Doomsday Clock

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (left) Doomsday Clock (right) Watchmen 2009 Film

It is two and a half minutes to midnight, and the lines between fact and fiction are growing increasingly irrelevant. As the “real news” reports the latest in “alternative facts” our country is overwhelmed with an odd sense of déjà vu, like we’ve been here before but forgot to take notes. All those years preaching those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it and look where it has gotten us:

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Following the virally infamous Kellyanne Conway interview on January 22nd, our country appears condemned to repeat High School English while we’re at it. Sales of George Orwell’s iconic novel “1984” skyrocketed to the top of the charts, with hopes that “It Can’t Happen Here” putting Sinclair Lewis’ satirical tale closely in the running, and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” coming up fast.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian moral “better never means better for everyone… it always means worse, for some” makes her novel “A Handmaid’s Tale” a favorite of recent protests, particularly the January 21st Women’s March, as the near future of 1985 approaches once more.

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Save us Supergirl!

As citizens across the country discover the lessons of classic literature that they were too wrapped up in teenage angst to appreciate before it was too late, others…

tick-tock. tick. tock. tick…

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Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Dave Gibbons colored by John Higgins
You won’t be seeing “Watchmen” on any school reading or viewing lists, but as three stuffy old men from the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences advance a very real doomsday clock, this motif draws chilling parallels.

“Watchmen” is a graphic novel in twelve parts, one for each hour on the clock, ticking one minute closer to midnight with each issue, counting down to global catastrophe in the final chapter.

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“Who Watches the Watchmen?” Not Alan Moore. To him, I do apologize, for I must talk about the film. The graphic novel writer’s name was stricken from the movie credits, and at his own request, his share of the profits went to illustrator Dave Gibbons, who worked closely with the production of the adaptation.

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As the character Dr. Manhattan crafts his clockwork-world on the sands of Mars pondering the nature of reality and the importance of this clock motif… the world of “Watchmen” was made by Alan Moore. A purist with a deep respect for the medium, he scripted his stories to showcase the full range of what comics could do–

if we only see comics in relation to movies then the best that they will ever be is films that do not move

“Watchmen” is told as a collection of character accounts deconstructing the super hero, and similarly, deconstructing the super hero comic. While remarkably true to the source for material considered for many years to be unfilmable… “Watchmen” is a comic about comics as much if not more than it is a comic about super heroes, and a film about comics just doesn’t capture the same effect on that front.

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The graphic novels open with full page prose excerpts from Hollis Mason’s autobiography “Under the Hood” detailing his masked adventures as Night Owl, and the events surrounding the formation of the Minutemen. Under the Hood was adapted as a special feature for the Ultimate Cut of the film, directed by Eric Matthies with a screenplay by Hans Rodionoff

“Tales of the Black Freighter” is a comic within the Watchmen comic universe named in homage to the song “Seeräuber Jenny” from Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera” which tells of a ship by that name. Read by a teenage boy at a news-stand, the pirates tale Marooned parallels elements of the “Watchmen” story, serving as foil to the main plot, and to the structural commentary.

Directed by Daniel Delpurgatorio and Mike Smith, with a screenplay by Alex Tse and Zack Snyder, Tales of the Black Freighter was adapted as animated segues to preserve the meta-context. These shorts did not make the theatrical cut of the film, but edited in to the Ultimate Cut, their presence ties together a collection of stories, transitioning between the elements with a smooth sailing grace that now feels oddly disjointed in their absence.

One element of frame narrative did remain prominently featured in all versions of the adaptation– Rorschach’s entries to his journal served as voice-over narrations throughout the plot of the film, culminating in the public release of this information when this journal is sent to the press, establishing the journal as a sort of self-insert for the screenplay.

Added material completes the “Ultimate Watchmen” package with a run-time of 215 minutes. Clocking in at 7 minutes longer than Peter Jackson’s Extended Cut for “The Fellowship of the Ring” many viewers argue that vaguely metaphorical cartoon tangents interjected between key plot points pulls them out of a monotony already droning on for far too long…

Yes, of course, the whole idea is utterly inane, but to let its predictable inanities blind you to its truly fabulous and breathtaking aspects is to do both oneself and the genre a disservice.

– Alan Moore on suspension of disbelief within comic context

Others counter that these seemingly extraneous details serve as easter-eggs for dedicated fans to decipher and discuss, offering a profound respect for the source material, which is essential in maintaining a pre-existing fandom. Use of motion comic animation went one step further in preserving the source medium, but even still, this is child’s play compared to Alan Moore’s mastery of comic form.

