Who Watches the Watchmen? ME!

To fulfill the blogging requirement of watching a superhero film and/or television series, I chose to watch the screenplay adaptation of Watchmen since I enjoyed reading it so much! I must say that never have I watched a screenplay adaption that followed its book (or in this case, comic) counterpart so closely. It’s as if Zach Snyder and the rest of the production crew had no desire whatsoever to leave out any of the graphic novel’s details from the movie. As much as I enjoyed it, I’m afraid that three and a half hours is a tad bit excessive for a film, even if it is a high quality film.

Since I haven’t indulged much in the wonderful universe of superhero movies, I quickly came to realize how much different it is to adapt a novel versus a comic book into a film. Whereas a novel calls for the film director to imagine what a scene would like on screen, how a plot will unfold visually, that component of visual imagination is much less present when adapting a comic book or series. In many instances throughout Snyder’s movie, I felt as though the scene was an exact replica of the book’s panels: the panels were coming to life exactly as I had imagined them while reading. I’m not even exaggerating! It was a bit unsettling at first, but in its generous duration of three and a half hours, I came to enjoy what I thought was a re-living the complex and fantastic Watchmen story. Even the script came from the text within the panels, verbatim, practically throughout the entire movie! The film was perfect for purist audience members who cringe at the slightest deviation from plot and narrative.

I thought the casting was pretty much perfect! I couldn’t imagine a better fit for Rorschach, portrayed by Jackie Earle Haley, and The Comedian, portrayed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Also of note was Patrick Wilson’s Dan Dreiberg, who he presented with just the right amount of awkward timidness and gentle temperament. I can’t imagine Dreiberg’s idiosyncrasies portrayed more accurately. Similarly,

MATT FREWER as Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, and PATRICK WILSON as his successor, Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II in Warner Bros. Pictures’, Paramount Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Watchmen,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.

I love me some Nite Owl bromance!!!

Haley had the punitive disposition and trauma-induced behavior down so well that your pity for Rorschach is ignited full force, much in the same way that it felt while reading the comic. Morgan, on the other hand, did an excellent job in portraying The Comedian’s cynicism and blatant lack of concern for humanity’s welfare. I found the rape scene particularly difficult to watch, especially because it was carried out even more violently on screen than it was on paper. I think this disparity served to heighten the fear one feels in observing The Comedian throughout the Watchmen narrative. Films do tend to exaggerate such severities in an effort to better engage their audience.

I’m trying to avoid making a “the book was so much better than the movie”type of comment, yet I can’t help but feel that that sentiment applies here. It’s not that the movie was not executed well, it’s simply that a superhero narrative like that of Watchmen is best delivered through the comic medium. Perhaps I’d feel differently if the movie was broken down in the same serial format through which the graphic novel was originally published. This might be a minor plot point for some, but I also took issue with the fact that the movie neglected to include Laurie’s return to “Juspeczyk” instead of “Jupiter” for her last name. In the comic, Laurie’s attempt to reclaim her cultural identity is one of the very first things we see about her that demonstrates her strength of character. I felt like by excluding that, the movie presented us with a weaker alternative of Laurie, quite accurately a “Jupiter” rather than a “Juspeczyk.”

Lady M.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 3.02.22 PMOrigin

Zara Zakaryan was 17-years-old when the housing market crashed in 2008. Both of her parents were laid off as what later became known as “The Great Recession” swept over the nation. A previously optimistic high school senior, Zara faced many disappointments that year: her fine arts classes slowly disappeared, her teachers received pink slips, her older brother couldn’t find a job after receiving an M.S. in Psychology, and her best friend’s family lost their home to foreclosure. Why in the world had life suddenly become so difficult for the middle class? The answer was simple: Wall Street. The government had bailed out financial institutions that were simply too big to fail.
At her high school graduation, Zara made a crucial decision: to become Lady Mogul, also known as the Robin Hood of the millennial generation. She would learn the ins and outs of the financial world in order to become the best possible advocate for the millennial generation and the middle class.

