How HBO’s Watchmen breaks the mold of an already broken construct

Wanna feel like the smartest person in the room when talking about comics? Just bring up Alan Moore’s Watchmen and feel your nerd IQ rise by the minute as you name drop that thing from 30+ years ago that Time put on their best novels list so it’s now become impenetrable to any and all critique. The original Watchmen comic is like the kid that plays volcano in a match of rock-paper-scissors– it’s completely unexpected, yet so genius in both concept and execution that you can’t help but feel more inspired than mad at it. So much so that it’s become one of those properties you just feel awkward making fanart of because the series is just that untouchable. It has reached this special place in pop culture nerdery, transcending any real fan critique and demands reverence more than anything else.
At least that was before DC realized they could make more money off it. Following the sub-par 2009 movie adaptation, the floodgates for additional non-Alan-Moore-approved Watchmen sequels came into light. With prequels and sidestories and a current comic going as far as linking series god stand-in Dr. Manhattan to the creation of DC’s comic universe (just as dumb as it sounds), it felt like Watchmen was catching up with its 80s peers in spawning an endless supply of ungodly spinoffs and unwarranted merch, which in the case of Watchmen feels like that much more of a sin considering how anti-conglomerate the series is. It’s like seeing an again rocker come to accept the establishment that led to their inception and string of greatest hits in the first place– sad, a little bit awkward, yet still small-time enough to barely even make your own personal radar to really care one way or another.
Then… a light. Before its airing, HBO’s Watchmen was set up for so much failure. Alongside what’s become Alan Moore’s standard non-blessing to adapt/continue his original comic, was a rather childish retort from the showrunner in response, claiming “I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, ‘F— you, I’m doing it anyway.'” It was like watching a family argue at the dinner table and you’re not exactly sure if you should tough it out or uber home. Even the trailers themselves were this weird amalgamation of cryptic bullshit that you weren’t sure was high art or pure schlock. Everyone was so prepared to shit on this series and yet the first episode hits and bam, good episode. Next week comes around and “whadufuq, it’s still good.” And again and again every week until it finished and you’re just sitting there like a dumbass in the afterglow of the spectacle you just witnessed.

HBO’s Watchmen is a particularly fascinating beast in that it’s good 100% on it’s own merit, with the fact that it’s a comicbook sequel being a footer note at best. While the series itself is absolutely drenched in throwbacks and Easter eggs and references and other clickbaity subject matters, I would argue that it could survive without all that because its core is just that powerful. You have the built-in pretentiousness of an HBO show working in tandem with the pretentiousness of a highly regarded 30 year old comic and together they work to create this uniquely weird, dramatic, sad masterpiece.
Remember when Amazon streaming started adapting Man in the High Castle and how it was kinda interesting until the premise ended up feeling too painfully real after the election? HBO Watchmen is like the opposite of that. It works on account of it has its pulse on the shittiness that is modern America and it’s able to show you this equally shitty alternate modern reality that’s juuuuust good enough for you to consider wanting to be part of that world instead. Taking absolutely everything the original comic established, the HBO show presents a 2019 world still reeling from the effects of the long line of deceit the original had plotted out back in the 80s. Now in a world averse to technology, we’re stuck in this radio communication era that’s become more focused on bettering the world based on correcting wrongdoings from the past rather than starting anew with technology for the future. What results are white supremacists under a very different world context, and an overarching story that pretty much tricks you into watching what develops into a full-on comicbooky comic book adaptation come its final two episodes.
Where the Watchmen comic has you witness a sole person follows through on a worldwide scale atrocity, the HBO show makes YOU consider the atrocity for yourself alongside the repercussions that world must endure.

Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good and I will fight anyone who tells me otherwise

Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good. Not ironically good, or good-for-an-adaptation, or so-bad-it’s-good. Just… good.

