While it should be self-evident that different media allow for different kinds of storytelling and different forms of expression, it’s good to be reminded of this in enjoyable ways in this Age of Adaptation, where so many films, TV series, games are adaptations of material in other media. Last week I saw the London production of Gypsy, which was brilliant, startling – and a great example of a story that works best on stage. We’d previously seen the ’60s film version of Gypsy, which works well in its own right, but it’s on the stage that the story came truly alive.
Yes, I know. I’ve been pretty absent lately, for which I apologise. In the last few weeks I’ve had a couple of blog entries half-formed in my head, but no time and/or energy to commit them to the screen and the depths of the internet. Here’s hoping that writing about my blogging anxiety might make me pull myself together and actually write a damn blog entry. That is, one that goes beyond a semi-interesting link. Talking of which:
If it features Travis Bickle and Rorschach joining up to fight crime, one dead pimp at a time, I might just about watch it. Two psychopaths, both alike in’sanity…
Okay, 95% of the people reading this will already know, and the other 5% are probably not interested – but for the remaining 0% (yes, that means you!), here’s the Watchmen trailer that came out recently:
Now, part of me looks at this trailer and thinks, “Wow… that is almost picture perfect!” Another part thinks that the last thing Watchmen is about are pretty pictures. This is a trailer, yes, which has one purpose: to get people excited and put asses in seats. But Zack Snyder strikes me as a director enamoured with glossy, stylised images – and that sort of thing tends to detract from the humanity of the characters. And one of the major points of Watchmen is that the superheroes in it (excepting Dr Manhattan, although that would make for a longer discussion) are utterly human. And the book is about ideas, not about wowing the audience with cool visuals.
Having said that, I like much of the casting. I like that Snyder didn’t go for the superstars (although I do think that Adrian Veidt could easily have been played by a good-looking star, since he is pretty much one of the biggest celebrities in the world he inhabits). I like the visual metaphor of the clockwork in the trailer. And I find the CGI representation of Doc Manhattan strangely affecting, especially in that shot where you’ve got three of them.
What worries me, though, is what I’ve heard about the ending. If it’s true… well, there’s one way of pretty much ruining Watchmen, and that’s by screwing with one or two elements of the ending. I just hope that they will be able to resist killing the ‘bad guy’.
Oh, and one last thing…
I don’t particularly like superhero comics.
I treasure my copies of Batman: The Killing Joke, Watchmen, Top Ten, Promethea (notice something?), Arkham Asylum, Superman: Red Son.
And now the complete Joss Whedon run of Astonishing X-Men.
Contradiction? No. What I like is that those books and those writers do something interesting, memorable, sometimes subversive and often just plain cool with the superhero template.
While I’ll always consider Watchmen one of the masterpieces of comics (and, if pressed on the matter, literature altogether), I’ve got a special soft spot for Whedon’s X-Men. Moore is a fantastic writer but he’s mainly an ideas man. Almost no one beats my man Whedon (check out this male white nerd and his command of embarrassing language!) at characters. Firefly and Buffy wouldn’t be a tenth as good if you didn’t want to spend time with the characters. Whedon is adept at making you fall in love with the characters…
… and then breaking your heart.
I’m over what he did to Wash. No, really, I am. I know why he did it and I appreciate it. I want fictional characters to generate feelings in me, and I’m the kind of morbid git who takes the death of a character as final proof of these feelings. Thing is, unless I can believe that a character may die, I will not develop any deep feelings towards that character because, well, they’re not real. In a way, what makes characters real for me (apart from good writing and acting, of course) is that they have a life, and that life may end. If I know that a character can’t and won’t die (because the writers, producers or fans won’t allow it), then they’re no more real to me than my avatar in a computer game, with an unlimited supply of credits.
The flipside of that is, of course, that it allows writers like Joss Whedon, again and again, to break my heart. And, morbid Whedon-bitch that I am, I like the way it hurts.
But if I ever meet him in real life, I’ll have to kick the man’s shin until it drops off.
P.S.: I don’t care whether you’re into superhero comics or not. If you’ve liked any of Joss Whedon’s writing, if you enjoyed Firefly (in spite of not being a sci-fi fan), if you got into Buffy (in spite of the bad make up and silly special effects and, worse, the whole high school vibe) – read Astonishing X-Men. For some silly reason, I started with vol. 2, definitely the weakest of the run, yet I was still hooked on his character writing.
