Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #109: ‘Weekend Couch Potato’

[As always, I’m glad when I can find a column on the Wayback Machine, which I could with this one from 15 August 2009. Lots of interesting discussion about adapting things to movies, and FunkyGreenJerusalem shows up to be his adorable persnickety self. Enjoy!]

Once again, it’s time for a column made up of various shorter items that have been accumulating in my In Box. Most of these notes are about various DVD releases that have been arriving lately, so we’ll just call this the Home Video Roundup, I guess.


You may or may not be aware of this, but The Middleman is now available on DVD.

We are very sad here in the Hatcher household that there won’t be any more, but on the other hand we do at least have these twelve delightful episodes. Highly, highly recommended. One of the best comics-to-screen efforts ever.

Also, just as a bonus, in San Diego this year the cast gathered for a live reading of the unfilmed thirteenth episode’s script. You can enjoy that now in seven parts on YouTube, right here. [Edit: I didn’t post it on the page because that’s part 1 of 7, and you can move more easily to part 2 if you just go to YouTube.]


Speaking of comics-to-screen, I finally got around to seeing Watchmen. We liked it fine; considering it’s a story I regarded as basically unfilmable in its original form, the movie struck me as being about as serviceable a job as could be done.

I confess I don’t get a lot of the vitriol I saw unleashed on this movie by the comics community. I thought there were plenty of things to like. Jackie Earle Haley, in particular, was terrific as Rorschach, and I thought most of the other actors did fine. I wasn’t thrilled with the direction, particularly the stupid music-video trick of super slo-mo shots SUDDENLY SPEEDING UP FAST FAST FAST for the action scenes, but it didn’t happen often enough to ruin the movie for me or anything. There were other bits in it that they might have improved here or there, I had a couple of casting quibbles, but on the whole even if those changes were made I still don’t think I’d have given it more than a solid C-plus. It’s just not a book that’s ever going to make a movie that will feel quite right for fans of the original story … hence, ‘unfilmable.’

It seems to me that should have been obvious to all of us going in. The people who made the Watchmen movie tried harder to respect the source material than a lot of other movie studios that have tried to adapt comics to film over the years, they kept quite a bit more from the book than I expected, and as a movie … well, we didn’t hate it. It’s about on the level of a wait-for-DVD movie … which, as it happens, is what we did.

Those of you out there who are getting so venomous about how disgraceful the Watchmen movie was and how the filmmakers just destroyed it … clearly, you have never seen a truly bad comics adaptation. Like this one.

Or this one.

Who is that wizard dude on the left?!?!?

Or this one.

Those are cringeworthy comics adaptations. Watchmen is nowhere near being in that league.

What I notice in a lot of the fan press about comics-to-film adaptations is that it seems like we always want the moviemakers to love the comic as much as we do. Hollywood is getting hip to this and so every year they come down to San Diego Comic-Con and occasionally other places, trying to persuade us all that they, too, are comics fans. Sometimes it might even be true, but … so what? Does it really matter if Megan Fox reads comics or Halle Berry doesn’t? One of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen was the pre-taped announcement Jennifer Garner made for SDCC when they were trying to drum up enthusiasm for the Elektra movie: at one point, Jennifer timidly assured everyone that the costume would be red this time. The whole thing felt like it should have ended with “Just … just please don’t kill me, okay?”

If there’s anything wrong with Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, it’s that it feels like every foot of film was shot with the idea that the first priority was dodging internet fan backlash. The truth is that there’s no way it wasn’t going to get pasted in the comics press. Because Snyder and company had to make changes, and there are way too many fans out there who regard the original Watchmen comic as Holy Writ. It’s the book we wave at people when we try to prove superheroes can be Literature, there are too many people that use it to justfy reading comics, period.

Honestly? A lot of the changes that were made were necessary. You can’t do a theatrical-release movie version of Watchmen and get everything in from the book. You just can’t. Furthermore, the one big change Snyder and his crew made, the nature of Adrian’s plan, strikes me as a better idea than the one in the book.

But then, I’m the heretic who’s always thought the original Watchmen kind of falls apart at the end and places it much lower on the list of Alan Moore’s work than most fans do. So there’s that.

Nevertheless, I think the point stands. If you don’t care for the movie itself, that’s one thing, but railing about the changes in it from the comic book version seems just ridiculous to me. There will always be changes no matter what work you’re adapting. Sometimes those changes work — X-Men, Stardust — and other times they don’t. We should all know that going in and make our peace with it. Remember what James M. Cain (I think it was Cain) used to tell people when they carried on about how Hollywood ruined his books: “What do you mean? They’re right there on the shelf, people still read them.”

People still read Watchmen. I don’t see that changing. A movie’s just, well, a movie. This one was … okay. Not great but certainly not as horrible as it’s been painted. I think Watchmen is a project that most of us probably feel too strongly about to ever really judge a movie version on its merits.


Amazon keeps trying to sell me old serials on DVD and I have fallen for a few of them.

Batman, from 1943, is generally regarded as not being very good.

