Oscar-Worthy Graphic Novel Films: A History of Violence

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

This post is the final part of an article I was asked to write for the Houston Public Library blog. The final article will be posted some time in the near future, in its entirety, on that website.

A History of Violence

A crime thriller with a uniquely-executed plot by John Wagner and art by Vince Locke, this story was first published in 1997 by Paradox Press. The film was made in 2005, directed by David Cronenberg and stars Viggo Mortensen with a script adapted from the graphic novel by Josh Olson.

The film received two Oscar nominations at the 78th Academy Awards, including Best Actor -- William Hurt, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) -- Josh Olson. It won neither award, losing Best Actor to George Clooney for Syriana, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) to Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for Brokeback Mountain.

Plot: Tom Stall, a diner owner in Milbrook, Indiana, lives a peaceful and relatively low-key life until a pair of killers enter his establishment. He defends himself and his co-workers with remarkable skill, and is hailed as a hero for the incident. But his fame attracts more trouble, as mobsters from out of town have identified him as a man who crossed them a long time ago. Tom maintains his ignorance of these men, but as they target his family, he is forced to defend them, raising further questions about Tom’s past and who he really is. When he confronts the truth about his youth, Tom finds he has unwittingly made targets out of his family, and must do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t have to pay for his mistakes.

Differences from the graphic novel: Considerable, in places. The first half of the film is pretty faithful to the source material, with only cosmetic changes like Tom’s last name (it’s Stall in the film, McKenna in the graphic novel) and the location (Indiana instead of Michigan). Later in the story, however, things diverge significantly from the original narrative. The pivotal character of Richard, for example, is nothing like the character from the graphic novel. There, he was Tom’s childhood friend who helped him double-cross the mob. In the film, he’s Tom’s brother, who is a mobster, albeit one whose life was made more difficult by Tom’s youthful actions. The reaction of Tom’s family to finding out about his past is also handled differently in the film. Whereas in the comic he is quickly and heartily forgiven by his wife and kids, the film seems to handle it more realistically, with his wife especially reacting with shocked outrage at how he kept his past from them and endangered them because of it. It’s one of the few instances where I praise the veracity of the film more than the graphic novel.

As one might argue from their now regular rate of adaptation to the big screen, graphic novels have clearly become a more acceptable form of literature and entertainment by mainstream society. With their recognition from entities like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, graphic novels are solidifying their status as viable source material for popular audiences. If you haven’t done so already, it may be worth it to consider browsing your local library or bookstore’s collections of these easily digestible and artistically expressive tomes.

You never know--you may end up reading a story that someday wins an Oscar!

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Oscar-Worthy Graphic Novel Films: Persepolis

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

This post is the third part of an article I was asked to write for the Houston Public Library blog. The final article will be posted some time in the near future, in its entirety, on that website.

Persepolis

Biographies and cultural studies aren’t usually my reading preferences, but Marjane Satrapi’s remarkable account of her childhood growing up in the repressive atmosphere of Iran in the late 1970s into the 1980s is a noteworthy exception. It was published in 2000 by Pantheon Books, at first in French, and then in English, when the two existing volumes were combined into one book. The film, animated in the same style as the graphic novel, was made in 2007, written and directed by Satrapi with Vincent Paronnaud.

The film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 80th Academy Awards. It lost to Ratatouille.

Plot: Just before her return to Iran, teenage Marjane Satrapi remembers her childhood in 1978 Tehran, where she is a charming and headstrong young girl whose aspiration is to become a prophet. Her parents are active in the political movements of the Iranian Revolution, and Marji’s outspoken manner cause them to fear for her safety, and they send her to France to live for a few years. Despite making friends, her sense of isolation becomes unbearable, and she returns to Iran as a young woman who must struggle to regain her sense of cultural identity. She eventually does so, and once again finds life in Iran to be too oppressive. She leaves Iran for good this time, but not before coming to terms with her identity as an Iranian.

Differences from the graphic novel: A few, but this animated feature is for the most part remarkably faithful to the style and presentation of the graphic novel. The animation style in particular looks very much like the director simply had the book animated and put to motion, making an ideal bridge to the source material for movie-goers. The scenes that take place in the “present” (relative to the rest of the story) are done in color, which was never present in the original story, though this is for just a minute segment of the film. A few minor dialog and plot changes were made, none of which had a significant impact on the story. For instance, after getting home from nearly being arrested as a child, Marji sings “Kids In America” in the graphic novel, where in the film she blasts a song from an Iron Maiden tape--which, amusingly, is not an Iron Maiden song at all, but a song by the films composer, Olivier Bernet.

