Monday, March 9, 2009

WATCHMANIA: Forget the Giant Squid Vagina (Philip Jose Farmer and the Spoiler of WATCHMEN)

I'm remiss for not having mentioned the death of Wold Newton theorist and all-around great story-teller Philip Jose Farmer a week or so back. I should have put up a post on a blog calling itself "Pulp Hero"...particularly when you consider my first exposures to Tarzan (albeit in "alternate" form, via "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" short story) and Doc Savage (Doc Caliban) in print derived from the mind of this man. And in honor of Farmer being the only writer I can imagine with the guts to show Alternate World Tarzan (Lord Grandrith) unknowingly killing a horsefly with the power of his ejaculate, the title of this entry is appropriate to include my PJF death acknowledgement. It's not that I wasn't aware, I just felt a little like there's a ton more folks who know Farmer's work intimately and more thoroughly...then I realized that the connective tissue of Farmer's imaginative infusion into this world of Pulps demanded I make some record of his influence. It's like trying to figure out what to say about Jack Kirby. You have to start from your own experience. For me, without A FEAST UNKNOWN or RIVERWORLD AND OTHER STORIES (where I first encountered the Jungle Rot Kid and the Dawn Patrol and Sore Bridge,) I don't know if I ever understand the literary (stress) quality of the Pulps. Hope I'm not too late to say RIP to a great man.

Everyone's talking WATCHMEN and as mentioned by the Groovy Agent at , Dick Giordano's Action Heroes line at Charlton in the 1960s led directly to "the greatest comic book story of all time" in many minds. While that's hyperbole, the characters are Pulp Archetypes of one form or another, particularly Rorschach/Question and Nite Owl/Blue Beetle, the respective night and day of Pulp Action in comics. I like being reminded of a great man like Giordano anchoring the talent behind those characters (genius Steve Ditko for the most part.)

THE BOOK: I don't think WATCHMEN clobbered me at age 16 the way DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and even CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS had, only because I was playing catch-up with DC Comics at this time (having read very little DC stuff outside of Gene Colan's Batman work and Perez on the Teen Titans.) SWAMP THING and MIRACLEMAN was also blowing me away at that time. What WATCHMEN did was support the notion of "comics aren't for kids anymore" which DC was promoting heavily. I think we're suffering for that mentality now, but that's another discussion entirely. For better or worse, I was glad comics were challenging me, rocking my conceptions, and so on. Alan Moore was at the forefront of that wave. Luckily for me, I was too old at that point to really do more than admire Moore's work, not emulate it. I was heavy into Ernest Hemingway at that time, too, and in fact the idea of "literature" would soon chase comics, adult or not, out of my life for a while. I read a lot of books in those years. But I came back to comics, to the sensibilities instilled in me long before Alan Moore, in Kirby and Lee.

All this to say, I wasn't immune to the sway of Rorschach. Like thousands of others, I felt Rorschach was the star of WATCHMEN and an identifier of sorts, the hero who saw Things the Way I Saw Them. It's a teenage affinity, to accept the dark core of reality even if you have no idea what it truly looks like. I admired Rorschach's viewpoint and how he came to it. He broke mentally so I did not have to, if you understand. He was and has remained an integral character in my lexicon. If I had to have a poor outlook on the world, at least it wasn't Goth, right?

THE MOVIE: I admired everything about it, even while seeing the faults. I didn't do this with BATMAN BEGINS or SPIDER-MAN or HULK or HELLBOY, even. I walked out of all those movies thinking something was wrong. It wasn't fidelity, it was just a basic understanding between what I know and what the filmmakers know. The factors behind making a movie are beyond most of us, the pleasing of so many crying bird mouths waiting to be fed. How any good movies get made in this atmosphere of lapdog slavering is incredible, but it does happen.

You'll find many people loving the movie and the performances. I agree. See it for Rorschach, of course. I was shocked to fing myself drawn and even identifying with the Comedian most of all. I love a cruel disposition in a character without boundaries, and the Comedian is that, for sure.

There's an ending to this movie that, while not perfect, is actually better than the original book.

The warlock, Alan Moore, will never see that, but I'd like to point out here and now: in the book, the world drops their atomic countdown and unifies in the face of an alien invasion of Earth. My problem with this, in the context of the world of WATCHMEN, is that there's no indicator that aliens even exist. Dr. Manhattan is the only hero with actual powers, and he's not viewed as an alien from another world. None of the Watchmen have, in their histories, fought aliens or Skrulls or anything not of terra firma. Even the literature of this world eschews science fiction genres for comics about the horrific pirate ship, the Black Freighter. Nowhere is there aliens in this alternate world, so why should humanity believe, even in the moment of "invasion" that such malignant creatures exist, when they have no pretext culturally to accept them?

So, the ending is better. Theoretically. And the movie overall is well worth seeing. I'm going again soon.

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