Friday, March 13, 2009


Well, everyone else is talking about it...

I should start by saying that Watchmen has never been my favourite of Alan Moore's works; I much prefer League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, and The Annoyingly Unfinished Ballad of Halo Jones, although I do think it is a strong piece of work, and probably the best English-language superhero graphic novel ever produced.

The film is a surprisingly faithful portrayal of the plot (except for the ending; more below) and characters of the book. From that perspective, it's a complete success and Zack Snyder should be pleased with his achievement, although he may want to consider making something original at some point. However, I think that what's great about Watchmen is not the plot, or the characters, but something else, something in the way that Moore (and Gibbons, but artists working with Alan Moore tend to get bumped down to "illustrator" from what I've heard) explores the very language of comics. I find it difficult to explain what I mean here; I tried with Meg, and she thought I was talking about pacing, but that's only part of it. It's the rhythm of the panels, the juxtaposition of words and images, the recurring visual themes. It's stuff like the covers of the individual comics (or the chapter dividers in the book) doubling as the first panels of the issues themselves, or the bits with the parallel narratives in chapter eight, pages ten to fifteen, or the infamous pirate stuff which is far more clever than most people realise.

For me, it's these bits that make Watchmen what it is, and they didn't make it into the film. Some of them could have been translated into cinematic techniques, but some of them are just features of the medium and can't be carried over, and I think that in an important sense, the book is more about these "mechanics" than it is the plot and characters. Terry Gilliam said the book was unfilmable, and I suspect he was talking about all this under the hood stuff; Snyder passed it over completely, and as such, the film ends up, for me, competent, but ultimately superficial and empty.

This superficial approach also harmed the ending. I have no problem, in theory with swapping the Cthulhoid space squid out for another threat, but I think it was a mistake to go ahead without taking into consideration the rest of the story. Spoilers follow. By involving Doctor Manhattan in the final attack, there is an appearance of cleverness, of drawing things together, but rather it fractures the story somewhat. Veidt formulates an elaborate plan to convince the world that Manhattan has turned against humanity, a plan which hinges at certain moments on predicting how Manhattan will act, and a plan which Manhattan greets with a shrug and vague approval when it's explained to him at the end of the film. So why doesn't Veidt (a man who loves the simple solution, as his discussion of the Gordian Knot attests, although to be fair this isn't in the film) just go to the good Doctor right at the start and convince him to do it himself? This is not a question which can be asked of the book's Veidt, as he doesn't involve Manhattan in the plan at any point, but here, he's integral to it, and in an apparently stupid way. Not to mention that Manhattan, a supposed genius, spends the first half of the film building bombs somehow without realising it, like some big blue thickie. I also find it hard to be convinced by claims that the space squid would be "too silly" for audiences when a purple cgi tiger bounces around without explanation or comment.

I wouldn't call the film a disappointment, as it was well made and entertaining, but because it's a different medium, it misses the deep structures of the book, and for me, it is those deep structures that make the book what it is. In the end, Watchmen the film strikes me as good but ultimately pointless, a triumphant failure. I give it a big Moviewatch 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 06, 2009


Well, I played my first game of Blood Bowl in about ten years, and I lost. Two-one, although I was two men down for three-quarters of the game, I was playing an unskilled all-lineman team against a more rounded squad, and the opposing coach has been playing in a regular league for the past three years, so I'm not too displeased with that result. Not least because I think my touchdown caught him by surprise, and his second was an exceptional fluke; his player ran into my end zone to receive a pass that went straight over his head into the crowd, who then promptly lobbed it right into the player's hands, giving him the touchdown! All in all, a fun game, and I learned a lot, so I'm looking forward to the next time I can have a go.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Raccoons and Mind Flayers

I celebrated my promotion by buying myself a copy of Blood Bowl, since it's perhaps my favourite board game ever. I was never any good at the painting of miniatures, but I'm going to give it another go as I assemble a dark elf team for the game. If the painting isn't too incompetent, I'll post the results here. I might post the results anyway, just for a laugh.

In other news, I've completed another in my increasingly-infrequent series of character profiles for Comics Bulletin, this time focusing on Rocket Raccoon, one of Marvel's best but most underrated characters. I have jotted down some ideas for my next article in this series, and fans of my acerbic approach will be pleased to know that the next victim is one of Marvel's most ill-conceived and cretinous characters (not Dark Speedball), so I'll be pulling no punches.

Finally, I've done some art for a magazine called Fight On!. It's a magazine for fans of the Dungeons & Dragons game, something I haven't had much involvement with since I was about twelve, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to draw dinosaur riding barbarians, fungoid bone sorcerers and octopus-headed spacemen. It's completely unpaid, but it was great fun to do, and I hope to be a regular contributor, perhaps doing some kind of comic strip for them if we can work out the logistics.