Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Overland Park pt 94-95

Who watches the Watchmen?: Dave Gibbons and Rorshach

Valentine's Day was going to be the topic of the day but really, why bother? You all know what I feel about holidays and other people have already started to talk about it and rail against it, so I'll save my breath.

Instead, I'm going to discuss something of importance to quite a few people as the day approaches. Watchmen and it's creators, characters, messages, etc.

Today's topic: Dave Gibbons. And one of the main characters in the book (and most people's favorite), Rorshach.

Last time we talked about Alan Moore and what an insanely crazy person he was. Today we discuss Dave Gibbons who will look so completely off the wall normal that you would just have to believe there are some sick and disgusting skeletons in his closet.

But there may not be.

Born in England 60 years ago this year, he's a comic artist and writer who has had a very healthy career in comics. Obviously best known as the artist and co-creator of Watchmen, he's also worked on anthology comic titles like 2000 AD (one of the longest running and most popular anthology comics in comic book history, which was the home to popular characters such as Judge Dredd among numerous others).

He's one of the forerunners of the British art explosion in comics, one that has helped to bring scores of new artists from overseas to basically take over the comics art side of the business. Before him and a few others, most major comic artists were American born. Jewish guys who lived in New York City or Cleveland.

Most comic artists were of a certain cut.

I'm not saying he's the Jackie Robinson of comic artists, obviously, as he wasn't the first to make waves, but he was definitely one of the first that was noticed by American comic audiences.

He drew 2000AD strips, Doctor Who comics, and then started working on Green Lantern Corps backups in the 80s, and of course, that lead to Watchmen and For the Man who has Everything, one of the best stories ever told about Superman.

And not to underscore his work on Watchmen, as it is fantastic, but he has done so much more than just that. He's not a one-trick pony, same as Moore isn't.

He's worked with Frank Miller on a number of books.

He wrote Batman vs Predator for Dark Horse and DC.

He drew Hulk, Wolverine, the Spirit, Star Wars, and Superman.

He's written Captain America, Green Lantern, and the Legion of Superheroes.

Hell, he even did the cover to Kula Shaker's first album. How the hell weird is that?

But beyond that, the one thing he will forever be known as is the more commercially successful co-creator from the Watchmen team. And not in the sell-out sense, though there will be a number of people who believe him to be just that.

In the sense that he has transcended his own success with previous works by continuing to work in the mainstream. Continuing to create and continuing to work with new talents.

He's still in the comic public's eye as the writer of certain event tie-ins. He helped bring the Green Lantern Corps back to prominence. And he hasn't sworn off superheroes, like his cohort did.

He still makes mainstream comics and ones that you can find at a local comic shop and he doesn't complain about how people describe his work or how people remake his work into new forms.

He's just happy to be working.

He's not above it. He's just an artist, and a down-to-earth normal guy who doesn't worship Satan.

Weird how he and Moore are complete polar opposites.

Rorshach: He was born Walter Kovacs, and like every other character in the Watchmen graphic novel, he's something of an amalgam of other characters that existed at the time.

Chief among them The Question from Charlton Comics. The Question, still going strong in some form today, is a weird detective character. A weird detective character that has been seen acting more and more like Kovacs as time went on and even had voice acting by Jeffrey Combs, he of Re-Animator fame. Such a great movie.

But I digress. Because DC didn't want Moore and Gibbons using the newly purchased Charlton characters and ruining them for future use (read the graphic novel and you'll see why), it forced the two to create these fantastic characters.

Like Rorshach.

Something of an analogy for the comics at the time. What would happen if Batman really existed in 1985? In this universe where paranoia runs rampant and the Cold War is ongoing, what would the vigilante do?

What would happen if you took Batman, the Punisher, and all these black-hearted, cold sons of bitches, and just turned it on its ear and made them nutcases?

You'd get Rorshach. You'd get one of the biggest conspiracy nuts this side of Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory, and you'd get what amounts to one of the greatest characters in comic book history.

