Monday, January 20, 2020

The Watchmen Companion (2019)

The third Watchmen related product to come out in the same week is The Watchmen Companion.

Arguably the least controversial of the Watchmen spinoffs*. (Seriously, if read one more article about the Watchmen TV series or Doomsday Clock that calls it an unauthorised sequel... I get the murkiness but under the letter of the contract DC holds the rights).

The Companion is split into three parts: The Watchmen Roleplaying modules “Watching the Watchmen”, “Taking Out the Trash”, and “The Watchmen Sourcebook”; Various Watchmen promotional pieces and articles done by Moore and Gibbons; and The Question #17.

 The Question issue was okay. Vic Sage reads Watchmen and tries to act more like Rorschach, finishing with the Question declaring that “Rorschach sucks”. As we all know The Question was the inspiration for Rorschach – as I’ve pointed out that hasn’t stopped creators trying to watchmen-ify the Charlton heroes in stories like The LAW Living Assault Weapon and Pax Americana.

The promotional pieces are interesting and informative especially in hindsight. In an illustration for an article in Amazing Heroes shows The Minutemen’s character sketches and we see an alternate name for Hooded Justice, Brother Night. Fans of the TV series would be going “oh,” (I had a quick flick through Gibbon’s Watching The Watchmen and that detail doesn’t seem to be in there).

But the gold mine here is the RPG modules, which make up the majority of the book. Alan Moore worked with the writers to turn out these two prequel adventures and the source book. Reading the modules is challenging in the same way that reading a script is. It just takes some adjustment.

 “Watching the Watchmen” confirmed my theory that Captain Metropolis is a little bit dodgy. “Taking out the Trash” explains how Nixon ultimately became Vice President in the Watchmen world. The Sourcebook is an expanded version of the back matter of the graphic novel, it confirms that Rolf Muller is Hooded Justice and states that the Comedian killed him. 

*Saturday Morning Watchmen or Dave Gibbons “Watching the Watchmen” would also be in the running. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Doomsday Clock (12 issue maxi series) written by Geoff Johns and art by Gary Frank

After the Before Watchmen collection of miniseries, I was less than keen for a new comic set in the world of Watchmen. But this was a sequel, and I’d long been intrigued by seeing where the world went next. Intended to finish at the end of 2018, this book ran over time and by a quirk of synergy the final issue came out the same week as the final episode of the TV series and the Watchmen Companion.

The story starts in 1992, Veidt’s deception has been discovered and the world immediately begins firing nuclear missiles. The world’s only hope is to track down Dr Manhattan. Not a bad start, Veidt is joined by the second Rorschach and the criminal duo of Mime and Marionette.

 I’m intrigued by the new characters. Who is the new Rorschach? Johns does a great job with this mystery giving us a character who is only hinted at in one panel of the Watchmen comic, (yep I was sent scurrying to the comic to see if it was legit. It was)

The problem is that the majority of the series is set in the DC Universe so we have to focus on the considerably larger cast of DC characters. Batman and Rorschach interact as do Adrian and Lex Luthor and any ambiguity if Veidt is a villain or a hero is out the window. There is a final confrontation between Superman and Dr Manhattan (the briefer Manhattan/Captain Atom clash was a disappointment)

There is a notion going through the DC Universe of the Superman Theory – America has the majority of superheroes because they are deliberately being created by the US government. It’s an interesting idea and I wonder would it have would have worked better without the Watchmen stuff. We discover that Dr Manhattan was responsible for the New 52 universe and his interference prevented the formation of the Justice Society and Legion of Superheroes.

Ultimately, I didn’t care. The crisis of infinite reboots that is DC makes me ask is, will this story still count/matter after the next round of retcons? I did like the idea that the Watchmen characters end up back in their own universe and their experiences in the DC Universe have injected some hope into their world. Ultimately is this a satisfying story? Yes. Is it what I would have liked to have seen? Not really, seeing the Watchmen characters in the DCU wasn’t something I’d hoped to see – we already had the Charlton heroes in there and writers have tried several times to make them into their Watchmen counterparts, The L.A.W. miniseries and the Pax Americana chapter of Multiversity come to mind. The artwork is really good and seems to have been the hold up with the stories. There were several articles that announced that the art for issue 12 was now done. The delays really hurt this series as it went longer and longer I presume that more people would have dropped the book or forgotten about it – some of the revelations and returns to continuity that should have debuted here had been preempted in other titles.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Watchmen: the comic. Alan Moore (story) Dave Gibbons (art)

Holy smokes!  I realised that I hadn't transferred my old Watchmen related reviews over from Opera so I'll be inter spersing the new reviews with the old

  What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this graphic novel? Well one aspect I think has been overlooked is the pulp/serial vigilante influence on Watchmen.

