Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who's Watching the Watchmen?

Okay, sometimes it takes me a while to catch up with things.

I'm talking about a movie that came out last year entitled Watchmen.

A little background.

Watchmen was a 12 issue maxi-series published by DC Comics in the eighties. It answered the question: what if there really were costumed heroes in our world, and what if they were every bit as fucked-up as everyone else, with neuroses, sexual hang ups, and the whole magilla. [In general comic books began asking that question even before Watchmen was published, but the series was, for lack of a better word, a little more "adult."] Mentioned throughout the story is the first group of heroes, called the Minutemen, who formed in the 1940's.

The series even had gay material, some of it overt, some subtle, most of it ambiguous. [And, of course, most it it was left out of the film version].

A little background on the guy who wrote the mini-series, Alan Moore. Apparently Moore and his first wife lived in a kind of menage a trois with a woman who was lover to both Moore and his wife. [This is all courtesy of wikipedia]. Moore was quite pro-gay. He stopped working on a strip for a British paper when the paper ran an anti-gay editorial. He, his wife, and their mutual female lover worked on a pro-gay comic that protested homophobic policies of the government.

All good.

Then his wife, the lover, or both decided that they weren't so much bisexual as lesbian -- or else they fell so in love with each other they didn't need Moore -- and the two of them took off. With the kids.

Now, after that, I don't know how Moore felt about gay rights or lesbians in particular. So let's examine Watchmen first.

The comic is quite long and involved and I won't recount the entire story here, only look at the gay stuff.

Rorschach, a psychotic, super-conservative, right-wing hero who's wanted by the police for his outlawed vigilante actions, is fairly homophobic, but he's conservative on just about everything. Ironically, he's just about the only hero who tries to do the right thing at the end.

[I must state right here that Watchmen is an unconventional and unpredictable comic book, not standard in any way, shape or form. To coin a cliche, it defies expectations.]

One of the heroines, who is dead before the story proper begins, is named Silhouette. She and another woman become lovers and are bounced out of the group [which at this point is still called the Minutemen.] This is not unexpected as it is the 1940's. Years later, one of the other heroines in the group, now retired, admits that -- while she didn't like Silhouette, presumably for other reasons -- she felt badly about voting her out, as well as hypocritical, as everyone knew that two of the male members were involved in a sexual relationship. Silhouette and her lover are murdered by one of the former's long-time foes. [All of this is referred to in passing; it is not part of the storyline as such.]

In the movie, during which he hear much of Rorschach's internal thoughts, he says that Silhouette was a "victim of her immoral lifestyle" or something to that effect even though that was hardly the case. But remember, Rorschach is crazy. [In the comic he wonders if one of the other heroes, Ozymandias, is a homosexual, and makes a note to investigate.]

Also in the movie, during the credit sequence, we see what appears to be the wild, manic, joyous celebrating in the streets that occurred at the end of WW 2. Remember the famous picture of the soldier bending over a nurse and giving her a smack? Instead we see a costumed heroine -- presumably Silhouette -- in place of the soldier, giving a lady nurse a really hot smooch. [Of course it's two women, which for some reason turns on some straight guys, so while it's great, it isn't as edgy as it would have been showing a male soldier kissing another guy.] Still, the movie gets points for that.

A few paragraphs up I mentioned how there were two gay guys in the Minutemen. Reading between the lines of the comic -- it was not really part of the main storyline -- they were butch Hooded Justice and handsome Captain Metropolis. You have to read all the text extras in the comic book to piece it all together. When DC Comics put out a Who's Who entry on the Minutemen, it mentioned Silhouette and her lesbian scandal, but not that these two guys were lovers. [I won't be paranoid and I'll say it was because Silhouette's sexuality was mentioned in the comic portion and the guys' only in the text portion, but still ... makes you wonder.]

Hooded Justice sort of used a heroine named Silk Spectre as a beard. When another "hero" called the Comedian tries to sexually assault her, HJ comes to the rescue, and while he's beating the Comedian, the latter figures out that he gets off on it. In one of the text extras [issue # 9, I believe] there's a reference to HJ beating up "boys" or "punks" and having embarrassing public squabbles with the good Captain. [Again, none of this was part of the main storyline, all of it having happened in the past. Both characters were presumed dead.]

As for the movie: We never see either of these characters, not even in flashback. During a dinner conversation where they share memories, a character named Nite Owl says to a female former heroine : "You didn't know those two were ... ?" Presumably he was referring to HJ and CM being a gay couple, but who knows?

Although they are minor characters, there are two lesbians in the main -- or present-day --storyline of the Watchmen comic. One of these is a butch, old-fashioned gal named "Joey" or Josephine, who drives a cab. She buys Hustler at a newsstand and looks at the pin-ups. Yet she also asks the news vendor if he'll post a flyer for a benefit for Gay Woman Against Rape ["You gotta be kiddin' me! the vendor snorts, or something to that effect.] Of course, a woman who's in a group named Gay Woman Against Rape would hardly read Hustler, but it turns out that that's a bone of contention for Joey's femme lover, who shows up an issue or two later. This leads into a fight between the two women which becomes physical, with Josephine knocking her much smaller lover to the ground and kicking her as others around them, concerned, try to intervene. Josephine, either a self-hating lesbian or just so furious at her lover she'll say anything, screams: "I wanna be straight and I wanna be dead!" [Huh?]

This all just happens as a back drop, a vignette, to the main storyline, which ends with half of New York being wiped out. Presumably Josephine gets her wish -- not about being straight, but being dead -- along with several other minor characters we've been introduced to over the length of the story. [For the record, Moore's first wife and their mutual lover were named Phyllis and Deborah, respectively, and I don't think either of them drove a cab!]

Of course Josephine and her lover are not in the movie -- which, considering what happens is probably just as well. Also they really didn't have much to do with the main plot. The comic book is worth reading [it helps if you're a comics fan, and while Watchmen The Comic has some depth to it, it ain't exactly Shakespeare] although you may gnash your teeth at the really stupid ending, a mistake which is pretty much repeated in the movie, with a few alterations. The comic book, at least, was suspenseful, but the movie -- although it has its moments -- is long, silly, and all told, not too memorable. [Those of you who want to spend hours exploring the various sub-texts of the comic can do so, but as for me, life is too short. I liked it, but I didn't like it that much.]

There were many more, much more upfront -- and upbeat -- gay characters in comics after Watchmen. More on that in future posts. [For instance, in the late 90's a comic called The Authority featured a gay male couple among its prominent heroes. And I've already posted on the new gay Batwoman more than once.]

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