Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Did you really think I was going to write about something other than Watchmen this week? I mean, how could I? Wherever you go, it’s Watchmen this and Watchmen that. Watchmen toys, Watchmen T-shirts…I’m waiting for them to make a Watchmen breakfast cereal. Watchmen, Watchmen, Watchmen. Not that I can blame the hype. I always think it’s kind of funny whenever I see the trailer for the movie, and they have that bold type “Based on the most celebrated, bestselling graphic novel of all time.” Because, you know, a lot of comic book movies are going to have something to that effect thrown into their trailer. But comic book fans in the know realize that it would be entirely within the rights of the movie producers to flash another set of bold type up on the screen right after that, that said something like: “No, REALLY, the BESTSELLING graphic novel of ALL TIME. Seriously.” I have to admit that I’ve been nervous that this movie is going to suck for some time now. Even the trailers didn’t totally convince me that the directors of the film were going to get it right. The costumes looked great, the soundtrack seemed to fit the right mood…but I’ve always had trouble envisioning the whole thing as a movie. Oh, by the way, if you don’t intend to read Watchmen (or haven't read it) before you go see the film, you should probably stop reading now. Spoilers and all that jazz. It’s just that I think the whole reason the story is so wildly successful is that on this one level, it’s a superhero story, but on this other level, it’s sort of a satire about superheroes and comic books. I like to think of Watchmen as kind of like the “Quentin Tarantino movie” of comic books. On the one hand, it’s sort of the over-the-top science fiction you paid for, but on the other, it’s painfully, painfully, PAINFULLY real. The violence. The characters and their relationships. The shades of gray. And, that’s kind of the point of Watchmen, I think. To sort of…let you down, as the reader (or viewer). We like to picture these larger than life superheroes as perfect. It’s this myth that we’ve come up with in our society and have passed down in comic book form, generation to generation. This idea that there could be these people, these heroes, and they are going to have this infallible moral compass that helps them uphold truth, liberty, and justice, always, no matter what. We love it because maybe we’d all like to believe that we could be that superhero. Like, we’re the good guy, and all of our struggles, everything we go through, it’s all for the greater good. Somewhere, deep down, we know that we’re carrying that around. And we are definitely, absolutely, the good guy. The hero. “Moral.” I can’t remember the exact moment I was reading Watchmen and it kind of “clicked” for me. Maybe it was when I was looking at panels of the Comedian burning Viet Cong soldiers to death , or when a flashback revealed a gathering of superheroes and among the many “crimes” they had committed was assembling to combat fear while the word “homosexuality” was written on the board behind them. See, who’s really to say what’s right or wrong? Who “watches the watchmen” right? These superheroes, the values we idolize in them- do they really represent everything that’s noble and moral about the human spirit? Or do they just represent what we value and think of as moral right NOW, in OUR culture? We like to think they have a universal appeal- but do they really? Is being “moral” really that simple? And they hit you with this- at least, in the comic, hopefully in the movie as well- a lot. You don’t LIKE to see the superheroes in Watchmen as so painfully…human. Flawed. Imperfect. They’re just people. I mean, what is it that makes you cringe so bad when you read about Nite Owl and Silk Specter getting it on, only to have the guy unable to perform unless she’s wearing her costume? Well, look at it this way- would you want to read a comic book about Batman having trouble getting it up, unless his girlfriend puts on tight clothing? If I’m making you feel dirty, please don’t yell at me- it’s the comic. I swear, I’ve read it several times, and every time I walk away with the same feeling- like I want to stand in the shower for several hours. You don’t like to think of your heroes as just like everybody else. Well, at least, you don’t like to think of them as just like the parts of you that make you uncomfortable with yourself. We like to read about heroes having all the best part of ourselves- not the flawed, vulnerable, human parts. It’s uncomfortable. Stifling. Of course, there’s a lot more going on in that sexual interlude than just tight clothing. You can look at it on lots of different levels- we associate sex with danger, we want to escape from the mundaneness of our lives and pretend that we’re somebody else, relationships are based more on fantasy than the reality of being with someone…whatever. The film’s most memorable character, Rorschach, comes to mind here. I mean, after all, the guy’s motif is based on a psychological projective test- that’s an ink blot on his mask. Now, Alan Moore takes a pretty dark view of the field of Clinical Psychology, I grant you- but ultimately, you could boil it down to the systematic study of those variables that create your personality and behaviors, right? (Please, don’t be offended with this interpretation of the field of Psychology. I am a graduate student in Psychology and I don’t prescribe to this view. Just talking about the lens of the comic here.) But really, you could make an argument that what makes you you is kind of arbitrary. The people you encounter in your life. The experiences you have, your environment. So again- isn’t morality all kind of relative? Based on who you are, whats happened, specifically, in your life? That’s always what I see in that scene where the Comedian almost forces himself on the Silk Spectre’s mother, only to get the crap knocked out of him by some such hero- can’t remember- maybe Captain Metropolis or whoever. In the middle of the fight, he looks up at the guy and says something like “Oh, I get it, this is what gets YOU off, huh?” I always kind of read that as “Oh, you think you’re so moral, huh? Are you sure you just don’t like being RIGHTEOUS? Being RIGHT? Being violent, beating up the bad guy? You sure you aren’t just as turned on, and psyched, about that as I was about forcing myself on this woman? You SURE you’re so different than me?” It’s dark. Depressing, really. But what I’m getting at here, is this why the story has been as popular as it has been for as long as it has been – it’s taking what you really love about superheroes, and asking you to question it. To consider what’s really behind the choices you like to make and think of as “moral." Are you sure you’re really “the good guy?” Is anybody? I’ve heard bits and pieces about the movie that leave me feeling fairly confident that it’s going to be able to recreate this effect. The three words I hear most often are “intense,” “violent,” and “sexual.” That sounds about right to me. But for the uninformed, be warned- this isn’t (or at least, it shouldn’t) be some kind of feel-good-action adventure. It’s going to hurt. Bad. You’ll be squirming in your seats kind of bad. At least, that’s how I’m predicting it. We’ll see how it plays out.