Comic Book Virgin: Watching the Watchmen

Blog@: Watchmen Posters Released

Hey, folks; your old pal Troy Brownfield here. I just wanted to introduce you to Isabelle Burtan. Isabelle is a new writer at, having recently been introduced to us by other old pals of yours, Lucas and Janelle Siegel. Isabelle recently wrote a piece for us that you might like, entitled “Here’s to the Ladies: A Convention Analysis”, which covered her first comic convention visit. At any rate, we thought it might be interesting to see what Isabelle, a Harvard grad but near-virgin when it comes to comics, made of the trailer for Watchmen. Her reaction follows . . .

Oh, and yes, we guarantee that Isabelle is a real person, not a comics pro, media person or other pretending to be someone they’re not in order to make some point or other. Isabelle Burtan is her real name.

I sat there poking my wise and learned friend—“Why is Billy Crudup blue?” I whispered—she just gave a knowing, but annoyed smile, and we went back to anticipating The Dark Knight. After the movie (=WOW. ‘nuff said.), I repeated the question. She smiled and looked down and said, “I dunno how the movie’s going to be, but the book Watchmen is literature. It was up for the Pulitzer Prize. Read it.”

I knew the trailer left me wondering and squirming a little under its dark eye, but before I actually find out what this whole new devilry is about, I wanted to see what I could gather from watching the trailer. As someone completely new to the world of comic books, I watch it with the eyes of a child. A whiny child who really wants someone to help explain to her how a giant floating clear glass astrolabe-type thingee relates to how people won’t be saved? (Sigh.) Must read it. But first:

The trailer opens simply enough—grey Warner Bros. and DC Comics credits imply “ooh, dark and twisted,” as does the rhythmic music and building violins. Billy Crudup is trapped in some kind of pressure chamber, looking very concerned, wearing typical business-man type clothes. Flash to the inside, and the chamber is a possessed tanning booth, shooting electric sparks. The audience is told “In 2009” and a coolly panicking Crudup starts to be attacked by mutant static electricity, assumingly from the tanning booth, not a crowd of demi-god 4th graders with balloons. As we are informed that “Everything We Know Will Change,” with the shots behind the words echoing the mechanized nature of the music, all gears and urban grit, Crudup is in distress. The tanning booth builds in energy (okay, it’s likely not a tanning booth at this point, but some kind of scary technology, which with my basic knowledge of superheroes, Crudup himself likely invented) and all of his atoms disperse as he silently screams. Besides the pain, there is rage in his face, more than would accompany an “oops, I left the magical tanning booth thingee on high again!” and the sheer force of the supernova and the music make me think “oh jeez, this guy’s screwed.”

As the sly sexiness of Billy Corgan’s vocals creep up with “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” (originally from “Batman Forever, but better suited to this creepily un-campy darkness), slow black fades bring up a futuristic UFO/submarine emerging from an urban sea. Another slow black fade and it's a collapsing building fire brought by what is revealed to be a beautiful woman with a solid straightening iron, looking “fierce.” Another fade and it’s some kind of Batman-like costumed figure, complete with latex headgear and giant cape, flying through some sort of prison? Then a woman flies through glass, and a man who may have played an elf in LOTR wearing another latex costume stands in front of tvs, his face a cross between “why, hello….” And “WHAT?! What are you looking at?”

Back to the blue electricity knocking a janitor away, then the ship again, then weird sock-puppet face with inkblots on it and a hairspray-can fire (intriguingly lame-seeming weapon?), then hot girl, then Crudup (still the only face I recognize), glowing blue-and-naked-and-with-no-pupils-and-THREE-of-him, a funeral, the American flag, war scenes, a Rambo-type Robert Downey Jr.-on-‘roids guy with a cigar and a gun, and crowd protests as Corgan sings “we can watch the world devoured in its pain,” and then a huge storefront explosion.

I get an overwhelming sense that the music lyrics mean what they say, that this is Kingdom Come, that the “world is blown” if you will, and that yes, oh yes, this is the darkest hour of perhaps not only one city, but the Earth. Besides the completely overpowering “Wow. Wait—What?!” unruly flow of these scenes that makes me want to poke every geek I know, I am mesmerized by the content’s presentation: rhythmic and silent, firmly dark and dystopic. And then I want to cry all of a sudden. Yes, the trailer was hammering it home, but the dull force with which it keeps trodding into this dark place shows that this Watchmen world is pain. These aren’t the superheroes I know—they’re their dark-side stereotypes—and I don’t quite know how Crudup multiplied himself but I wager that the intensity of such a power is threatening to the known universe, not just the guy who cuts him off in traffic.

And then the Vin Diesel-like rendition of: “God help us all.”

Boom and yes Crudup is ridiculously powerful, then making out with hot girl, and as I learn that the “Most Celebrated Graphic Novel of All Time” is what is being illustrated before me, more typical-seeming fight scenes are shown, then an angry Batman-bird-like guy screaming, and then Crudup destroying an Asian peasant mercilessly with Miss Saigon-helicopters in the background.

Okay, yes, there is a war, and I maybe gather that Mr. Crudup is messing with the order of the universe (and perhaps the order of some foreign war) enough to make other superheroes—and street protestors—angry. Perhaps he is the enemy entirely, and the world is rising up defenselessly against him. Then, the scenes are all pitch-black night and some guy, as more images of the ink-blot/sock puppet-face and the spaceship show up, the protestors seem to be rallying against the somewhat happy-looking spaceship, or perhaps the spaceship (and its owner?) are leading the rebellion? No wait—Vin-Diesel-man tells it straight: “The world will look up and shout ‘Save us’—and I’ll whisper: ‘No.’”

Well…jeez, thanks.

And then, as the clicking and slamming of the music slows down, an epic glass astrolabe coming out of scorched earth—did the End of Days occur??—as hot girl and Crudup float on it all casual-like, just another day at the destruction of all humanity, and we don’t really care, muaha-ha. But it’s strange: there are no “muaha-has!” There doesn’t seem to be any revelry in destruction, save for a cold, dark acceptance and lack of impetus to stop it. In fact, no one seems very happy, no heroines seem to be in distress, and the anger of the heroes, even masked, seems to choke the hope out of pretty much everything. Just as the trailer pushes painfully along into confusion and chaos and epic endings, with the Smashing Pumpkins as the lullabye, so do the people shown contain this resignation to doomsday. That makes the whole thing even darker—aren’t heroes supposed to save us? Can they really just watch and do nothing? Is this trailer just one side of the story, or—as I suspect is more accurate—is the whole story one big long end (that is the beginning, that is, the end)?

The only things I know for certain are that 1) blue does flatter Crudup, 2) the one lady superhero can’t take that latex suit off easily, and 3) “The Watchmen” are perhaps not the good guys. Dammit, if the trailer is any indication, this is not going to be a joyous ride I’m going on, reading the graphic novel. Of course, toss dark and twisted and annoyingly cryptic and I’m pretty much sold, but something about the epic and understated brutality of this world and these heroes—who seem more human than super—is as compelling as looking at a train wreck. I want to flinch and look away, spare myself the trauma, but part of me feels responsible for witnessing the horror of others, for testifying to the possibilities of human experience. And the deepest part of me might even like watching.

The trailer may be brief, it may be a slight ball of confusion, but the tone it sets makes me feel like when it comes to reading Watchmen, I have the same mix of emotions. Though I do just want to poke a friend and get the whole story, I can’t. I need to bear witness. I need to understand the darkness, the end, the chaos. Perhaps I want to watch?

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