Watchmen: The Demo Is Nigh

By Alec Meer on March 5th, 2009 at 11:14 am.

Meer’s Journal, March 5 2009.

On Thursday morning, a literary classic died on my PC screen. Somebody threw its ideas out of a window, and when it hit the internet its head was driven up into its stomach.

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares but me. And thousands of other comic book geeks.

Are they right? Is it futile?

Soon there will be more of this. Millions of ideas will burn. Millions of proud creations will perish in sickness, misery and money-grabbing idiocy.

Why does one lazy videogame adaptation matter against so many?

Because there is good and there is lousy, and lousy must be punished. Even in the face of mildly annoying the game’s developers and publishers I shall not compromise in this.

500-odd megabytes of Watchmen demo is now available for free from the magic internet. Previously, we’ve been a liiiiiiiiitle bit down on the idea of making a flashy brawler out of Alan Moore’s superhero-deconstructing landmark comic, but perhaps we were wrong.

It seems this pays expert tribute to the themes of the book after all. It contains dialogue easily the equal of Moore’s greatest lines: truly, “eat shit and die” and “fuck-face” are quotes for the ages. Meanwhile, it cleverly references the symmetrical, mirrored nature of so many of Watchmen’s panels by smartly repeating the exact same environments and enemies again and again. And Rorscharch and Nite-Owl magically collecting new fighting abilities as they lurch through a thug-infested prison is a clear tip of the hat to the heroes’ slow rediscovery of their confidence and moral outrage throughout the graphic novel.

This, surely, is the first videogame that could rightly be called a masterpiece.

Alternatively it’s a brain-dead, charmless, repetitive, button-bashing, incoherent slice of overwhelming cynicism that we’d have thought poorly of in 1985. Quite pretty, though.

PS – according to my screenshotting program, Watchmen’s engine is called ‘Kapow.’

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128 Comments »

  1. Heliocentric says:

    just read the a third of the book. I’m gonna have to read this a few times to pick it all up in context.

  2. Nimdok says:

    Mr. Hands: There’s something to be said for trying new things with old ideas, or even punching convention in the face, to keep with this current sort-of analogy.

    As for the “deserves” thing, as you can tell I think Watchmen DESERVES to have never been published, so there goes that line of logic. The only type of game that would work perfectly with the storyline and story style of Watchmen would be either the indie-stylized Dr. Manhattan idea that’s already been brought up or a, dare I mention it, Dreamfall-style adventure game. But seeing as how those are unlikely at best to ever come into existence, this is what you’ve got. Might as well enjoy it.

  3. Adventurous Putty says:

    I’m gonna have to disagree about Watchmen’s quality, though, Nimdock — part of the reason you might not be too keen on the characterization is that it’s various superhero archetypes or stereotypes (such as the lone avenger, the god-man, etc) taken out of their Golden Age context and placed in the context of a setting that Moore perceives to reflect the “real” world. In doing so, he both examines what would motivate people to go to the extreme of becoming a caped crusader and shows the futility of such an approach to heroism (particularly through the ending), instead glorifying the power of humanity in itself (see Dr. Manhattan’s soliloquy).

    So I’m not really sure what you’re getting at, in terms of criticism. To me, the book accomplishes its goals rather excellently because it’s not a pastiche of or tribute to the Golden Age of comics but, rather, a Deconstruction of them.

  4. Adventurous Putty says:

    “glorify” there should be “vindicate”, methinks. Damn edit button.

  5. Nimdok says:

    Putty, your argument is sound, and you did miss my point which is Moore doesn’t have the talent to pull it off, a statement proven by the fact that no two people can agree, at least from what I’ve seen, on what Moore was trying to convey. Some claim it was a send-off of the Golden Age, others are on your page, while still others believe he was simply commiting wanton theft and calling it a book.

    It doesn’t matter what he was trying to say, the crux of my argument was that he’s not a good enough writer to pull it off.

  6. Cunningbeef says:

    Oh god no, not my comic books. Is nothing sacred?

    Seriously though, this is pretty pathetic. Grown men getting riled up about someone doing an injustice to their comics, damn. I can’t even think of any words to express just how pitiful this whole display is.

