Monday, December 27, 2004

Oh, Henry!

Through an odd set of circumstances, I found myself watching 1998's Jack Frost on the TV recently. This was the one where Michael Keaton dies and gets brought back to life as an animate snowman, in order to be the best dad he can be before winter ends and he melts and dies. This is as opposed to the 1997 production of Jack Frost, in which Scott MacDonald dies and gets brought back to life as an animate snowman, in order to be the best serial killer he can be before winter ends and he melts and dies.

Can you tell which is which?

I honestly don't know which one is more horrifying...

IMDB quote: 'I don't understand the people who didn't like this movie - it seems like they were expecting a serious (?!?!?) treatment! C'mon, how the hell can you take the premise of a killer snowman seriously?'


I'm sort-of half paying attention to this piece of crap when, what do my wandering eyes should appear, but Mr. Henry Rollins, in a small roll as a youth hockey coach.


Now, I am not one of those people who idolizes Rollins - I've always found his spoken word a bit pretentious - but the fact is that he is still a cool fellow. He was in BLACK FLAG, which is just about the closest thing we white folk have to NWA. You would think that once you were in BLACK FLAG, you'd have enough cool to coast for life.

How is it possible to go from this:

Someone forgot to call Geico and he's a little upset about it.

To this?


Oh yeah, I forgot... the same way you go from this:

Straight outta Compton, a crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube, from a band called Niggaz With Attitude...

To this.

I understand you gotta eat, guys, but c'mon... let's have some dignity here.

(As an aside, and since I'm already in a Captain Corey mode, I should point out that I have somehow managed to see Jack Frost 2 without actually seeing the first. Somehow I don't feel the loss.)

It's like the big snowman ate the little snowman.

Sometimes this blog is just the gift that keeps on giving. You might recall a while back we had a discussion on the relative merits the Question, and whether or not subsequent interpretations of Ditko's character were legitimate or offensive to his creation. My first post was here, with subsequent follow-ups here.

I had just about forgot about all this because, as you know, I have the attention span of a flea. But then I got a very interesting letter in the mail from Mr. Eric Kleefeld:

Having read the original Ditko material, and somewhat familiar with what came later, I agree with your protests. The Question was created, fundamentally, to be a hardcore objectivist, living in a world of black and white, experienced rationally. His very name, the Question, implies that there is an answer, and he is meant to provoke that search in the reader’s mind. What O’Neil did was in violation but not intolerably so, as it still preserved a philosophical search rooted in the world, and begins his new philosophical search with a definite event triggering it, the failure of his starting philosophy. The cartoon treatment, while odd to say the least, nevertheless presented a man frustrated with some controlling the lives of many through subterfuge. It worked because it was different but not in direct opposition to the original. What Veitch is doing, however, is sheer mysticism. It seriously diminishes my opinion of the writer, especially considering how much I love his Swamp Thing run.

The real problem here, to my mind, starts with Rorschach, and overall reaction to him over time. Watchmen is a philosophical dialogue between the characters: Rorschach’s objectivism, Comedian’s nihilism, Ozymandias’s moral relativism, and Dr. Manhattan’s detached determinism, with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre set as the “bystanders” having to follow all this and find an answer. No definite answer to the questions asked is really given; the reader has to figure it out for himself. Moore’s being unable to use the original Charlton characters themselves actually made it better, because Watchmen became a self-contained novel, independent of the material that came before it, and Moore was able to more fully construct his own universe. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he would have played the Question straight according to Ditko’s original intensions. Walter Kovacs is a different man from Victor Sage in terms of his background and everyday behavior, but the philosophical core is the same. Rorschach’s moral vision is measured against what Moore sees as an ambivalent world, and the flaws that in turn produced a man like Rorschach. Rorschach’s reaction to Veidt’s crimes, that we must never compromise our honesty and people must be told the truth however ugly it might be, is a serious idea. Even if Rorschach loses the argument (and his life), his own motivations are still treated seriously. Even if he’s judged to be wrong, he himself remained solid, and there’s something admirable about that. One need not be an objectivist to write an objectivist character respectfully.

However, there are two views to take of Rorschach, and I’m afraid more people took the negative one. Some saw the traumatic life of Rorschach, and viewed his philosophy as a psychosis, rather than a legitimate reaction. People saw a man who would treat his mother’s death as good news simply at that level, rather than a consideration of his mother’s abuse and a sense of justice formed in opposition to it. Rorschach called his mask “a face I could bear to look at in the mirror” (if I remember the quote correctly), clearly explained as applying to a viewpoint of pure black and white, no matter what shifts might happen. Too many people looked at the line as sheer shame at humanity and life in general, a desire to escape. That’s the Comedian’s viewpoint, not Rorschach’s. The world of Watchmen sees Rorschach as a psychopath, which is actually appropriate of world treatment of a Randian hero, so in the end readers walked away with that strict verdict on him, rather than placing themselves in his shoes and considering his philosophy among the others.

With that kind of widespread view of Rorschach, it all was reapplied to the Question. Rorschach died to preserve Ozymandias’s victory, so his philosophy had to die with him, and the Question had to find a new one. Rorschach had a traumatic childhood; the Question’s childhood was never explored, so a variation of Rorschach’s was shoehorned in. Rorschach was treated as the last story of the original Question, so the new version had to discover ideas like relativism and mysticism; Adrian Veidt wins. Rorschach is viewed as a psycho, so the Question is a psycho, and apparently now he hears voices!

The overlooked element here is that if Moore had been able to use the Charlton characters, then Watchmen would have been the last Question story, or at least written to be such at the time. But if the Question was to be re-launched later, then it would be hard to continue him after his philosophical outlook was defeated in such a seminal work. So drastic changes were made to make him into a totally different character. There was an alternative route: respect what Watchmen did, but ignore its verdict insofar as it would change the character. If anything, uphold its presentation of the character: take the Rorschach who would not bend even if it risked Armageddon, and write a Question with that same moral certainty. Even if they wrote it with a dramatic irony of the reader judging Vic Sage’s morality as being wrong, a certain level of Ditko-style polemic still could have worked. The Question could have encountered different philosophies, judged them as evil, and walked away unchanged, but the philosophical discussion still would have lasted in the reader’s mind.

The bottom line here is that the Question’s treatment was bungled post-Rorschach. They thought they were writing a post-Watchmen Question, informed by Rorschach, when in fact they were writing someone completely different from Rorschach, someone new and unrecognizable. Just my two cents. Thanks for your time.

Eric Kleefeld

And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I have to say, of all the different viewpoints I've seen on this issue, this seems to be the most rational. I think this is a pretty succinct explanation, one with which I would tend to agree.

No comments :