Not only that, but one that people love so much that inspite of everything, he only appears in 12 comic books, he only appears in this series, and that's it.

And he's listed as one of the greatest of all time.

But why?

Because we like our characters to be messed up. To be lost. To be so freaked out by the things they do that they hide behind a mask. Because he was a real iteration of characters like Batman that until that time had been so pure and honest and forthright that nothing could tarnish them.

And then came Rorshach and the gang and they threw a wrench in comic books. One that will be felt essentially until comics are no longer made. One that will forever be held in the highest regard as the Holy Grail of comics.

One that is held up in the face of everything as what comics should aspire to be. Just look at the comic movies of recent years. You used to have the Superman movies which were kitsch and goofiness, and now you have the Dark Knight where the villain scares the shit out of the hero.

And that's what people want. They want their heroes more down to earth. More like them. With feet of clay.

That's why Watchmen will continue forward. That's why Rorshach is one of the best.

He's brutal. He's honest. He's a nutjob in a mask that kills because the prison system doesn't work. He's so far to the right of society that if you dared to tell him he was wrong he may put a lit cigarette out in your eye.

He's the face of the 80s and he's the face of the breakdown of comics and the first push toward legitimizing comic book heroes.

May I present: Rorshach.


Part 95

Who watches the Watchmen? Apparently, everybody. This blog goes out to all the new readers and all the newly minted fans and soon to be fans.

EDIT: To be seen later in this post:

This blog's for you.

We begin with another look, this time at a few of the characters. Not many of them deserve their own blog, I could probably run a blog filled with stuff about each and every one of them, but at this point, we're getting down to the wire, and it might be better to just move along.

So. Moving along...

Nite Owl. Played in the film by Patrick Wilson (he faced down uber-racist Sam Jackson in Lakeview Terrace and he was in The Alamo remake), he's another character derived from old school comic characters.

In fact, they all are.

Nite Owl, in the comics, is the second character to have the name Nite Owl. He follows one of the Minutemen (more on them later) and is a legacy character.

A legacy character, for those not sure what that is, is something DC Comics thrives on, and Marvel has started to incorporate a little bit more of recently.

Basically, think of a king passing his throne. Think of the torch being passed to a younger hero who could continue to fight the good fight.

Green Lantern did it. Blue Beetle did it. Batman did it (a few times). The Flash, the list goes on and on.

That's who Nite Owl is. Dan Dreiberg follows in the footsteps of his personal hero and friend, Hollis Mason. Who is also in the movie and wrote a book that is a major crux moment for the movie, Under the Hood.

If you'd read the comic/graphic novel by this point, you'd know what I was talking about.

His character moves a lot of things forward. Plays a huge role in the film (I assume) as he plays a huge role in the book. Basically, think Blue Beetle and you've got what's going on here.

Nite Owl 2, Dreiberg, is a very mild-mannered person when the story starts. Overweight, out of his prime, rich inventor character who has nothing better to do with his time then follow around a nutcase in a flowing mask.

That's Nite Owl. Think naive, think better than most people, think overly trusting, the bread and butter characters of the early comic ages, the one who weren't tarnished or grimy or dirty and you've got Nite Owl.

The good guy, the boy scout.

Then you've got his complete 180, the Comedian.

It's all just so damn funny.

Eddie Blake, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who you've probably seen on Supernatural or as Denny in Grey's Anatomy or in PS I Love You, a lot of really crappy stuff), is the Comedian. And he's a giant asshole.

He's the guy who will beat the shit out of someone and will wear some crazy leather get-up and then throw them off a building. Not because he's a nutjob. Just because he's efficient.

He was a member of the Minutemen, and one of the nasty things he did during the time with them is one of the major moments discussed in Under the Hood, Hollis Mason's memoir.