P.P.S.: Another thing that Whedon does very well is sexual attraction. And there’s some of that in Astonishing X-Men, in the last place where you might expect it. Hee.
P.P.P.S.: Yes, today’s blog entry has a title à clef. I’m allowed to be pretentious every now and then.
While I think that From Hell and Watchmen (and, to a lesser extent, V for Vendetta – it’s rougher around the edges in terms of tone and style, and its inconsistencies can be a bit jarring) are amazing, rich and exciting works, I have a lot of fondness for some of the comics that are sometimes considered ‘minor Moore’. In many ways, the Moore titles that I’ve enjoyed most are Top 10 and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
On paper, Top 10 especially didn’t sound like my cup of tea. I’m not that much into superheroes, so the idea of a whole city of superheroes didn’t exactly appeal to me. Except, of course, if everyone has superpowers, they’re no longer variations on the Nietzschean übermensch. There’s something very humane to the shlubs of Neopolis, where every Joe Shmoe wears a cape and blue-collar shapeshifters rub shoulders with telepaths heading for a boring day at the office.
It’s the characters of Top 10, together with its Where’s Waldo? appeal (there’s riches of funny little allusions and throwaway gags on every single page, the little iMac-bot building a snowman being one of my favourites), that make the series come to life. And while much of it is ‘just good fun’ (as if that were in some way less important than deep, large volumes about serial killers and our fascination with evil), there are vignettes in there that are surprisingly touching, such as the aftermath of a teleporter accident in volume 2.
I also enjoyed Promethea, although less so. In it, Moore started to go off on his post-structuralist New Age tangent. And he started to become too infatuated with his cleverness and wealth of erudition, I sometimes feel. The effect is, at least to me, that some of Promethea reads less like a good story with fascinating themes and hidden depths (which it starts out as) and more like an educational comic on magic, tarot, religion and myth with a lot of input from Peter “Prospero’s Books” Greenaway.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was more in the vein of Top 10, and accordingly I enjoyed it more than Promethea. Again, the characters made it into more than it seemed to be at first (which was a witty, exciting pastiche of Victorian ‘superheroes’ and monsters, deconstructing the cultural politics of the era) – especially the Invisible Man and Mr Hyde turned out to be quite disturbing and brilliantly ambivalent in their depiction.
More than that, though, Moore told a rollicking tale in his League books, perfectly complemented by Kevin O’Neill’s art: the mock-Victorian counterpart to the ’50s sci-fi world of Top 10. It’s ironic that the god-awful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film is so much less cinematic and exciting than the book… In the first two volumes of the League’s adventures, Moore managed an almost perfect balance between cleverness and erudition on the one side and fun on the other.
Next: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.
I came to comics fairly late. Of course I read the odd Asterix, Tintin and Disney comicbook when I was a kid, but I never really read those adolescent fantasies with guys in tights and big-breasted caped beauties fighting dastardly villains when not moping about their lovelives.
When I was 26, I went to Glasgow for a few months. Being a literature nerd, one of my favourite pastimes was to go to Waterstone’s (or, on my most nerdy days, Forbidden Planet), grab a book or five, sit down on one of the couches and read. That’s when I came across Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’d heard of it before, and I’d read Gaiman’s Smoke & Mirrors and Good Omens, the novel he’d written with Terry Pratchett. I’d always wanted to check out Sandman, but since I wasn’t into comics… I didn’t. Until Glasgow.
And there, within the space of one or two days, I got hooked on Gaiman’s mythopoetic world. (Yes, I’ve always wanted to use the word “mythopoetic”. Now I have. Life suddenly feels empty.) And I started to think, “Hmm. Maybe there’s something about them there comics after all.”
Shortly after I started looking for other comic book authors of similar renown as Gaiman. Names like Mike Mignola came up, or Daniel Clowes, or (of course) Will Eisner. But the name that came up most insistently was Alan Moore. And the titles that were mentioned were Swamp Thing, From Hell, V for Vendetta and Watchmen. So I got started on From Hell, not knowing what to expect – and got hooked. Yup, the book grabbed me pretty much like a sharp hook to my belly, pulling my insides out. But metaphorically. And in a good way.
Ahem. Anyway, after reading V for Vendetta and then Watchmen (rather unsettling, as I read it just after 9/11), I knew that Moore was my kind of writer.
Next: Top 10, Promethea… and the League.
P.S.: Here’s a little bonus, at no additional charge, for the Neil Gaiman fans among you: