copyright 2018, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 58, winter, 2017-2018

From off-brand to franchise: Watchmen as advertisement

by Ezra Claverie

This essay looks at Time Warner’s adaptation of the 1987 graphic novel Watchmen into a media franchise. It argues that the Warner Brothers film Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009), adapted from the relatively self-contained book from DC Comics, functioned both as an occasion to produce new Watchmen texts as well as a high-profile advertisement for this new brand. Time Warner owns DC Comics and Warner Brothers, but they also own news outlets like Entertainment Weekly, CNN, and Time magazine, which helped cross-promote the film. The story of this franchise, therefore, reveals much about creativity, autonomy, ownership, and adaptation in the culture industries. In an industrial system not invested in formal experimentation or narrative closure but in the exploitation of intellectual property, discursive features that made a source text most distinctive may vanish in adaptation, while features most necessary for marketing a brand, such as iconic visual elements, may remain, as they do here. The long arc from Watchmen’s 1987 publication, to the 2009 film, to new Watchmen comics beginning in 2012 illustrates the kinds of changes that an ostensibly self-contained text undergoes as it becomes a source of new production.

The Watchmen graphic novel, much studied for its formal density and self-reflexive fascination with its own medium and genre, critiques superhero comics (and the industry that produces them); in contrast, the film offers no such critique of Hollywood and its norms (aesthetic or industrial). The book, by writer Alan Moore and penciller[1] Dave Gibbons, originally appeared in twelve installments, from September 1986 to October 1987. It defied the comics industry’s norms in two significant ways. First, Moore wrote a story not connected to the wider DC continuity of characters like Superman and places like Gotham City, leaving the Watchmen characters unavailable for appearances in other DC titles. Second, by using characters created for the book, Moore gained the creative autonomy that included the freedom to kill characters. In contrast, ordinarily the comics duopoly of DC and Marvel treat characters as licensing opportunities, such that if an editor allows a writer to kill a reader favorite, both readers and licensees can count on a speedy resurrection.[2] Not so in Watchmen, which begins with the murder of the Comedian, a retired “masked adventurer.” The book offers an alternate history of the 20th century where such adventurers shaped world events. At the end of the twelve-issue run, DC released them in trade paperback, and since then, Watchmen has remained one of the best selling and most studied graphic novels in English, prompting many scholarly essays as well as books like Andrew Hoberek’s Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics.

My essay draws on that scholarship but also on the larger archive of journalism, promotion, and spin-offs from the 2009 film, in order to situate that film in a larger corporate strategy that depended on intellectual property arrangements made in the 1980s. DC had sold the film rights to Watchmen shortly after its publication, yet for more than twenty years, the project languished in “development hell,” moving from one studio to another, until Warner Brothers bought the rights in 2005. Although various Time Warner subsidiaries touted the extreme fidelity of the 2009 film to the graphic novel, the film simplifies and shortens the graphic novel’s story. The movie uses traditional editing and mise-en-scène; no titles suggest the book’s chapters, and no split-screen compositions evoke comic-book panels. By necessity, it eliminates formal elements specific to comics that made the book distinctive within its medium. In substitution, Warner Brothers created an array of spin-off home video texts that offered to “complete” the adaptation. In 2012, DC began publishing Before Watchmen prequel comics, and in 2016 they began to integrate Watchmen characters into the main DC continuity. This essay does not examine all these moments of franchise building but instead focuses on the film, which served as a $130 million commercial for this emergent brand.

The corporate demiurge

We can understand Time Warner’s conversion of Watchmen into a franchise as a case of a media corporation taking a critical and even oppositional text and transmuting it into a new means of shareholder-owned production. In contrast to most monthly comics, which assume open-ended seriality (now punctuated by corporate reboots), Moore and Gibbons gave their book a beginning, middle, and end. Moreover, they did not use familiar DC characters but instead designed new and therefore off-brand characters as riffs on superhero archetypes, precisely because they wanted to step out of the instrumental logic that treated character and narrative as means to build revenue. Watchmen therefore constitutes an act of revisionism and self-critique, a deconstruction of both the genre’s representational tropes and the commercial practices of the comics industry. Simultaneously, the book’s density and foregrounding of its own form make it, as Andrew Hoberek has argued, legible as a work having the values of high art, performing metacriticism in both its narrative and its visual design.[3] Yet despite DC’s constant praise of the formal daring of Watchmen, three decades later the company did something that surprised even readers jaded by the company’s many series reboots. In the May 2016 premier issue of DC Universe: Rebirth, the publisher began to integrate superhero characters from Watchmen into the mainstream DC continuity. In the year of Watchmen’s thirtieth anniversary, Batman pried from the wall of the Batcave the Comedian’s iconic, blood-spattered smiley badge, suggesting a new kind of franchise reboot, one that put superhero high art to work in the service of the DC corporate brand.