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Oscar-Worthy Graphic Novel Films: Road to Perdition

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

This post is the second part of an article I was asked to write for the Houston Public Library blog. The final article will be posted some time in the near future, in its entirety, on that website.

Road to Perdition

This gripping revenge story by writer Max Allan Collins and illustrator Richard Piers Rayner was first published in 1998 by Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. The film was made in 2002, directed by Sam Mendes and stars Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig, with a script adapted from the graphic novel by David Self.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards at the 75th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Paul Newman), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall), Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing. Of those, Hall won the Oscar for cinematography.

Plot: Michael Sullivan is a respected mob enforcer for John Rooney, who treats Michael and his family as his own. When his older son Michael, Jr. witnesses his father kill a man during one of his jobs, he is sworn to secrecy. But Rooney’s son Connor, who caused the murder to happen, is determined to silence the potential witness, and murders Sullivan’s wife and younger son, and has another mobster try to kill Sullivan. Forced to run in the face of this betrayal, Sullivan takes his surviving son and embarks on a desperate quest for both survival and revenge. When Rooney refuses to give Connor up for Sullivan’s revenge, his associates dispatch an assassin to hunt down both Sullivan and the boy. Through their struggle, Sullivan and his son gradually come to understand and respect one another, eventually becoming comfortable with their similarities as well as their differences.

Differences from the graphic novel: Numerous. Some minor changes, like the streamlining of O’Sullivan’s name to just Sullivan or the changing of the Looney name to Rooney, were purely cosmetic. But there were also some substantially major differences as well, like the inclusion of Jude Law’s character, the photographer and assassin Harlen Maguire, who never existed in the original story at all. He’s an interesting addition to the story, but I’m not sure he was really necessary. In the graphic novel, O’Sullivan is known as the Angel of Death and feared in mob circles, and demonstrates this in several very violent action scenes as he takes on gangsters virtually singlehandedly. In the film, his reputation, while still respected, is significantly toned down, and there is much less action violence than in the book. One noteworthy change which made no sense was the narration, which is done by Sullivan, Jr. clearly as an adult in the graphic novel, but voiced over by the same character when he is a boy.

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Oscar-Worthy Graphic Novel Films: Ghost World

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

This post is the first part of an article I was asked to write for the Houston Public Library blog. The final article will be posted some time in the near future, in its entirety, on that website.

As Oscar fever descends upon movie-goers this year, it’s worth noting the rise of graphic novels as popular formats to adapt for the big screen. Be it films from comic books, superhero films, or movies made from realistic graphic fiction stories that happen to be told using text with sequential art, it’s pretty easy to pick out films we’ve seen in the last few years that were adapted from the medium. Some movies even end up surprising audiences when they realize that it first existed essentially as a comic book.

Among these, there are a few that were exceptional enough to have been nominated for Academy Awards in one or more categories. While it would be easy to list a number of big-budget superhero films that achieved this distinction--and there are quite a few--it’s also worthwhile to take notice of some of the less flashy, more realistic stories that have been told in these mediums. So, for your consideration, I’ve looked into several significant films that have attained recognition from the Academy in the last ten years.

Ghost World

Originally published as serialized fiction in the alternative comic Eightball in the mid-1990s, Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World was collected into a trade paperback in 1997 and published by Fantagraphics, to considerable critical and commercial acclaim. The film was made in 2001, directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansen and Steve Buscemi, with a script adapted by Terry Zwigoff and original author Clowes.

The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay -- Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff at the 74th Academy Awards. It lost to Akiva Goldsman for A Beautiful Mind.

Plot: After graduating high school, best friends and social misfits Enid and Becky drift listlessly through life, observing and commenting on the people and popular culture that pervades their unnamed small town in ways that are alternately amusing and eye-roll inducing. Their friendship changes as they start to think about what they want to do with their lives, and they begin to drift apart. Becky, who seems the more “normal” of the two, eventually takes steps to build a typical life, while her wilder friend Enid has a series of adventures with Seymour, a similarly lonely older man. Eventually, she leaves town on a bus, to start a new life for herself.

Differences from the graphic novel: Thematically and plot-wise, the film is remarkably similar to the graphic novel: they essentially present a portrait of listless post-adolescent women as they try to keep themselves amused and figure out their places in the world. I think the film’s deeper level of expressive possibilities make the characters easier to relate to in than in the graphic novel. It’s nice to hear them talking about people, where there are more nuances and emotions conveyed than if you simply read the text and see a comparatively occasional picture of them. One of the film’s characters, Seymour, played by Steve Buscemi, is a composite of several people from the graphic novel, and has a much larger part in the film than in the source material. Because of this, several plot points arise in the film that are simply not portrayed in the graphic novel, one example being a romance that happens due to a personal ad the character places early in the story. In the comic, this is merely a setup for Enid and friends to torment the poor man, and we never see beyond that point. In the film, we see the relationship form, progress, and eventually end.

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Update: Comics New Year's Resolutions for 2012

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

I figured I'd give a quick update on the comics-related resolutions I made for this year, since I actually have made some progress on one of them and think I have a good shot at pulling both off this year.

A little over a month ago, I posted about New Year's resolutions, and how most of mine have failed miserably whenever I made them. I decided to tone down the seriousness this year, and made two New Year's resolutions that were specifically comics-related. They were to attend at least one comics convention that occurred outside my current hometown of Houston, and to construct at least two different cosplay costumes this year.

Nothing too serious, but fun goals for me to reach for in the coming year. Well, I'm proud to announce that I've started taking the first steps to creating one of my cosplay costumes, specifically Nightwing.

One of the steps I've resolved to take in conjunction with this particular resolution is to purchase or otherwise acquire some part of some costume at least once a month. At the tail end of January, I put in an order for a black pair of boots that I thought would make good footwear for my Nightwing costume. I received them a few days later, and present a few choice pictures for your viewing pleasure. Please forgive any quality issues, I shot them on my phone camera, and am a noob when it comes to photography in general.

These boots were about as close as I could find to approximate Nightwing's look in the footwear department. They come up to about the middle of my calves, and have a smooth appearance that I think works well enough for the costume's overall look and feel. In concert with some black tights, I think they'll do a good job of emulating the bottom half of Nightwing's costume--you know, the easy part.

The biggest problem I have with these boots is that their smallest size, advertised essentially as idea for size 8-9 shoe wearers, is still slightly loose for my legs and feet. I can walk around in them just fine so far, but there's a definite difference from the snugness I'm accustomed to when wearing shoes that fit properly. Still, there are worse positions to be in, and there are ways to coax a little more mass into them to fit better. We'll see what happens, but in the meantime, if any cosplayers out there know how to deal with this particular predicament, please feel free to let me know.

One other item of interest: I've taken a 4-ft dowel rod and cut it in half, with the intent of taking black duct tape and wrapping it around both sticks to approximate the appearance of the escrima sticks Nightwing sometimes uses.

The next item on my list would be black tights, both for this costume and for symbiote Spider-Man. Again, being new to this whole cosplay creation thing (well, to this level of detail, anyway), I'd appreciate any advice from cosplay veterans who've done this before and have any suggestions about where to look, what materials to consider, what retailers have worked best for them, etc. In the meantime, I'll continue to shop around and muddle about as best I can.

On the convention front, Wizard World Austin remains the easiest way to fulfill that particular resolution for this year. It's scheduled for the end of October, and I definitely want to go if I can get these costumes off the ground. In the meantime, Comicpalooza comes to Houston in May, and hopefully I can get at least one costume finished by then. If not, I can probably go as either a Jedi, the Tenth Doctor, or maybe the Crow.

As always, time will tell!

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Buffy's Choice and the "Evils" of Free Speech Fallout

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

One of the things I love about free speech is that it grants you the right to have--and express--your own opinions about anything you want. You don't have to take small little things like etiquette, dignity, and respect for others who might be more involved in an issue, into account--and this of course is the hallmark of so many citizens of the Internet, who often feel that their views on something trumps everything else.

Including, apparently, their own dignity.