  7. SteveHatesYou says:

    Poor, talentless Alan Moore. Perhaps someday he’ll write something that people will like.

  8. Nick says:

    Yeah Cunningbeef.. and grown men playing videogames.. yeesh, kids toys!

  9. Silent Witless says:

    @Cunningbeef

    Sadly, your comment demonstrates that you have no conception of what Watchmen even is. Calling Watchmen “a comic” is akin to calling Hamlet “just a play” or the Mona Lisa “just a painting”. It is a literary work in a medium that greater than the sum of it’s prose and pictures parts. It’s true that not many comics can lay claim to this, but there are examples out there. Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series springs to mind.

    If you need some perspective on the situation, remind yourself that many people level the very same criticisms of childishness about playing console and PC games, yet here you are leaving comments on a website devoted to just that…

  10. Cunningbeef says:

    The difference is I don’t try to justify it with these silly pretensions of artistry. I want you to take a step back and realise how fucking ridiculous you look comparing your comic book to the Mona Lisa.

    Done? OK. I guess you’re the same guys that raged against Uwe Boll, huh?

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    Cunningbeef: I’d take Watchmen above the Mona Lisa. I’d take it above a good chunk of Shakespeare*. It *is* an accepted Modern Classic, and I’d take you panel by panel through it if you want to know how annoyingly clever it is. It’s not just us saying it. Real world big-brain thinkers have done it.

    To get over your medium-prejudice, just imagine we were talking about a book. This is like mocking the 1984 game of the film where it’s a platform game with you trying to escape Room 101 or something. That’s what people’s knee jerk reaction is here.

    Me? I just think the game’s a bit silly. C’est la vie.

    KG

    *Last Shakespeare I saw was Timmons of Athens. It was oddly heartwarming to see Shakespeare be shit.

  12. Ian says:

    A grown man getting riled up because somebody slagged off an oil painting? How sad.

  13. Adventurous Putty says:

    *high-fives Mr. Gillen*

  14. Markoff Chaney says:

    Word. It really is that good of a work of art. It changed so much about the medium and how it is interpreted (and how seriously it can allow itself to be taken as well) that looking at it through eyes now, it’s difficult to realize just how much those 12 issues changed the nature of writing and illustrating stories via a “Comic Book” medium.

    When anything that advances an entire art form as much as Watchmen did gets maligned, even in the slightest, expect those who feel a particular love toward the project (or whom were changed themselves by the experience) to want to protect what made the damned thing so good and special in the first place. When what appears to be maligning what is loved, or isn’t true to the spirit of the artwork (Would there be outcries of unhappiness around the world if a major motion picture was financed where a 120 minute XXX Hard Core re-imagining of the Mona Lisa with 150 Italian Soldiers or anything else absurdly deviant from the source?) there will be indignation from those to whom it matters.

    Saying one work of art is inherently better than another… heh. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know I’ve spent more time studying the intricacies and subtle nuances of Watchmen than the Mona Lisa. Does that make Watchmen a better work of art? To me, it just may…

    I do dislike Uwe Boll as well, thank you very much. :)

  15. Silent Witless says:

    *If the nice Mr Gillen has a hand free, I’d like to high-five it, too*

    Oh, Cunningbeef, would that this were the proper forum for a whole “what constitutes art” debate – I’d love to spend some time discussing this with you. I don’t think there is anything silly or ridiculous in comparing one work of art, which can usually be described in terms of talent + inspiration + execution (with maybe a dash of luck thrown in), with this one. The team of moore and gibbons have, to many, achieved just as much as Da Vinci did with the Mona Lisa. Personally I feel I have a good perspective on the game – my earlier comment about pitchforks was a much mockery of the AIMs as it was directed towards the game. It is ONLY a game.

    And by god, we were 100% right to criticise Uwe Boll. His films aren’t just crimes against the source material but crimes against the medium of film itself!

  16. Okami says:

    @Silent Witless: re: Uwe Boll

    Uwe Boll makes crappy movies. But then again, they’re based of crappy games. Come on! Far Cry? Dungeon Siege? House of the Dead?!?!? BLOOD RAYNE!?!?!?!

    How can you commit crimes against these games?

    Slightly more on topic: I allways preferred V to Watchmen and think that Moore’s an idiot. He made a few really good comics, but reading interviews with him… that guy’s a pure nut job.

