Watchmen

Watchmen (2019) s01e05 – Little Fear of Lightning

Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted a Tim Blake Nelson “Watchmen” episode. And for my sins, they gave me one.

Turns out Nelson was in New York for the giant squid attack; as a youth he looked like a cheaper, slightly nerdier Tom Holland and was a Jehovah’s Witness out to preach last minute Jesus to the sinners in New Jersey. He’s in a funhouse when the squid teleports in, covering him in mirrors… which contributed to his origin story because “Watchmen” origin stories are really, really obvious. Though maybe we’ve just gone past where origin stories are going to be any good. “Seeing” the squid attack is all right, for a moment I wondered if Watchmen: The Movie would play any better with it cut in but no because the movie’s still shit and it’s just a faked CG shot pulling back from screaming teen Nelson in Jersey to New York City and the squid.

Turns out the squid attack becomes the subject matter for a 1993 Steven Spielberg film shot in black and white with a girl in a red coat being the only color element because, sure, fuck Schindler’s List, let’s just assume Spielberg’s actually as craven as Damon Lindelof. The Schindler’s List thing will be probably be “Watchmen”’s cheapest moment just because it’s not an Easter egg, they go in hard on explaining it because Lindelof doesn’t do subtle. Even when it seems like he’s going to do subtle, he turns it around and does obvious. In this episode too, at the end, when I was regretting saying nice things about the first couple episodes in particular how well they were directed, because this episode is terribly directed. Steph Green takes the obvious script and somehow makes it even more obvious, which is particularly bad since there are a handful of elements feigning subtly and she really doesn’t want to do anything subtle.

Nelson’s got a life changing experience as he uncovers some of the conspiracy… the pedestrian, contrived conspiracy (again, talking to Lindelof about comic books and what’s good about them must be a mind-numbing experience, doubtlessly even worse than reading one of his terrible comic books) so it ought to—theoretically—give Nelson some fodder as for his performance. Only it doesn’t because it’s so poorly handled. They do the thing where they refer to the opening flashback as one of Nelson’s memories, because the target audience is too stupid to remember forty minutes ago. It’s not condescending though; “Watchmen” isn’t technically superlative enough (anymore) to condescend.

Oh. And Jeremy Irons. So richest man in the world Jeremy Irons used shitty half-inch VHS to record his monologues to the future back in the eighties, making him the eighties equivalent of, you guessed it, a Republic serial villain. Also, for the flashback, they do light makeup on Irons, so he like a fit sixty year-old instead of his usual fit seventy year-old. Because… no de-aging budget? Unless it was a creative decision, which would make sense as there aren’t any good ones this episode.

Also what is the point in making Jean Smart such a useless character. It was always going to waste the character but it also wastes Smart. Though I suppose the only person who manages not to be wasted is Regina King, because she’s able to act past the writing and direction.

Though her writing is really bad this episode.

Watchmen (2019) s01e04 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

I’m not sure what would be a more unpleasant way to spend an hour, listening to “Watchmen”… “creator” Damon Lindelof talk about Alan Moore or listening to him talk about way too influential screenwriting professor Robert McKee. McKee has some profoundly insipid advice on writing and the creative process in general, which Lindelof seems to have imprinted on his DNA, if this show is any indication. Because this episode is all about the show’s “stakes.” Turns out they’re really low.

It starts with the reveal last episode’s OMG moment with the space junk falling out of the sky is actually a message for Regina King and not Dr. Manhattan still caring about vigilante turned Fed Jean Smart, which just teams up King and Smart, who have even less chemistry as strong women working together than they did as strong women not working together—most of it is the writing (starting last episode and continuing into this one, “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” is shaping up to be far more what one would expect than the first couple episodes). But then there’s also a draining of the import of Don Johnson’s secret Klan history. Of course he’s a racist in the Klan, he’s a white man in Oklahoma. What did King actually expect? It seems like it should be a problematic plot point but… it’s not. It also seems like it’d piss off the Oklahoma film office and the tax breaks but maybe they demanded any white man in Oklahoma be shown to be in the Klan.

Anyway. There’s a scene with Tim Blake Nelson, because all he gets are single scenes. It’s nice to see him out of costume since you can’t see him act in the costume. And he and King do have some solid rapport.

