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by Bill Gibron

9 Feb 2009

A watch works on balance. It’s a combination of mechanical function and a jeweler’s sophistication. Old world craftsmen strove to create art within the springs and gears of a gentleman’s timepiece, forging a lasting symbol to that most immortal of elements - the passage of eternity. Take one apart, and the various components confuse as to their import and purpose. Yet when moving together in synchronized control, tension and fluidity forced to perfectly coexist, the universe is kept in check. Alan Moore’s amazing Watchmen graphic novel is a lot like the noble chronometer. In the book, the title refers to a band of rogue vigilantes, the masked avengers inspired by comics to become the guardians of justice and the scapegoats for a society gone mad. But as a work of literary triumph, it’s a series of seminal sections that, when combined, create one Hell of a majestic whole.

The story is told in twelve chapters, each section involving many layers, asides, subplots, suppositions, and conflicting character beats. The main thread sees famed hero The Comedian killed, and a former fellow crime fighter, Rorschach investigating. He believes that the current cultural climate suggests a possible plot against all masked heroes. He fears for the safety of such unusual champions as The Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Silk Specter, and the only one of them with true super powers, Dr. Manhattan. After looking to a past nemesis for answers, Rorschach is framed for murder and arrested. Then the all blue doctor decides to leave Earth to its own devices and takes up residence on Mars. Nite Owl and Silk Specter hope to free Rorschach, and with his help, discover the truth about the Comedian’s death, who was responsible, and what it might have to do with the possible end of the world.

Alan Moore has a right to be pissed, especially when it comes to the big screen interpretations of his pen and ink masterworks. He has seen such stellar titles as From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V for Vendetta turned into less than successful dilutions of his ideas. While often matching the visual panache of the artists Moore pairs with, these films find little of the prosaic magic the man offers with his words - and Watchmen appears to be no different, at least from this prerelease arms length appraisal. As a book, it’s a beautiful puzzle, a complicated set of strategies and storytelling devices driven into each other with skill, intelligence, and a sheer force of personal resolve. How Zach Synder will recreate that element in his otherwise faithful version of the tome will be telling indeed.

But there’s more to Moore than simple words. Watchmen is a work of definite ideas, of contrasting geek nation knowledge superimposed over the old Joseph Campbell concept of heroes. Moore makes it very clear, right from the beginning, that we are dealing with a world so paranoid, so bereft of options either diplomatic or rational, that a glowing blue man with unlimited control over matter gives the US the perfect “God and Country” power trip conceit. It’s like reliving the Cold War except that America has aliens as well as nukes. Similarly, the internal fabric is shredding since masked vigilantes are no longer allowed to prowl the streets (by government edict). Moore stresses the differences between the two, using the frailty of humans as the underlying message about the state of the planet and the ineffectualness of individuals like the heroes.

For support, Moore tosses in parts of a proposed autobiography, an incomplete edition of the Right Wing rag The New Frontiersman, a few clippings about the character’s past, and most intriguing, a Tales from the Crypt style funny book featuring a sensationally sick story about a sailor, a shipwreck, and a rescue raft made out of dead, bloated corpses. Of all the material utilized by Moore, this is the most unusual and confusing. We initially see the storyline as a comment on the desperation of man. But as the narrative takes nastier and nastier turns, some of Moore’s message gets lost. In the end, he seems to be suggesting that, no matter how hard it tries, humanity is destined to destroy himself by his own insane hand.

In fact, much of Watchmen is a cleverly disguised anti-nuclear arms race rant. The Nixonian US with its McCarthy-esque ideals, the ineffectual Europeans with their roll over and hide mentality, a still vital Soviet Union relying on Communism as the “great alternative”, and existing within them all, a group of people who used to run around in handmade uniforms, their desire to protect the people perverted by a newfound love of power, popularity, and publicity. Only Dr. Manhattan seems centered and stalwart - and he’s a human A-bomb waiting to go off. Within Moore’s multilayered argument, we see that the pursuit of goals doesn’t necessarily lead to the achievement of same, while showboating strength (and preserving those who can back it up) turns into something very sinister.