Abilities:

  • Lady Mogul’s belt buckle enables her to teleport. She’s never late to a meeting!
  • Lady M. can freeze time for 1 hour with her super nifty freeze ray
  • Lady M. has the power to relieve your student loan debt!
  • Lady M. will refinance your mortgage at no cost! It’s all about helping the middle class
  • Lady M. has perfect memory. Her brain works like a rolodex and records all meetings and important events in astute detail.

Look

Lady M. mainly keeps to business attire. You will see her wearing either a pantsuit, a dress, or a pencil skirt with a blazer. You’ll never catch her without her sleek hair, her fashionable utility belt, and her iconic “M” briefcase. Lady M. somehow manages to look exceptionally put together at all times.

Mission

Lady M.’s mission is to elevate the socioeconomic status of the millennial generation and the middle class as a whole. In an effort to combat unemployment, she hopes to help her generation to develop business savvy skills and habits. Lastly, Lady M. hopes to put an end to the government’s tendency to bail out big banks and other large financial institutions in times of economic crisis.

The Shadow Hero

goldenmanofbraveryLike Ms. Marvel, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero also exemplifies this recent trend of incorporating the immigrant narrative into the superhero genre. Reviving the Green Turtle from the golden age of comics, Yang and Liew render a second generation Chinese American, Hank Chu, as a humble and compassionate superhero. Though both Ms. Marvel and The Shadow Hero were published in 2014, they are hardly similar to one another. As my last blog post argued, Kamala becomes a superhero to reconcile the competing cultural forces of her life. Hank, on the other hand, pursues “superherodom” to improve the lives of Chinatown residents by dismantling the underground empire tyrannizing Chinatown.

It is interesting that Hank’s mother is the figure that initially drives him toward becoming a superhero, when in Ms. Marvel, Kamala’s parents tend to be dismissive (and at times outright disapproving) of American cultural conventions. Consequently, Kamala’s desire for Whiteness (in a household that is dismissive of American cultural) is contrasted by Hank’s desire to live a simple life and operate his father’s grocery store. Whether we look at Hank during his reluctance in becoming a superhero or after he establishes himself as The Green Turtle, he seems to lack motivation for greatness or self-glorification. Where Kamala’s becoming Ms. Mavel was largely carried out in order to elevate herself in the face of her “other-ness,” Hank’s mission for Chinatown is much less self-indulgent.

Yang and Liew do an exceptional job at illustrating the social conditions of Chinese American immigrants in the United States during the 1940s. While San Incendio is a fictional town, the racial prejudice faced by the Chinese American community in this period was very much real. Even the “good-natured” characters of this series, such as Detective Lawless, resort to derogatory remarks like “sneaky slant-eyed bastards.” Latent under these ethnic prejudices is also the disbelief of virtually every character that a superhero could be Chinese American. While Hank never exactly expresses desire toward Whiteness, his establishment as The Green Turtle is potentially reflective of his community’s integration into American culture.

Ms. Marvel

Here is a comic that does an amazing job at incorporating the immigrant narrative into the superhero genre. The comic employs many of the superhero genre’s conventional tropes, such as the supernatural origin story and the superhero’s secret and dual identity. The immigrant “spin,” however, makes these conventional tropes much more interesting, as it provides commentary and insight into the immigrant experience of many Muslim Americans. For instance, Kamala’s fear of being discovered Ms. Marvel is a bit more pronounced than that of other superheroes, as she exclaims that “the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something” in the event that her secret identity is discovered. In the same way, Ms. Marvel’s origin story is characterized by Kamala’s opportunity to transform into a superhero of caucasian appearance (with blonde hair and pale skin,) donning a provocative costume like other female superheroes have done since the Golden Age of superhero comics. Kamala eventually declines this opportunity as she realizes that her true self is her most powerful self, thereby transforming her Burkini into the badass costume that establishes her as Ms. Marvel.

