I love comics. Below are my top ten graphic novels and/or graphic novel series in no particular order.
1) Alec by Eddie Campbell
2) From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
3) Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
4) The Crow by James O’Barr
5) Sin City by Frank Miller
6) Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
7) American Splendor by Harvey Pekar et al.
8) King-Cat by John Porcellino
9) Cerebus by Dave Sim and Gerhard
10) Sunnyville Stories by Max West
Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009) Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse Directed by Zack Snyder Runtime 215 min. 5 out of 5
After the Comedian has been murdered, lone remaining vigilante Rorschach begins an investigation into his old acquaintance’s death. Since most superheroes were banned from existing after some legislation several years before, he looks up old allies and even old enemies in his quest for the truth. Slowly, he begins to unravel a plot that could bring about a disaster unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
Based on what some would argue is the greatest graphic novel and superhero story of all time, Watchmen written by Alan More and Dave Gibbons, this movie adaptation was years in the making. Not this specific rendition, but from what I know, the book was optioned way back when it came out in the ’80s but never got off the ground. One of the reasons was very few filmmakers had the guts to touch it because Watchmen is such a revered work amongst comic fans and even in some literary and academic circles.
Enter director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead (2004), Man of Steel, 300 and more), whose eye for detail and a knack for visual storytelling takes on the gargantuan project and does his best to faithfully adapt Watchmen to the big screen. Him and his creative team nail it, in my opinion, and adapt the book the only way something like Watchmen could be adapted: panel-by-panel. It was the safest route but also the smartest. Some changes were made—like the ending—but for the most part, the book is translated completely as is to the big screen. Even the director’s cut includes additional scenes and animated clips from Tales of the Black Freighter interspersed throughout just like the graphic novel has bits of the pirate comic peppered throughout the main narrative.
Watchmen asks the question: what would superheroes be like if they existed in the real world? Whether they are of the superpowerless variety or something more Superman-like ala Dr. Manhattan, you get an honest portrayal of superheroes in real life, all centered around the mystery of the murder of one of their friends.
This story is about as down-to-earth as you get regarding superheroes in real life, and depending on the angle you’re coming from, can be equal to or more so than Kick-Ass in that regard.
Each character in the flick matched their character in the book, all the way from the crazy-yet-cynical Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to black-and-white-justice-seeking Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), to idealistic-yet-obsessed Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), to insecure-but-strong Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), to misguided-but-you-can-see-how-he’s-right Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and a supporting cast that makes every moment believable.
The Watchmen story is so dense that the fact they were able to take the twelve-part series and showcase nearly all of it in around three and a half hours—I’m talking about the ultimate cut of the movie, which includes Tales of the Black Freighter and a bunch of additional footage not seen in the theatrical release—is pretty impressive. What’s amazing about the Watchmen narrative and thus the movie is the incredible amount of history for the characters that needed to be shown without bogging down the main story, which was the Comedian’s murder. You get to know these characters intimately, their pasts, their present and in some cases, their future.
Zack Snyder’s knack for visuals gave this flick its own flavor and tone thanks to the color filters on the film. The score is fantastic. The action scenes were well done and quickly-paced, using brutal fighting techniques and the right amount of blood.
Watchmen is certainly not your traditional superhero flick. It’s a superhero drama and is meant for an audience who likes to have some thinking along with their superhero slugfests. As a comic book fan, I appreciated the movie’s faithfulness to the graphic novel, the overall story of Watchmen, and how each person involved really seemed to take this movie seriously. Nothing was tongue-in-cheek.
Watchmen ranks right up there as one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. If you consider yourself a superhero fan, then you should check it out. It’s a serious look at the genre through the lens of a clever story with amazing characters, all of which you feel like you’ve known for ages instead of just for a few hours on the screen.
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood (2009) Written by Zack Snyder and Alex Tse Directed by Daniel DelPurgatorio and Mike Smith Runtime 26 min. 4 out of 5
The DVD contains two features: Tales of the Black Freighter, an animated adaptation of that oh-so-bloody pirate comic embedded in the overall Watchmen strip (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons), and Under the Hood, a TV show interview with Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie) about his bestselling, tell-all autobiography regarding his time as the original Nite-Owl during the first superhero boom of the late ’30s/early ’40s.
Tales of the Black Freighter was remarkable, grisly, and just plain cool. Even if you don’t like pirate stories, it’s guaranteed you’ll dig this. It’s a story about survival, the need to save others and the consequences of choosing that path, and what might happen to a man who becomes so obsessed with an ideal that he runs the risk of distorting reality completely.
Under the Hood was equally well done. Done as a “look back” magazine television show—complete with commercial breaks using products from the Watchmen graphic novel—it explores the origin of the superhero fraternity through the very realistic eyes and humble spirit of Hollis Mason. You forget that it’s fiction quite easily and the segment also has that nostalgic feel of the Watchmen movie.
Also included is the very cool motion comic of the first chapter of the Watchmen graphic novel. This was just plain cool and the animation was far more than I expected. Thought I was only going to get a few sliding frames ala some anime segments but instead got a lot of animation for each panel of the graphic novel. In fact, this segment alone sold me on getting the whole graphic novel animated DVD. Likewise, you also get a behind-the-scenes featurette on the back stories that are Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood and what they mean to the overall Watchmen experience.
The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is solely because five stars means I’ve been blown away and, well, the Watchmen theatrical film already did that and this isn’t quite as good. It’s my hope, however, that on the Watchmen director’s cut they splice in Tales of the Black Freighter as shown above. Very cool. They shot all the newsstand scenes with the kid reading the comic book for it anyway so might as well use them.