Pulp Fictions: Watching the Watchmen and Joker
Watching the Watchmen
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
Since writer Alan Moore severed his ties with DC Comics, Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons has become the franchise's public face. In Watching the Watchmen (Titan), Gibbons lays out his and Moore's working methods in a glossy, large-format book designed by Chip Kidd. The book's final two pages, per the designer's style, feature a blown-up caption from Watchmen's conclusion that reads, "Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends." Indeed. Like DC's new hardcover edition of Watchmen, which has been in print since 1987, Watching the Watchmen joins the marketing trudge toward the March 2009 release of Zach Snyder's film adaptation. (Fans are already up in arms about the movie's rumored new ending to the story.) A DVD focusing on Watchmen's comic within a comic, "The Black Freighter," and other glorious appendices will also be released.
WtW is unsatisfying, though. Gibbons explains how he created thumbnail drawings for each gridlike page and then expanded them into full-size art. Most of WtW, therefore, consists of all Gibbons's aforementioned thumbnails along with demos, alternate covers, marketing ephemera, and—always the most fascinating part of the project—examples of Moore's detailed and gloriously readable script. Even artist Joe Orlando's contribution to "Black Freighter" is given short shrift. Guess he'll have to write his own damn book.
After the umpteenth iteration of what Moore has referred to as "that stupid, jaundiced, little smiling face with the red blood splash," you realize that part of Watchmen's appeal as our preeminent gateway graphic novel is that it reflects our ongoing fascination with art that reflects its own creation through its strict yet elegant structure, repetitive imagery, comic within a comic, etc. As Gibbons makes clear, comics are first and foremost a process, and Watchmen celebrates and illuminates that process better than any other graphic novel to date. The curtain had already been pulled back by the time Gibbons got around to it.
Fortunately for DC, the only grin providing any real competition to Gibbons's bloody sunny badge is, of course, that of the Joker. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo remove virtually everything ha-ha funny about the villain in their terrific and disturbing new book titled, simply enough, Joker (DC). Taking the POV of one of his henchmen, Azzarello and Bermejo's Joker represents pure, unadulterated, serial-killer evil. As Bermejo's cover image suggests, this joker's smile has teeth.
Upon his unlikely release from Arkham Asylum, the pill-popping Joker wrests back control of his territory from Gotham's other costumed villains and an ultraviolent reign of terror ensues until Batman's very late appearance. The book skillfully unveils the psycho behind-the-scenes antics of a costumed villain's daily life. Jonny Frost, the henchman, is a remarkably believable conduit into the Joker's realm. Bermejo may have been the first Batman artist to draw the Joker's grin as a gaping red ear-to-ear scar, to memorable effect. Heath Ledger looks like Pauly Shore in comparison, so I wouldn't expect Joker to turn up as a major motion picture anytime soon.