Throughout the series, Kamala Khan is presented with dilemmas that demand her to choose between her cultural heritage and American culture. While Kamala does not entirely reject her ethnic and religious background, she often feels caught between these two competing cultures, and as a result, she experiences a mild form DuBois’ term “double consciousness.” Kamala achieves growth and establishes herself as a superhero only when she decides to embrace her heritage and consequently reconcile the two competing cultural forces of her life.kamala-dad

The series opens with Kamala’s desire for Whiteness ruling much of the narrative. While her more ethnically proud friend, Nakia disapproves of the Zoe’s lack of cultural sensitivity (I’m not even going to get into that one), Kamala expresses a childish sense of admiration toward Zoe, arguing that Zoe is “nice” and “adorable” and “happy.” We then see Kamala argue with her parents at the dinner table, in quite the same manner that practically all teenagers do. We discover that Kamala’s desire for Whiteness is born out of a sense of embarrassment she feels toward her heritage. She evaluates everybody else’s behavior as “normal” whereas hers is “weird.” 16-year-old Kamala cannot help but feel othered in a society where the dominant culture invalidates her own heritage.

Becoming a superhero enables Kamala to navigate through the perils of being a teenager, as well as those of living in an immigrant household.

Ms. Marvel 012

This is my third and final issue on an ongoing comic series. I’m going to be completely honest and confess that upon making my selection for this portion of the blogging requirement, I hadn’t realized that the first 5 issues of the 2014 Ms. Marvel were actually on our syllabus!

The 12th issue of the series opens with a surprising scene from The Kingdom of Asgardia as opposed to the comic’s traditional setting of Jersey City. This is undoubtedly a conscious effort of the Marvel corporation to include the Marvel universe in some capacity within the Ms. Marvel narrative, or more accurately, to incorporate Ms. Marvel’s narrative effectively into the consolidated Marvel universe. This is executed through Loki’s travel to Jersey City, so he may ensure that the city is protected from The Inventor and his likes.

In keeping with its tradition of offering loads of commentary on the millennial generation, the issue draws some attention to 21st century phenomenons of the “Brooklynite hipster” and “gentrification.” I found it extremely amusing that the characters in Jersey City perceived Loki to be a hipster or a “Williamsburg trust fund kid.” Loki’s elitism is essentially translated to 21st century, millennial discourse, which is an extremely perfect (and entertaining) way of incorporating the Ms. Marvel narrative into the Marvel universe. Other such millennial lingo in this issue includes the unfortunate concept of being “friend-zoned,” with Bruno being rendered as the proverbial “nice guy” that is unsuccessful in his feeble efforts to romance Kamala. The subtle shoutout to Downton Abbey was also funny. This issue is very much laden with popular culture witticisms.

On a different note, I found Nakia’s feminist sentiments prove to be refreshing each and every issue. I like that she tries to keep Kamala grounded when Kamala finds Loki’s disastrously cheesy love note. At the same time, I feel like the writers are setting her up to be somewhat of a “party pooper” as she is ultimately discouraging Kamala from attending the high school dance.

Yet another moment in which the issue makes use of a literary convention (and in a very successful and entertaining way at that) is the use of irony regarding Bruno’s identity when Kamala and Nakia are speculating as to the whereabouts of Kamala’s secret admirer. “We’re just looking for my tall dark handsome stranger!” Kamala exclaims, as she scans the dancefloor for any possible signs of a young man fitting her ideal description. Nakia responds with “Yeah, well, I don’t see any tall dark handsome strangers. Just Bruno sulking in the corner.” The fact that Bruno isn’t even considered a possibility in being Kamala’s potential secret admirer is absolutely hilarious, although simultaneously sad for any readers who may be empathizing with the proverbial “friend-zoned” “nice guy.” Slowly, the issue begins to feel more and more like a high school/young adult comedy, and right when that progression really begins to gain some ground, in arrives Loki to spike the punchbowl with some dangerous truth elixir!