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Chapter V: Fearful Symmetry

The reasons for these eccentricities are obscure, complex, and probably not terribly interesting to anyone not utterly infatuated with comics as a medium

– from the Introduction to the Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore

Your average super hero, the run of the mill picture of perfection fighting for truth, justice and the American way, often comes packaged in a stylish and remarkably durable spandex super jumpsuit. The Klark Kents and Peter Parkers of the comic world may pass as any other mundane photojournalist, but their super-powered alter egos are instantly recognizable by their bright, primary color schemes. DC comic’s iconic Superman sports a blue suit with red cape and gold accents. Marvel comic’s rendition of the demi-god Thor is similarly decked in blue tinted armor, a billowy red cape, and gold blingage.

Villains, on the other hand, are generally associated with secondary colors, green being the most common as we are familiar with classic horror tropes like witches and Frankenstein’s monster. For characters like Spiderman’s notorious villain Green Goblin, this color runs skin deep, and the purple accessories simply make for a complimentary aesthetic. Others, like Batman’s nemesis The Joker, choose their colors for themselves in snazzy purple suit jackets and OG neon green hair gel.

An exception to the standard, super scientist Bruce Banner is heralded as an iconic Marvel hero, but turns a smashing shade of radioactive green when his alter ego the Incredible Hulk takes control. The Hulk’s rapidly expanding size shreds his human-sized clothing with every fit of rage, but his conveniently purple pants never fail, leaving this color association as a manifestation of the Hulk’s destructive nature.

Featuring bold yellow and black titling on its cover, “Watchmen” blends right in with this pattern. In typical Hollywood fashion, the yellow smiley face accented with a splash of blood red, often spotted throughout the comics subtly discarded amidst carefully scripted details… became a merchandising goldmine, featured on movie posters, DVD jackets, and Hot Topic fitted t-shirts. Yellow and black, accented in red, became the primary color scheme of the film.

John Higgins colorized “Watchmen” mainly in secondary colors green, purple, orange, reserving primary colors to highlight key elements.

John leaned very heavily toward, as you say, the secondary palette… it was the same range of colors you’d always been able to use in American comics, but it was colors that hadn’t been widely used before. I think it added a lot to the atmosphere of the comic book…it reads less obviously as superheroes

– Dave Gibbons

These off the beaten scheme colors created a sense of ambiguity in the twisted morality of this dark and gritty take on real world super heroes. Dr. Manhatten floating naked and blue is a poignant contrast to the barren pink surface of Mars, and to the secondary palette back on his Earth, where this dissonance serves to inspire fear in the inferior human race.

In an effort to bring a sense of realism to comic adaptations, Hollywood has a tendency toward muting the colors when adapting iconic costumed heroes for screen. An all powerful naked blue man is believable enough, but apparently, the colorfully costumed Crimebusters was taking it too far.

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Ozymandias, named for the King of Kings from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem, decks himself out in gold plate draped in purple robes with matching cape and boots. Often associated with regality, Adrian Veidt’s purple and gold wardrobe is befitting for the stature of his namesake, his wealth, and his power. Fated by the poem, and parallels to a plethora of purple-clad comic villains, Ozymandias serves as example of the inevitable futility of empire. Modeled as a parody of the 1997 Batsuit, the film’s rubbery black body armor, is super generic, and offers little insight to the character behind the mask, though it does sculpt some godly ab and thigh muscles.

Night Owl trades in a red hood, matching undies, and gold utility belt, for a form-fitted brown leather body suit. Rorschach sports the same black and white mask with a brown trench coat, but his purple scarf and pants are muted beyond recognition. While toning down their color, the film amped up the violence, adding back alley showdowns with gratuitous thugs, and gory bloodbath hatchet jobs. Its dark and gritty, we get it, but when the countdown to catastrophe finally strikes midnight, we’re almost entirely desensitized to the horrors of the disaster that ensues, while the comics remain remarkably void of violence to accentuate its prevalence in the final chapter.

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The Comedian keeps his blue starred red and white striped shoulder pads, but most prominently of all, Silk Spectre stands out in skimpy black and yellow, and Dr Manhattan shines a nearly blinding blue. These primary colors shine bright and bold in the feature film, but the secondary colors remain only as a muted memory of super heroes past. When flashbacks of the Minutemen weren’t seen in black and white or sepia tone, they did provide a glimpse at some of the classic costumes, colors and all.

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There is nothing wrong with your television set

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This scene towards the end of the film references a reference to the in-universe source of the villainous scheme and twist ending, but while the comics openly pay homage to the 1963 episode “The Architects of Fear” with direct mention of the title, The Outer Limits opening sequence would suffice for the film, similarly overheard playing on Ms. Jupiter’s television.

Around issue 10, I came across a guide to cult television. There was an Outer Limits episode called ”The Architects of Fear.” I thought: ”Wow. That’s a bit close to our story.’ In the last issue, we have a TV promoting that Outer Limits episode — a belated nod.