Think of him as the military man, the Nick Fury character who goes above and beyond what's necessary and punishes the wicked. He's a version of the Charlton/DC comics character Peacemaker, and he's one that constantly provides brutality and strong violence for the masses.

He's what comic characters would turn into after he was shown in the world of the Watchmen.

His character brought forth people like Spawn, gave more prominence to the Punisher, showed us what Batman would be like in Dark Knight Returns, and he provided the comic world with one of the best images in comic history.

The blood-drenched smiley face.

His one item that set off one of the best cross-culture memorabilia in recent memory. Wear a smiley face button around a comic fan and see what happens. Put a little dab of red on the top left and tilt it ever so gently, and see what happens.

See what people think of you.

He performed acts of brutality during Vietnam, to his own teammates, and lead to the separation of the Minutemen for what was decided to be his most heinous of acts.

And his death is what starts the entire graphic novel on it's course of perfection.

Which leads us to one final character to discuss today: Ozymandias.

The Superman character. The super-smart, super-powerful man who might be more than a normal man. Might be the best person to save the world.

Played in the film by Matthew Goode (who you've seen in Chasing Liberty with Mandy Moore or Match Point or the Lookout or the most recent version of Brideshead Revisited), Adrian Veidt is the world's smartest man and a giant bag of douche.


He's the Superman, and he's bored. Since the Minutemen broke up and since the Keene Act was passed, no one cares anymore.

There are no supervillains to fight, there is no injustice to defeat, there is nothing for him to do.

Except decide on what he bests next, what he can best in combat, what toys should be in the toy line, and what to do with his multi-national company.

Just like every character in Watchmen, there is more to him than meets the eye, but to tell you would be to ruin a giant portion of the comic and a giant part of what makes the comic and the character so special.

There is a wealth to this character, and he is one of the few actors I worry about being able to portray this character well.

I'm not sure how to think, but just seeing him on-screen makes me think Goode may have the right level of douche-ness to uphold the true power of this character, but he's not old enough.

That's one thing.

And to spout off for a second about my biggest beef with the movie, none of the actors seem old enough. Nearly old enough.

Being a comic fan, you have certain people in mind when they start talking about a movie. When they start to discuss who should play what.

And being a big fan of the comics and paying attention to popular culture, you get a certain sense of who was going to play a certain character and who really really wanted to. And then you have the people that you wish could have played them.

All of these are based on the comic itself, so if you've read it, you should be able to follow me with my choices.

I wanted John Cusack to play Nite Owl.

Jude Law wanted to play Rorshach, as did just about everybody and their mother, but Jackie Earle Haley is about the best pick I could think of. There are a number of people who could have worked, and I really wanted Steve Buscemi, but this one I can see working.

Simon Pegg wanted it.

Robin Williams was going to play it.

Hell, Clint Eastwood could have played it.

I wanted Bruce Campbell to play the Comedian. Jeff Morgan looks like he'll work out, but again, this could have been anybody. It could have been Bruce Willis, but again, this is one that a ton of people wanted to play.

Edit: Gooch made a great suggestion that I wish I had thought of. Alec Baldwin as Comedian. I also have another thought on Rorshach. Jeff Goldblum. Think about his frenetic personality and just nutcasery. That would have been awesome too. And Gooch, Zack Snyder gets his own blog in the next few. Trust me when I say it should actually be more positive than negative.

Ozymandias, in a perfect world, would have been played by Christopher Reeve. And it would have been glorious. The Superman actor would have come back in a big way. But besides him, the list could go on and on. Pick a golden boy and put him in the costume as the world's smartest man.

Dr. Manhattan? I'm just glad it wasn't Arnold like Joel Silver wanted way back when.

And the directors?

When it falls through the hands of two of my favorite directors, Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky, ends up in Paul Greengrass' and then Zack Snyder, you kind of absolutely have to wonder what could have been.

And seriously, what could have been?

Who would have been playing the Watchmen at that point?

The world will never know.


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