A room full of suddenly (and brutally) honest high school students suddenly erupts into the pettiest and most amusing set of confessions. Sidenote: I thought it nice of the writers to a include a lesbian couple at the dance also, depicted in a confession-panel in which a girl angrily admits to her girlfriend that she’s upset with her for forgetting their six-month anniversary. This series is shaping up to be incredibly progressive for more than simply its portrayal of a Muslim American female superhero.

While Ms. Marvel’s confrontation with Loki was pretty exciting, I must say that I was a bit disappointed with the incredibly easily arrived-at denouement of this issue. After a brief battlee, Loki and Ms. Marvel realized that they ultimately had shared intentions as far as the safety and well being of the school and Jersey City as a whole was concerned, and so they shook hands and decided to work together in protecting society from the evils of The Inventor and other villains.

Watchmen (Chapters IV- Conclusion)

One of the most well executed literary components of Watchmen is character development. Whether we like these characters personally or not, we have to admit that Alan Moore writes really fascinating characters, deepening your investment into his intricately woven superhero narrative. For exKovacs_Rorschachample, I really dislike Rorschach! He is an ultra-conservative, homophobic, misogynistic lunatic, yet you can’t help feeling sorry for the guy as you find out about his incredibly troublesome upbringing and his strained and abusive relationship with his mother. I would like to note that the primary reason why I refer to Rorschach as “ultra-conservative” is because of all the other superheroes, he is the most adamant about maintaining the status quo, despite his disgust and disapproval of the way things are. I find it problematic that so many readers regard Rorschach as their favorite character because I find that they might be “missing the point.” I don’t think that the comic is striving to endorse or support an America that keeps re-electing Richard Nixon as president. Yet it becomes quite scary for the reader to become supportive of Adrian Veidt, whose good-natured desire for achieving a utopian society has led him to construct an egregious plot of mass destruction. Did Veidt lose sight of the big picture along the way? Or is the narrative trying to impart that the only way to rid the world of its filth and injustices is to wipe out a significant portion of the population? I’m not sure how to answer this question. (Yikes!)

If Rorschach and Ozymandias are on opposite ends of the political-ideological spectrum, it would follow that our other characters fall somewhere between the two. Throughout Watchmen, I founniteowllimpd Dan Dreiberg to be my favorite character because he was the most grounded, compassionate, and reasonable of the bunch. In my attempt to place Dreiberg on the previously outlined political-ideological spectrum, I would argue that he is definitely left of center, though not nearly to a radical extent as Veidt. The reason why I like Dreiberg is because I’m also politically liberal, though I have to say that it saddens me that the most reasonable person in this comic is also the least potent one, PUN intended! Perhaps the reason why Dreiberg is impotent is because his superherodom is carried out in order to transcend his shortcomings; there’s something unarguably self-indulgent in Dreiberg’s donning the Nite Owl costume. At the same time, it is important to note that Dreiberg nonetheless demonstrates consistent goodwill toward others and toward the condition of the word in general. I think the world needs more Dan Dreibergs: people who care to make a difference in improving society, without the Rorschachian-prescriptivist inclination to control human behavior and without the Ozymandian desire to achieve utopia by way of destruction.