When I finally read about the goings-on in the current issues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was shocked at the developments. Buffy Summers, the heroine and protagonist, had apparently made a bad decision at a party, gotten black-out drunk, and ended up sleeping with some guy. She was too wasted to even remember who it was, but apparently she became pregnant as a result. In thinking about her circumstances--which are, to say the least, unique--she has apparently resolved to have an abortion, reasoning that she simply doesn't feel ready to bring a child into the world.

It is, of course, at this point where the free speech kicks in, and every anti-abortion crusader from underneath the rock springs up and decries what a horrible development this is. They berate everything they can: Buffy is supposed to protect the weak; Buffy shouldn't have made such an irresponsible decision; why can't she just consider adoption; and so on and so forth. I've seen articles and comments from idealogues galore--many of whom freely admit they've never read this comic or seen the television series, but still feel they have the proper context to argue about this particular story.

Never mind that you had no interest in this series or story until it told this particular story, about this particular issue, in a way that seems to avoid the ending you'd want it to. Never mind that you're now condemning Joss Whedon and his creative team based solely on this issue. Never mind that this decision is rarely addressed in a respectful way in the mainstream storytelling media--it's not going the way you want it to, so you're going to scream and shout and bitch to anyone who will listen that this Joss Whedon and all these evil liberal leftist comic book readers are tearing up the nation and sending it straight to hell in a hand-basket.

Ah, irony.

I'm usually not given to this level of derision, but I've seen so many posts that support this stance that I can't help but transfer the sentiment to this one.

I probably won't be reading the current issues of Buffy anytime soon. I don't know all of the specific details of that plot, aside from the occasional sample page put out on the Internet. But I do have an abiding faith in Joss Whedon's ability to tell a story that is involving, insightful, and above all, respectful of the human issues involved. That's simply what the man does: he tells stories well. They may be stories about vampires and monsters and captains in tight pants, but they are also stories about suddenly losing a family member, dealing with a betrayal from a friend, and struggling through drug addiction. They are stories of human beings: wonderful, horrible, flawed, fantastic human beings, and if we know anything about Buffy, she's one of the most human protagonists he's come up with.

And humans, as so many of us know, are prone to make at least the occasional bad decision. And those bad decisions often end up coming back to haunt us, and force us to confront them, however uncomfortable they may be and however much we'd like to simply ignore them or gloss them over. That's exactly what Buffy is doing right now, and we as observers of this story should think about the agony, the seriousness, and the life-changing potential of that confrontation--not doling out knee-jerk reactions immediately based on our own personal beliefs. It's fine to have your own opinions about abortion--but focusing only on the outcome without respecting the heroine's struggle through the narrative is, at the very least, flagrantly insensitive.

And, while I could be wrong, I get the distinct feeling that most of the pro-lifers here have simply gotten word of this headline, and then set out to spread their displeasure about it without even giving the issue a read. I point them out mostly because they appear to be reacting negatively to the apparent direction of the narrative. I have yet to see any pro-choice posts trumpeting this as "Abortions for all!" or anything like that.

If the Komen Foundation debacle has proven anything, it's that pro-lifers have a long way to go before they're going to take away a woman's right to choose. The fact that women mostly have the right to choose in this country is not something you'd know by watching the mainstream media these days, astoundingly enough, and that is undoubtedly due in no small part to influence from those who are outraged at the very notion that some woman somewhere should have the right to decide what's going on in her own body. With this story at least, now even that is under fire.

I don't mean for this post to be political, even if my loyalties are very clearly showing. My main goal is to argue for the sanctity of storytelling, and respect for its ability to start a dialog about topics that are controversial or uncomfortable. Many of the people and organizations that have responded to this news item have only argued their own points, seemingly just from the idea of this story's very existence, without having read it. I think that's deplorable, and to me at least, it demonstrates a complete lack of respect for not only those who tell such stories and their fans, but also anyone who may have lived another version of the same story.

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Five Comic Book Movies Coming Out In 2012

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

Since today was the Super Bowl, traditionally a huge day for new comic book movie trailers (though not so much this year), I thought I'd go ahead and give my two cents on which comic book movies scheduled for release this year will likely get my filmgoing dollars.

