about those Watchmen costumes…

or: How Smart Is Zack Snyder?

A) really dumb?

We’ve approached each character individually regarding the design of their costume. In most cases, we have remained very close to the graphic novel. Although in some cases, we’ve made adjustments. I think Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have probably been changed the most from the original designs. We felt these changes were necessary because we live in a comic-book cinema world where costumes have been fetishized to a huge degree. The costumes, as they’re drawn, might not be accessible to many of today’s audiences. I also felt that audiences might not appreciate the naiveté of the original costumes. So, there has been some effort to give them a slightly more… I would say modern look — and not modern in the sense of 2007, but modern in terms of the superhero aesthetic. It was also important to me that they appealed to my own taste as a moviegoer.


or B) kind of clever?

Lastly and possibly most important, I wanted to be sure that they comment directly on many of today’s modern masked vigilantes — who shall remain nameless…


I think that for me, it’s about adapting that great work into a movie, but it’s also certainly about making a film that does hopefully to the cinematic superhero genre, what the book did to the comic book world. It’s my hope and my intent to shine a light on the current state of superhero movies and what they mean to pop culture, and what they mean to people who enjoy them, and comic book fans.


As in most contemporary superhero movies, the costumes are grotesque fetish objects — more or less suits of sex armor — which combine a ten-year-old boy’s ideas about both sex and industrial design, then turn everything up to 11. Do they make me want to vomit? Yes. Is it the appropriate look for a film adaptation of Watchmen — which is fundamentally be an act of deconstruction and cultural commentary?


This gets at a bigger question: how can anyone possibly make a film of Watchmen when the entirety of geek pop culture has been killing itself trying to be Watchmen for twenty years? Comics, television, and movies have been relentlessly pursuing the decadent, cartoonish (and frankly idiotic) “realism” that [they thought] they found in late-80s comics (Watchmen, Dark Knight, Miracleman) ever since. Some segments of superhero comics are still stuck in the 90s, but quite a lot of them have finally shoved off and found a new aesthetic to play in.

Unfortunately, just as comics are starting to finish digesting 1986 and escape from the era of X-treme,* the rest of the world is playing catch-up. Frank Miller and Zack Snyder have brought the world of pop culture back into Miller’s brain circa 1995, and if you liked it the first time, you’ll LOVE it now that your co-workers can quote Sin City at you!

*[of course, the most interesting recent work in comics was never influenced by 1986 to begin with.]

I think Snyder is a really smart guy who knows what he’s doing. I think a lot of viewers will pick up on the metatextual nature of Watchmen (both film and comic). But I worry that, like Fight Club before it, the Watchmen phenomenon (and it will be a phenomenon) will simultaneously celebrate that which it criticizes, and a lot of dudes are going to come out of the theater totally pumped about what they just saw, brah. A mass-market version of comic fans’ response to Watchmen the comic.

And we’ll be in for a whole ‘nother plague of copycats. Except this outbreak won’t be limited to the world of superhero comics. You thought Pointy Batman was bad? Wait till we get Chain-Smoking Wife-Beating Indiana Jones and Lion-O‘s Stress-Induced Erectile Dysfunction.

EDIT: How appropriate that these should come out the same week as Michael Chabon’s essay about the impossibility of reproducing a hand-drawn costume in the real world.


7 Responses to “about those Watchmen costumes…”

  1. 1 Josh March 7, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    That’s kind of brilliant about the updated costumes being a commentary. I sort of caught that with Silk “latex is the new silk” Spectre, but I didn’t notice that Veidt even has the nipples.

    That said…I’m really, really not looking forward to rape and crying becoming the new “Biff! Pow!” in the cultural perception.

    I mean, I couldn’t stand Watchmen as a comic, let alone if it’s going to be the new Donnie Darko/Fight Club.

  2. 2 Leigh Walton March 7, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    To clarify my own position, Watchmen is brilliant and all the critical acclaim and/or backlash in the world can’t detract from what an incredible achievement it is. The AV Club just put up one of the most ambivalent retrospectives on it that I have ever seen, and they still say “the structure and sophistication of the book’s storytelling remain every bit as thrilling now as they were 20 years ago. Dave Gibbons’ insanely detailed art finds visual rhymes and thematic connections that even Moore didn’t know he’d implied.” It is a monumental book.

    But, y’know, Lolita is a monumental book, and this is the equivalent of a generation of English-language novelists dedicating their careers to exploring pedophilia (which is, at best, only a part of why Lolita is important).

  3. 3 Josh March 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    I should’ve said “I couldn’t stand Watchmen when it was a book”; it’s the story and effect it’s had that I can’t stand. In pure technical comic-ness, it IS an absolutely incredible comic.

    But to me, it’s like a beautifully crafted sculpture of roadkill. Sure, I think the skill required to make it is impressive, but it’s still, y’know, a dead squirrel or whatever. Not something I wanna pore over.

    …That’s a horrible analogy, but whatever.

  4. 4 Sylvia April 9, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    I vote for “The nipples are brilliant.”

    And not just because I wanted to type that sentence.

  5. 5 Lois September 12, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Ozymandias is not supposed to look modern, he idolizes Ramesses and Alexander for God’s sake!

  1. 1 what the world needs now is Dark Superman « Picture Poetry Trackback on August 23, 2008 at 12:16 pm
  2. 2 Why I don’t yet despair for Watchmen « Picture Poetry Trackback on November 16, 2008 at 3:52 pm

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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).


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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