And yet I’ve heard so much backlash from the anime community (read: not fan community, but the anime community as a whole), nitpicking over how it isn’t a 1:1 adaptation, how everyone in the cast has been whitewashed (and I guess “blackwashed” in the case of the character of L), among what’s probably a million other arguments for why this movie shouldn’t have been made. Even before official production on the movie began, it had so many cards stacked against it. So of course, if you can’t please the core audience most likely to be interested in the movie, then what’s the point?
But even with all that in mind, I still stand by my statement. Netflix’s Death Note movie is a good movie. Why? Because it’s able to distance itself from the rose-tinted expectations of fans and actually capture Death Note’s essence—an essence that a lot of fans tend to avoid entirely.

Similar to how shonen manga are so much more than their surface-level fights and are able to really delve into more complex themes of friendship, humanity, and even politics, so too does Death Note’s initial allure give way to “ulterior” themes for those willing to dig past its grimdark exterior. At its surface, the original Death Note manga comes off as this giant artsy-fartsy showdown of the minds—this really clever story of cat-and-mouse that touches on themes of morality and godlihood. Its main character is a hyper-intelligent, unflawed high-schooler who oh-so-cooly takes it upon himself to judge the wicked. It is probably one of the most unapologetically pompous shonen series in recent history starring a Barry Sue protagonist with everyone else bending to his will. But it’s for that very same reason that a lot of high-schoolers were drawn towards it. And probably why a lot of fans look back on the series with the same kind of disdain as something like Linkin Park (pre-Chester’s untimely death, anyway)—because the series at its surface is so caught up in its own srs bsns drama, that in hindsight, we can’t help but view the series as nothing more than “baby’s first serious non-punchy manga.”

But what if Death Note wasn’t as serious as people remember it being? What if beyond its blatant religious imagery and rambling monologues on morality, the series was nothing more than a B-movie complete with over-the-top deaths thinly justified through the existence of a magical killing notebook?

That’s what Netflix’s Death Note realizes, and it brings that into the spotlight in full force.

Rather than the perfectly perfect Light Yagami, we have a purposefully whiny shitstain that is Light Turner. Rather than seeking out godlihood, he uses it as an excuse to get in the pants of a one Mia Sutton (who sidenote: is a large step up from the original’s Misa Amane). Rather than the in-your-face mental face-offs between Light and L, the movie’s centerpieces are its Final Destination-esque criminal deaths. The movie strips away any of the original’s subtlety to the benefit of better getting across that Death Note was never about answering nth level questions on life, death, killing, etc, but to centerpiece an unlikeable person’s fall from grace via the most in-your-face, gratuitous visuals and laughably serious demon lore. It embraces its campiness, and is able to utilize it to its full extent, resulting in a beautifully shot, dutch-angle-filled, oddly 80s soundtracky, CW-tier-acting, romp of a movie where you’re absolutely certain Willem Dafoe enjoyed his role playing a slightly less gremlin-faced version of himself.

I’m glad it’s in talks for getting a sequel and I spit in the face of anyone that says the original has aged well enough to the point that they’d prefer that over this.

My Two Cents on the Iron Fist Debacle

Lemme first say I have no interest in watching Iron Fist. Being panned across the board aside, I just don’t have time to invest 13+ hours into a series that’s ultimately homework for whenever Netflix/Marvel releases The Defenders.

Rather, I’d like to bring up how Netflix’s previous Marvel series have proven that a socially conscious series can work and yet for some reason wasn’t the logical path to take come time to adapt Iron Fist for a modern audience.

Whether it be a black man, woman, or blind man, each previous Netflix series was able to take a marginalized group of people and empower them without coming off as too obnoxious about it. Each show made a point to treat their star as a person first and hero second (if that). It never bothered with spoon-feeding the audience the character’s “blackness” or “femininity” or “handi-capable-ness” because doing so would be a disservice to the character as well as the viewers. If the Saturday Morning Cartoons of yore were any indication, tokenization was a very obvious pitfall to avoid for the creative teams involved.


