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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Abyss Gazes Also; or, Alan Moore Knows the Score

Long time, no blog, I know. Mr. K has been a bad blogger, especially in our brave new world with a comic book collecting president and a #1 comic book movie ruling the box offices.  I swear I've got ideas kicking around, but it didn't feel urgent to review Watchmen, especially since everyone else has already said all the things I'd ever want to say, both good and bad (Mr. Walton at Picture Poetry sums up some of my feelings re: my ambivalence to Watchmen the movie as an adaptation of Watchmen the book).

One thing I did want to remark on was that for years Alan Moore has feared that people will only see adaptations of his work and totally misunderstand his actual work. I've always thought this was absurd, that intelligent people at least wouldn't dismiss his body of literature based on a movie version. That's like saying Hamlet was stupid and immature because you didn't like Kenneth Branaugh's film version, right?

But then the media and the blogosphere seem determined to prove me wrong. As far as the AO Scott article that Isaac at Parabasis references, I think he does a good enough job of taking down the laziness. But the Freddie deBoer post has so many things wrong about it.

First of all, I can't tell if Freddie deBoer has ever ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK before he started bashing Alan Moore.  Because he blames the entire content of the book on Alan Moore, who apparently also pencilled, inked, colored and edited the graphic novel all by himself. Read the article again. You know who Freddie deBoer never references?

DAVE GIBBONS. The only creator that the movie actually credits with putting together Watchmen. The artist responsible for the look of the world of the comic, whose actual panels were the basis for several shots of the film. The man who Zach Snyder, the director of the film itself, met with for guidance. Also, an artist who collaborated with Alan Moore on several other projects and has also written comics solo. He's no work-for-hire hack that Moore dictated everything too.

This suggests to me that Freddie read the graphic novel (if he read it at all) as a NOVEL, ignoring, you know, the graphic part? Furthermore, it suggests to me that Freddie saw the film and remembered Alan Moore had something to do with it, remembered he had some poorly-reasoned dislike of Alan Moore and decided, hey, it's time for a blog post.

Because, hey, want to know something else? For all Freddie lumps the book with the film and disses Alan Moore, he never suggests that someone else directed the film, with a bunch of actors and designers who were also not Alan Moore, with a lot of final decisions regarding editing and marketing made by business executives not named Alan Moore. I've heard of the intentional fallacy, but this is the first time I've seen the only intent ascribed to someone who was desperate to disassociate himself from the actual film and only generated the original work it was based on! 

And he talks about the ridiculous violence and cruelty of the movie (which was problematic) and elides it with a book that mostly avoids showing violence and cruelty on the page. 

Do we actually see the Comedian impact on the pavement? Do we see the dogs actually murdered or the little girl molested and fed to the dogs?  (And note, these are things that neither the graphic novel or the movie actually show! ) 

And, sure, Freddie can say that the movie didn't have to deal with the awful violent subjects it continually suggests. And that might be fair, because the movie often slows to down to let you enjoy the violence because skull getting split is kewl!

But to blame the graphic novel for that? To say that, one of the only comic books that I've ever seen subject one of its biggest murderers to rigorous psychological examination, a graphic novel that continually ironizes (visually and textually) the idea that violence solves anything, a story which positions a passer-by trying to stop someone from abusing their lover on the street as more heroic than the costumed heroes supposed to protect him, to say that comic book is immature and pretentious is the mark of a shallow and superficial reader who needs his sentiments spoon-fed to him!

And that's even leaving out the fact that every death in Watchmen has a consequence, that we see it weigh on the characters in the art, that we see seemingly unconnected people having to cope with the aftermath of each death. Go back to the graphic novel and think about Nite Owl II's feelings of guilt over the policeman critically injured by a device he invented even though Rorschach pulled the trigger. Go reread the scenes where Malcolm Long's marriage and life are torn apart in his quest to understand what drove his patient to violence, even though his own life and behavior are perfectly exemplary. If you can't stick it out that far, take a look at the first chapter of Under the Hood that closes out issue one, where Hollis Mason remembers and feels shame over the suicide of a cuckolded man he once laughed at. People in this book take responsibility for the violence that takes place, even if they don't always respond the right way or even if they're not to blame.

Watchmen is a work that drips empathy for almost every character, so that by the end we feel sad to see a sociopathic vigilante murdered in the snow. Moore even makes a sympathetic, progressive character whose views most mirror Moore's politics the ultimate villain, while making a reprehensible, xenophobic right-wing tabloid the voice of truth!

But what can you expect from a writer whose idea of an argument against Lars Van Trier is that he's full of shit? So? That doesn't say anything about how his work mirrors or fails to mirror life. It tells me nothing about why his movies should be relegated to some historical dustbin.

So instead he complains about Alan Moore lacking delicacy and tact and the low critical bar that graphic novels have to leap. Maybe he should instead be glad for the even lower bar set for bloggers.