I watched Warner Bros. first "Motion Comics" episode of Watchmen earlier this week when it was available free on iTunes. Building on my earlier thoughts about DC Comics's misguided moves into the video realm, I can't help but see these Motion Comics as another nail in the coffin.
I'd feel a lot worse, of course, if it weren't for the fact that The Dark Knight is doing so amazingly well at the box office. No offense to our Marvel brethren (really I just want to see everyone do well), but hearing "The Dark Knight beat Spider-Man" all week really makes one feel fuzzy inside. But one successful movie this year, especially in the shadow of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk, and Spider-Man movie franchises, does not a turnaround make, and Motion Comics strike me as another step in the wrong direction.
What Warner Bros. has tried to create here is literally "motion" -- something that moves -- and "comics" -- that is, panels and word balloons -- and it's a hybrid that fails on both accounts. It's hard to get into the Watchmen episode as animation, given the word balloons repeating the spoken dialogue and the sparse character movement, and it's hard to get into it as a graphic novel because of how slowly it moves if you to turn off the sound and just watch the screen.
Today's audiences are remarkably fickle, and Warner Bros. has created something that only a die-hard comics fan is going to have the patience for -- and that's not the target market they need to be pursuing. A savvy consumer interested in checking out "this Watchmen thing they heard about at the beginning of The Dark Knight" is only going to last a few minutes watching the Watchmen episode before they give up on it -- and that's a potential new comics fan lost.
To each, of course, their own. The first Watchmen episode, encompassing the first issue of Watchmen, is a nice enough distraction, say, if you're watching your iPod while running on a treadmill or eating lunch while waiting in an airport (tough, as it is, to eat and read a trade at the same time). But it's hardly what I'd call quality; Jamie Trecker, in the Best Shots column at Newsarama, called the episode "simultaneously beguiling and repellant." Unlike Jamie, I thought the episode's score was pretty good, but I agree with him that the voice-overs, especially about the time a man voices Silk Spider in a terrible falsetto, make the episode more comical than engaging.
I struggled before to voice a suggestion for what Warner Bros./DC Comics should do to better their media (that is, video, or things other than actual paper comics) endeavors. Their direct-to-video DVDs have largely been unimpressive, their movies slow to arrive, and now comes these Motion Comics. DC and Warner -- stop trying to reinvent the wheel! Obviously, Marvel's making great strides with the X-Men movie franchise and its forthcoming spin-offs, with Iron Man and the hidden Avengers conspiracy -- let's start to see DC Comics movies that work. Green Lantern seems a perfectly viable option; so does Green Arrow, Flash, Blue Beetle, and others -- and then spin off them with movie sequels and Saturday morning cartoons.
No more mythos-light movies like Catwoman, no more hybrid comics or direct-to-DVD cartoons -- just do it right, as seems to be the case with Dark Knight. Marvel's already got it figured out; DC needs to get in the game.