With interest in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen at a high thanks to the impending release of Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation, two Watchmen parody comics have been released: Watchmensch by Rich Johnston and Simon Rohrmuller, and Whatmen?! by Scott Lobdell and Alejandro Figueroa. Each takes advantage of the movie hype by offering a done-in-one homage to the original comic with heavy tongue-in-cheek elements without ever coming off as willfully iconoclastic.
It's interesting to note the points of similarity between the two books. Both stories spoof some of the most memorable moments from the originals--including close imitations of the opening image of Rorschach breaking into the Comedian's apartment, the first appearance of a gigantic Dr. Manhattan, the "Dr. Manhattan on Mars" sequence, and the climactic "I did it!" of the book's villain.
Both books adopt the nine-panel grid approach that's such a defining part of Gibbons's work on the original, and both stories also have some fun by subverting elements of Moore's plot--notably, changing the nature and outcome of the villain's plan. It's also interesting to see that both books chose to set their climax at the Watchmen movie premiere, openly acknowledging that the inspiration to create these parodies was as much due to the impending movie release as the original book itself.
However, considering the similarity between the concepts of the two books, there are a surprising number of differences between them.
Whatmen?! has a more relaxed knockabout comedy vibe, adopting an anything-goes approach that serves the book well. Lobdell throws enough gags at the wall that a fair few of them stick--covering subjects as diverse as the irony of spoofing a book that is itself a reflection of older comics (leading to the Dr. Manhattan-analogue's great line, "I am just a spoof of a comic character based on an iconic comic character based on a low-rent knock-off of another comic character"). Additionally, in a fun riff on one of Watchmen’s most memorable scenes, the Silk Spectre-analogue has a newfound love of threesomes.
However, there's a sense that Lobdell often oversells his jokes, and relies too much on a couple of running gags that weren't that funny to begin with. There are also asides that poke fun at how difficult it is to understand some passages of the original graphic novel--notably the fourth issue in which Dr. Manhattan reflects on his life while on Mars. I found Lobdell’s point here to be odd, since I've never had trouble understanding the book--particularly that fantastic fourth chapter.
Whatmen?! artist Alejandro Figueroa adopts a fairly loose style that allows his characters to be expressive whilst still maintaining a similar look and feel to the original Watchmen (although that's probably as much due to the similar colouring choices as anything else). Some pages are closer to Gibbons's illustrations than others as Figueroa refuses to be constrained by complete faithfulness to the original comic--especially when it comes to some of the sillier gags, such as the Austin Powers-esque parade of concealed nudity towards the issue's end.
The artist sneaks in plenty of Easter eggs in for observant readers, too--including occasional cameo appearances from such characters as Spider-Man, Snoopy, and the X-Men. It helps to keep the gag quotient high, but also contributes to the book's lack of strong focus on anything other than finding another platform for a joke or one-liner.
In contrast, Watchmensch is a more tightly focused and coherent parody that's more original and less predictable than Lobdell's book. Johnston's recasting of the story's characters is slightly jarring at first--Ozzy Osbourne takes the place of Ozymandias, Krusty the Clown replaces the Comedian, and the Minutemen are reimagined as a team of lawyers--but he ultimately provides good reasons for these characters to have been used, and he ties the superficial parody elements to a fairly interesting central theme that explores creator's rights.
As with his earlier work The Flying Friar, I was actually pretty surprised to find that Johnston (best known for his comics-based Internet rumour column) is actually a pretty good writer. He pens a great flashback sequence for his Dr. Manhattan analogue. Even if it does follow Moore's original pretty closely, Johnston's repurposing of the dialogue is clever and serves his intent well.
His only text-piece (which details Alan Moore's past relationship with DC comics) underlines the link between Watchmen and the arguments in favour of greater ownership rights for creators--providing a pretty decent history of Moore’s career at DC, and a straightforward explanation of Moore’s various complaints with the company over the years.
In amongst this, there are a few fun throwaway touches--such as the cameo appearance of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons or the wonderful replacement of the original series’ alien squid (the nature of which I won't reveal here for fear of spoiling the highly entertaining surprise).
Johnston’s book shows a greater appreciation of Moore and Gibbons’s original work than does Lobdell's book, making Watchmensch a more enjoyable read for fans of the original.
Simon Rohrmuller's artwork, whilst only black and white, captures the style of Gibbons's visuals very well, and Johnston's dialogue is a more accurate play on the dialogue from the original. It might contain half as many gags as Lobdell's book, but Johnston's humour is generally sharper and more inspired.
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