Let’s look at the pulp references in Watchmen. The obvious point to begin is with Hollis Mason, The original Nite Owl – whilst not strictly a pulp reference but when we first meet him on page nine of chapter 1 we see that he has a copy of Phillip Wylie’s Gladiator, a novel considered by many to have been an influence on the creation of Superman. Later in the “excerpts’ from Under The Hood, we see that Mason was a fan of the Pulps referencing The Shadow and Doc Savage (Chapter 1; PP4-5*) While Superman is also cited as an influence it is The Shadow that Mason references in the second excerpt from Under The Hood (Chapter 2; p7) in designing his outfit. Hollis Mason is the only Golden Age character we are privy to the full reasoning why and how they adopted a costumed identity and it seems that he is a fan of the pulps.

It is appropriate the second Nite Owl – Dan Dreiberg is also a fan. Dreiberg wrote Mason to get permission to become the new Nite Owl and Dreiberg spends his time with Mason reminiscing about the past. Dreiberg also owned a Silk Spectre Tijuana Bible when he was younger.

Much has been made of the comic book influences on the characters of Watchmen but there is a pulp/serial vigilante influence. Now in some cases it may be a stretch and I certainly don’t suggest that there is the simple correlation that Watchmen shares with the Charlton characters.

 The most obvious is Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt)– like Doc Savage he travelled the world gaining knowledge becoming the physical and mental peak of human ability – both Savage and Veidt have remote polar bases.

 Rorschach - His simple outfit of trench coat and fedora calls to mind Pulp private eyes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and also Pulp heroes like The Shadow, The Spider (as seen on the covers), and The Whisperer. Rorschach’s journal calls to mind the war journals of the Executioner and the recordings of The Assassin Robert Briganti. (I would mention the Punisher but he’s a comic book character)

 The Silk Spectre (I & II) - The original Silk Spectre like The Domino Lady uses sex appeal to fight crime.

 The Nite Owl (I & II) –There is a similarity with The Black Bat as well as The Black Hood. The Black Hood is fairly unique in making the leap from comics to the pulps. The second Nite Owl invokes the wealthy crime-fighting playboy trope seen in many pulp heroes.

 The Comedian – Certainly Johnston McCulley’s The Crimson Clown invokes a similar naming convention, but I’ve long thought that The Comedian’s original costume resembled that of The Avenger especially as depicted on the covers of the 1970’s Warner books reprint and revival novels.

 Captain Metropolis- Many pulp heroes have a military background like Captain Metropolis such as Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Spider

Dollar Bill- The Corporate superhero as far as I can tell has no precedent in the pulps but several serial vigilantes, Hawker and The Expeditor come to mind, are sponsored by millionaire backers.

Mothman- This character had a fairly insignificant role in Watchmen but if we look at some versions of the penny dreadful character Spring-heeled Jack there is a slight resemblance in that both use mechanical aides to fight crime one flying the other leaping

Hooded Justice – His appearance is that of an executioner – possibly an allusion to Mack Bolan’s crime fighting persona.

Silhouette – Dressed all in black, a silhouette is a type of shadow, perhaps she was intended as a distaff version of The Shadow.

Like I said earlier these are very thin but it appears that the Minute Men are very much in the pulp/mystery men mould with the Shadow and Doc Savage as a partial inspiration for at least one of the members. The second generation of heroes – The Crimebusters (Watchmen in the movie version) with the exception of Doctor Manhattan would seem to borrow from the serial vigilante tradition as well as that of comic book characters.

Watchmen can be seen as a metaphor for the Superhero (Doctor Manhattan) replacing and superseding the non powered mystery men/pulp hero (every other hero mentioned above. We see this especially with Doctor Manhattan and Hollis Mason Nite-Owl I. One of the reasons Mason retires is the appearance of Doctor Manhattan which made Mason feel redundant. Mason plans on becoming a mechanic. Ironically, one of Manhattan’s inventions, an electrical car, quickly renders his new career equally redundant.

 Doctor Manhattan’s role in Vietnam meant that in this alternate reality, the events of that War most likely would not have caused the burst of vigilantes we saw in fiction in our world.

 * The page numbers are from the “pages” from Under The Hood.