I'm generally pretty picky about when I go to see movies. They either have to be from a franchise or mythology that I have affection for (think Harry Potter, Transformers, Spider-Man, the Muppets, etc.), or they have to be extremely imaginative, well-marketed, or recommended to me by people I trust (The Social Network, Avatar, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [at the time] fit this category for me). Comic book movies generally fall into the first category for me, but even then it's not always a guarantee that I'll go see it. I didn't, for example, see Daredevil in the theaters, thank goodness, and I've yet to watch either of the Fantastic Four movies at all.

Five fairly big movies are due out this year, though whether or not they all qualify as comic book movies is up for debate. It seems like overall it'll be a pretty good year for comic book movies--particularly comic book movies that feature women in black leather. I'll elaborate below:

  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance--This one comes out in less than two weeks, and I have to say, it looks to be the least promising of the bunch. Granted, it seems considerably darker and more serious in tone than its cheesy predecessor, but there are a few moments from the trailers that just look contrived, juvenile, or just plain bad. Still, I rather did enjoy the first Ghost Rider, so I may give this one a shot despite my misgivings. At the very least, I'll have plenty of words for the review if it's bad.

Scarlet Johansen in black leather?
Check!

  • The Avengers--The only thing that would keep me from seeing this as soon as it releases would have to be a serious medical condition. Seriously. I've known--known, this was coming since I stayed behind after the end of Iron Man and saw the post-credits scene in 2008. Iron Man? Check. Hulk? Not the same actor, but check. Thor? Check. Captain America? Check. Plenty of cameos tying their films together to create a unified cinematic universe? Check. Awesome writer, creator, comic book fanboy Joss Whedon directing? Check. Big, titanic, unknown threat to Earth requiring the formation of a team of heroes who otherwise probably shouldn't be working together? Check. This promises to be a superhero team movie extravaganza, and it looks like it will deliver the goods in spades at this point. It was already a foregone conclusion that plenty of comic book nerds were going to check this one out, but with the premier of today's trailer during the SuperBowl, you can be sure that plenty of others will be joining them in lining up to see this one when it opens in about three months.
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation--Okay, a few things here. First of all, calling G.I. Joe a comic book franchise is a shaky move, at best. I remember it as a toy and a cartoon before a comic. Granted, I wasn't reading comics at the time the cartoon came out, but clearly it existed as a toy line long before that. Still, it had a significant run as a comic book series, so I suppose I'll give it a pass for that reason. The next issue is the lackluster performance of the last G.I. Joe film, The Rise of Cobra. Honestly, aside from watching Snake Eyes's action scenes, I was thoroughly disappointed. With all of that said, however, I will also say that the trailers for this one look promising, as does the basic premise, in which they're framed and all but a few are killed, then must fight back on their own. Will it get me into the theaters? I'm not sure yet. I'll probably wait to hear some initial reviews and make the call then, but at this point, I'm slightly leaning to yes... barely.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man--Anyone who knows me has a pretty good idea that I'll see this one. I'm a pretty big fan of all things Spider-Man, and thought the previous film franchise was pretty good. This is a reboot, where they start from scratch again, and it looks like they're going to incorporate story elements that were hardly even considered in the first set of films--most notably the use of Gwen Stacey as a major character. Its tone appears more subdued and dark than the previous movies as well, which I really like. Oh, and last but not least, it looks like the Lizard is the main villain in this film--one of Spidey's oldest and, pound for pound, most dangerous foes. You can bet I'll be in the theaters for this one.

Anne Hathaway in black leather? Check!

  • The Dark Knight Rises--Okay, first of all, if you haven't seen the first two Batman films done by Christopher Nolan, I'm forced to question your competence as a living being. Seriously, like them or not (and there are people who don't like them), they put an important spin on the Batman mythology that continues to influence the comics every bit as much as they were influenced by them in their creation. The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final story within this franchise. Will the brutal new villain Bane break Batman, or worse, eight years after the events of the second movie? Internal and external conflict abound in this film, and it sets up a mood that suggests that perhaps not everyone who used to be in Bruce's corner is necessarily there anymore. The realism and premise of this franchise absolutely guarantees that I'll be in the theaters to see how this all plays out, possibly at a midnight premier showing. Given the popularity of Nolan's work with these films thus far, you can bet I won't be the only one there.
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Comic Review -- Justice League #1-3 / Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, & Sco

Okay, so I admit I'm a little late to the whole New 52 thing in terms of actually reading the material. Part of it is that it's taken me a while to give more than a passing glance to any DC properties other than Batman and related works. Also, finances are a concern--not that I can't afford to start collecting single issue comics again, I just see better uses for my meager income--which kept me from buying them as they came out. A final reason is that I was one of those people who, upon hearing about the upcoming reboot, thought that DC was shooting themselves in the foot, and was hoping it would fail.

