January 25th, 2009
In 1986 and 1987 the comics series Watchmen came out. I was 16 years old at the time and the work was mindblowing. I had been looking forward to it since I had read it was coming in DC Spotlight #1, a freebie I’d acquired at Comic Con the year before. It looked like it would be incredible, and serious, and awesome. It absolutely delivered, and I was happy to buy each issue as they came out. I encourage you to read the series, and read about it, for example on Wikipedia. There has been talk of a movie for as long as the series has existed, with excitement about Terry Gilliam possibly directing at some point. And honestly, I always thought that the thing was unfilmable due to the density of events, dialogue, and texture in the story.
Well the film is set to come out in March, and I think they’ve got it right. They appear to have stuck to the alternate timeline, and the broad effects the character of Dr. Manhattan has had on world affairs. Witness this purported piece of footage from 1970:
The verisimilitude of that is compelling to me. The main narrative of Watchmen is set in 1985, where Richard Nixon remains President of the United States. This past footage is similar in feel to the background information each issue of the comic. Watchmen contains excerpts from memoirs, news reports, newspapers, political cartoons, political treatises. The comic contained a whole world to explore, in some sense very similar to our own 1980s world, but in many respects quite different too. At the time the threat of nuclear annihilation was very much on our minds. This difference from our own time is possibly the most profound change since I was a teen. It was just assumed that we’d all get killed in a nuclear war eventually, by accident or aggression. Fiction like War Games and Mad Max are predicated on such apocalyptic thoughts. Now the threat people fear most is terrorism, possibly nuclear, but then it seemed quite plausible that the US and USSR would eventually come to war. How the story will play to audiences who don’t have the notion of government-sponsored armageddon in their minds I don’t know, but I can’t help but be moved by the work. Watchmen (the collected version) is the comic I’ve read and re-read most in the last 25 years. Perhaps the film will be one worth watching and re-watching over the next 25.