On deciding whether to watch Watchmen

Because it debuted before The Dark Knight, which, this past weekend, became the single most successful movie to open ever, the trailer for Zach Snyder’s Watchmen garnered a lot of attention. Lots of (well deserved) drooling, lots of controversy. My particular favorite note came from Galleycat, which said:

“Remember earlier this week, when a well-placed movie trailer turned Watchmen into a hit 22 years after the first installment of the graphic novel appeared in comic book shops?”

As if it were a trailer for the book and not for the upcoming moviezation. Also, I’m pretty well certain Watchmen has been a “hit,” off and on, for the better part of two decades. I’d bet that, if comic books sales systems pulled a Soundscan to remove the bestsellers overall from the charts (because stuff like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon still sells so many copies, so many years later, it would affect the sales reporting), Watchmen would rank up there along with The Dark Knight Returns and Sandman; books that still sell well so long after their original publication.

And so now this is where I admit something: I couldn’t get through Watchmen.

I tried. I picked up the book at some point either during college or shortly thereafter. I’m pretty sure I bought it at Midtown Comics in Manhattan, which I still consider the single coolest comics shop I’ve ever been to. Back then, I was a regular commuter between midtown Manhattan and southern New Jersey, and I often picked up comics or entertainment magazines at Midtown to read on the Greyhound back home. So I’m pretty certain I intended to read Watchmen on the bus, and I know I started it, but I also know I got about 30 pages in before I gave up on it. Even still, that paperback is somewhere in my parents’ basement.

I’ve picked it up again to skim a few times, hoping each time that I would appreciate it, get into it, like I hadn’t before. I hated Shakespeare until my sophomore year of college, when a professor-prompted epiphany finally demonstrated to me how awesome King Lear was. I read both The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye in high school but appreciated neither until I read them on my own while in college; I reread Gatsby a year or so ago, and discovered it was even better.

I keep hoping I will experience something similar with Alan Moore.

Because it’s not just Watchmen; I’ve read enough people I admire praise him that I’ve tried lots of stuff by him. Promethea. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Lost Girls sounded vaguely interesting, because I always like modern fiction that remixes and revamps old stories to change the way we look at them, but I never did pick it up. But I’ve discovered the cool reaction I had to Watchmen is roughly the reaction I have to anything Alan Moore writes. And I really do want to “get” him, I think; I know he did seminal work on Swamp Thing, and I know he wrote a bunch of Superman stories a lot of people I admire think are awesome, and hell, the man gave Neil Gaiman what may be the most awesome nickname ever (“Scary Trousers”), which comes with one of the single coolest nickname stories in history:

(For some reason, WordPress doesn’t allow embedding of Google videos, so here’s a link instead.)

But I don’t. I never have, and I am unsure I ever will.

I keep hoping it will come with age. That as my taste becomes more sophisticated, I will begin to appreciate the writing, the nuance, the genius of Mr. Moore.

Because that’s his big thing isn’t it? That he’s such a genius? That he’s so smart, and he crams his writing so densely with references to literature and popular culture, that his work is above the understanding of most mere mortals? From The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to From Hell and such, everything I’ve seen of his is dense and verbose and meticulous, but more in the way that I want to say, “Yes, Mr. Moore, I understand you’re intelligent. Now if you’ll just stop attempting to demonstrate/prove it, can we please get on with the story?”

It’s because, of course, he wants to “keep out the scum.” No, really, that’s what he says. In this interview with Forbidden Planet, when asked about his to-come novel Jerusalem, the interviewer asks if it will have “one of these intractable, impenetrable first chapters like with Voice of the Fire,” to which Moore replies:

“Now, I did deliberately put the Hob’s Hog chapter in Voice of the Fire. I have been asked since why I did that. The only thing I could think of was, to keep out scum.”

Well, hey, mission accomplished, Mr. Moore. This particular scum? Totally kept out.