But Watchmen is also about characters, about unique individuals with everyday problems that seem to pale in comparison to their alter egos’ grand designs. Moore sets the stage for films like The Dark Knight here, digging deep into the psychology of someone who used to save lives as a career. Most intriguing is Nite Owl (otherwise known as Daniel Drieberg). A fan of ornithology, he becomes the winged crusader when the original hero retires. He still longs for the days of flying in his Owl Ship and acting as the face of justice. Of course, now such actions are illegal, and without them, Dan is lost. He even takes up with Silk Specter partially out of attraction and partially out of a need to reconnect with his crusader past.

All of the ex-heroes here have issues. Rorschach is horrifically antisocial. The Comedian appears to be a wet dream for anyone in love with jingoistic patriotism and Soldier of Fortune magazine. Even the ethereal Dr. Manhattan can’t avoid the sting of losing the one he loves - even if he can foresee the break-up happening before it actually does. Such striking contrasts and intricate narrative devices make Watchmen a magically read (even for those of us not used to having illustrations along with our text). It also makes it a potential problem come movie sign.

Synder and company must find a way to keep the story shuttling along while bringing the depth and diversity that Moore managed on the page. If they can do it, then Watchmen will be more than just a great graphic novel. It will be that celluloid rarity - an adaptation that does the source material proud. If it fails to fulfill its promise, it will be yet another reason why Moore hates film. It’s all a matter of meticulous management and clever creativity. Like the balance of a great timepiece. Like the work of Alan Moore.

by Lara Killian

9 Feb 2009

In this time of widespread economic crisis, many people are turning to public libraries to supply their recreational reading needs.

At my local public library, the number of hold requests on popular DVD and fiction titles can be rather absurd. For current bestsellers, there might be hundreds of people in the virtual queue waiting for a copy to become available; luckily there are usually a number of copies spread across the various branches in the city system, so eventually one is likely to turn up.

For when you want something to read right now, however, what’s your shelf surfing strategy?

This past weekend I went to the nearest public library branch to return some materials borrowed for a class, and decided to peruse the fiction collection, looking for particular authors. A perennial favorite is Haruki Murakami, and it sometimes interests me to check and see which of his works are available—sometimes at bookstores I will find only Kafka on the Shore or perhaps The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, his other writings shunned or perhaps sold out. Occasionally I’ll find in-stock copies of almost everything he has written, and my level of respect for the book purveyor rises.

It occurred to me, as I meandered among the library shelves last weekend, that I had not checked the Murakami selection at that particular location. Wandering to the ‘M’ shelves I noted several titles I’ve already read, and two copies of his 2007 short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. In the middle of the familiar titles I spotted an odd one: In the Miso Soup. What’s this? I thought. A Murakami title I’ve never heard of? Impossible.


It turned out to be a case of sloppy shelving. The Miso Soup title was also by Murakami—but in this case, Ryu rather than Haruki. As the spine didn’t give the author’s first name, the book had been shoved in with Haruki’s books.

Intrigued, however, I skimmed the synopsis inside the front cover and read the first page. I ended up taking out both the volume of Haruki’s short stories, and Ryu’s book as well. We’ll see if this turns out to be shelf-surfing serendipity, or a big disappointment.

Have you ever found something enjoyable wedged in with a favorite author’s works?

by PopMatters Staff

9 Feb 2009

Shove it (Trouble Andrew Remix) [MP3]

Immaculate Machine
Sound the Alarms [MP3] from High on Jackson Hill [28 April]

Buraka Som Sistema
Kalemba (Wegue Wegue) (Hot Chip Remix) [MP3]

Astrozero [MP3] from Early Output 1996-1998 [24 March]

by Jason Gross

9 Feb 2009

Let’s do a bit of math with the Grammy Awards.  The TV broadcast last night went on for three-and-half hours, which would include about one hour of commercials.  If you want to be really, really generous, you could say that there were about five notable performances, which would clock in at about 15-20 minutes (if that).  That ain’t a good batting average and it points to a big part of the problem with the awards and the show.