For one thing, since it was made right in the thick of World War II, it’s very racist. The serial features a Japanese villain, Dr. Daka, who turns his victims into brainwashed zombies.

There are also references to the government “wisely rounding up those shifty-eyed Japs, leaving Little Tokyo a ghost town.” Etc.

Nevertheless, it’s a mildly interesting historical curiosity — this is the first appearance ever of the Batcave, an idea the comics promptly stole for themselves right down to the grandfather-clock entrance. Also this is the movie that prompted the comics to slim down the originally plump Alfred the butler to match his screen incarnation, as played by William Austin (Brian tells you more about that here.) [Edit: That’s a dead link, but it’s Comic Book Legends Revealed #205, if you really want to go looking for it!]

The Batman ran for 15 installments and starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin.

The DVD set us back four dollars and that included shipping. For that price, I’d recommend it, but don’t spend much more than that.

A much better ride is the 1949 Batman and Robin.

This is a more typical entry in the genre of Saturday-afternoon serials. The villain is the masked Wizard, and part of the fun is guessing his identity. The stunt work and fight choreography is first-rate, and the whole thing is such hell-for-leather fun you can sort of forgive and forget about things like the low-budget special effects and the ill-fitting Bat-costume.

Rumor has it that Hugh Hefner used to screen this for his friends at the Playboy Mansion in the sixties and that eventually led to ABC greenlighting the Adam West Batman TV show and doing it as a serial. Certainly you can see a lot of the elements here that the TV show parodied and there’s plenty to laugh at, but I have to stick up for this one a little. It’s fun. It always has felt to me like the Dick Sprang version of a Batman movie. Robert Lowery, in particular, plays both Bruce Wayne and Batman with such good-humored vigor that he seems to have stepped right out of a Golden Age comics story.

This DVD set replaces the VHS version I bought fifteen years ago. Both times I paid about seven dollars and that’s about right. It’s not the best Batman movie ever or anything, but I’d definitely recommend picking up the DVD if you come across it. It’s a good time.


We have more of these serial collections on deck — Captain Marvel, Superman, Tarzan — but haven’t watched all of them yet, so I daresay I’ll have more to say on the subject …

… Next week. See you then.


  1. Le Messor

    Those of you out there who are getting so venomous about how disgraceful the Watchmen movie was and how the filmmakers just destroyed it … clearly, you have never seen a truly bad comics adaptation. Like this one.
    Those are cringeworthy comics adaptations. Watchmen is nowhere near being in that league.”

    Objection! Relevance.
    I’m not saying this to defend or attack the Watchmen movie, but this is a general argument that I’ve hated for a long time. (It’s called ‘binary thinking’.) Just because worse adaptations exist (I don’t even know what that first one is?) doesn’t make this one any better. Or good.
    If a fan hates this adaptation, that’s their prerogative.

    (Also, ‘nowhere near being in that league’? that second ‘worse adaptation’ is more like the League than Watchmen! Golly! This is basic comic book stuff, people!)

    it seems like we always want the moviemakers to love the comic as much as we do.”

    What I want, personally, is for an adaptation to be an adaptation. ‘But this is a movie, not the book / comic!’ – you didn’t pay all that money to buy the movie rights to make a generic fantasy / superhero movie. If you want to bank on my love for the original to bring me in to the theatre, you’d better be prepared for that same love to nitpick every difference.

    The makers – not everybody, but enough; mostly the director and screenwriters and costumers and casting agents – to convince me that they’ve read the comics. Or even casually glanced at them as they walked by.

    That said; these differences don’t mean I’ll hate the movie, or even the thing in particular that’s badly adapted. That’s something a lot of people don’t get; I might criticise how badly it’s adapted, but still love what came out of it –
    ‘Fat Joker? No way!’ but I love Jack Nicholson’s version.
    I love the screen version of Yondu as a character, but he’s in-name-only as an adaptation.
    The X-Men movie-makers have never seen the X-Men’s costumes; but I still love the movies. Tall Wolverine? Nah, mate.
    But I have no complaints about Hugh Jackman’s performance.

  2. “If you want to bank on my love for the original to bring me in to the theatre, you’d better be prepared for that same love to nitpick every difference.”
    The hollowness of “the movie isn’t the comic book and shouldn’t be” is that every adaptation wants you to believe “If you loved the comics series/epic bestseller you’ll love it on the screen” and says so until the backlash starts. Then suddenly it’s outrageous that we’re comparing it to the original.
    Contrary to Greg, I don’t need movie-makers to love the original but they do have to respect it — I can think of several bad adaptions where the creative team bragged that the original wasn’t much and they’d managed to make it so much better. Guess what, they didn’t.

    1. Le Messor

      That’s it, exactly. We’ve invested a lot of emotion into the original, and they’re counting on it – until the backlash starts.

      And, yeah, respect.
      Like when I complained that X-Men 3 wasn’t that good (I never hated it, though; I just thought we’d just had two very good X-Men movies and creating a subpar one was disappointing) – people said “you can’t expect them to adapt 15 years of comics into a movie”.
      My response was, “I’m not comparing it to the comics, I’m comparing it to the first two movies, which did a very good job of doing exactly that.” (Not perfect, but very good.)

