leighwalton accepts that Zach Snyder probably made the best movie he could 1:18 PM Mar 5th from web
  • leighwalton do I just love movies less than most people? Guess I don't see why a pretty-good WATCHMEN film is so fulfilling (aside from book sales bump) 11:42 PM Mar 5th from web
  • leighwalton for my personal take, I'm somewhere between Walter Chaw (http://is.gd/m3og) and Tasha Robinson (http://is.gd/m3oG) 11:54 PM Mar 5th from web
  • leighwalton "he would ejaculate only energy": I'm not sure how to feel, seeing Roger Ebert encounter WATCHMEN for the first time http://is.gd/lVIJ 8:53 PM Mar 6th from web
  • leighwalton Ebert is working SO HARD to reconstruct the graphic novel from the movie - seriously, dude, it's a $20 book. DC will send you a free copy. 9:03 PM Mar 6th from web
  • leighwalton Ebert:300 was empty. but WMEN, "maybe it's the material, maybe it's a growing discernment on Snyder's part, but there's substance here" ARGH 9:06 PM Mar 6th from web

reply to Pádraig:

Aside from some big-picture considerations (e.g. the tone wandered all over the place), I was frustrated by a lot of stilted line-readings. Oddly enough, a lot of the unconvincing lines were actually Moore's -- in WATCHMEN as in much of his writing, he often leans upon a line to carry double or triple meanings, so of course it's going to sound unnatural if you take it "straight."

It was most obvious to me during the Chapter III scenes -- did the screenwriters really not understand why the TV man says "that's certainly dark enough for my purposes"? Or that when Laurie says "shadows in the fog" she is hidden behind the steam from a teakettle? Without that double meaning, it's an idiotic line (especially delivered by Malin Akerman, but let's not go there). Snyder kept holding these long interpersonal scenes, which are not his forte -- look, man, you're an MTV-style director; make an MTV-style film! The book shows you how to do it! Cut rapidly between scenes, with lines bleeding over from one to the next! If you're going to use the book as storyboard, friggin' do it!

Your point about wasting time with the opening fight scene when so many important things were left out is right on. Why the hell was there so much emphasis on the Gunga Diner (and its Pink Floydian floating elephant blimp)? It's a pun that Moore and Gibbons tossed off in a single panel, and it's not even particularly relevant thematically. Meanwhile, where was the Gordian Knot Lock Company? Veidt's decision makes less sense without the model of Alexander's legend. Why include Bubastis at all? And why, in God's name, change "I did it thirty-five minutes ago"?

It's certainly a better film than most crews would have made. But I guess it's just good enough to fall into the uncanny valley where we take its virtues for granted and see only its flaws.

Reply to Sean:

I thought it was cold when it needed to be flashy (no alternating jump-cuts between scenes? did they READ the book?) and flashy when it needed to be cold (fight in Blake's penthouse, fight in Antarctica, bone-protrusions).]

The task of writing a full review of the film is daunting, and I’m afraid the perfect may be the enemy of the good in this case.

watchmen-1227-veidt

What it ultimately boils down to, where I’m sitting right now, is that Snyder et al adapted Watchmen more or less exactly as they would have adapted Kraven’s Last Hunt or Emerald Twilight or Secret Wars II. “Here’s a great comic book story, and we’ll bring it to life on the big screen.” But Watchmen is fundamentally unlike those other stories — there’s a reason Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo put it on their 100 Novels list (as you’ve heard ad nauseam), but declined to include Crisis on Infinite Earths. Spelling out what sets Watchmen apart could take a year, but broadly it’s 1) the self-conscious ambivalence of its thematic approach and 2) the Byzantine grandeur of its storytelling. Both are missing in Snyder’s film.

This is Watchmen without the irony and without the technique, which is still pretty fun, but it’s not the Watchmen that I read anymore.

on Scans_Daily

Catch-up time: Scans_Daily was, until today, a Livejournal community where fans posted and discussed scanned excerpts of comic books. I’m pretty sure it began (in 2003, according to Google’s cache of the userinfo) as a spinoff from some other community along the lines of Depp_Daily where fans posted and discussed photos of male hotties. In the time I followed it, S_D’s volume grew to the point of dozens of posts per day, and I had to “de-friend” it to keep all my other friends’ posts from getting choked out.

Today Livejournal suspended the community. It’s unlikely to return in that form. Brian Cronin has a piece up on CSBG@CBR, suggesting that writer Peter David may or may not have had something to do with it. Peter David posts an account of his involvement. Johanna D-C’s round-up includes a link to writer Gail Simone’s thoughtful response. [Edited to add: Brigid Alverson has another interesting response].

