Lights, Camera, Action Figures

I had the good fortune to sit in on the ItsJustSomeRandomGuy panel at NY Comic Con, and ever since then, I’ve kept up with RandomGuy’s “I’m a Marvel, and I’m a DC” clips via his Twitter. You’d think RandomGuy would be hard-pressed to top the mockery of 2008’s bumper crop of comic book adaptations.

Then he paired Rorschach with Wolverine and let them have an Inner Monologue-Off:

The video is, as ever, biting and insightful about the furious inconsistencies of marketing logic when applied to comic book adaptations. For one thing: we now live in a world where Rorschach is an action figure. We’re not talking about high-end, conventioneer-approved statues or dolls—we’re talking K-Mart, mass-produced action figures, coming to an aisle near you. (Can’t you just picture it? The Comedian side-by-side with G.I. Joe. That image defines the nexus of sublime comedy and divine tragedy.)

Has Warner Brothers entirely missed the point of Watchmen, or is this some bizarre joke for the benefit of fans of the graphic novel? Zack Snyder is probably laughing. For all his faults, he does seem to understand the ambivalent and even hostile reactions towards costumed heroism in the source material for his movie. Whether he approved this or not, the fact that Warner Brothers is “going there” and marketing Watchmen as an affirmation of heroism and selling it to children is deeply, deeply funny. And horribly, horribly wrong. I’m guessing they missed the implication of the “villain” being the only one in the graphic novel to have his own action figure. Of course they did; the average marketing type has no sense of irony.

Branding Watchmen—as a franchise, as a source of party favors, as yet another version of Monopoly (hey, there’s an idea!)—is an impossible reality. It will happen because we have no choice in the matter; marketing, like shit, happens. The logical contradictions of the demands of marketing and this particular product being marketed can induce fanboy/girl schizophrenia. (Very accurately demonstrated by this cartoon strip.)

I believe the phrase Galadriel used was “beautiful and terrible as the dawn.” We are witnessing the dawn of pop-culture, consumerist Watchmen. Can there be any doubt that this is where we are headed?

That’s what Hollywood wants to do to Watchmen. Forget the movie; it’s all about the property. (As we ought to have learned from the pitched battle over the rights to it.) The movie business does not like closed systems. It likes sequels, spin-offs, and derivative television shows. It doesn’t matter where the story ended if there is any money to be made in never ending it. There is always the possibility that a little more money can be made before the market bottoms out. Hollywood is sort of like Wall Street that way. If that means Ozymandias and Bubastis are the 21st century Shaggy and Scooby, so be it. Someone will watch it because they are interested in these characters and might not know better than to tune into Saturday morning cartoons where Doc Manhattan is a Transformer and Synergy rolled into one. Just as Batman can be reclaimed from the 1960s and remade as the Dark Knight, so can a commentary on political power, personal instability, mindless bigotry, and the impossibility of heroism be degraded into a never-ending saga of street fights and PSAs in the right hands. You can lose the message for the trees.

I watched that clip with a laugh and a sob lodged in my chest. I couldn’t cry because it was the height of absurdity to see Ozymandias rescue the Comedian. I couldn’t laugh because Rorschach was juggling pies and petting dogs. Rorschach has one of the more notable kick-the-dog moments in all of anti-hero/villain history. So it’s funny until it’s not, and when it’s not, it’s really, really not. That’s why it’s a trope: we recognize the essential truth of a villainous act in hurting a defenseless creature like a dog, and no matter how we feel about the person otherwise, that one abuse taints everything about them. That the parody is so forthright in its earnestness that it makes it even more hilarious. (Imitative humor is at its most entertaining when the impression is spot on.) And ever more frightening, because you know that the unholy spawn that thrive off of merchandising need to keep the Watchmen gravy train going. (These are the same people who want a prequel to 300 because the one movie wasn’t quite violently homoerotic enough.) Some executive somewhere doesn’t get the joke. That person is looking at this video going, “Here’s an idea…”

(Can’t sleep: cartoon Rorschach will eat me.)


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