Much of the episode involves new player Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau, and named liked Lindelof telling you how he’s better than Alan Moore would be worse than the McKee mansplain); she’s building some mysterious giant clock in rural Oklahoma because it’s all connected. She also knows Lou Gossett Jr., who it’s still nice to see in such a big production but it’s wasting his time. In some ways, wasting Gossett’s time is worse than wasting King’s time, since King will go on to good projects after this one. “Watchmen” could be it for Gossett and non-Christian movie projects.

What else… oh, Jeremy Irons. We get more about his situation. Lindelof and co-writer Christal Henry are all about revealing the weird stuff in Irons’s life, which is all just for shock value. Steampunk-y shock value. Eh.

At least Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is still good. And it’s not like King is ever not going to be excellent, she’s just wasting her time. Also… does Lindelof really think the tick tock clock motif is the most important thing from Watchmen? He did go to NYU film school back before it was clear NYU film school wasn’t actually going to produce many good, much less great, filmmakers… so… yes?

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Watchmen (2019) s01e02 – Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

As good as “Watchmen” gets at dissecting the comic book, learning from its anatomy, figuring out how to adapt it to live action—though this episode is nowhere near as uncanny as the previous one with composition—the show, pardon my French, fucks with the viewer. Alan Moore comics don’t fuck with the reader, they explore and they reveal (without ever being about the reveals). “Watchmen: The TV Show” is all about narratively cheap but big budget cliffhangers. It’s not exactly frustrating or disappointing—because it’s HBO after all—but means whatever the show creatives learned from the comic… they didn’t learn enough. And “Watchmen: The TV Show” is going to suffer from it. This episode, written by Nick Cuse and show creator Damon Lindelof, is all about surprises, even when they should be obvious to the characters if not the audience.

“Watchmen: The TV Show,” like a TV show, is going all in on the money shot reveals, where it’s stage play Dr. Manhattan’s junk or the clone reveal or… the flashbacks to the cops getting attacked by the white supremacists. Turns out Regina King and husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he’s really the guy from Aquaman, I can’t believe it, he’s good in this show) didn’t adopt some white kids because it’s a better reality but because the kids are her dead partner’s kids. It’s One Good Cop. But without Michael Keaton and Rene Russo.

Makes you wonder how their Batman Forever would’ve been.

Anyway.

The show also reveals—again, the show’s exposition is all about the reveals too, whether it’s DNA tests or tough talking cops—the reparations are for victims of hate crimes or descendants of hate crimes. The show opens with a newsreel about the destruction of Black Wall Street. It’s not clear how Black Wall Street is going to figure in to the Watchmen aspect of the show, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good plot device and, actually, completely reasonable for big budget Watchmen fanfic. I don’t think Moore would’ve ever done it because Lindelof’s exploiting the idea whereas Moore never exploits things. So Tulsa because White people in Oklahoma are racist who aren’t ever going to take responsibility for their great-grandparents’ murderous racism so they Klan up to take on the federal government only with Rorschach masks. Kind of a big deal, but also something the show is happy to keep as ground situation, which is concerning. How seriously is “Watchmen” going to take this aspect of the story, which is the whole point of Regina King so don’t end up giving her a shit part.

Like Tim Blake Nelson. He’s maybe going to have a shit part. Or not even enough of a part to have a shit part. Don Johnson’s got some “say it isn’t so” reveals in this episode but you know he’s going to come out of it fine because Don Johnson can do amusing shit-stain.

All of a sudden I really want to watch Tin Cup, which isn’t out on Blu-ray, which is dumb.

Yeah, Nelson… Nelson’s either going to really pay off or he’s going to be a waste. He can be a waste in a few ways, but so far it’s unclear how he could pay off. “Watchmen: The Limited TV Series” is nine episodes; we’re almost a quarter done. There’s only so much time; the longer the show goes on more concerned with turning Easter eggs into plot points… the less it seems likely the show’s going to add up to anything. And there’s a very low bar here. “Watchmen” just has to not screw up its actors’ performances, it just can’t screw up the production design as far as the adaptation, it never actually has to be good. It just can’t be embarrassing. DC and Warner Bros. have been humiliating themselves on Watchmen adaptations for what seems like decades but really has only been eleven years.

King is shouldering the globe, but it’s far from steady.

It also doesn’t hurt, despite not great material, Lou Gossett Jr. is awesome.

Watchmen (2019) s01e01 – It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice

The only times “Watchmen” doesn’t feel calculated are when you can’t imagine the shot as a David Gibbons comic panel. Every couple minutes you can feel how the sequence of shots would feel as a Watchmen comic, showing how just because DC Comics could never figure out how to do it without the original creators doesn’t mean episode director Nicole Kassell and show creator Damon Lindelof can’t figure out how to do it while adapting it to another medium. Though, to be fair, the secret might be in adapting it. Especially since the show creators don’t just have decades of comic book adaptation tropes to avoid they’ve also got the actual Watchmen: The Movie as one hell of an example of terrible Watchmen adapting.