The thing about the Watchmen movie, though, is that I totally loved V for Vendetta, so maybe, I figure, this new one will be all right. I know a lot of people hated V for the changes it made to the story in the original comic, but I had the distinct advantage of never having read the comic before I saw the movie, which, on its own, I think, is just spectacular. Having only read a few dozen pages of Watchmen before putting it aside for something I might enjoy more, I can’t help wondering if I’ll have a similar experience with Watchmen; I’m one of the people interested in the movie but with no real investment in it either way. I like a couple of the actors (Crudup ftw! And seriously, the dad from Supernatural? Hell ya!), and the visuals, from what I saw on the giant IMAX screen with the holy-shit sound, were certainly impressive.

So who knows? I may just watch the Watchmen.

Reading it, though? Whole other story.

(Cross-posted to Mightygodking.com.)

5 thoughts on “On deciding whether to watch Watchmen

  1. RICK

    I hope you’ll read it soon and that you’ll like it (but not fall in love with it). Not just for the reason that the film might ruin it a bit for those who haven’t read it, but also because I think the older you get the less you see the appeal. I thought the trailer had this one telling bit — the Smashing Pumpkins soundtrack. That it’s either more self-aware in the MO of its adaptation/translation or that it unintentionally serves as a revealing bit of how adolescent it all really is (most specially, how so much of the appreciation of it).

    It’s good. And it deserves the highest praises, and to be amongst the top lists of comics. But the reasons for the fandom’s appeal to it is so unexamined, and so utterly pathetic * (immediatly recognizable by the effect it had on superhero fiction) — I mean, it becomes no surprise when you see that there are readers who think Rorsharch is Teh Cool Character (and why Batman and his world basically became that character for years to come) or whatever other embarassing form of ‘missing the fucking point’.

    * Possibly including here Zack Snyder as well. “It’s not a PG-13 movie, it’s a R-rated film. Like, ‘Wow, did I just saw a woman getting raped by one of the main characters here?’, so that spirit I want to maintain.” So, yeah. Imagine someone “being influenced by Kubrick” by having their characters have cocks on their noses…

  2. GOTHAMGIRL

    Two Graphic novels/comic books have made me go “woah” after reading them. (Bare in mind my stack of finished liturature is much, much smaller then yours) Now, I don’t mean the “woah” of enlightenment, like when someone discovers the secret of the universe or the “woah” of discovery like when a group of guys discovers that the have just enough money to buy another round of beer so long as they don’t tip the waitress(cheap bastards). This is more like the “woah” of perfection. When a ending goes so perfectly with begging even if you hate it the out come. The puzzle peices fit perfectly and your awed sort of thing. I could be more easil woah’ed then your self though. If this dosn’t make a bit a sence just ignore it as I am moving on.

    The two books that this happend was first Watchman. (Yeah. You look real surpised. No, I don’t have a hidden camera on your lap top that lets me view the expressions on your face. Why do you ask?) The secound was a manga called Death Note. A Death God/Grim Reaper drops his Death Note in the human world and a 17 year old boy named Raito finds it. The rules are simple. Write a name. Think of the face. The person dies. If a type of death is not specified the person dies of a heart attack. So, Raito decides to writ down the names of “scum.” Imagine what aworl would be like with out all the bad peopl in it.

    You might try reading Death Note, or watching the very close anime if you prefer, before trying Watchman. Sometimes reading one book can help you read another. The series is much longer and you have to read the panels from right to left, but you can read it for free here http://www.onemanga.com/Death_Note/ so their is no money loss on your part.

    Their are certain books you should read before you die (It takes forever to get a library card in heaven and hell only lets you read things by Dan Brown, R.L. Stein, and richard simmons.

  3. WILL ENTREKIN

    @Gotham: I get that. I had similar whoa feelings with my favorite novels. And one comic book (X-Men’s The Age of Apocalypse storyline; what do you think got me interested in time travel in the first place?). But I loved your last paragraph. Hysterical.

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