When DC Universe: Rebirth hit comic book stores, the Warner Brothers film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, 2016) still played in theaters. Based on characters owned by DC (another Time Warner subsidiary), Batman v Superman recombined elements from seven decades of comics while also borrowing key material from best-selling DC story arcs from the past three decades, for example, remixing the 1992 “Death of Superman” story arc with the 1986 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Such bricolage, typical of Hollywood films based on characters owned by DC or Marvel, offers long-time fans the pleasures of surprise while also enabling conglomerates to cross-promote commodities produced or licensed by other divisions. However, Batman v Superman also shares discursive features with Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation of Watchmen, an R-rated oddity in this PG-13 genre.

Instead of bricolage, the Watchmen film and its surrounding promotion adopted an ethic of extreme fidelity, adapting the comic in the manner that prestige films adapt novels. Starting in 2005, Time Warner began converting the studiously off-brand Watchmen graphic novel into a new range brand, analogous to Batman or Superman: a constellation of recognizable characters and visual icons that editors, filmmakers, or licensees could use as occasions to produce new texts. Moore and Gibbons’s closed text became the means for DC to build an expanding franchise that would include a theatrical film, direct-to-video spin-offs, computer games, new editions of the book, eight different Before Watchmen comic series, and, as of 2016, the main DC continuity itself.[4] For DC Universe: Rebirth imagines the universe that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman inhabit as the creation of Dr. Manhattan, a godlike character from Watchmen.

Although scholars have written much about Watchmen the book, they have written little about Watchmen the movie, and still less about its role as the linchpin of a transmedia range brand that Time Warner promoted using DC Comics, Warner Brothers, and even news outlets. This outlier actually helps us understand the typical duopoly superhero film, for the same imperative drives both: not the imperative to tell a particular story or to explore the formal possibilities of a medium but to advertise a brand. Adaptation scholar Clare Parody has argued that franchises that adapt texts across media present a constellation of interpretative issues connected to corporate marketing aims:

“Franchise adaptations … need to be understood not only as inflected by the aims and protocols of entertainment branding but also, moreover, as complicit in them. Indeed, adaptation in a franchise context can be read as an act of brand management, key dimensions of the intertextual dynamics it sets up explicated and produced by brand logic.”[5]

Time Warner worked to hide the advertising function of its Watchmen movie behind rhetorics of fidelity and integrity, yet a study of the book’s history, the film’s development, and Time Warner’s promotion reveals other motives, methods, and ethics. When Batman finds the Comedian’s badge in DC Universe: Rebirth, we see those motives, methods, and ethics come to fruition, as the conglomerate assimilates an oppositional work and repurposes it as a means to its own ends.

Those who study the workings Hollywood studios and the conglomerates that own them often find themselves at cross purposes with the discursive strategies of those companies, which seek to obscure managerial goals from audiences, competitors, and workers. Non-disclosure agreements and social promises of secrecy conceal much that would interest scholars, as does promotional rhetoric about artistry or curatorial responsibility. Thus, ethnographer Sherry Ortner notes that in Hollywood, “information is managed for competitive advantage.”[6] And political economist Janet Wasko asks,

“where can one find accurate production figures beyond the public relations rumor mill reported in Variety or other trade publications? Where is it possible to find accurate or meaningful figures on stock ownership?”[7]