Term Paper Draft

1938 saw the inception of the “superhero” as American and international audiences alike understand the concept today. Since the publication of Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s Action Comics #1, which featured the proverbial Superman as its hero, superhero comics have become a vital and indispensible component of American culture. It would be virtually impossible to imagine an America in which superheroes and superhero comics are not afforded the same level of attention and important as they are today. More importantly, the genre of superhero comics has evolved from serving a young, school-aged readership to encompassing an audience of a much broader range of ages and backgrounds. The superhero genre has subsequently garnered significant literary and critical attention, resulting in publications from various schools of thoughts. This development from children’s literature to an object of literary criticism is only initially surprising, as the genre presents a multitude of interesting questions, conundrums, and points of analysis in general. The superhero genre has gotten so far as to produce successful comics and graphic novels that are critical of the genre itself, the most notable of these being Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ critically acclaimed and award winning Watchmen. With a screenplay adaptation released two decades after publication, Watchmen stands as a remarkable culmination of the literary components essential to the superhero genre. The superheroes of this graphic novel, as well as those found in most other superhero comics, are fundamentally flawed individuals who nevertheless develop extraordinary skills to fight crime and combat evil. Interestingly enough, these characters are loved and deeply appreciated by fans of superhero comics, playing a prominent role in the establishment of a large and committed readership. Much of the appeal of superhero comics comes from the genre’s ability to elevate the status of an “othered” subset of the population by rendering them as superheroes instead of “freaks” or misfits. At the same time, and just as importantly, the superhero genre functions to blur the distinction between the ordinary and the extraordinary by presenting superhuman characters that are ultimately flawed like their mundane human counterparts.

The superhero’s paradoxical nature- that is, the character’s simultaneous encompassment of superhuman skill and human flaw- primarily presents itself through the stark contrast between the character’s super identity and mundane, every day existence. This character duality plays a predominant role in establishing the oppositional hierarchy between the ordinary and the extraordinary. In his essay “Masked Heroes,” Richard Reynolds characterizes the superhero’s dual identity as an integral part of the superhero genre, one of seven motifs needed “to construct a first-stage working definition of the superhero genre” (Reynolds 106). Reynolds explains that “the extraordinary nature of the hero will be contrasted with the mundane nature of his alter-ego” in quite the similar fashion as the contrast between “the extraordinary nature of the superhero [is] contrasted with the ordinariness of his surroundings” (106). It follows that by definition, the superhero personality is at the forefront of the hero’s identity, not the hero’s mundane existence. While this idea is easily applicable to superhero comics that have been deeply embedded to the American comics consciousness, such as Superman and Wonder Woman, to name a few, it may become a bit problematic when considering other costumed heroes like Batman or a majority of the superheroes of Watchmen. These vigilante superheroes, though originally regular human beings, nevertheless display their “super-selves” most preeminently, as opposed to drawing attention to their original identities. In fact, since Watchmen’s characters consciously adopt their superhero identities as their foremost selves, it should be argued that they effectively translate their original, mundane identities to alter-ego status. However, despite the superhero-identity’s priority over the character’s mundane existence, the hero is nevertheless subject to human flaws and shortcomings. Lawrence Rubin addresses this conundrum in his article “Superheroes on the Couch: Exploring Our Limits,” by arguing that “superherodom” actually heightens the superhero’s vulnerability rather than diminishing it. Rubin explains that for the superhero, “to be reified is to always worry about acceptance and the ‘fall from grace” and “to constantly have to make choices is to live in fear of making the wrong ones” (Rubin 415-416). As a result, a superhero encounters much challenge in achieving any form of dual identity reconciliation (let alone consolidation,) and he or she is further deterred by the onerous task of making morally “correct” decisions. Rubin also points to Jamie Hughes’ argument in “‘Who Watches the Watchmen?’: Ideology and ‘Real World’ Superheroes,” in which Hughes asserts that “figures of authority deem the superheroes they depend upon to be menaces and attempt to try them in a court of law” (Hughes 547). Because they lack support from the very institution that is established to protect public interests, the superhero begins to feel ostracized and even persecuted by society. As a result, “the glow of superheroism is forever tarnished by the loneliness, fragmentation, fallibility, and self doubt that marks the existential legacy of humankind” (Rubin 416). Superheroes and their readers alike are subject to the same experiential questions, leading to the publication of highly affective and subsequently rewarding superhero narratives.