A lot of fans are responding to the news with accounts of how S_D persuaded them to buy comics they otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s the case for me — I followed the community from something like 2004-2007, and I certainly wouldn’t have shelled out $50 recently for the American Flagg! hardcover if not for a Scans_Daily post by Warren Ellis pointing out various formal innovations Chaykin used on a single page of the first issue (the “1996!!!!!!!!!!!!!” page). During that time I was also director of the Reed College Comic Book Reading Room, and a fair amount of our $4000 annual budget was influenced by the online chatter on S_D and the blogosphere.

When I started working for Top Shelf, I posted an excerpt of Alex Robinson’s Lower Regions (a Top Shelf book) to the community. Since it didn’t feature Green Lantern and Aquaman humping each other, it wasn’t a wildly popular post, but it caught some attention from RPG gamers and Alex Robinson fans, and Alex himself showed up the comment thread to interact with them a little bit.

A friend (in a private post) grumbled today about the dismissive attitude of certain commenters (“oh well, it was full of bitching and slash anyway”), declaring that reaction to be part of a broader discomfort that many male fans have with the feminine form of fandom. In response, she more or less said “a man in S_D feels like a woman in a comic shop.”

[Edited to add: I should clarify that the comments below use S_D as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion -- I admit I haven't visited the community in at least a year, and I can't defend or attack whatever it may have become recently, or the reasons for its removal.]

I remember being pretty shocked at the culture of S_D when I first discovered it years ago. It was a thriving community of fans interacting with superhero comics in an entirely different manner than I was used to. But it didn’t feel like “this is how they do it on the internet,” it felt like “this is how they do it when women are in charge.” I soon decided that superhero-comics-fandom (as represented by S_D) was a subset of fandom as a broader entity — that these folks were performing more or less the exact same practices (fanfiction, slash, icon design, roleplay, claiming) on Green Lantern that were being performed on Harry Potter and Stargate Atlantis and every other entertainment property in the world, to some degree.

And it felt weird. I recognized these characters and these images, but they were looking at them in ways that I had never imagined. It felt, now that I think about it, a lot like visiting a Sunday service at the black church across town (part of the annual swap that our churches held on MLK weekend, our token response to MLK’s observation that “at 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and ‘Christ has no east or west,’ we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation”). We were reading the same book, but in a vastly different manner.

It’s remarkable to me how segregated superhero fandom is. There’s “masculine” fandom (largely on message boards?) and “feminine” fandom (largely on Livejournal), and seldom do the twain meet.

I’m not very interested in superheroes these days one way or the other, but I appreciate what fans see in them — both kinds of fans. It seems to me that other sorts of fandom have been able to integrate themselves more successfully — despite the fact that anime and manga are explicitly categorized as “for girls” and “for boys,” they seem to coexist peacefully at conventions and online, and there seems to be a great deal of overlap. Contrast that with your standard comic shop or convention.

I think there are valuable tools and insights to be had from both of these approaches to the material, and I do wish for a little more intercommunication.

Edited again to add: Lisa “Ragnell” Fortuner has some passionate but helpful thoughts up on Robot 6, summarized in a comment to her own post: “This is a matter of legal murkiness, not gender hostility. One you react to by decreasing your profile or just ceasing your activities, while the other you react to by increasing your profile and stubbornly continuing your activities. Surely, you can see the difference here and the disastrous potential.”

Why I don’t yet despair for Watchmen

As Sean T. Collins notes, there’s a new Watchmen trailer, with actual dialogue and everything. Among the fan complaints that are piling up, here and elsewhere, involve Rorschach’s “growl” (basically lifted from Christian Bale’s awful awful Batman voice), cliché action-movie lines, changing the Minutemen/Crimebusters name to the Watchmen, and of course the unceasing slo-mo — plus earlier anxiety about the costumes.

The use of the name “Watchmen” on-camera (which never happens in the book) is sensible. The proliferation of lame team names throughout the story might work within the book’s purpose (underscoring Hollis Mason’s point that the first generation of heroes were total amateurs with no idea what they were doing), but would be unnecessarily confusing in a film. It smacks of “oh by the way, which one’s Pink?”, but if that’s the worst that happens, this will be the best adapted epic since LOTR.

The reason I’m hesitant to piss on this movie is that, as I’ve said before, I largely agree with Snyder’s stated position, that Watchmen as an act of deconstruction must superficially resemble its targets as much as possible.

