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Thursday, January 08, 2009


Two Thoughts on the Possibly Upcoming Watchmen Movie

1) Rumors abound that WB and Zack Snyder have altered the ending of the Watchmen film adaptation to replace the "giant squid" of the original book with a frame-job making it look as if Dr. Manhattan attacked his namesake.

While I really do understand a studio wanting to shy away from something as ridiculous-seeming as "giant squid", this substitution completely undermines Moore's ending. The Squid that Ate New York is designed to evoke a human vagina and anus, thereby triggering misogynistic terror of the female "other" in the phallocentric, patriarchal world that serves as Watchmen's backdrop.

The squid also serves as a sly meta-commentary on the primal power of girls to get boys to put away their superhero comics and toys--and, Ozymandias hopes, their nuclear missles. Replacing the giant vagina with the giant blue penis of Dr. Manhattan at the story's climax flips the thematic point on its head. Of course, so much of Watchmen beyond its plot is criticism about what comics are and how they function, that much Moore's work was fated to be ignored. This one seems particularly egregious, though. I can only think Snyder a) didn't understand the story he was adapting, or b) didn't give a shit.

2) It's entertaining to see the stupidest man in the universe, Jonah Goldberg, working so hard to make Watchmen seem as stupid and small as he is. Goldberg's agenda is to use Watchmen as a negative example in the continuing campaign to sanctify Ronald Reagan--as an avatar for the pure, wholesome wonderfullness of conservative ideas. Yes, some of Watchmen is a critique of the shittiest aspects of the Thatcher/Reagan 1980s in which the book was written. But more than 20 years later, and the possibly temporary collapse of the Soviet empire aside, *those aspects continue to be shitty*. But if Goldberg and his fellow conservatives think the way back to power is to keep arguing decades-old disagreements, and deifying long-dead politicians via comic-book criticism, by all means, knock yourselves out.

Beyond Goldberg, the less said about whom the better--but really, if he were rocketed to Bizarro World, he'd be the stupidest man there by a mile, including Bizarro Beppo the Supermonkey--it's sad to see in the comments, actual, bona-fide comic book writers like Bill Willingham and James Hudnall so wildly misinterpret aspects of Moore's work.

To start with Hudnall, there is a reason why the English language contains the words "hero" and "protagonist". Just because Rorshcach moves the (seeming) plot along does not make him the story's hero.

Willingham bizarrely (by warping the story through his political filter) seems to think that Moore, against all evidence, has a favored viewpoint--of Ozymandias. He writes:

... I have to disagree that the leftist character Ozymandias was the villain of Watchmen. I believe he was the (tragic) hero of the story. I won’t try to argue Alan Moore’s original intent, but that’s the way I read the book. Ozymandias’ plot succeeded, even if he didn’t survive the execution of it. At the end, the surviving superheroes decide to let the scheme go forth, with the one exception of Rorschach, who Moore has gone on record as describing as a villainous and despicable character, even if he stopped short of calling him the outright villain of the piece.

I see the book as a chronicle of the wonderful but tragic genius hero who saw the way to save the world, and was the only one willing to do all of the horrible things needed to bring that about — just like all of those poor souls who had and will have to die horribly in order to bring about the glorious communist utopia that will come, if only the superior geniuses of the left are willing to break enough eggs to accomplish it.

My politics differ a hundred percent from that nonsense, but this is how I read the Watchmen story — an impressive but deeply flawed work by an incredible talent.

No. One of the most radical things about Watchmen as a superhero text is how it refuses to settle on any character or philosophy as the right, "heroic" one--like the raft of dead men, the entire world is adrift, cut loose from its moorings. Everyone is improvising and everyone is compromised, whether they recognize it or not. They're all alone in casting themselves as the heroes of the story, whether by sacrificing their morals for the greater good, or sticking to their ethics despite the consequences. Speculation about who's the intended hero, or Goldberg alleging that the West is cast as "the real villain" is flat-out foolish. Ozymandias and Rorschach are both moral monsters, in a world filled with and inured to them. Goldberg calls Moore's alleged nilhistic ambiguity "the left's ill-advised, ahistoric, and self-indulgent response to Reaganism" but he's the same guy who's spent the past couple of years pimping a book that claims liberals are the real fascists, with the primary evidence being the ease with which he repeatedly puts "liberal" and fascist" next to each other in sentences.

Willingham also falls down the rabbit hole of trying to debunk the mechanics of the final page's oblique homage to Kind Hearts and Coronets by speculating "what would happen next", which is pretty much the definition of something like "retardation" if that word were okay to use. It's possible to spin out any number of plausible scenarios for what happens to Rorschach's journal, but it's fruitless--Moore tells us what to expect with the "nothing ever ends" line. Whether by the journal or otherwise, eventually all of man's schemes will unravel, statues (even of Ronald Reagan!) will crumble and be swallowed by the lone and level sands ...

Someone ought to write a poem about that.

Willingham so often misses the point of other comics. He recently posted an essay about Captain America, and apparently, the fact the Cap enlisted to fight the Nazis means that he is a conservative. Because we all know, liberals wanted to surrender all the Jews and let Hitler take over the world.
Willingham presumably lived through the same last miserable eight years as the rest of us; that he still has the confidence to rail against the liberal "nonsense" of Watchmen (which, by the way, he constructed entirely in his own head and ascribed to Moore) shows to me the staggering power of the conservative delusion.
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