I know it’s considered cool to rank on the Gram’s but I actually thought that the 2008 and 2007 shows were pretty good and that the 2006 edition had its moments.

But this time… Ask yourself this: if you could send or post videos of your favorite performances of the show, how much love would you spread around, you know, to forward in an e-mail or post on your Facebook page or Tweet about…?  Jennifer Hudson was very moving (especially in light of her recent family tragedies- “I’d like to thank my family in heaven and here with me today”), Al Green & Justin sounded good together (though the Rev showed him up vocally), Sir Paul rocked out nicely with the Foo Fighters, Plant and Krauss (the big winners of the night) did a good set and the Four Tops tribute (with Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, Smokey Robinson(!) & the only original surviving Top Duke Fakir) was pretty moving. If you really want to stretch it out, maybe add Carrie Underwood and Kid Rock in there (debatable) plus the New Orleans tribute as a coda to Lil Wayne’s number.  But that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was kind of an endurance test.  Coldplay (who picked up a bunch of awards) sounded better than U2 (whose new song didn’t connect) and Radiohead (numerous bloggers noted that the marching band idea must have come from Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”), which is funny since Martin and friends wouldn’t exist without those two bands.  The “Rap Pack” summit was disappointing if only ‘cause it sounded/looked so messy though it was briefly redeemed by the very pregnant and expecting M.I.A..  The Bo Diddley tribute featuring B.B. King seemed kind of haphazard not just in the playing but also since they didn’t even announce who was there (Buddy Guy, John Mayer and Keith Urban).  Kate Perry and Kenny Chensey did their turns along with Neil Diamond but it wasn’t the stuff of legends.  Since the Gram’s like to pair-up artists to make special moments, Stevie (w/Jonas Bros), Kanye (w/Estelle), Taylor Swift (w/Miley or Miley w/Taylor if you prefer), Sugarland (w/Adele) and Justin (w/T.I.) participated in that but if you missed them, you didn’t miss much.  In any case, Robert and Allison showed them all how a mix of artists and genres was really supposed to work well.  And the less said about appearances by Whitney Houston and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the better.

As a very astute L.A. Times article noted, a lot of the evening’s drama had nothing to do with the performances or even anything that was televised.  The return of mall-punk gods Green Day and Blink-182 (reuniting) was a nice surprise as was an appearance by actor Jack Black alongside his father-in-law jazz legend Charlie Haden, who said that JB was a nice kid.  And then there was the threatened lawsuit by Joe Satriani against Coldplay (who claims his tune “If I Could Fly” was pinched for the band’s hit “Viva La Vida”) and singer Chris Brown cancelling at the last minute because of an assault charge which may involve another last minute cancellation, singer Rihanna (aka his girlfriend).

So unless you needed to know the big winners (as opposed to the dozens of awards not televised) right away, you could have Tivo’d through most of the whole thing pretty painlessly.  And why do we watch or care?  For pop fans (and culture junkies like me), it definitely is a pretty star-studded night that looks good on paper.  But this is basically what NARAS (who run the Gram’s) think pop culture should look and sound like.  What they don’t understand is that the Oscar ceremony model ain’t working- their viewership numbers have been dropping steadily over the last few years, just like the Oscars have. 

In an online world where users get their kicks from 10 minute or less YouTube clips or 140 character or less Twitter posts, a 3-hour-plus show, bloated with commercials, is ridiculous.  Springsteen can manage that kind of performance and on a good night, so could the Dead, but they honed their individual acts over years and developed a relationship with their audiences.  The Gram’s have been around much longer than each of those acts but they still have a lot of learn about connecting with their own audience.

by Matt White

9 Feb 2009

The Cure were on Last Call with Carson Daly way back on Dec. 12 playing “The Only One”, but last Friday another song from that performance was aired, “Sleep When I’m Dead”. The fact that the Cure can still write songs this good is more than a little impressive. Both “Sleep When I’m Dead” and “The Only One” are from last year’s excellent 4:13 Dream.

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