So what makes Iron Fist such an exception? Besides the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” natural problem of having to adapt an outdated premise to appeal to mainstream and hardcore audiences, I personally believe going the route of recasting our titular character as an Asian-American is just too much for even today’s modern mindsets. While women, black people, and (to an admittedly lesser degree) the disabled have been successfully integrated into American society, the concept of an Asian main character, not to mention one that’s a superhero, is just too novel of a concept for American-made live-action dramas. And taking into account where Asians fall in modern America, it’s not too surprising. Rather than trying to integrate into societies, it’s become more commonplace for first-gen Asians in America to stick together as a community. Things like Chinatown, Japantown, and Koreatown where the common language spoken is anything but English serve as a safe haven to the according immigrants, but this strange, unapproachable-except-for-touristy-visits, foreign… thing for anyone else. To write a story trying to immerse the audience in that world when that world is so inherently unapproachable to any other American (read: white people) is apparently too big of a hurdle to even bother trying to jump over.

Sure, the counter-argument would be that you’re playing into stereotypes to have an Asian know martial arts, but if every prior Marvel Netflix series were able to successfully establish, break, and exceed stereotypes, I honestly don’t see why Iron Fist wouldn’t dare to follow suit.

But whatever, man, I’ve got plenty of other series to binge on already.

Correlation Between Modern Manga Writing and Short-Episode-Count Anime

Anime adaptations of manga are nothing new. Checking upcoming anime every season, there’s always an interest in discussing what manga is deserving of an adaptation. That said, while interests in different subgenres continue to crop up among modern anime, episode counts are continuing to drop. Long gone are the days when 50-100+ episode anime was the norm. Now more than ever, anime episode count is dwindling, and it’s been affecting manga-ka in an unexpected way, having them take different approaches when it comes to writing their stories in hopes of nabbing that sought-after anime adaptation.

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Extended Tweets: Adapting the Bone Comics

boneWas on a Mariah Carey musical kick on YouTube and noticed that her general look in the Butterfly music video looked a lot like Thorn Harvestar’s in the Bone comic. I get that the fictional fantasy world Bone took place in was primarily white, but I’m sure a young Mariah Carey would have been an exception had a live action movie been made (I mean, she did pretty well in Precious from what I heard, though that was a good number of years later).

… either that, or animate the movie and have Mariah as the singer for an epic inspirational late-90’s/early 00’s type of tune while the end credits roll. I could totally imagine a Bone movie being more possible at around the same time as something like Disney’s Atlantis or Titan AE. Then again, it would probably have the same levels of critical acclaim as them, too, so maybe it was for the best that it hasn’t happened yet.

Still. A Bone movie would work beautifully as a hand-drawn movie. Don’t wanna be nitpicky, but I’d rather Wikipedia be lying about a CG animated trilogy in the works. I mean I’m sure the fact that they’re splitting the movie into a trilogy suggests some care will be given to the franchise, but going the CG route for animated works as of late seems to be a decision made “because all the cool kids are doing it” rather than the aesthetic working well with the story and characters.

Extended Tweets: Mary Jane’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Redesign

The Miles Morales run of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man has proven to be decently entertaining so far, with a new cast of characters that don’t feel the need to be bogged down by too many nods to the source Spider-Man material. And the current arc involving the reintroduction to Spidey villain Venom proves that giving a new spin on things while keeping track of past continuity is always a good thing. Though I will say that one thing still bothers me… Read more of this post

The Touch and Catch Brothers: Touch Manga Review

Having any series that takes place in “the present” is always interesting to go back to and see how well it’s aged. It’s especially interesting with manga, not just because I’ve become accustomed to such mainly being in the realm of fantasy, but because I get the 1-2 combo of seeing a former culture both time-wise and region-wise. So when I started Mitsuru Adachi’s Touch, I was anxious to see the amount of pure unadulterated Japanese ‘80s culture it gave off.


