Thursday, 2 April 2009

Life After 'Watchmen'

Authors note: This article was written for a job application. If I had written it with entirely free rein, it would simply have read: YOU WILL READ TRANSMETROPOLITAN NOW.

You’ve seen the movie, you’ve read the comic, you’ve bought the funny blue action figure (happily devoid of large blue penis)… what do you do next? How do you get your Watchmen fix?

DC Comic’s latest marketing move asks us exactly this question. A new section of their website approaches the problem in a logical fashion, trying to define what it is that makes Watchmen one of their most successful graphic novels.

They divide the possibilities into five categories. Are we now looking to read other books by Watchmen scriptwriter Alan Moore? Are we looking for more books for mature readers, or are we looking for more comics by best-selling authors? Are we intrigued by the way that Watchmen pushed the boundaries of science fiction, or would we prefer to find books that redefine modern superheroes?

Helpfully, the website even provides us with a checklist on which we can tick off each of the titles that they suggest. All of these titles, we cynically observe, are owned by DC.

So what do they suggest?

Well, if you’re after more storytelling from the great bearded wizard of Northampton (a.k.a. Alan Moore), the site recommends V for Vendetta. Already a successful movie, this anarchic portrayal of resistance in a totalitarian Britain both terrifies and fascinates the reader. Also suggested is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a graphic novel which sees Moore gleefully merging the various heroes and horrors of Victorian fiction. Want to see Mr. Hyde grappling with one of War of the World’s tripods? The League is the place to be. However, it would be a shame to forget that Moore has scripted comics for publishing houses other than DC, and fans of the short story format will enjoy his Complete Future Shocks, collected by 2000 AD.

DC suggest award ceremony favourite Neil Gaiman if you’re looking for works by critically-acclaimed graphic novelists. Lost scriptwriter Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man is also mentioned. This Hugo Award winning work imagines a world in which almost all males have suddenly and mysteriously died out. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse director Joss Whedon has also written some well-received graphic novels for publishing houses Dark Horse and Marvel Comics. His Astonishing X-Men is worth a read even for those new to the characters, and his ‘Season Eight’ continuation of the Buffy series is one of the best-kept secrets in comics.

We find Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan accused of both ‘mature’ content and of pushing the boundaries of science fiction, which comes as no surprise to this reader. This furious, paranoid romp through the dystopian 23rd century sees foul-mouthed, drug-taking gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem making the leftie press look cool in his mission to take down a corrupt presidency. Push the boundaries? This ten-book series pulls them down and stomps all over them in its hobnailed boots.

Garth Ennis’s Preacher also finds itself in the ‘mature’ category. The Reverend Jesse Custer’s road-trip through darkest America is packed full of blasphemy, bullets and booze, but there’s romance and good old-fashioned heroism in its black little heart. If Watchmen’s anti-heroes are what attracted you to the story, then books like Preacher and Transmetropolitan are what you need to be reading. DC’s Vertigo imprint, aimed specifically at mature readers, is a great place to find such characters.

If you’re looking for a new take on the modern superhero, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is recommended. Published in the same year as Watchmen, this work by Sin City writer Frank Millar is regarded with great critical acclaim. A much less sophisticated, and more recent take on the superhero can be found in Dynamite Entertainment’s The Boys. This comic follows a government-sponsored team which takes out corrupt superheroes. Fans of DC and Marvel comics might enjoy spotting the irreverent parodies of their favourite icons.

So, whether you have trouble telling the Green Lantern from the Green Hornet (and you’d be in good company), or you’re a more seasoned comics veteran, it’s comforting to know that life does, indeed, continue after Watchmen.

1 comment:

  1. I thought 'The Ballad of Halo Jones' was far better than most of the 'Future shocks.'

    Halo Jones is much more in the spirit of Alan Moore - using a conventional comics format to tell a more original story - Halo is the complete opposite of most superheroes, being
    1. female
    2. poor and unemployed
    3. continually being screwed over by capricious authorities.
    4. "achieves" nothing in the sense of saving the world or changing it - and in that sense is more like an anti-super hero, her achievement lies is not being trapped by her circumstances, despite being rather unexceptional.

    Watchmen is really not the best thing to introduce you to comics. For a start the whole thing is based on subverting the conventional super-hero tropes - so if you don't know them, you wont get half of the book, and when you go on to read other more conventional comics they will seem laughably tame and simplistic, even campy.
    Have you ever read the original non-flying Superman comics of the 1930's?
    See what I mean?