    As for the cultural significance.. Hmm… If I’d want to persuade people of the validity of comics as an art form, I’d give them Maus or Persepolis, not Watchmen.

  17. Azazel says:

    I’d give them Watchmen as well.

    Providing that I get it back within a reasonable timeframe.

  18. Dick Dastardley says:

    @Okami

    Heh ,ok, maybe Uwe Boll didn’t have the BEST material to work from, but I reserve the right to call out his habit of making shitty movies.

    Maus. God, I wish I’d remembered that one in my little rant above. A friend bought it for me for xmas and I remember thinking “What is this crap he’s got me with mice in it?”…until I read it and kept being moved to tears, so much that it took me twice as long to read as any other graphic novel might have. Great suggestion, my friend. Wonderful book. Art, in the truest sense.

    lol@Azazel – :D

  19. Psychopomp says:

    @Cunningbeef

    Maybe music is more your Forte.

    How would you react if, while gushing about it, someone told you that Tommy/Led Zeppelin IV/Lateralus/Moving Pictures/Quadrophenia/The White Album/Nevermind/Birth of the Cool was “Just an album.”

    What if, while gushing about him/her/it someone told you that Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Tool, The Who, Rush, The Beatles, Nirvana, or Miles Davis were “Just musicians.”

    From a purely objective point of view, yes they would be correct; however, there is more to art than the sum of it’s parts.

    Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was not just a collection of power chords, drums, bass, a naked baby and mumbled vocals. Smells Like Teen Spirit was the death of Glam Rock; it was the moment that, after a decade of image obssessed, senseless bubblegum, music with a soul entered the spotlight. Sure, there was stuff out there that had better guitar work, and coherent vocals, but that doesn’t stop Nevermind from being a milestone is music history.

    In a similar vein, yes, there were comics that had better artwork. There were comics that had better writing. Watchmen decided not to give a fuck, and be god damn amazing anyway.

    It is not just a comic. It is the ONLY comic ever to win a Hugo Award, they even made a ONE-TIME category just so they could five it an awards.
    If Watchmen had not come around, we may not have “The Walking Dead”, or anything by Warren Ellis gracing the shelves of local comic emporiums.
    Watchmen is more than some words, on top of some drawings on a bunch of pieces of paper. Watchmen is the moment that comics as a whole grew up.

  20. Cunningbeef says:

    Nirvana were utter shite.

  21. Cunningbeef says:

    No edit: Although I can see where you’re coming from (and am definitely a big fan of music), you chose the worst possible example. In fact, comparing Nirvana to a comic book seems perfectly fitting. Both are something that anybody over 15 should be able to see as what it is: target-marketed childish tripe.

  22. AndrewC says:

    Now might be a good time for cunningbeef to lay his cards on the table concerning what he does think is worthwhile culture.

  23. Mil says:

    I just can’t see the point of comparing the “worth” of different works of art/entertainment. If you enjoy Watchmen more than the Mona Lisa, what do you gain by someone telling you that your taste is all wrong?

  24. Funky Badger says:

    Hmm, seems I’ve arrived late for the aggravated contrariness Olympics, still here goes: The Mona Lisa was rubbish, too small and too boring – if yer wants proper art you can’t beat Turner’s Death on a Pale Horse.

    Take that, Sum of Human Knowledge.

  25. PHeMoX says:

    The Mona Lisa was a bit of a disappointment for me as well. Way small. Way ‘unfinished’ if you ask the experts. Way meh.

    It’s still a work of genius, don’t get me wrong, but I feel it has become somewhat overrated over the years.

  26. Funky Badger says:

    (I thought the porait of wotsit’s mother-in-law just outside the Mona Lisa gallery was far superior)

  27. Oak says:

    Too small and boring. Honestly.

  28. Psychopomp says:

    I chose Nevermind, instead of Lateralus or Birth of the Cool, because, like Watchmen, there is much more technically amazing works out there; and they both have come represent a major moment of change in their respective industries. To call them “Just an X,” is like calling World War 1 “Just a fight.”

    That being said, as far as grunge goes, “In Utero” and Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” were a far better albums.

    SPOOOOOOOONMAAAA-YAAAN