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Solanin (manga and movie adaptation)

I’ve already shown my appreciation of manga-ka Asano Inio through his still-ongoing manga Oyasumi Punpun, but I’ve yet to get past the surface when it came to backtracking through the rest of his works. Having read Punpun as well as his first major manga What a Wonderful World, I was well aware of Asano’s care of balancing realistic stories and overall weirdness, but I’ve yet to find a title of his that was more grounded in the former until I read Solanin.

dmncap solanin

Solanin is told from the point of view of Meiko—a recent college graduate that is struggling to find her place in the world—alongside her other friends/former classmates. The premise is simple enough, but Asano’s execution in storytelling gives it the life and personality it deserves. Each character, from Meiko and her boyfriend Taneda, to comic relief/bro characters Billy and Katou goes through their own daily life struggles that are easy to relate to, but never boring to read. As each person comes to their own realization of what it means to truly live, signs of a story begin to form and Solanin’s genre itself seems to transform from slice-of-life, to something more music-centric, following the death of a loved one. It’s this sudden shift paired with its already unique style that makes Solanin a stand-out title.

But what happens when you translate that to the big screen?

Four years after the original manga was released, Solanin was adapted into a live action movie in 2010.

dmncap solanin movie
Story-wise, the movie is a near identical clone of the manga series, taking no shortcuts when it came to adapting each plot point and each character (both major and minor, surprisingly enough). And yet for some reason, I found the movie just “alright” in comparison to its source material. Perhaps it’s the exclusion of author Asano Inio’s slight deviations from the plot with his more dreamlike asides. While the story itself is bound in the real world, Asano takes advantage of the medium that is manga by illustrating some concepts in a more fantastical sense than normal. Things like Taneda having a thought process involving personifications of each of his emotions sorting things through, to more minor things like Billy dreaming of himself dreaming were a nice demonstration of what you can get away with in the manga world that just can’t work well in a live action adaptation, and thus were dropped from the story entirely. Without such asides, the Solanin movie doesn’t seem to stand out to me as much. And considering that a certain other movie involving a ragtag band that also cast Kenta Kiritani as a supporting character was released that same year, it just made the movie that much more forgettable.

Another debilitating factor would have to be the general hype for the film.

Not only does the trailer completely and utterly spoil a twist in the plot that shows up halfway through the movie, but it makes it out to be the central point that drives the entire movie. On top of that, posters and the like seemed to focus on the film more in terms of its cast creating their band post-(spoilers), shoving aside the whole “finding yourself after college” theme entirely. I know that trailers and movie posters are only a small part of the movie, but they do serve as an influence for audiences and should give a feel of what the movie has to offer rather than showing all its cards upfront.

But gripes aside, that’s not to say that the movie still isn’t a fun ride. It faithfully adapts its source material to the T, maintaining the likeable cast and relatable-ness of the overall story with a cast of actors that really brought the characters to life (again, allow me to mention Kenta Kiritani and his scene-stealing performance as Billy). But even with that in mind, I still can’t give it more than a “good but not great” rating.

Holiday Catch-Up: Comics Mishmash

Figured I’d crank out one more game of catsup before the new quarter starts. Like I’ve said before, I’m going into the American comics world completely blind outside of things like movie and cartoon adaptations, so take that as you will.

The Amazing Spider-Man #666-675 (Spider Island / Vulture)

I’ve been following with Spidey’s Ultimate universe from start to finish (to uh… re-start), so I wonder what exactly I was waiting for to get me into the webhead’s main universe title. Well… guess it was a massive crossover event.

Not gonna lie—I’m usually not too keen on massive crossover story arcs. I remember reading one of the Crisis events for DC and feeling completely and utterly lost. Random characters popping in and out without much to do or say; references to events a billion issues ago; not to mention the expected techno-babble which is made even worse since I’m not even familiar with the universe or characters… it was just a bad first time.

Spider-Island is different.

The crossover works well in that it’s able to get new fans into the series right off the bat. You’re starting at the start of a new arc, where past interactions with characters doesn’t mean all that much outside of the slightly distracting but still not too bad overall little asterisk notes you get from time to time. The level of danger present is clearly on a grand enough scale to warrant the use of so many of Marvel’s heavy-hitters, but it’s executed in a way that you’re not swamped with so much information that you’re immediately turned off. There’s some kind of virus around the city that’s giving Average Joe’s Spidey’s powers, and it’s up to the original Spidey to bring a stop to it all before things get too out of hand. It’s a simple story at its core presented in a way that can get new readers immediately rooting for Mr. Parker and booing the baddie in Jackal, even though the most noteworthy thing he’s been a part of was turning off readers to the comic via the Clone Saga.

As for the following short Vulture arc, it works as a good short little story to get readers back into the (get ready for it…) “swing” of things. I don’t know why, but the Vulture’s always seemed like a good introductory type of villain to get the story running again. He’s nowhere near on the knowability level as the Goblin or Dock Ock, so the amount of danger he presents comes off as bad, but not too bad.

The Avenging Spider-Man #1-2

Yes, another Spidey title.

From Marvel’s description of the series leading up to its release, I was kinda getting the vibe of a Wolverine and the X-Men (the animated series) in that I didn’t want it all to be about Spidey with some random heroes shoehorned into the series. Though so far, it works. The writers are well aware that it’s ridiculous how many teams Spidey’s part of in the main universe (the Future Foundation, and the Avengers?) and they have him bring it up a number of times in a mocking sort of fashion as he lays the beatdown on the baddies… which looks excellent bytheway. The artwork in this series has been complimented so many times, but I feel like I have to bring it up anyway: the art in this series reminds me of the best mix of East meets West, with its clear attention to detail and nice full page spreads where everyone’s poses look just right—definitely a series to keep an eye out on.

Wolverine & the X-Men #1-3

… not to be confused with the animated series that goes by the exact same name.

Like Avenging Spider-Man, this title is the kind you’d buy because the cover just popped out to you. Unlike Avenging, it comes off as kinda meh.

The series is coming right off the heels of some kind f X-Men crossover I never read, but unlike Amazing Spider-Man, its mentions of past events just end up flying over my head and don’t work to push to plot forward in any way. Besides those, you’re presented with Wolverine who ends up being the head of a new institute for mutants, though many are reluctant to let him go forth with the idea. In the middle of an attack on the school, we’re also introduced to the kids that’ll no doubt make up the bulk of the cast and they’re equally aged villains.

In general, I feel like this series was just messily made all around. Besides the artistic stylings of things that give off a Teen Titans (animated, not comic) vibe, I couldn’t really get behind anything else. The writing reminded me of an American action cartoon on a bad day with the obvious character set-ups and cheesy (even for a comicbook) dialogue. Very much a series you’d pick up for the cover and not the plot.

Bakuman #1-161

Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally caught up with the one current Jump title I actually care for.

With a manga about two kids following their dreams and making a manga, it does take an overly optimistic mindset. Then again, I don’t think I’d want to read about about a couple dropouts that quit on their dreams and go into the black market business. The duo that makes up the penname of “Ashirogi Mutou” seems to jump through the obstacles they’re faced with a bit too easily at times, as do the rest of their  manga-ka comrades that also happen to be around the same age as them. Not to mention, you’ve got the love interest character that’s decided to go into the voice acting business herself and doesn’t seem to be having too much in the form of any real trouble with making her dreams come true, either. On one level, it’s refreshing to see something to optimistic as to think that hard work alone is enough, but on the other hand, it just makes me want to roll me eyes every other chapter.

What really makes the series for me are the interactions between each character. Between most, it’s a rivalry in wanting to make a manga that ranks higher than the other’s. On the other spectrum of things, you also have the editors overseeing the manga-ka and trying to one up their fellow editors. It gives off a sort of “gods influencing the humans” vibe at times, which makes for an interesting read.