I've since changed my tune, and been surprised at the overwhelmingly favorable assessments of the New 52. Looking at some issues, I've seen that a lot of the storytelling is very exciting and fresh. So, with a little help from my local library, I've acquired the single issues of several titles, and figured I'd do some very late and barely relevant reviewing of the issues, starting with the flagship title, Justice League.

Individual issue reviews are a bit problematic for me. I did one earlier, for Scarlet Spider, but it was the exception rather than the rule (though I'm strongly considering reviewing the next upcoming issue), and I didn't think it'd be a big sin to do a long review for that one. In the interest of this not being a novella, I'm going to give each issue its own section within the post, and hopefully make them considerably shorter. That way I can write about the average length overall, and cover multiple issues in one sitting.

Reviews of Justice League #1, 2 and 3 have been posted on their respective pages on this site. In the interest of avoiding double-posting, I've omitted them from this entry.

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Watchmen, Prequels, and Marc Hirsch

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

It has truly been an interesting week in comics for me, particularly on Comicvine. A number of topics relevant to the industry and of personal interest to me have been discussed, and while I've taken part in some of them, I've also been content to just lurk on others and watch the dialog roll. But now that I've had a bit of time to read and digest them, I figure it's a good time to put my two cents out on these issues.

I suppose it's the news about the Watchmen prequels that's brought most of this to a head for me, for a number of reasons. Watchmen is a comic that I read much later than I should have, and it really blew my mind when I finally got around to it. It was literary, apocalyptic, genre bending, and an amazing commentary on both the superhero comic and our how our own fears affect us as a culture. It was indeed one of the milestone reads in comics for me, and if I ever review it, expect me to gush for a while.

I was also asked if I would be commenting on this, and as I have more than one friend who has strong opinions about this franchise, both positive and negative, I figured I should at least share my take on the situation. Because the good friendships can withstand the most inevitable and passionate of arguments. :-)

NPR's Marc Hirsch has laid out a few logical sounding reasons for why this is a bad idea and should not happen, and it's doubtless that many other comic book nerds are going to agree with him. And I can't say I blame them. The idea of a superhero comic being respected, and in some cases revered, in literary circles, is such a rare thing--why would you want to mess with that, and possibly dilute (or worse yet, taint) it by expanding it with a prequel? I can understand the need to protect what you perceive as the integrity, nay the sanctity, of a superhero tome that has garnered significant literary acclaim and respect among the mainstream of readers.

That doesn't mean this particular comic book nerd necessarily agrees with them, however.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not jumping up and down and shouting for joy at the prospect, either. I'm not sure what I feel about this development, beyond a general astonishment about the announcement. I do, however, think more than a couple of Hirsch's points bear examination. To paraphrase them:

  • Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's non-involvement alone means this series is in trouble.

Dead wrong, Marc. Alan Moore is an amazing writer--he's one of my favorites--but his curmudgeonly manner and smugness are legendary. He's much like Rorschach himself, as best I can tell: uncompromising, even when common sense dictates the need for it. His non-involvement in a project based on one of his early works is pretty much par for the course, and hardly an indicator of its likelihood for doom. As for Gibbons, his quote about telling the complete story they wanted to tell is a perfectly reasonable explanation of why he isn't being involved.

Furthermore, nothing in the news about this indicates that either of them were even asked. DC simply might have decided to move on without them in any case, which is certainly their right as the publisher. As creators, they have the right to comment on and critique what goes on, but their non-involvement at this point is immaterial to the material's outlook.

  • The devaluation of of Watchmen outside of comics fandom is likely due to confusion.

I understand the direction you're going here, but I don't think it really holds up under inspection. In this age of Google, Wikipedia, smartphones, and ebooks, the potential for confusion--due to the name of the collected works being Before Watchmen--does exist, but is generally a snap to clear up with a modicum of effort. If I pop "watchmen" into a search engine, chances are huge I'll find entries for the comic, the film, and (likely in the future) Before Watchmen. They are similar in title, but distinct enough that confusion shouldn't be an issue. Point of entry confusions are also unlikely; unless this proves as earth-shattering as the original, it will almost certainly live in the shadow of the original, as so many derivative works tend to do.