—Alan Moore (Entertainment Weekly, 2009)

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I kept telling him, ‘Be more original, Alan, you’ve got the capability, do something different, not something that’s already been done!’ And he didn’t seem to care enough to do that.

—Len Wein (Wizard, 2004)

Published in 1959, Tales of Suspense #2 leads with an uncredited story “Invasion From Outer Space” that ends with a similarly familiar reveal. Generally attributed to Jack Kirby, as evidenced by his signature usage of ellipses… its hard to say exactly where Alan Moore first conceptualized the idea, but this dispute would be the straw that breaks the editors back for Len Wein, who left the project due to irreconcilable creative differences.

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Deathrace 2000, 2017, 2050

“My fellow citizens of this great country of ours:
The United Corporations of America–
Why did those pilgrims land on Plymouth rock?”

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“…because they needed a place to stage
the greatest pissing contest known to man!”
#GoldenGate #PeeTUS #PissGate

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“Thaaaat’s right race fans,
great American tradition doesn’t get any. better. than. this.
This is all about freedom–”

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“…the freedom to sit on your big fat ass all day and watch the single greatest sporting event known to man!”

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“Competition! That’s what’s made this country so great.
Welcome to… the DEATH RACE!”

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In hindsight, the dystopian future of year 2000 feels a bit… tame.

Don’t get me wrong– the annual transcontinental death race is a time honored tradition that speaks to any generation– but compared to the real life Idiocracy of 2017, this risque action packed political satire circa 1975, is a blast from the past we always wished we had. On the other hand, looking forward to 2050…

Full body black vinyl gimp suit? Check.

Bitter rival with a lot to compensate for? Check. Check.

It is worth noting here that the “Jed Perfectus” of modern America, played by the fabulous Burt Grinstead,  speaks volumes about the qualities that we Americans value in an idol…
As compared to Sylvester Stallone’s “Machine Gun Joe Viterbo” the macho-man action-star that rivals our Death Race 2000 champion.

Sexy two-timing navigator? Check and mate.

Our taste in women, however, has remained strikingly similar. Affirmative Action be damned, bodacious blonds will always be a sexploitation staple…

Death Race 2050 is like Death Race 2000 super-sized. But while 2000 comes right out and says sex is both a duty and an honor for a navigator, which our 2000 stars enthusiastically partake in… 2050 imagines an anti-hero altogether uninspired by such desires.

Navigator Annie Sullivan– played by Marci Miller (Rebellion: A Star Wars Story, Days of Our Lives)– seductively directs driver Frankenstein to navigate her… but his heart beats more to the mantra of PC quota Minerva’s smash hit “Drive. Drive. Kill. Kill.”

With Death Race 2000 original producer Roger Corman back on board for the transcontinental race of 2050, the two flicks were nearly identical in basic formula, often matching up shot for shot.

Checking out dat-ass while the navigator performs high-speed repairs was a staple in 1975, and today, a beloved classic. Some things will never go out of style.

But I must say, I am partial to the Dino-inspired design that Frankenstein rides in 2050. All in all, the original car designs have withstood the test of time better than the lackluster 2017 models.

“Who wants Virgins? Who wants Chicken Wings? Everybody loves chicken wings! Well guess what y’all, the allmighty has got a Hooters in the sky and it is time to Martyr up–” this too, withstands the test of time, though the original was much more… intimate.

Euthanasia day happens every year, but so does our hero’s soft spot for lambs (and kittens) led to the slaughter…

Surprisingly, one of the biggest differences between the two flicks, was the scoring system. As always, our racers are scored on time and pedestrian fatalities– from sea to shining sea, more space for you and me!

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Teens these days are seemingly indistinguishable from toddlers, and apparently, +10 for women was taking it too far for Roger Corman’s 2017 scoring system.

Fearing backlash from the “PC” majority in 2008, director Paul W.S. Anderson censored his 2008 re-make to tone down the gratuitous violence. Post 9/11 America, wars raging in the middle east, cloned meat deemed safe for consumption, stock markets plunging in a global recession, and the Writer’s Guild of America on strike– society at this time could not handle such nonchalant disregard for the lives of the American citizenry, or for the art of writing… but American prisoners, they were fair game for Death Race 1, 2, and 3.

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As a staunch supporter of prison reform with homage to the great gladiators of ancient Rome, I can’t help but notice that the cult-classic standing of this film franchise only stands to reason that such a spectacle sport would pay for itself… and then some.

Prisoners could go in criminals, and come out as national heroes! Profit surpluses could provide funding for law enforcement and the justice department, while the death toll keeps prison crowding– and general overpopulation– to a minimum.

Dystopia, or more like Utopia? We’ll leave you to decide…
comments are always open

In classic Hollywood formula, our hero and heroine drive off into the sunset, and get down to business repopulating the Earth in the wake of all that death and destruction.

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