My analysis of the history of the Watchmen franchise centers on a theatrical film but takes a methodological hint from the protagonists of the graphic novel, attending to paratexts often neglected in film studies. The main characters of the graphic novel either once fought or still fight crime as masked adventurers; the story begins as a murder mystery, with several “masks” trying to solve the murder of one of their former comrades, the Comedian. The book’s ostensible villain, Adrian Veidt, has himself retired from adventuring to become the CEO of a powerful conglomerate. He now uses the likenesses of his former vigilante associates to manufacture toys and a Saturday morning cartoon show without their permission and without compensating them. Significantly, Veidt uses the disparate global holdings of Veidt Enterprises not only to engineer an apocalyptic hoax but also to obscure the unity of his plan.[8] The book’s masked-detective narrative and its non-linear form foreground the difficulty of interpreting fragmentary clues; chapters include epilogues that present intradiegetic prose texts containing information found nowhere else, which render intelligible events in the comic-panel sections. Taking a hint from Jonathan Gray’s Show Sold Separately, I seek to assemble an account of this franchise from sources often discounted: promotional and making-of paratexts.[9] I treat Time Warner’s many utterances about the movie as traces of the larger object of study, the conglomerate’s building of a Watchmen franchise.

Authorship versus ownership

For three decades, Watchmen has served as a cautionary tale about DC’s exploitative treatment of its most famous artists. In the 1980s, when Moore and Gibbons negotiated with DC to make Watchmen on their own aesthetic and narrative terms, they did so in the midst of shifts in the way that the comics industry credited and paid creators. Independent publishers, seeking to compete with the DC-Marvel duopoly, offered creators possessory credit on book covers and in “marquee” titles like Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they offered shares in or total ownership of characters. To compete, the duopoly followed suit: DC offered Moore and Gibbons possessory credit and ownership of Watchmen once it went out of print. However, DC kept the book in print, voiding the offer and leading to Moore’s rift with DC.

In Time Warner’s discourse about Watchmen, Moore’s authorship functions both as a sign of the book’s prestige and as a reminder of the expropriation long the norm in the comics industry. The native of Northampton, England, began working for DC as a writer for Swamp Thing, a second-tier horror comic. Moore’s stories combined achronological, multi-track narratives with a readiness to subvert genre norms, and his work won awards in the United Kingdom and United States. BBC 4 notes that Swamp Thing’s circulation grew “from 17,000 to 100,000” during his run.[10]In his work for DC, Moore wrote for titles headlined by proprietary characters created by others, which DC sought to preserve as sources of revenue. This necessarily limited Moore’s narrative horizons. As Andrew Hoberek notes, Moore “conceived Watchmen as a story using the ‘properties’ DC had acquired from Charlton,”[11] a defunct comics company whose catalogue DC had purchased. Moore built his reputation by re-working the creations of others, so Hoberek rightly challenges both DC’s styling of Moore as a Romantic genius and Moore’s own habit of styling himself as a creator of hermetic texts that must not be altered by others.[12]

Moore’s work contributed to the emergence of new discourses of authorship in the U.S. comics industry. So-called marquee titles appeared especially on books aimed at adult readers, which publishers released without the seal of the Comics Code Authority, a self-censorship body modeled on the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. In his history of the comics industry, Paul Lopes argues, “it was only when Marvel and DC’s economic interests were challenged by independent publishers that they significantly changed their treatment of artists.”[13] Moore’s many interviews in Comics Journal and Comics Interview during the mid 1980s meant that his name had become a selling point, and DC used it to promote Watchmen. A 1985 DC Spotlight boosting upcoming publications quoted Moore:

“‘Dave Gibbons and I came up with a way to approach superheroes that hasn’t been done before,’ Alan Moore says of the forthcoming Watchmen [….] Moore is intending to create a project that will stand apart from any other hero comic published today.”[14]

The ad frames Moore’s contribution in the Romantic terms: intention, creation, and uniqueness. Two decades later, Warner Brothers would take a different approach promoting the Watchmen movie, talking around Moore’s name even as they continued to praise the work he did for DC (and only the work that he did for DC).

When Moore asked permission to kill Charlton characters in his Watchmen series, DC refused. Hoberek remarks,

“It is small wonder that DC turned down Moore’s request to use the Charlton characters, since he was essentially asking the company to eschew these characters’ potential as renewable sources of profit.”[15]

Moore responded to DC’s refusal by creating original-enough heroes that he could kill or retire at the end of the story, letting DC keep the Charlton characters. Moore saw the limited series as a platform for a different kind of story:

“with the advent of the mini-series […] it has become possible to create a number of characters that are designed only to exist for the duration of that series. [his emphasis] It’s a bit like the sort of freedom that all book authors enjoy, you know. There was no call for Charles Dickens to write David Copperfield II: Steerforth Strikes Back.”[16]

Moore stresses wholeness, coherence, and creative control, a control that he seeks to extend to the after-lives of characters. He invokes Dickens to claim an autonomy enjoyed by few writers of monthly comics, citing the novel as a sign of certain aesthetic qualities that open-ended serial comics lack.

