Since I’m not finished converting my list of comics milestones to actual on-sale dates, the 25th anniversary of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is being observed late. The first issue came out in June 1986, three months before its cover dating. You can read about this practice at the above link, and expect more commemorative posts once I finally get The Comicologist online.
The mid ’80s were a renaissance era for the American comic-book industry, as the direct market of specialty shops led to a rise in alternative / independent publishers, creator-owned projects, and sophisticated narratives. Watchmen debuted the same month that the final issue of Frank Miller’s landmark miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight hit the racks — ditto Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, the last issues of those titles published prior to John Byrne’s revamp of the Man of Steel in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which contained a two-part story written by Moore called “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”.
You can view the diversity on display in June 1986 [bad link] by clicking over to Mike Voiles’ Amazing World of Comics, named for an old DC house fanzine. (His incredibly useful Time Machine feature, galleries of comics published in a given month sortable by either release date or cover/indicia date, was recently expanded beyond DC to a virtual Newsstand that includes not only Marvel as well but Archie, Fawcett, EC, Quality, Charlton, Gold Key, Warren, First, Comico, Eclipse, and more; unfortunately, links there are frequently broken as it’s updated.)
I’d hoped to have seen the extended cut of Zack Snyder’s 2009 Watchmen film on DVD by now, despite my problems with it upon theatrical release, but I haven’t. Nor have I re-read the original graphic novel since shortly before the movie came out. So as this anniversary passes I’m left to mark it through some mostly frivolous siteseeing rather than the that the book itself deserves.
There are several references in my review of the movie, however, to the fascinating
ways Moore & Gibbons’ source material exploited the superhero genre and the comic-book medium. Although my criticism of Snyder’s film extends from problematic casting to music cues, I’m ultimately more disappointed about missed opportunities in its form than its content, or, more precisely, the fact that the movie focused on plot and character rather than framework. Watchmen is, to borrow a phrase from Roger Ebert, not just about what it’s about but about how it’s about what it’s about, and its content — adult, realistic, dystopian — has been so influential on the superhero genre over the past few decades that any adaptation focusing on Watchmen’s content while ignoring its exercises in form isn’t going to feel particularly innovative or, to me, sufficiently reflective of the source.
Along with my movie review I wrote a primer that briefly discusses the comic book’s origins, contrasts it with the movie, and offers up other supplementary info, but I didn’t get around to sharing the fun links that came my way.
One is to the opening sequence made by Harry Partridge to an imagined Watchmen Saturday-morning cartoon. Per the theme song: “Jon can give you cancer / And he’ll turn into a car...”
That would be Jon Osterman, alias Doctor Manhattan, of course, the subject of Chris Impink’s Minus Jon Plus Jon. In Garfield Minus Garfield, which everyone on the Internet was contractually obligated to blog about, Dan Walsh took Jim Davis’s Garfield strips and removed Garfield from them — leaving only, in Impink’s words,
an “exploration of the quiet desperation of Jon Arbuckle.” He’s swapped out Arbuckle for a stat of Watchmen’s Osterman as rendered by Dave Gibbons, laying bare the existential angst of an omnipotent azure icon.
Doctor Manhattan also has a Twitter feed fixated on his skin color and his tendency to go pantsless. Examples:
— “Auditioning for new Smurfs movie.”
— “Still can’t believe they picked Robin Williams over me for the role of The Genie.”
— “Thinking I should get royalties on the ShakeWeight.”
Among the parody Watchmen Hostess ads, my favorite likewise focuses on Doctor Manhattan, which someone who put together a collection of such parodies [bad link] rightly points out is more a send-up of Watchmen (and in particular the chapter from which the page was copied) than of the Hostess Fruit Pie and Twinkies ads that appeared in comic books during the late ’70s and early ’80s.
There’s another riff on that spacetime-bending chapter in Ombudsmen, a week-
long satire that Scott Kurtz ran as part of his PVP online strip. It grafts Watchmen’s plot onto the plight of newspaper strips and print media in general — Popeye assumes the role of Rorschach, and Jon Arbuckle is cast not as Jon Osterman (that’s Dagwood Bumstead) but as mild-mannered Daniel Dreiberg so that the Nite Owl costume can amusingly be patterned after Garfield’s coat of fur.
While Kurtz uses Charlie Brown as The Comedian, a pair of Watchmen / Peanuts mash-ups each took a different tack. Shortly before the Watchmen film came out I wrote both to and about cartoonist Evan Shaner, who got so tired of the Internet frenzy over his gag that he actually deleted it. He did sneak a reworked version up when the movie came out, and graciously gave me permission to republish it — although it’s not loading in my original post on the subject right now and I can’t attempt fixes to any posts that old without them turning into many-headed Hydras of HTML hooey thanks to stupid Blogger gremlins. Comic-book writer Jeff Parker had done a similar cartoon [bad link] way back when as a fan, which he discussed on his blog a few years ago.
That’s just a sampling of winky Watchmen weirdness on the World-Wide Web. You’ll find lots more miscellany at The Gunga Diner on a comprehensive website devoted to all things Watchmen. And if you have favorite links of your own or other thoughts on Watchmen to share, I hope that you’ll pipe up in comments.
Related: Minutes to Midnight • Ozy Ozy Ozy • The Dr. Manhattan Transfer