  • DC doesn't get that Watchmen shouldn't be expanded upon, because that was never intended.

Wrong again. Maybe the original creators didn't intend for it to be expanded upon, but that doesn't mean interesting and relevant stories couldn't possibly made from their material at a later time. It's been a quarter century, and Watchmen has held up amazingly well.

I think DC may understand this property better than some will give them credit for. Watchmen, for all its respectability as a literary work, is a superhero story (a satirical one, but still). And, like it or not, superheroes tend to be staples within our modern mythology. Mythologies, by their very nature, are tales that get repeated, reinvented, and expanded upon as necessity dictates. And that's precisely what DC is going to do with Before Watchmen.

Are there big risks here? You bet your ass there are. They'd better make damn sure they know what they're doing, risking, and avoiding by waking this sleeping giant. Failure would mean so much more than a few scuttled series: Jim Lee and Dan DiDio would need to adopt new identities and give up their comics careers with all the rage that would be directed at them. The tarnishing of the Watchmen name would be hard to overcome, even with time, among literary circles. It would be more than not pretty: it would be distinctly disastrous.

And I think DC is aware of that.

They waited 25 years to do this. They've had time to think it through. They know the risks, and will keep them in mind when they undertake this challenge. And it's not like they haven't done this kind of thing before. When they announced the reboot of the DC universe with the New 52 materials, I thought that was a disaster bound to happen, and for the most part, they've laid my fears to rest.

My final word on this issue, at this point, is the somewhat boring mantra of wait and see. Wait and see, people. They're going to do this--there's little chance of turning back now. There's plenty to fear about it, but if you consider the rewards that could come with successfully extending Watchmen...

Well, let's just see if anyone can write about that instead of the potential pitfalls.

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A Word About Children's Comics

Posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

I write this post in front of a review I'll be posting tomorrow, done for a title that is clearly a children's comic. This may come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who read this blog, as up to now I've done material that has been arguably targeted at a teen audience at the youngest. I figured I'd therefore preface the upcoming review with a defense of my actions, on the off chance that I somehow offend my readers who may be expecting a particular kind of fare.

I've been a huge fan of comics and comic books in particular for well over half my life. I consider my first readings of the X-Men and Spider-Man titles as an initiation into a world that has come to have a very important place in my life. But if I dig further back, I know my fascination with sequential art and comics goes back to my childhood. I remember reading comics in the newspapers that made me laugh out loud, and even got me interested in the lives of the characters involved.

It varied from comic to comic. Garfield, for instance was hilarious, simply and enticingly drawn, and made me want to read the Garfield paperback collections that pervade library and bookstore shelves. Calvin and Hobbes, in addition, was episodic, and helped along my appreciation for serialized narrative. Not that there was a requirement for knowing the back-story, but Bill Watterson's strip was among the first to make me realize that many of the boy and his tiger's stories were told in unified story arcs over several strips. These and other titles helped get me reading, drawing, and thinking about writing, story structure, and characterization, however minimally at my very young age.

And it is for reasons like those that I read, review, and enjoy children's comics. There are many more sources of sequential art for young readers these days, and I couldn't be happier about it. They are, in many ways, direct precursors to the more popular comics made for adults both young and old, but they are also a wonderful outlet for encouraging reading, literacy, and believe it or not, critical thought in children. Like the materials you and I like to read routinely, well-written and illustrated children's comics can inspire creativity, teach them about life and the world, and at the very least, entertain and amuse.

Kids deserve all of that and more, and are arguably a harder audience to keep the attention of than teens and adults. So while these comics may seem outwardly silly and crudely drawn on the surface, remember that it might not be a bad idea to give them a chance anyway. A crazy pair of fighting birds who act like silly enemies may have a few profound things to say about the nature of friendship. A tree that gives completely of itself to help the boy it loves may influence a child's perception of giving and taking in unforeseen ways.

And again, at the very least, it might just be silly and amusing entertainment that you can read through in an hour. And really, what's so bad about that?

Check for my first such review tomorrow. ;-)

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