Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watchmen: The Verdict

I saw Watchmen on opening night, March 6, 2009, with a bunch of my friends, comics fans all, some familiar with the graphic novel and some not. We planned for several weeks to get together on opening night and see Watchmen at the IMAX theater in the Hamilton AMC 24 here in New Jersey. This evening was meticulously planned. Order tickets online a week or more early, get out of work on time, go out for dinner early, get to the theater early to wait in line, get in as early as possible in order to get the choice seats. Everything worked and we all had great seats in the second to last row right in the middle. I'm glad we planned because it looked to me like the showing sold out.

There were some trailers. Harry Potter 6. Transformers 2. Star Trek. Night at the Museum 2.

Some of my friends and I had seen the first 18 minutes of Watchmen at a preview screening at New York Comic Con a month earlier, so some of what was to come was familiar.

The movie started and the audience was reduced to a hushed silence. The IMAX production was flawless. Crystal clear visuals and LARGE. The sound was exceptional. Great directional effects, heavy duty lower frequencies that did not distort. You could hear every sound but it wasn't deafening. I was also glad to see that this was one of the best behaved audiences in recent memory.

Watchmen ran approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was riveted and did not look at my watch once. I'm usually the first to nod off during evening showings but even after a long week of work, I was focused on the flick and barely moved the entire time.

The opening montage was so fabulous. I experienced the sense of wonder of this sequence at Comic Con. If you have not seen it yet and you enjoyed the graphic novel, you have a real treat coming.

The characters have not suffered going from the comics to the big screen. There have been some minor costume changes with some (Nite Owl II) and most are spot on (Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, The Comedian). Rorschach was most definitely done so well. I had to gasp when I saw the face of Walter Kovacs for the first time. It is amazingly accurate. You won't know that you are looking at Jackie Earle Haley.

There were so many great moments in the film that I can't possibly detail them all here. I also don't want to so that those of you who haven't seen it yet won't have the surprises spoiled.

The bottom line is that Watchmen turned out very well. As a fan of the comics, as a person who read the original issues 22-23 years ago, as an Alan Moore fan, I was very, very pleased with the film. I had faith in director Zack Snyder and I knew he wouldn't let us down.

I am looking forward to the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD and to the DVD release of the Watchmen film, which is rumored to include the Black Freighter animation edited back in. I am also watching the Motion Comics Blu-ray right now, so I will be back with a review of both that and Black Freighter.

I will probably be going back to see the movie at least one more time before the DVD release, so I might have more to say later.

To those of you that supported the opening weekend, thank you. Watchmen did nearly $25 million on Friday alone, and that was the second highest opening in history, behind Zack Snyder's own 300. If Watchmen continues to be as popular as predicted, it should have an approximate $60 million opening weekend.

23 years of waiting for Watchmen ends here, and it's a weird feeling. It's nice to have Watchmen reproduced for film so well by a director that really cares about the work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and the Watchmen property and fans. But, it's a little unsettling to know that Watchmen will no longer be thought of as the "unfilmable graphic novel."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What Watchmen Means To Me, Pt. 4

So, from 1997 to 2009, I lived with Watchmen as the pinnacle of comics perfection, the high water mark that all other comics would be compared against. During these years, I was pursuing a different path. I completed my Masters Degree in Library and Information Science and I worked for a number of universities and libraries in a variety of positions. In all of them, Watchmen affected my creative endeavors and there was hardly an instance in which I was not able to recommend it.

So, when someone was looking for a graphic novel to read, Watchmen was always #1 on the list. When it came time to put together a core collection of graphic novels for a library, Watchmen was always in that collection. When we gave panel presentations at annual librarian conventions, Watchmen was always one of the first choices of graphic novels to recommend. When I had the chance to write a comic book script, Watchmen directly influenced our creative process.

Alan Moore himself often said that Watchmen was not supposed to ever bridge the gap between comics and film. And, true to his conviction, he eventually divorced himself from film versions of this, one of his best and best known works. The Watchmen film had an interesting stop and start history and you can find that information elsewhere on the web. One thing you should read is the Sam Hamm script that almost became the film version of Watchmen back in the early 1990's.

I'm proud to be a Watchmen fan and here on the eve of the film's release, I am confident in saying that director Zack Snyder has captured the graphic novel effectively for film. Watchmen will be fit to stand beside his two other film masterpieces Dawn of the Dead and 300.

Enjoy the Watchmen movie!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What Watchmen Means To Me, Pt. 3

After the publication of the original 12 issue run of the Watchmen comic book series in 1987, I took stock of my life in comics. I decided that since I had such a rich background in the four-color medium, I would do something very dramatic and drastic. After all, I had witnessed the birth of the Silver Age in the late 1950's, when I was 9 I had gotten into a fight with another little kid over an issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, I had in my possession an autographed picture of Stan Lee and I had read every single issue of Watchmen as they were being published. So, I did what any self-repecting comic book geek would do.

I became a comic book retailer.

Indeed, Watchmen pushed me toward becoming a comic shop owner. I knew that Watchmen was high art and went a long way toward giving comics the literary cred that I knew they deserved. Unfortunately, most of the rest of America still thought comics were just for kids. I was out to prove those folks wrong and support my friends, the comic book fans.

