Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic

Russell Burlingame Reporting

For the handful of fans out there angry over the changes made by director Zack Snyder to the story of Watchmen, DC and Warner Premiere's release this week of last year's Watchmen Motion Comics, previously only available as digital downloads, as a two-disc DVD set, is quite possibly the closest anyone could ever hope to see to a full and faithful adaption of the comic book series to film.

The short films, which vary in length from 20 to 30 minutes each, each tell the story of a single issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic comic book series. Like all the other film-related products, Moore's name has been stripped from the project...but with the exception of a small handful of digital effects (particularly on Dr. Manhattan, space items and the like), it's an exact reproduction of his work, complete with word balloons. The resultant six-hour video tells a complete and unedited Watchmen tale, including the Tales of the Black Freighter and the original ending...although even here, Hollis Mason's Under the Hood autobiography is omitted.

The word balloons, I think, were included so that DC could justify calling the movies "comics" instead of acknowledging that they're simply the same kind of rudimentary animation that Marvel used to make based on their comics in the "60s (I used to have VHS tapes of Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner and Spider-Man). They're also remarkably like several Dr. Seuss cartoons that I had as a kid-I can't remember their producer, but they become available for cheap whenever there's a new adaption of a Seuss novel in the theaters; How the Grinch Stole Christmas read by Walter Matthau is the best-known, bestselling one on the market.

The difference between these motion comics and the Marvel cartoons, primarily, is that there is only one voice actor here-and while Tom Stechschulte has great range when it comes to the male characters, he is really not that capable of approximating any sort of decent female voices. While he does as well with it as any "audiobook" approach to the project could be expected to do, it certainly seems that one or more additional actors-either a woman added to voice the female characters or a number of actors so that each character had their own representation. Still, I suppose the reality of it is that this is the closest thing that comic book fans will ever get to an audiobook, since comics by their nature require visuals, and so it's an appropriate enough approach.

A shortcoming of using Gibbons' art in this format, of course, is that one element of the graphic novel that can't be easily reproduced on film (and is not even attempted here) is the panel structure. The idea that every image in the comic should be the same size, laid out the same and have equal visual weight and import, is the greatest shortcoming of any motion comic, and these are no exception.

Still, for a mere $25-the retail cost of the DVD set just about anywhere I've seen it (it's a little less, like everything, if you buy it online)-it's absolutely a worthwhile purchase for comic book fans who may feel a little sorry to see some of the details missed in the big-budget motion picture. At the same time, of course, the end credits of each "episode" tell viewers something that will make this classic story REALLY work: "Be sure to experience Watchmen in its original graphic novel form."

Russell Burlingame is a journalist and columnist living and working in New York City. In high school, Russell interviewed Elliot S. Maggin for a review of the Kingdom Come novelization, and since then has worked consistently in and around the comics industry. He interned for Wizard magazine, and has freelanced for Wizard and Newsarama, in addition to a number of non-comics publications, Russell is currently working on a graphic novel based on Cap'n Internet, the comic strip that ran in his college newspaper; and a graphic biography of folk singer Phil Ochs with artist Marion Vitus.

Currently, in addition to his freelance work and his comics projects, Russell writes a number of columns for ComicRelated, including Conscientious Sequentials, The Gold Exchange, What's Perhappenin', Closing Statements, Reflecting 'Pool and To See or Not To See. Russell also takes point on the Hot Shot of the Week feature.

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