Faced with a subset of the population that is persecuted and alienated, the superhero genre effectively functions to elevate the status of its psychologically damaged and emotionally compelling superheroes. It must be clarified that superhero comics in no way shy away from drawing attention to the peculiarities, and at times, the downright strangeness of their heroes. It is actually crucial for texts of the genre to embrace their characters’ idiosyncratic features, for it is the characteristics and behavior that lie outside of societal conventions that are actively harnessed to bring about empowerment. An early example of this dynamic includes Marvel’s original X-Men series, in which a group of young superheroes are presented as misfits rather than a superpowered elite. Under the tutelage of Professor X, these heroes transform their status in society from alienation to empowerment. A 21st century example would follow Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, whose distinguished ability to navigate between the forces of her ethnic and religious traditions and American societal conventions translates into her superpower of shapeshifting. While the conflict between these two opposing forces appears to be debilitating for Kamala, it ultimately plays out as her golden ticket to “superherodom.” This transition from alienation to empowerment plays out especially well in Watchmen, in which Dan Dreiberg is depicted as impotent, both in a sexual and non-sexual sense. When he is not donning his Nite Owl costume, Dan behaves in a passive and downright diffident manner, owing in large part to his uneasy ambivalence toward his unusual affinity for ornithology. Assuming the identity of Nite Owl, he is not only able to obtain a justification for his odd love of birds, but his peculiarly nocturnal behavior becomes glorified instead of being dismissed as simply strange. Consequently, Nite Owl feels more than comfortable in his own skin (more accurately, in his costume’s “skin”) to be sexually adequate and more importantly, to fulfill his duty as a crime fighter. Dan Dreiberg’s potency and power is entirely derived through his assumption of the identity of Nite Owl, demonstrating the character duality’s role in stimulating an otherwise dormant figure in the narrative. Rendering Dan as a superhero transforms the audience’s perception of him (as well as his own perception of self) from “passive misfit” to “superpowered eccentric,” effectively elevating the status of an otherwise “othered” Dan Dreiberg.

While the superhero genre engages in uplifting the status of superheroes, it simultaneously serves to highlight the ways in which a superhero’s flaw acts as a deterrent in the fulfillment of the hero’s ambitions, much in the same way as the tragic flaw operates for heroes in classical mythology. This is most powerfully exemplified by Adrian Veidt and Rorschach, each of whom has an agenda that can be placed on each side of a political ideological spectrum. In writing “The World Ozymandias Made: Utopias in the Superhero Comic, Subculture, and the Conservation of Difference,” Matthew Wolf-Meyer argues that Adrian Veidt exemplifies the Nietzschean übermensch, particularly through his unrelenting desire to uplift humanity and achieve utopia (Wolf-Meyer 506). However, when his plan to achieve such a state of utopia is rationally evaluated, one cannot help but consider Veidt’s plan of mass-destruction not only as unethical but as unpractical and doomed for failure. Wolf-Meyer argues that the much simpler Rorschach stands in stark contrast to Ozymandias in his irrational fervor to retain the status quo, demonstrating an even more objectionable outlook on a dark and bloody world. While many readers like Rorschach and may even see him as a relatable character, Wolf-Meyer points out that there is nothing noble nor admirable in fighting to preserve the status quo of a society that continues to elect Richard Nixon as its president well into the 1980s. Given the flawed nature of these superheroes, it is not surprising therefore that neither of them is able to offer a viable solution in the grand scheme of eradicating crime and poverty from society.

The superhero genre tends to produce texts are highly relatable and accessible to readers, leading it to become a highly successful franchise across various types of media. The genre primarily derives its appeal by rendering misfits as superpowered beings, therefore uplifting a subset of the population that has been “othered.” However, the genre simultaneously functions to blur the distinction between the superhero’s extraordinary nature and the ordinary nature of human beings by producing superheroes that are burdened with virtually as many flaws and shortcomings as their non-superpowered counterparts.