  3. heyman

    My problem with X-Men 3 is that had they bothered to read the source material (or not willfully ignored it if they did read it) an excellent script was already written for them. “The X-Men face off against a super team of aliens in order to save the life of their friend who has turned to the dark side, but is doing her best to maintain control”. What’s not to like? Instead, Hollywood screenwriters think the script they’ve written is better than anything Chris Claremont can come up with. I’ve got news for them….it’s not. I’ve often thought that some of these scripts have been in the works for a while with other characters involved and then once the studio has the rights to a property like the X-Men, they just switch the names and go with it, source material be damned.

    1. Le Messor

      Oh, there are definitely problems with it. Like the ones you’ve outlined.
      If you want to do Dark Phoenix, don’t have her standing around doing nothing for almost the entire movie.
      Fire shaped like a raptor? Awesome. What we got? Meh.

      I don’t know if this was a repurposed script, which is common in Hollywood, or if it’s one of those where they just kept throwing too much at it.

      That said, I still think if it was the first X-Men movie it wouldn’t have copped the flak it did.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    My problem with Watchmen, a film I hate, is that one, I find it dull as hell and badly acted by 2/3 of the cast. Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are good and Billy Cruddup is pretty good; but the rest are stiff as a board. I’ve seen Patrick Wilson in 3 films and he isn’t engaging in any of them

    What I mostly object to is the twisting of the material to fit Snyder’s ultra-Conservative, Randian worldview. Rorschach is made out to be the hero, not a complete nutjob who refuses to accept that the world is grey and accepting a compromise is better for the planet than his black and white vision. Moore and Gibbons showed him to be severely damaged and why; the film shows him as violent and then justifies it and tries to make it seem cool, like he is the only one willing to do anything in the film.

    What is worse is casting a fit guy as an impotent schlub, who has to find that drive again to be a hero, to reclaim his strength, just destroys the character arc. Silk Spectre just comes across as a dim groupie, though Carla Gurgino does much better as Sally Jupiter. Matthew Goode did not live up to his name and Ozymandias is pretty much a flat, lifeless character and I never buy him as the smartest of the bunch. Also, the fey tone to his line readings, making deliberate suggestions of the character being gay, miss the point of the idea being in Rorschach’s addled head, because he doesn’t fit his ultra-conservative worldview. he doesn’t seem to be the he-man patriotic fighter that The Comedian is, so he must be gay. In the book, Moore is showing this to be the pathetic ramblings of Rorschach, to show how damaged he is.

    I don’t mind, per se, the change in the ending, but the idea that technological advances were held up by Veidt doesn’t work, as they are a byproduct of Dr Manhattan’s being and abilities and those advances have nothing to do with Veidt or his ability to control them. In the book, Veidt exploits technology and sets up various shell companies to fund his project to save the Earth. In that, he has a vested interest in marketing things like electric cars, because he would make a fortune that would fun the teleportation device and the other element to the hoax. The whole point of electric cars and such, in the original, was to show the effect of Dr Manhattan’s being, as changing our world, while his working with the US government offsets the power balance and pushes the Soviet Union to contemplate a nuclear exchange to destroy him or the US.

    It doesn’t work.

    So, that’s my beef.

    As for Batman, I prefer the first serial and thought it was better acted and had a better villain, racism not withstanding. The second one has moments, but , not the stunts, not Robert Lowery and definitely not Johnny Duncan. However, the Rifftrax version is hilarious…..

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Yeah, I also pretty vehemently disagree with Greg on this one; I also found the Watchmen movie quite bad, precisely because it’s such a spectacular example of missing the point. (I think our own Jim McQuarrie did a good job of breaking this down in his own review of it a few years back).
      I’ll just add here that you’re quite correct in focusing on Rorschach as one of the key reasons why the movie fails so much in my mind – the casting of a guy who can credibly play tough-guy, bad-ass characters is the first glaring mistake. As you noted, in the original, Rorschach/Walter without his mask looks like an unremarkable, wimpy guy who commands absolutely no respect from anyone. Jackie Earle Haley is the opposite of that.

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Looking over my comments from all those years ago, I can see that they didn’t age well, or rather, my perspective on some things is quite different now.
    First and foremost, I have to say that the Marvel films really changed my mind on the impossibility of good screen adaptations of superhero comics. (I should note that even though Iron Man had already been released at that point, I didn’t start watching the MCU films until a good four or so years after that when a friend burned me DVD copies of the MCU releases up until then; the first MCU movie I saw in the theater not long after its release was Age of Ultron.)
    Also, I’ve since been able to re-watch a lot of the ’70s super-hero TV shows, like the Nick Hammond Spider-man and the Captain America and Dr. Strange movies, and I didn’t hate them as much as I thought I would. I’m not saying I think they’re good or anything (esp. not the Cap movies), but I got a pleasant rush of nostalgia watching them.

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