I Watches the Watchmen

Here’s the most positive surprise of my filmgoing so far this year — Watchmen rocks. And this is from me, who is the only person i’ve ever met (so to speak) who thought the comic was actually pretty weak, and wasn’t afraid to say so, and usually had to run for cover in the aftermath.

Don’t go with anyone particularly squeamish about disembowelment, elimbication, or male nudity. (There’s female nudity as well, but who could be squeamish about that?)

Also, there’s a Leonard Cohen song, but by concentrating on the sex scene taking place at the same time, you can almost drown it out.

I’ve often said that i hate the Watchmen comic, but truth be told, that’s just to see people’s reaction and/or take bets on whether i can induce a stroke in said other people simply with words. (I’ve failed so far, but have seen some impressive more-metaphorical apoplexy.) I don’t hate the Watchmen; i just think that the comic story is kind of profoundly ordinary. The experience of the book as a whole, incorporating the biographical excerpts from Behind the Mask is very cool. The philosophy in the book is likewise very cool, and Moore gets full kudos for so fluidly addressing the very basic idea that anyone who puts on a costume and risks their life to fight crime has to be a bit of a sociopath. I think Watchmen is worth reading, if for no other reason than Moore broke the new ground that he did, and his underlying purpose was well-intentioned.

However, i just found so much of the plot dumb beyond belief — even compared to the realities of comic story prevalent in the day. Two things in particular always rubbed me the wrong way. First, that Ozymandias is the smartest man in the world, yet he sets the password on his ultrasecret files to his own fucking name. And second, that the moment the giant squid exploded in NYC, Nixon in his bunker would have immediately launched the WWIII-starting counterstrike that Ozymandias was trying to prevent.

Once i heard that the squid had been written out of the film version, i had some hope for it which has since been vindicated. (I actually loved the setup in the film, where the direct line was drawn to Dr. Manhattan in order to make him the scapegoat. Spoiler alert!) However, in both the comic and the movie, there remains a kind of baseline level of superhero drek that those who love the comic are too quick to overlook, in my view. There are many such points that can be raised for discussion, but here’s the one that’s always annoyed me the most.

The one real piece of superhero work in the present day timeframe of the original story is Night Owl and Silk Spectre’s saving of the residents in the burning tenement. It’s a cool sequence in the comic; i thought it was great in the film. But when you spend more than half-a-second analyzing it, the only reason that they were able to save the people they did is because they have a flying ship. And to me, that begs the question — If Night Owl has a flying ship that can rescue people from burning buildings, why doesn’t the fire department also have flying ships that  can rescue people from burning buildings?

It’s the basic logical schism of every gearhead superhero story, from Batman to Iron Man and all the gadgeteers in between. If the technology exists, then other people should have it. If they don’t have it, it implies that the heroes who do have it are arbitrarily denying that tech as part of their idiom, and at some point, that seems selfish. Sometimes you can spin that concept out into an actual character story (as has been done more than once in Iron Man). Sometimes it just seems like Alan Moore thought “Hey, a flying ship would be cool” and didn’t bother thinking about what that actually means as regards the world of his story.