Thursday, July 10, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: Watchmen/ Spandex

Two extremely different kinds of superhero stories this week: one a genre defining classic; the other a frothy-till-it's-not new entrant.

Watchmen has always been one of my big cultural blind spots. I only seriously began to read graphic novels about two years ago, and as anyone barely cognizant with the medium will tell you, this is one of its seminal works - by many accounts, this is the greatest graphic novel, period. Now having finally gotten through it, I realize that this may in fact be a true statement, in the same way that Citizen Kane gets described as the greatest movie of all time. These aren't necessarily the most entertaining or moving examples of their respective mediums, but their contribution is one that is paradigm altering - taking a medium that has shown a certain amount of promise, and irrevocably altering it for good, doing things that just weren't thought possible and conducting them with a breathless flair. 

Watchmen's fantastic conceit is grounding the superhero myth in as concrete a reality as possible; then trying to see how the consequences of truly inexplicable power might play out in this world. Masked crusaders are part of its tableau, but the real gamechanger is Dr. Manhattan's god-like being, with the ability to manipulate matter. What might look like everlasting peace is only seemingly the delayed onset of inevitable war, as the world grapples with potentially being rendered obsolete. This is of course only one strand happening among many, and part of the achievement of Watchmen is how it juggles everything so effortlessly, how it weaves in past and present to create rich psychological profiles of its heroes. Time is a meaningless concept for the omniscience of Manhattan, and so it seems to become for the other characters as they find tendrils from their past seeping into the actions of their present. This narrative complexity is aided by a simple layout - every page consisting of 9 equally sized panels, every chapter ending with a different piece of narrative from a fictional work in the Watchmen universe. It's all dazzlingly ambitious, it all works perfectly well, and it justifies its pride of place in the literary canon. I will however say that there are simply better works from this medium that I have experienced. (edit: more on these, soon!)

Spandex is not one of these, though then again, it clearly isn't aiming for that kind of greatness. 7 queer superheroes (each a different colour of the rainbow, see) band together in a fight against, mm, destructive 50 ft lesbians, vengeful ninja gay lovers, and the forces of conformity. It's all very irreverent till it gets suprisingly dark, surprisingly quick. The layout can be visually cluttered to the point of incoherence, but it's set off by the sheer amount of fun the creator seems to be having with this work. Love is always the answer in this world, even if it comes after unexpected assassinations and brain damage.  Queer enough for you?

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