The show figures out what the movie couldn’t, primarily in terms of acting (get good actors and then get good performances out of them) and come up with a sound design not focused around selling a soundtrack album. “Watchmen: Episode 1” often sounds a little like an eighties John Carpenter movie, just with less synth. It’s disquieting in all the right ways.

In fact, there’s nothing the show does wrong but only because it’s positioned itself rather securely. Its ambitions are only in delivering itself as a product. “Watchmen” doesn’t allow itself performance anxiety, just a base execution anxiety. The show doesn’t worry about giving stars Regina King and Don Johnson great parts, it just worries about never giving them bad ones. It also gives Johnson Frances Fisher for a wife, which does a lot of immediate character development. Everyone else is background, even Tim Blake Nelson who seems like he’ll be great as the thing progress. So far Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—as King’s homemaker husband—is perfectly fine, which I was initially worried about because he was so bad in Aquaman. But, no, having a director who cares about acting helps.

The only Watchmen comic character to show up so far is probably Jeremy Irons as Ozymandias. Probably because they’re teasing it. “Watchmen: The TV Show” might try to get away with not explaining all the pertinent history. Lindelof has utterly changed the context—the show’s set in 2019 in the Watchmen: The Comic Book universe, some thirty years after the events, with Robert Redford being president for thirty years (vs. Nixon) and having gotten reparations through, which has led to a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist organization. So in “Watchmen: The TV Show” universe it takes actual reparations (and Black people apparently not having to pay taxes) to get white men so steamed up but in reality it only took a Black president, which would make for great, pseudo-intellectual water cooler talk, which is what “Watchmen” is sort of all about.

Lindelof, Kassell, and everyone else do their corporate overlords great service with the show… they’ve finally turned Watchmen into a crossover property, something not a single DC Comics creator could do.

Also, given the Black Wall Street massacre finally getting mainstream coverage… can we stop listening to white centrists from Oklahoma yet?

Doomsday Clock #2 (February 2018)

Doomsday Clock #2Upon reading this issue of Doomsday Clock, which is regular length instead of extended like the first, I’ve decided I’m done. I don’t care about the identity of the new Rorschach. I don’t care how Rorschach gets on with Batman. Don’t care how Veidt gets on with Lex Luthor. Or why the Comedian’s back? Or did Dr. Manhattan create the DC Universe–Johns just integrates the big rumors about the series into the book. Why not. There’s nothing else to do.

The jumping off point isn’t the cliffhanger or the trip to Earth One. It’s Batman. It’s Bruce and Lucius Fox arguing over whether or not Batman is necessary. Maybe it’s in current DC continuity, I don’t know. Something about the Superman Theory, which I thought was the name of a bad comics convention bar band, but whatever. Don’t care.

Johns isn’t trying. He’s also got a gross sexist opening he can’t get away with because he’s Geoff Johns and craven and Gary Frank’s art lacks any subjectivity. It’s too objective for gross sexist bank managers. Frank’s art invites a lot of examination Johns’s writing really can’t support. Frank’s at least trying. Johns is not.

So. No more. Clock is stopped for me.

Unless the villain’s Labo at the end and Johns is daring the original creator to sue. But maybe not even then.

CREDITS

Places We Have Never Known; writer, Geoff Johns; artist, Gary Frank; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Rob Leigh; editors, Amedeo Turturro and Brian Cunningham; publisher, DC Comics.

Doomsday Clock 1 (January 2018)

Doomsday Clock #1There’s one big problem with Doomsday Clock. It exists.

And a lot of it is worse than one might expect. Apparently, in 1992, after the plan at the end of Watchmen didn’t work out, the United States elected Robert Redford president. Only he isn’t a hippie dippy Robert Redford, he’s President Trump. There’s even a wall.

So, you know, if you want to read Doomsday Clock to make fun of Geoff Johns’s writing… it provides a lot of opportunity. Is it worth reading for that reason? Depends on whether or not you want a lot of fodder for mocking Geoff Johns.

Or maybe you just want to see Gary Frank “Gary Frank” a Watchmen sequel. Only one where the DC Universe gets involved. And that crossover–albeit to a different, somewhat darker DCU (I think, has DC changed Superman’s origin lately)–gets to have the Watchmen panel layout.