Not to mention, all the details about this particular universe the authors aren’t delving into. The premise for each manga-ka’s series is enough to peak anyone’s interest, with titles like Otters 11 coming off as something that could work on adult swim if the idea were actually followed through in the real world. On another not, keeping in mind that this is the same team behind Death Note, it makes sense that the author is obsessed with having a solid timeline to the plot. You’re not told it often, but every now and then, you’re reminded the exact time period, up to the month, day and year, which leads to so many questions. The characters clearly mention other, older, manga titles and yet are able to top the top 5 on Weekly Jump’s list without having to worry about titles like Naruto, One Piece, or Bleach. For a while, I thought it was ridiculous to think that this oddball group of younger manga-ka are able to beat out such titles. Then I considered that the current time period the manga is up to is a time when all those series have long gone… what an optimistic series, this Bakuman is.

Holiday Catch-Up: Goodnight, Punpun

I’ve already talked about Urasawa and some of his bigger works. And while I respect the author and his ability to weave such intricate stories, I’ve always felt that he’s fallen a bit short when it came to the second half of most of his series. And considering that he’s such a big name in the manga world, I felt like no other seinen author would be able to come even close to the guy.

Then I read/caught up on Inio Asano’s Goodnight, Punpun.

While I wasn’t aware of it when I first started the series, I was already somewhat familiar with Asano’s works in the form of What a Wonderful World, which  while capable of being thought provoking, showing the uglier sides of life alongside the better, was still pretty rough around the edges as a whole. Not the case with his latest ongoing work.

Goodnight Punpun (or Oyasumi, Punpun for the sake of search referrals) tells the story of titular character Punpun—a seemingly ordinary kid except for the fact that he and the rest of his family are portrayed as what look to be poorly-drawn birds.

No, they’re not some kind of genetic mutations in a world that conveniently accepts them; that’s just the way Asano figured to show them, whereas the rest of the world is drawn in the most realistic (but still with a dash of manga-ey)  way possible, which I think is really what makes the series shine. Most of the time, whenever you see comics or animation, they’re always done in one particular aesthetic. So to have Asano throw such an unspoken rule aside and blend his best artwork with that comparable to a five-year-old’s is interesting to say the least.

The story starts off with Punpun and the crazy Stand By Me-like adventures he has with his friends (done in a way Urasawa only wishes he could do) in their childhood, but slowly begins to develop into something much more. While you’d think Punpun and his family would be the main drivers of the series, the secondary cast gives them a run for their money, each of them with their own interesting quirk and relatable flaws so well-developed that they could star in a series all their own. From the will-they-or-won’t-they love interest since childhood, to the mismatched duo of a schoolyard delinquent and his possibly mentally challenged friend with an overactive imagination, specific attention is given to each character that while the cast may seem large at times, you’re never given the impression that a person is there just to take up space.

As the story progresses, we follow Punpun through the later years of his life, which considering the coming-of-age style of storytelling you think would be where the series begins to falter. But interestingly enough, it’s Asano’s decision of portraying Punpun and his family in the most oddball way possible that helps drive the story away from anything too trite. While at times, you may think that it’s just another coming-of-age story with an emo kid, the humongous contrast in art style draws you away from that idea and allows you to read things in a completely different manner. Hilariously enough, the author himself brings up the concept of “nobody wanting to hear the story of another emo kid” in the context of the story itself, as if to challenge this concept and work towards shattering it.

That alone should be enough to get anyone interested in the series, but Asano adds on to what on paper comes off as a mere coming of age seinen by further blending his concepts of the real and imaginary worlds. Adding on to the oddly drawn Punpun and his interactions with his more realistic counterparts, are his friend Shimizu, who seems to have some kind of involvement during the climax of the first “arc” of the series which is rather vague since a majority of it was depicted through Shimizu’s imagination of alien saucers driven by what he calls the god of poop (one of many interpretations of what “god” should be throughout the series, which is another conversation entirely). This only gets stranger when the characters get older, Shimizu still keeping his sense of imagination, which at this point may or may not have something to do with a cult that’s set their eyes on him.

In short:
Goodnight, Punpun >>> 20th Century Boys

Asano >>> Urasawa

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