If you’ve followed my old wafflings for a while, you’ll already know that if there is one thing that makes me jittery, it’s movie adaptations of comic books\graphic novels.
I’m not really bothered about the films that feature characters from comics (your Batman’s, Hulk’s, Spiderman’s, Superman’s etc etc). The stories for these are usually developed especially for the movie, so if they suck, it doesn’t really taint your comic book enjoyment of these chaps. No, the ones that make me nervous are the adaptations of specific stories - fuck those up on the big screen and you also soil the original comic.
Take ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ for example, one of my all time favourite comic books. A really clever and intelligent story, beautifully written and drawn, and one I’ve re-read many times. Unfortunately the film of it was a ‘dumbed down’ turkey of the highest order. This pisses me off on two accounts….
1) It taints the original comic. I now can’t read the book without thinking of that god-awful film.
2) It gives non-comic readers more ammo to take the piss (like they need any more ammo!), as they naturally assume that the comic was equally as naff.
Nearly 25 years ago, Alan Moore (story) and Dave Gibbons (art) invented the ‘graphic novel’, when their 12 issue masterpiece ‘The Watchmen’ was collected into a 400 page book. This incredible deconstruction of the superhero, revolutionised the comic genre, prising it away from what was until then almost exclusively ‘kids territory’.
In an alternative USA in 1985, superheroes are all but extinct - after a police strike, a law was passed banning all lycra clad do-gooders from interfering with crime solving. Forced to hang up their capes, the superheroes have gone into retirement. One of them (The Comedian) gets murdered, and rebel Rorschach starts to investigate.
Moore pulls out every trick in the bag - flashbacks, autobiography excerpts and magazine articles all go into the mix to bring this story to life. As the story develops, we start to learn that many of these caped wonders were not the all-American heroes they tried to portray. They have skeletons in the closet, hang-ups and personal problems… I.e. they are real people! There is a very clever sub-plot involving a "traditional style" comic book about pirates which merges in and out as the story progresses. You’ve got to keep your wits about you on this one!
And it’s this intricate story telling in the Watchmen, that has kept it off the cinema screen for all these years. 3 or 4 attempts were made, but each one was eventually abandoned as the makers slowly realised it was impossible to transfer it to celluloid. In 2001, Alan Moore said of these attempts "With a comic, you can take as much time as you want in absorbing that background detail, noticing little things that we might have planted there. You can also flip back a few pages relatively easily to see where a certain image connects with a line of dialogue from a few pages ago. But in a film, by the nature of the medium, you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second."
But it looks like the latest attempt to make it into a film (due for release in 2009) is actually going to make it, and this weekend the very first trailer hit the net. As opposed as I am to the making of this film, I have to say this taster looks pretty decent - but then who ever saw a trailer that didn’t look promising??! Alan Moore is still not impressed, he has already had his name removed from the film, and recently said “I shan't be going to see it. My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel, a comic book. It's been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee."
If you’ve never come across the Watchmen, do yourself a favour and give it a go in the way Alan Moore wanted you to - in the comic medium (and don't forget the fire and the coffee!). It’s still in print, and even the local library usually caries a copy. It’ll change the way you view comics forever.
Here's that trailer: