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Monday, March 10, 2008

Highbrow heroes attract mainstream attention

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2008 at 9:31 PM

click to enlarge niteowlfull-thumb.jpg

(photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)

The most exciting piece of last week’s pop culture news concerned a film that won’t open until a year from now. 300 director Zack Penn, who is helming the live-action adaptation of the classic graphic novel Watchmen, started the countdown to the film’s release on March 6, 2009, by releasing the first official images of the characters (including Nite Owl, to the left) on his production blog.

This deserves notice because Watchmen, following its publication in the mid-1980s, qualifies as the Citizen Kane or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of graphic novels. Writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons offer a stylistic tour de force that’s also a fascinating meditation on the darker implications of superpowered vigilantes. And Penn’s conception of the characters looks almost exactly like their four-color counterparts. The source material seems too dense and sprawling to "work" as a feature film, but Penn certainly seems to be faithful to the source so far. (Forgive me if I'm a total nutcase enthusiastic on the subject, but I wrote my M.A. thesis on Watchmen, so I may be a little too vested in it.)

If you’re not familiar with Moore’s work and want to, uh, know more, the Onion A.V. Club has just posted a terrific, thorough "Primer" about the writer and his importance that does justice to his classics like From Hell and his curiosities like Lost Girls (published by Marietta’s Top Shelf Comics). If you already know Watchmen, Photoshop Phriday's comedic treatment is worth a visit.

Also, in recent examples of the Manhattan literati paying attention to caped crusaders, the New York Times has a preview story of this summer’s Batman: The Dark Knight. The story focuses on how director Christopher Nolan of Memento fame applies his indie sensibility to a big-budget franchise, while adjusting to the death of his Joker, Heath Ledger.

And Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and comic book fan Michael Chabon writes a loving think piece about the iconography of superhero costumes for the New Yorker. Naturally, it has a witty/intellectual headline, "Secret skin: An essay in unitard theory."

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