Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Watchmen Babies Noir

A few months ago I spoke to a professor of film studies about "film noir." As the term has become quite elastic, I wanted to hear how he defined the phrase. He admitted he held a very broad view on what could be considered film noir - in fact, he had taught a class on film noir using the John Ford film The Searchers, a western film renowned for its color photography and widescreen vistas, none of which are elements we commonly associate with noir. However, he argued that because the protagonist was a man returning from the war who finds himself an outsider and thrust into a situation of moral ambiguity, there was a valid basis for considering The Searchers film noir.

There was a time when film noir meant more than black & white photography or the lead being a detective. Film noir as it was originally understood meant Out of the Past, Double Indemnity or Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, but because the term leant prestige to films, fairly soon it was taken over by marketing until today we find "film noir" is a virtually meaningless descriptor.

Above: "Film Noir" Barbie clothes

On that note, here's a recent solicitation from DC Comics:


Written by ALAN MOORE Art and cover by DAVE GIBBONS

Now presented in stark black and white, highlighting Dave Gibbons dark, moody artwork, experience the greatest graphic novel of all time as never before! WATCHMEN begins as a murder mystery, but soon unfolds into a planet-altering conspiracy. As the resolution comes to a head, the unlikely group of reunited heroes—Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias—test the limits of their convictions and ask themselves where the true line is between good and evil. Collects the original 12-issue WATCHMEN series in black and white for the first time! On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 416 pg, B&W, 7.5” x 11.5”, $39.99 US

"Watchmen Noir." Not simply "Watchmen in Black & White" but "noir." The term is used as a buzzword; it's printed in black and white? By Gar, it must be noir!

What is the purpose of reading Watchmen in black and white? The only idea I can conceive is that one might find a new way of appreciating Dave Gibbons' artwork without the colouring of John HIggins. Certainly, when I bought the black & white Essential Spider-Man back in 1997 I found a new love for Steve Ditko's art. Mind you, I also loved the book's $20 price tag - if I could have had the same content in colour for the same price then I would have switched to colour.

Watchmen Noir is like the reverse of Ted Turner's flamboyantly garish colorized films. But, here's the thing, Watchmen was not in colour by mistake. Gibbons didn't accidentally load his pages in the washer with his colours and go, "Whoops! I guess this has to be a colour comic now!" Part of why Watchmen continues to elicit such strong reactions from its audience - and is a mainstay of college comics studies - is that the creators had such fine control over their storytelling, that virtually every line, word and - yes- colour on the page was there intentionally and held a meaning. Black & white is a very worthy medium in comics, one I've enjoyed seeing creators such as Milt Caniff, Stan Sakai, Jeff Smith and Dave Sim labour within. But on the occasions they worked in black & white, that informed their artistic decisions.

But aye, as Will Smith once said, "there is the rub." Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' creative control over Watchmen has long since become a joke, a mocking sneer from the publisher they trusted, an unwilling parent to generation after generation of Watchmen Babies. And yet, despite these repeated attempts to mine Watchmen's success, the work continues to stand, still considered a great achievement in comics storytelling. Moore and Gibbons may have had to bargain with a monkey's paw in order to see their work published, but they can rest secure on its continued reputation - which is more than you can say for the Watchmen Babies.

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