Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Influence of Watchmen: When Iron Man Tried to be Rorschach

"I think that what a lot of people saw when they read Watchmen was a high degree of violence, a bleaker and more pessimistic political perspective, perhaps a bit more sex, more swearing. And to some degree there has been, in the 15 years sinceWatchmen, an awful lot of the comics field devoted to these grim, pessimistic, nasty, violent stories which kind of use Watchmen to validate what are, in effect, often just some very nasty stories that don't have a lot to recommend them. ....The gritty, deconstructivist postmodern superhero comic, as exemplified by Watchmen, also became a genre. It was never meant to. It was meant to be one work on its own. I'd have liked to have seen more people trying to do something that was as technically complex as Watchmen, or as ambitious, but which wasn't strumming the same chords that Watchmen had strummed so repetitively. The apocalyptic bleakness of comics over the past 15 years sometimes seems odd to me, because it's like that was a bad mood that I was in 15 years ago. It was the 1980s, we'd got this insane right-wing voter fear running the country, and I was in a bad mood, politically and socially and in most other ways. But it was a genuine bad mood, and it was mine. I've seen a lot of things over the past 15 years that have been a bizarre echo of somebody else's bad mood. It's not even their bad mood, it's mine."
Alan Moore, 2003 

I read this quote (or at least one very similar to it) a few years ago and it's always in the back of my mind whenever I read mainstream superhero comics from the 1990s. Watchmen's influence is, of course, still felt today  but the phenomenon that Moore describes in the above quote was particularly prevalent during the '90s. It was only towards the end of that decade (thanks in no small part to writers like Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek) that we saw superhero writers trying to do something other than clumsily aping the gritty style of Watchmen and similarly influential works such as Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.

I'm always greatly amused whenever I find an example of a '90s comics writer trying unsuccessfully to turn their lead character into carbon copies of Rorschach or Miller's Batman. I found an absolutely fantastic example the other day from Iron Man #320 (1995), written by Terry Kavanagh with art by Heitor Oliveira and Adriana Melo. Check out these panels and gaze in awe at how someone could misunderstand both Watchmen and Iron Man to such a degree!

I wanted to share these pages here for two reasons. Firstly, because it's such a hilariously perfect example of what Moore's talking about. Secondly, because it highlights how much better a lot of mainstream superhero comics are now compared to how they were in the early to mid '90s. Marvel obviously lost sight of who Iron Man was to an absurd degree in the '90s, but they've moved forward from this ridiculously inappropriate version of Iron Man to Matt Fraction's recent, absolutely spot-on portrayal of Stark in the pages of his current run on Invincible Iron Man.

I would recommend Fraction's Invincible Iron Man to anyone who has enjoyed Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of the character in the recent Iron Man and Avengers movies. I would also recommend Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen to anyone who enjoys things that are awesome, but for heaven's sake, if you're a writer please think long and hard about what lessons you take away with you from the book!

Does anyone else have any other examples of mainstream comics attempting to imitate Watchmen, with hilarious consequences? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. Everything was awful in the 90s.

    Except Prince albums and Sega consoles.



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