You think Frank and Johns weren’t going to ape Watchmen down to the panel layouts. Please. Doomsday Clock is craven and desperate.

It also seems to be implying, after Watchmen, Nite Owl feels so shitty about Rorschach dying he takes up the mask, as it were, and lives his life aping him. Or something. It’s dumb. It’s a Watchmen sequel written by Geoff Johns. Of course it’s dumb.

It’s kind of sad how dumb it gets. Especially when Johns brings in some costumed villain sidekicks for NuRorschach. They’re terrible enough maybe they were in Before Watchmen. But I’ve blocked that previous desperate attempt from DC to turn Watchmen into a brand name from my memory.

I finished Before Watchmen though. I’m not sure I really want to see what Johns and Frank have cooked up for them in After Watchmen.

I do want to know if the team refers to themselves as The Watchmen though. I really, really hope they do. If you’re going to show the world you’re an exceptionally pedestrian writer, you might as well do it on a corporate Watchmen sequel.

Is Doomsday Clock worth the read to intellectually dissect it and roast it? For five dollars? In this economy?

CREDITS

That Annihilated Place; writer, Geoff Johns; artist, Gary Frank; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Rob Leigh; editors, Amedeo Turturro and Brian Cunningham; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Moloch 2 (February 2013)

Straczynski turns Moloch into the martyr of Watchmen. And he gets away with it. Moloch’s such a broken soul, it’s feasible he’d bend to Adrian’s will. As for Adrian, who practically gets more page time here than Moloch, Straczynski seems to recognize what he and Moloch have in common… they’re both illusionists. Adrian’s convincing Moloch he’s doing the right thing, which includes killing lots of people.

The issue covers the time Moloch leaves prison–Adrian gives him a job fit for a member of the Red-Headed League–up until his death. Because Straczynski is so concerned with explaining another side of Adrian’s master plan, Moloch doesn’t really get to do much. He’s broken and sympathetic, nothing more. It’s too bad, since Straczynski writes him pretty well. He’s almost lovable.

Oh, and the pirate backup finally finishes. Higgins uses a lot of color for it but it’s still utter crap.

CREDITS

The Eleven-Thirty Absolution; writer, J. Michael Straczynski; artist, Eduardo Risso; colorist, Trish Mulvihill; letterer, Clem Robins. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, Wide Were His Dragon Wings, Conclusion; writer, artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Moloch 1 (January 2013)

882217Even though Moloch appears in the original Watchmen, there’s a lot more talk about him than show. J. Michael Straczynski turns the character into a quintessential sympathetic villain. He was born with deformed ears, leading to teasing in childhood and other tragedies later in life. Straczynski uses first person narration, making the reader identify with Moloch even more.

Straczynski recounts most of Moloch’s career this issue–presumably next deals with how he ties into the original series’s big reveal–and it moves at a nice pace. Eduardo Risso’s a great choice for the art; he handles the forties time period beautifully. He plays with a lot of false innocence visuals.

I’m a little surprised Straczynski was able to do so much with Moloch. It probably helps he didn’t try too hard and it’s only a two issue series. The brevity helps move it a whole lot.

It’s an unexpected success.

CREDITS

Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Sinned; writer, J. Michael Straczynski; artist, Eduardo Risso; colorist, Trish Mulvihill; letterer, Clem Robins. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, Wide Were His Dragon Wings, Part Four; writer, artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill 1 (March 2013)

894351It’s Steve Rude doing forties superheroes, so Dollar Bill always looks phenomenal. But it’s Len Wein writing and apparently he had a bunch of homophobic statements he wanted to make so he gave them to this forties superhero so he could get away with them. Lots of anachronisms–oh, and some good, old fashioned Jewish banker jokes.

But besides being mildly offensive, Bill isn’t a bad comic. The story of a newsreel superhero pretending it’s for real makes for an interesting read. Rude has beautiful compositions, whether static shots or action scenes. It’s just occasionally offensive. Well, maybe more dumb than offensive.

And the finale suggests magic in the Watchmen universe. Very special unoriginal narrative device magic. Wein’s a lazy guy.

It’s surprising all the Minutemen didn’t get one-shots. This guy isn’t even particularly interesting but they got a decently paced, beautifully illustrated, bad mainstream comic out of it.

CREDITS

I Want To Be In Pictures; writer, Len Wein; artist and letterer, Steve Rude; colorist, Glen Whitmore; editors, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

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