Rorschach was a parody of certain sociopathic tendencies that were just starting to creep in to superheroes in the 80s; as the post-Watchmen era grew to emulate him more and more, he’s only grown more relevant.

So in that sense, the latex nipples and dumbass tough-guy growl are inevitable. In order for the deconstruction to work, it’s got to make use of the tropes that are on viewers’ minds.

The part that makes me nervous is that Snyder doesn’t have the detachment that Moore and Gibbons had when creating the thing — they loved superheroes enough to bring them accurately to life, but they had no illusions about the genre’s fundamentally childish nature and dangeous implications. Snyder is a clever fan, but he’s still a fan. He genuinely thinks it’s cool to watch a costumed badass do a stunt in slo-mo. What remains to be seen is whether (amidst hideous amounts of pressure from studios, fans, etc) he can have his cake and eat it too.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

Listening to Iced Earth’s mediocre new album and reading Marvel’s mediocre summer event comic from last year. I guess it’s a day for toothless apocalypses.

more shameless self-promotion!

Oh by the way, my interview with PWCW‘s Laura Hudson is up on her blog Myriad Issues. We talk about a few issues related to digital comics distribution, including my attempt to construct a theoretical division of media experiences into “ephemeral” and “permanent” — something that isn’t entirely fleshed out yet, but I’m getting closer to figuring out what I’m trying to say.

This is the section that seems to be hooking people the most:

If you treat your comics as newspapers from a fictional universe, there’s no reason to read them twice.

what the world needs now is Dark Superman

I totally called this:

Like the recent Batman sequel — which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far — Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as “The Dark Knight.” Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.’ DC properties. “We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it,” he says. That goes for the company’s Superman franchise as well.

If Dark Knight has already convinced the suits that “darker=better,” Watchmen is going to seal the deal.

Oh goody. Now, far be it from me to begrudge anyone his or her own personal “aha” moment:

Snyder remembers screening some Watchmen footage for an unnamed studio executive. Afterward, Snyder says, the exec turned to him and said, ”This makes Superman look stupid.”

To get grumpy about the mass audience discovering something that hip comic fans discovered years ago would just be elitism, and as tempting as it is, I recognize that it’s not fair.

What I’m honestly not looking forward to is the deluge of misguided imitations of the Dark Knight/Watchmen vibe, as the broader entertainment industry tries to digest this pill that the comics industry first swallowed 20 years ago and is finally, gradually, starting to metabolize. Sure, some of the influence will be good — we’re not likely to see Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze again — but as the AV Club put it, “the immediate impact of Watchmen was a wave of violent, ugly, and stupid superhero comics.” We’re about to see that unfold all over again, writ large.

Hopefully it won’t last too long and the next big Hollywood trend will arrive soon. Cowboy musicals or something.

on lime green jello

I guess I should offer some kind of response to Robert Kirkman’s green-screen video manifesto beyond my twitticism:

http://tinyurl.com/5rl9ua is the new http://tinyurl.com/5h65md

Which I’m still kinda proud of.

All kidding aside, I do agree with Kirkman’s thesis (maybe not with all the side rants and theories). I applaud him for saying it, as I applauded Brian K Vaughan for saying it in this January interview:

And to be crass, the comic [Y: The Last Man] also bought my house. That’s just the comic, not optioning the movie rights or anything. And I know that makes me sound like a douche, but I only brag in the hopes of inspiring some of my colleagues who think that the only way to provide for their families is through corporate-owned superheroes.

I love those characters, and would never begrudge anyone who wants to write or draw them, but I’m always shocked by my fellow creators who are reluctant to make their own characters solely because they don’t think that creator-owned books can be profitable.

I was paid very handsomely to write Top 10 books like Buffy or Ultimate X-Men, more money than anyone deserves to be paid for work that fun, but it was definitely a pay-cut compared to what my artistic collaborators and I make over the long run for relatively lower selling work that we own, which will be taking care of us in various forms for years to come.

Plus, what’s more fun than making something new?

Certainly, there’s no guarantee of success with starting a creator-owned book in this marketplace, but I’d venture to guess that established creators like Robert Kirkman and Brian Bendis and Mark Millar are probably making more from the books that they co-own with their artists than they are for the excellent work-for-hire stuff they do for companies like Marvel and DC.

So if you’re even a somewhat successful mainstream writer or artist who’s looking to “sell out,” it’s time to create something of your own! I don’t think Y was an anomaly. You can do this, too.

It’s an important message to spread, with a host of caveats. We don’t need another early-90s Dave Sim, hyping the limitless riches available to creators if only they would start self-publishing (with his own ostentatious self as proof), only for the bottom to drop out on everyone (especially those who weren’t as lucky or as business-oriented as Sim). There are apparently still quite a few people from that period who feel taken advantage of. Any kind of magic-bullet “it worked for me; it’ll work for you too” needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

But Kirkman isn’t proposing anything as insane as expecting a bunch of artists to also be savvy businesspeople. I think most people realize that making a comic and running a publishing company are demanding jobs that require different skill sets. In fact, my limited understanding of the restructuring of Image is that doing a book with Image is going to become less like self-publishing than it used to be during the hands-off “Image Central” Valentino years.

No, Kirkman seems to have two goals here:

  • Using his financial success from creator-owned comics to encourage work-for-hire creators to do more creator-owned work, and
  • Using his high profile among superhero fans to encourage them to accept and purchase creator-owned comics.

Maybe I spent too much time on Warren Ellis’s Engine messageboard during my formative years, but I’m not sure point #1 is news to any creator. Are there that many starry-eyed writers and artists who see Batman as the pinnacle of their dream career? …Okay, don’t answer that. But how many of them would really produce something worthwhile if they dedicated themselves to a creator-owned comic? Setting aesthetic considerations aside, how many of them would be able to create a book that sells at the level of Kirkman’s Walking Dead or Vaughan’s Y?

It just seems like this message is already out there. Mark Millar’s regular announcements of his enormous financial success are hard to miss. Ellis has made a career out of cursing the backwards thinking of the American comics market and (rightly) insisting on the moral superiority of creator-owned work. It kind of seems like at this point, people have made their decisions. Most creators who are interested in this sort of thing are already in the trenches trying to make it work; I suspect their answer to Kirkman’s question of “why aren’t there more Hellboys and Walking Deads?” is “I would very much like for my book to be a Hellboy or Walking Dead, thanks for asking.”

Unless Kirkman and Image are actually changing the game. If they’ve got a new deal that would somehow allow Jamie McKelvie or Matt Fraction (or Kagan McLeod) to drop everything and do their own comics full-time, then by all means let’s have it. But it’s not going to happen overnight.

Which brings us to point 2: Kirkman’s efforts to develop a larger audience for creator-owned work. While there will always be some fans who need something like this to awaken them to the economic realities of publishing (I certainly did), this strikes me as something of a futile effort. Remember the shitstorm that erupted when Paul O’Brien announced he was “bored” with comics? It turned out that Paul, like many people, doesn’t want anything more from his comics than to see a good X-Men story. Or the infamous angry reaction from Newsarama readers when Jerry Siegel’s family attempted to squeeze some justice out of comics’ original sin (aka beads for Manhattan). Is it possible to turn every X-Men fan into a Casanova fan? Is it possible to make fanboys care about the creative independence or long-term financial stability of comic creators? Will they take this message more seriously when it comes from the author of Marvel Zombies rather than a pretentious hipster or a condescending Englishman?

Maybe so. I didn’t think of comics as a business until I started reading Paul O’Brien’s reviews, actually, when I was around 18.

Can I put myself back in the fanboy mindset? I started reading comics in the early 90s, just after the Image launch; I didn’t like any of their books. I loved Joe Madureira on Uncanny X-Men but when he quit to launch Battle Chasers it didn’t occur to me to follow him. Fabian Nicieza was my favorite comics writer, but when he left Marvel in 1995 I barely noticed. I just now found out that he went to Acclaim Comics to be their editor-in-chief. Things are surely different now in terms of news getting around (if it wasn’t mentioned in a Marvel house ad or Wizard, I didn’t know about it), but… how different?

If, hypothetically, two of my favorite creators back then had followed Kirkman’s advice and launched a new creator-owned project that they could really put their heart and soul into, would I have followed them there? Well, they did, and it was called Steampunk by Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo. My brother brought a bunch of the issues home and it confused the hell out of me. I retreated back to my safe and comprehensible Marvel Universe.

Bad example. Steampunk was sort of legendarily incoherent. But I guess it does underscore that whatever plans Image is concocting, hopefully they involve a degree of editorial guidance?

I dunno. Maybe this is a message that just needs to get re-announced every year or so. Maybe my perspective has changed too much from being inside the industry and I can’t see the hordes of fans who need to hear exactly this message. On the flip side, maybe I’m not close enough to the Marvel and DC circles to hear the grumbling pros who have great ideas for creator-owned books but are reluctant to give it a shot. If so, here’s hoping Kirkman makes an impact.


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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