 “[W]e’ve tried to sort of bring the sensibilities of a novel to the maxi-series, because the maxi-series would seem to me to be the perfect vehicle for the creation of comic book novels. […] We knew what was in each of the twelve chapters. We knew the various design elements, so that we could work upon it as a coherent whole, and just produce it as that. [his emphasis] There isn’t going to be a sequel to Watchmen.”[17]

Moore and Gibbons also deliberately foreground and subvert conventions of the superhero genre. Unlike the putatively simplistic form of superhero comics, Watchmen’s form resists linear reading. Moore uses a wide range of the formal possibilities of comics, juxtaposing within the panel multiple registers: diegetic images, speech balloons, intradiegetic texts and images, and text insets. Often, one or more of these registers comments ironically another, though often the reader does not grasp that irony until a later page. Moore and Gibbons also use and foreground the properties of the comic book as a platform: patterns connect panels across the single page, the two-page spread, and whole chapters. Such relations depend on the reader’s ability to stop and turn back to correlate resemblances and recurrences.

“They wouldn’t pay me a fraction of what I was worth.”

Watchmen achieves a high degree of formal complexity and density not only compared to mainstream superhero comics but also compared to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. These graphic novels also appeared in 1986, sometimes adduced as the year when U.S. culture grasped the potential of comics as a medium. However, Spiegelman’s and Miller’s books lack the kinds of symmetries and formal repetitions that obtain through Watchmen, and they lack its extreme self-reflexivity about both its form and its genre. Writer-artist Spiegelman approaches “serious” subject matter in Maus, the problem of representing the trauma of the Holocaust both individually and as world history, but Maus does not use a particularly challenging form, especially compared to Spiegelman’s more avant-garde work collected in Breakdowns (1977) or his deconstruction of U.S. responses to 9-11 in In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), an oversized book that doubles as an homage to early newspaper strips. The popularity of Maus arguably depends on its combination of formal accessibility, the serious concerns of high art, and the visual conventions of funny-animal comics, among the lowest of low arts. Spiegelman’s avant-garde work in the comix underground remains unknown to the mass readership of Maus.

In their promotion of Watchmen, DC stressed not the work’s closure or formal complexity but the creators’ individuality. An ad in DC’s Infinity, Inc. called Watchmen “A 12 issue deluxe series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.”[18] DC’s ad for the trade paperback in the literary section of the New York Times invoked the artists but obscured the book’s relationship to monthly comics:

“From Alan Moore, critically acclaimed and bestselling comic book writer of Saga of the Swamp Thing, comes an extraordinary graphic novel. Illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen is a visual and lyrical tour de force.

‘Transcends mere comics—it’s a brilliant piece of fiction. What Moore could you ask for?’ –Village Voice.”[19]

Yet despite this promotional rhetoric of individualism, DC’s treatment Moore and Gibbons conformed to the comics industry’s practice of treating artists’ creations as corporate property.

Because U.S. comics artists lack the collective bargaining power of unions, the industry has long treated artists as freelancers under work for hire contracts. Matt Stahl writes, “companies’ freedom to market products and appropriate profits depends on their ability to exclude numerous creative workers from the magic circle of authorship. Work for hire makes this separation and property alienation possible.”[20] Against this background, DC proposed a contract that sounded progressive: DC would hold the copyright only while Watchmen remained in print, and then ownership would revert to Moore and Gibbons.[21] In 2005 Gibbons explained:

“In 1987, once a comic book series had run its course, that was pretty much the end of it. There might be sporadic foreign editions or reprints in the back of other titles, but even series conceived as self-contained stories […] were thereafter unavailable except in the back-issue bins. The notion of collecting just-published material and re-marketing it in book form was virtually unknown.”[22]

By keeping Watchmen in print, DC denied Moore and Gibbons the promised reversion of ownership. Gibbons speaks diplomatically about his dealings with DC, but Moore later called DC’s actions a “swindle.”[23] DC converted Moore’s off-brand characters—written to satisfy both Moore’s desire for creative autonomy and the company’s desire to keep the Charlton characters—into intellectual property that would become a new range brand, but only after someone made a Watchmen movie.