I started by selling comics at comic book shows and eventually got to the point where I could open a store. I owned and operated Dave's Comics & Collectibles in Garrettsville, Ohio for 5 years, from 1992 to 1997. I eventually closed the store and went back to school, but those 5 years were fabulous, and I learned a lot about entrepreneurship, marketing, computers and the comics industry. Most of all, I got to introduce people to the comic book medium and Watchmen and other great comic book series.

During this time, Watchmen was flush in its life as a graphic novel, a book, but it was no closer to becoming a film.

Tomorrow: Watchmen influences collection development and comic book scripts.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What Watchmen Means To Me, Pt. 2

The original 12 issues of the Watchmen comic book series were published in 1986 and 1987 by DC Comics. Originally designed to be a monthly comic book limited series, some of the issues took more than one month to produce. I bought each of these original issues off the newsstand in those years and read the entire series as it was being published.

As I mentioned yesterday, I was living and working in Kent, Ohio at the time. One of my friends who I worked with was also into comics and we would have illuminating conversations about Watchmen as those original issues were coming out. We would also talk about H.P Lovecraft and classic science fiction films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Meanwhile, I was consuming everything that I possibly could that was even tangentially Watchmen related. I read as many other comics that I could find that were written by Alan Moore. I read Comics Journal interviews with the creative team and articles about the Watchmen property. I delved into the history of the fictional characters and read about how the series was created and where the characters came from.

I remember reading the first part of Hollis Mason's "Under the Hood," which appeared as a back-up text piece at the end of the Watchmen #1. This was the first time that I had read a text piece like this in a comic book. I thought it was brilliant to illuminate the history of comic book characters by using text like that.

Each of the issues of Watchmen seemed to have their own charm. We were introduced to this whirlwind of a story with #1. #4 contained the amazing origin of Dr. Manhattan. We witnessed the horrifying evolution and origin of Rorshach in #5. And #12 left us all speechless as it all ended, just as a novel would.

There were rumors of a Minutemen series after the original 12 issue run of Watchmen, but it never happened. Alan Moore eventually stopped working for DC Comics and continued to produce more exceptional comic book writing.

After publication of the comic book series, the 12 issues of Watchmen were collected into trade paperback form. This "graphic novel" format would prove to popularize Watchmen. In 2005, Watchmen was included in Time Magazine's list of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. It was the only "graphic novel" to appear on that list. In 1988, Watchmen won a Hugo Award, which is an award for achievement in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Watchmen may still be the only comic book series to ever win a Hugo.

Watchmen is one of my favorite moments in comic book history. I have recommended the book countless times to comic book fans and non-fans alike. Watchmen has affected the creation of other comics, movies and TV series, too. The most notable of these is ABC's Lost and the writers openly state this.

Tomorrow: How Watchmen Affected My Life in the 1990's

Monday, March 02, 2009

What Watchmen Means To Me, Pt. 1

On Friday, March 6th, 23 years of waiting will come to an end as one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time, Watchmen, comes to the big screen. This week leading up to Friday's premiere date I would like to tell you a little bit about why I like this graphic novel so much. In order to tell you about what Watchmen means to me, I must first tell you how I was introduced to the story.

It was the early 1980's. I was living in Kent, Ohio and worked for the Kent State University Library. I was 29. I had always liked comic books, having been a fan since I was a little boy in the 1960's. Although I had quite a collection, my buying dwindled steadily from the mid to late 1970's, until I wasn't buying any at all by the time I graduated college in 1979. For a good 3 years after that I felt curiously self conscious about browsing comic book spinner racks in stores. There were not many comic book stores at this time, and comics were sold in places where they sold other stuff like department stores, drug stores and tobacco shops.

Finally, in 1982 or so, I began to browse the comic book racks once again. Still feeling somewhat self conscious, I noticed something fascinating: comic books were changing! The cover prices were higher. Some of the comics were printed on better, shinier paper. And many of the new titles looked really cool, like they were designed less for kids and more for adults. So, I dove back in and began reading some of my old favorites titles again like Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Daredevil. I tried some new titles like Atari Force. I liked what I was experiencing.

Late in 1985 (I believe) I saw an ad in a DC comic book for a new "limited" comic book series that was coming up called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It looked so delightfully gritty, with an aged Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to become The Batman one more time, and thereby eradicating his personal demons. It got media coverage about this radical (although "imaginary") change to a beloved comic book character. I timed the appearance of the "Prestige Format" first issue and bought it off a newsstand in Kent where I would go to buy comics. I read it and realized that this was a comic book like no other. The American public, fueled by media coverage of this publishing event, thought the same way and the issue sold out.

It was around this time that I remember seeing the first promotional ads for another new 12-issue (!) comic book series featuring revamped versions of Charlton Comics characters that DC had acquired. It was going to be scripted by a writer that I was already familiar with. Alan Moore was writing one of my favorite comic books since my return to the fold, DC's (Saga of the) Swamp Thing. The new comic book series was going to be called Watchmen.

I forget if Batman: The Dark Knight Returns had concluded with the fourth issue by then, but eventually, later in 1986, Watchmen #1 appeared on the stands. I bought it, took it home and read that issue a number of times. I was floored.

The one-two punch of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen left me with the realization that comics, from this point on, were never going to be the same. But it was Watchmen, and Alan Moore, that had me absolutely mesmerized.

Tomorrow: Life during the original 12 issue run of Watchmen.