Thursday, October 29, 2009

James on Watchmen / Savage Critics on Dark Knight Strikes Again (comment pull quote, link)

James wrote in the Free Form Comments

Watchmen, bloody Watchmen. Finally read my Absolute Edition, after what, 2 years? 3? (Actually, I haven't read all the scripts and stuff in the back, yet. It's a lot of book.)

It's a beautiful edition. There's recoloured versions of the regular trade now, but they don't come close to the quality of print and paper in the Absolute, and you can't imagine how different the art looks at this size. Proper gorge'.

I can't remember if I've linked to Andrew Rilstone's Watchmen essay before, but it's the best analysis I've read since Geoff's, check it out. He says he admires the comic, but can't bring himself to love it - a view I think Geoff shares, and one I've always resisted. It's not just a clinical literary exercise! It's a rollicking good story in its own right! Isn't it?

Rilstone talks a lot about Watchmen's strengths in terms of the subtext - the gags, the games, the meta-commentary and connections, aimed directly at any superhero fan/buff/historian's sweet-spot - suggesting that there's not a lot there for the uninitiated, that the face-value reading comes up lacking. I've always defended Watchmen's story in those terms, insisting that, for me at least, it's both. It's the repurposed Charlton characters AND the brave new "really real" superhero universe. The post-Vietnam Captain America AND the compelling whodunit. The Batmen spanning the political spectrum AND the magical blue willy-man.

I didn't come back to Watchmen expecting my opinion to change particularly - the book's just been in my head since all the movie (I never saw) stuff, and one really should use the nice birthday presents one receives. But my opinion did change. It was a bit of a slog, at times. Part of that was me recognising Moore's limitations as a (then) youngish writer, as highlighted Rilstone. Part of it, I think, was down to the format; big fancy hardcovers are nice, but they're nowhere near as portable or physically accessible as a little ol' magazine or paperback. So, yeah: slog. Maybe I was wrong all along, and it works better as an intricate in-joke much better than it does a Proper Story, if it even works on that level at all.

I got into it again at the end there, though. I think I'm in love with that ending, no doubt spurred on by my contrarian streak and some people's problems with it. But: no doubt about it - I'm down one Favourite Comic Book. It's quite liberating, really. I'm tempted to pop Casanova into its spot, but it's been a while, and - though I'm obsessive and anal enough to enjoy lists and categorisation as much as the next nerd - favourites aren't really all that helpful, are they?

Neither was this - sorry if it looked like I was going to make some points, or offer some insights for a second there. As usual, I'm Just Talking.

[Well we are all just talking, yeah? I would like to say a long thing about how I feel about Watchmen but a while back I turned in an essay called "The Limits of Watchmen" that looks at -- well exactly what the title says. I will direct you there when the book it is in sees print. Tim Callahan will too as I think he is in there as well.]

[James says this on the blog, and then BAM the same day the Savage Critics write about Dark Knight Strikes Again. Just thought I would link.]


Patrick said...

Thinking of Watchmen as a slog might be more due to the perception that it's such a critically important work, it becomes intimidating rather than enjoyable, when I think it's just as easily readable as an intense epic superhero story as it is as a meta commentary full of endless looping parallels. The only parts I'd consider a slog are a few of the pirate comic parts, but that's only because I've read the book so many times.

And, I've got an essay in that Watchmen book too, which deals with the film adaptation and what it reveals about the original book.

James said...

"James says this on the blog, and then BAM the same day the Savage Critics write about Dark Knight Strikes Again."
AND I've just ordered the Absolute Put The Slipcase To One Side Take Off The Dust-Cover Try And Balance It On My Lap Jesus Christ I Need Bilbo's Writing Desk Dark Knight I & II collection. (From France! It was only 10 Euro, for some reason.)

Thanks as ever, Geoff. I hope people will forgive the typos.

Patrick: I'm sure that's the case for a lot of people, but I don't feel intimidated by it. Like I say, I've always considered it a favourite, and was really just after the story this time, rather than all the high-falutin' stuff. I probably enjoyed it more than I let on, but I was surprised how often things started to drag. I think it's exciting when everything starts to go all Mars/Defcon 2/Dan 'n' Rorschach on the trail.

Gary said...

Riffing off of Patrick's comment, I tend to read Wtachmen as an "intense epic superhero story" with "endless looping parallels" as Easter Eggs thrown in to reward the diligent reader. And dang, are there a lot of Easter Eggs. There's almost always something new when you go back and read it again - I only just learned that "Fearful Symmetry" is actually a Rorshach blot of a book. Wow.

I tend to ignore the meta commentary aspect, because get your cynicism out of my escapism, that's why.

Joe Gualtieri said...

I reread Watchmen right before the film came out and wile I don't agree at all about it being a slog, I did have one major problem with it-- the murder mystery. Unless one expects a major, out of character heel turn based on what Moore shows, there's no suspect for the mask killer other than Ozymandias.

Sure, that's knowing the ending, but there's really no other possibilities once Moloch's killed off midway through.

deepfix said...

I find The Watchmen suffers from the same ail that has, to an extent, affected Lovecraft: They've become far more important that they were meant to be.

The In-Joke aspect was meant to be enjoyed on the same level that The Squadron Supreme was; it was a reference by comics fans for comics fans. I think too much baggage has been heaped upon this book in its journey to "greatest comic book ever." It is a slog to read in the same way that Shakespeare is a slog. It's been to intellectualized.

(Talk about slog: Timothy Callahan's Grant Morrison The Early Years. Good points are made but are buried under pointless overpraise. The best part is the interview with Grant in the end where he refutes most of the influences Callahan ascribes to him.

And enough with the Joseph Campbell crap. The map is not the thing!)

scott91777 said...

I totally picked up that Simpsons Treehouse of Horror because of this...

James said...

Because why, Scott? Me? Savage Critics? Who Sent the Sentinels?

scottmcdarmont said...

Now that you mention it... it's a link to ANOTHER savage critics article in the article posted here. Sorry for the confusion.

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