Noah Brier | October 25, 2019

Why is this interesting? - The Watchmen Edition

On Watchmen, TV, and extending remix culture to new media

Recommended Products

Watchmen (2019 Edition)
Watchmen (2019 Edition)

A graphic novel that explores superheroes in a revolutionary way, exposing them as fallible and complex humans, written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons and colored by John Higgins.

Noah here. About fifteen years ago I was given a copy of the graphic novel version of Watchmen by a friend who thought I’d like it. Since then, I’ve read it at least three times. It’s a fun palette cleanser between books and I always find something new in there to appreciate. While I’m not enough of a comic connoisseur to tell you why the book appeals to me and so many others, it clearly exists on a different plane than most of the genre. With a new HBO series based on the story starting up, the comic is once again in the news, including an excellent extended review from this weekend’s New York Times. For the uniautied:

Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons and colored by John Higgins, “Watchmen” didn’t so much improve upon previous superhero comics as it turned them inside out and exposed their gears. In trying to think of a non-comic-book analogy that parallels the comic’s revolutionary impact, the most obvious example I can come up with is — don’t laugh — “Ulysses.” “Watchmen” not only surpassed previous comics books in quality, complexity and ambition, it reimagined what a story about superheroes could aspire to be about. It asked its readers to take superheroes seriously, which both made sense — who takes them more seriously than comic-book readers? — and felt entirely new, given it meant considering heroes as fallible and complex humans, prone to the array of ugly and shameful emotions recognizable from the real world. Previously, we’d been shown that a hero like Superman might feel sad. But we’d rarely been shown that he might feel vengeful, envious or vain.

Why is this interesting?

As the article lays out, while Watchmen may have a cult following within the world of comic books, it’s had a tough road in its translation to the screen. Apparently Terry Gilliam tried to turn it into a movie for years, finally giving up. In 2008 director Zack Snyder released a version that “was criticized both for its excessive fealty to the source material and its inability to capture the ineffable brilliance that made that comic legendary.” Apparently, the HBO show (which I haven’t watched yet) is taking a very different approach, using the comic and its characters as a jumping-off point:

With HBO’s “Watchmen,” Lindelof, the TV auteur who piloted “Lost” and created “The Leftovers,” has updated the comic’s concerns. Gone are the ’80s-vintage anxieties about mushroom clouds and toxic jingoism, replaced by more contemporary issues like racial reconciliation and shifting identities. The show debuts Sunday, and it’s too early to tell if this “remix” approach will connect; the early episodes feel reminiscent of Noah Hawley’s “Fargo” TV series. They tonally echo the original while creating new story lines and characters from scratch. It’s a tricky recipe that’s likely to either please both “Watchmen” superfans and curious viewers or disappoint them equally for different reasons.

The Fargo nod caught my eye. For those of you who haven’t watched the FX show, it’s a remix of the original. It takes the tone, backdrop, and character profile of the original movie and writes entirely new stories that rely on a central storyline tripping down an increasingly deep and violent hole. I’d never really seen anyone do something like that before, and as a fan of the film, I thought it was a great way to extend a movie without just making a sequel. 

While some critics weren’t crazy about season one, the show found its footing in season two and three. Some part of this, as Atlantic critic Christopher Orr pointed out, was the director’s willingness to stray further from the source material: “unlike the first season, which seemed somewhat captive to the great Coen brothers movie that inspired it—another hen-pecked husband making mortal choices, another female trooper, etc.—this time out the series’ creator, Noah Hawley, has given himself wider narrative latitude and seems still more assured in his black-comic vision.”

It’s interesting to think about how the idea of the remix, which is a staple of music culture, can translate to other channels. A great remix builds on the texture of the original song while creating something wholly new, as seen by Arthur Baker’s dance floor m-minded reconstructions of classic pop tracks. In a world where our media seems to primarily be remakes or sequels, this feels like a much more interesting middle ground to explore artistically. You’ve got the advantage of the name and fanbase, but aren’t trapped by the original story. The difficulty of the job, I’d imagine, falls with the director who has to have the confidence that they’ve isolated the right elements of tone and color to make things work. When it comes together, as Fargo did, and Watchmen hopefully will, you get something that starts to build on the universe while letting the original continue to stand on its own. And in the end that’s what all these studios want anyway, isn’t it? (NRB)

Art of the Day:

I loved this art made with honeybees from Ava Roth. “Her backyard bees are an integral part of her work as they add their honeycombs around embroidered hoop art produced by Roth that’s been set inside Langstroth hive frames (commonly used by beekeepers).” (NRB)

Quick Links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

PS - Friend of WITI Steve Bryant (4/22 - Maslow Edition) is looking for a full-time content strategist to join his Brooklyn-based team at Article Group. “Experience overseeing content requirements, conducting content audits, performing gap analyses, and building client presentations is a must.” If you are that person or know someone who is, please make sure to mention you found the job here. Steve said he’d buy us dinner if we help him find someone.

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

© WITI Industries, LLC.