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Monday, March 02, 2009


Anthony Lane Watches the Watchmen

Hey nerds, remember what it was like before a few better-looking and more talented nerds than you took over key jobs in Hollywood and Entertainment Weekly, and all of a sudden, the things you love became (ironic quote marks) cool? (Forget for now that, just like post-Nirvana alt rock by 1995, the taste of victory immediately turned to ash in your mouth.)

Before comic books gained their current, ephemeral, (definitely more quotes around this one) respect, they were something for anyone over 15 to be embarrassed about, unless they were about tits and getting high, in which case you had until you were 23. The New Yorker's own Rex Reed, Anthony Lane is decidely not part of the Lost-writing-staff, Onion-AV-Club geek pack, and he's here to make you feel like a frustrated fucking loser again. You know that complex, intelligent comic you loved, the one that you thought proved you weren't simply an arrested development case completely wasting all of your free time and money? Lane is here to tell you that normal people can't tell the difference between Watchmen and that orange guy on the sea horse from the cartoon, whatshisname. Flash Gordon or something.

Does that bother you at all? Ah, Nostalgia. How the ghost of you clings.

It's not about Lane's review of the Watchmen movie. Haven't seen it yet, I take his word and that of most other serious critics so far that it blows. But what will make you feel like a misunderstood-and-bitterly-frustrated 15-year-old in 1986 all over again, trying to explain that no, these comics are different to someone impatiently looking at you like you're becoming increasingly retarded before their eyes, is the particular way in which Lane goes after writer Alan Moore. A rundown:
For every masterwork, such as “Persepolis” or “Maus,” there seem to be shelves of cod mythology and rainy dystopias, patrolled by rock-jawed heroes and their melon-breasted sidekicks. Fans of the stuff are masonically loyal, prickling with a defensiveness and an ardor that not even Wagnerians can match. One lord of the genre is a glowering, hairy Englishman named Alan Moore, the coauthor of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “V for Vendetta.”
So: In opposition to the genuinely literary graphic novels a serious person can count on one hand and still have fingers left over for picking through the caviar, Moore is a master of rock-jawed, melon-breasted cod mythology. But, you counter, From Hell, Lost Girls, Promethea, and besides, Watchmen itself is a caustic rebuke to superhero morality! And Lane responds, "Let's give this fucking geek a swirlie!" You see, you're prickling with defensiveness and ardor. A cult member. Think that's unfair? That Lane premptively makes it impossible for you to point out where he might be wrong? I think he's got a dick you can suck. Let's continue:
The problem is that Snyder, following Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon.
And you quite reasonably reply, "Aroused? Mr. Lane, I can't speak to Snyder's film, but you're entirely misreading Moore. One can argue that he's entirely conscious about manipulating and recontextualizing comic book violence. Much of the book is an attempt to deglamorize cartoon brutality by making it ugly and messy--take, for instance, the use of Kitty Genovese's murder, or the way Moore constructs the mutilation scene in Chapter Ten of From He--" but you have to admit it sounds wicked funny with your underwear pulled up to your armpits, and all the laughter in the locker room drowns out your point anyway.
You want to see the attempted rape of a superwoman, her bright latex costume cast aside and her head banged against the baize of a pool table? The assault is there in Moore’s book, one panel of which homes in on the blood that leaps from her punched mouth, but the pool table is Snyder’s own embroidery. You want to hear Moore’s attempt at urban jeremiad? “This awful city, it screams like an abattoir full of retarded children.” That line from the book may be meant as a punky retread of James Ellroy, but it sounds to me like a writer trying much, much too hard...
And you, starting to get angry by now, say "But Moore intends Rorschach to be a self-important, self-delusional wreck, defensively reinventing himself as a ridiculously hard-boiled fictional character! The purple prose is the character, not the writer!" (Although Swamp Thing and Killing Joke lurk uncomfortably in the back of your head.) "Moore is using Sally Jupiter to make a point about the exploitation of women and their bodies, how that limits womens' choices and forces many to go along with their degredation!"
Amid these pompous grabs at horror, neither author nor director has much grasp of what genuine, unhyped suffering might be like, or what pity should attend it; they are too busy fussing over the fate of the human race—a sure sign of metaphysical vulgarity—to be bothered with lesser plights.
You're sputtering now: "Little Walter Kovacs! Dr. Malcom Long! The news vendor and the kid reading Tales of the Black Frieghter! The lesbian cab driver! Janey Slater! Hollis Mason! Regular people's lives are woven into the entire thing. Those bodies splattered across the opening pages of Chapter 12? They're the individual lives that Ozymandias presumes to destroy with his dicking around. Jesus, Lane, didn't you even read the book?" And he says, "Not like you did, 800 times. I looked at it, enough to know what Moore was getting at: whiny, juvenile liberal doomsday screed mixed with T&A and guys in leather masks. But don't you remember I had to give it back to you because you said you just couldn't sleep right without it under your pillow? And don't you mean comic book?"
Incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny, “Watchmen” marks the final demolition of the comic strip, and it leaves you wondering: where did the comedy go?
"Yeah," you say, "like that laugh riot Maus you congratulated at the top of the piece." But Lane can't hear you. Your voice is all muffled inside that locker. Although, as you sit stuffed in there sweating with your knees wedged into your neck, you have to give Lane, at the end, credit for accidentally hitting on Moore's intention, one that the superhero side of the industry had to ignore--the final demolition of a certain kind of comic strip.

Great post
Genius. And I agree. Watchmen is the culmination and the pinnacle of all superhero stories. Doesn't stop me from reading Marvel comics, I'm ashamed to say...
This is just plain wrong. Arrgoance, little else.
'Not like you did, 800 times. I looked at it, enough to know what Moore was getting at: whiny, juvenile liberal doomsday screed mixed with T&A and guys in leather masks'
So we're nerds. And you only need to glance at something to be able to fully realise the authors intentions and everything surrounding it 100% because you are clearly a unrealised savant. Well done.
Reading comprehension, anon. I'm making fun of Lane's high-handed ignorance of the subject matter he's complaining about--admittedly, by putting words in Lane's mouth. For the record: the quote you pull was a) not actually said by Lane and b) not how I feel about the subject. At least most days.
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