Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"On a More Meaningful Scale": Marketing Utopia in Watchmen

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"On a More Meaningful Scale": Marketing Utopia in Watchmen

Article excerpt

Alan Moore and Dave Glbbons's Watchmen, published serially by DC Comics from September 1986 to October 1987, helped define a watershed period for the American comic book industry. A new generation of comic book creators and publishers who had grown up with the hopeful idealism of comic book superheroes throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s brought with them into the 1980s a more adult-oriented sensibility to the medium. Superhero conventions that had been established and codified over the previous decades were becoming antiquated and cliched, and traditional superheroes were increasingly unsatisfying to "producers and consumers [so] they [became] the subject of the stories rather than the means to tell the tales" (Coogan 216). This trend towards self-reflexive meditations on the superhero genre itself paralleled a darkening of the narratives as superhero universes became increasingly gritty and violent; as a result, the "summer of 1986 may well have been the last anxiety-free period in superhero history" (Maslon and Kantor 229), chiefly because the "maturing audience encouraged the new brand of creators to venture into more complex territory--much of it darker than the usual superhero fare" (Mason and Kantor 224). In this climate, Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen overshadowed any other comparable comic book and became "one of the most imitated comic books of all time" with its "mature themes, stark visuals, and undercurrent of nihilistic violence" (Maslon and Kantor 232). Watchmen is also a visual masterpiece with intricate and tightly controlled narrative frames, refined coloring and shading techniques, and ever-shifting points of view. (1) It is therefore no surprise Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo included Watchmen on Time's list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923, the only comic book awarded membership.

Although corporate discussions and pre-production on various Watchmen film scripts began shortly after Watchmen's successful launch, a full-fledged adaptation didn't hit theatres until Zack Snyder's Watchmen was released by DC Comics' parent company Warner Bros. in 2009. It remains a generally faithful adaptation of Moore and Gibbons's foundational work, but largely failed to ignite the box office while critical reception was mixed (e.g., a 65% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes), in part because the source material is a deliberately deconstructionist exploration of the superhero genre featuring unknown superheroes played by largely unknown actors. These factors made finding an audience extremely difficult, regardless of the fact Snyder effectively storyboards and replicates Moore's Watchmen nearly whole cloth; in fact, Snyder didn't seem to have any loftier ambition for his Watchmen film than creating an expensive advertising campaign for the source material, telling Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen that "if my movie is an advertisement for the book, great. If it's anything else, then I f--ed up." In any event, while there is much similarity between Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen and Snyder's film adaptation, a consideration of these two versions of Watchmen reveals fundamental differences in the handling of Utopianism, a key conceit in the original work which is largely absent in the film. I suggest these differences in the handling of Utopianism make Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen much more relevant in our contemporary age than the self-reflexivity and dark overtones Snyder copies from the source material that dilutes, if not evacuates, the utopian content in the original text.

Passing the Torch

"Somebody has to do it, don't you see? Somebody has to save the world."

Watchmen (Moore and Gibbons 2.11)

Watchmen tells a generational story of aging superheroes passing the torch to their successors, worthy or otherwise. The older generation of heroes, circa World War Two, banded together as the Minutemen to keep America's shores safe from threats, both foreign and domestic. …

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