Jenette Kahn, president of DC comics from 1981 to 2002, oversaw DC’s recruitment of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, both of whom would do their most famous work for the company before fleeing. A January 1985 New York Times profile detailed how Kahn had “turned DC into what she calls a ‘creative rights company,’ whose products are providing licensing and movie revenues for other Warner divisions,” although “Warner will not say how much of [its] profits are accountable to DC.”[24] To sell licenses, characters had to appear in good stories, so Kahn had to attract good artists; DC therefore offered “more creative control and better financial terms.”[25] In 2001 the women’s comics collective Sequential Tart interviewed Kahn, asking about her “proudest moments” and what she wished she “had done differently.” She answers,

“I am the daughter of a rabbi, so perhaps that accounts for my being especially proud of the pioneering work we did on creators’ rights. When I came to DC, the industry had very few obligations to the talent. […] It wasn’t an easy fight. Because we were part of a larger corporation, I had to sell the concept to our superiors. There was no union of freelancers demanding rights. The thought of voluntarily giving up money (royalties, participations in licensing and media) was a difficult premise to swallow. I addressed the issue from two perspectives: one, that it was morally the right thing to do (I doubt this weighed heavily) and, two, that we’d get a better quality of ideas if our freelancers had a stake in anything new they created. It was the latter argument, I think, that ultimately carried the day. But although I always felt the moral argument was critical, the business one was heartfelt and has proved correct over the years. We do get a higher caliber of invention. And I also sleep better at night.”[26]

In the same interview, Kahn recounts recruiting Frank Miller to DC but does not name Alan Moore, and she does not mention that both left DC because of the company’s treatment of them under her supposedly progressive tenure.

Kahn often speaks of her earlier departure from Scholastic, where she had founded the magazine Dynamite. “My ideas had made millions for the company,” she says in the 1985 profile, “but they wouldn’t pay me a fraction of what I was worth.”[27] William Sarnoff, chair of publishing at Warner Communications Incorporated, had offered Kahn “total editorial control” over DC: “‘I always knew that I wanted creative autonomy,’ she said. ‘I had confidence in my ability to have good ideas and implement them.”[28] In a video interview for Makers.com, the AOL-Huffington Post’s “collection of women’s stories,” Kahn offers another telling:

Dynamite became the most successful magazine in all of Scholastic’s history. So I said, ‘Well, now that it’s such a success, of course I want to get a royalty.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, no, no no—you would make more than the chairman of the board!’ And I’m like, 'That is so not the point.' And so I created a third magazine, and I called it Smash because I wanted to smash Dynamite.’”[29]

Kahn, like Moore and like most other workers, aspired to more autonomy and better pay, and she bristled at her employers’ expropriation of the value she created for them. In light of DC’s treatment of Moore, Gibbons, and other work for hire artists, we can see that while Kahn objected to Scholastic’s exploitation of her, she did not object to exploitation in principle. Makers.com notes that Kahn “helped the company grow from 35 people (with three women, including herself) to 250 people with women representing one-half of the staff.”[30] In this light, her career at DC becomes legible as corporate feminism, a breaking of glass ceilings that leaves regimes of exploitation not weaker but stronger, better able to use demographic diversity and inclusion to legitimate inequality. Kahn embodies the contradiction between U.S. rhetorics of fairness, individualism, and hard work on one hand, and on the other, the logics of expropriation and exploitation that organize production in the culture industries.[31]

The “unfilmable graphic novel”

After the original monthly run of Watchmen finished, DC sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox through producer Lawrence Gordon, but production repeatedly stalled.[32] Over the next two decades, Gordon would try to develop the film at Universal, then at Paramount. When the latter attempt failed in June of 2005, Gordon began negotiating with Warner Brothers, and in December the studio announced the sale.[33] Since Time Warner owned both DC and Warner Brothers, the conglomerate had incentives that other studios lacked. As Lopes notes, in the 2000s, “The trade book market for North American graphic novels also was growing at unprecedented levels,” and “By 2005, Publishers Weekly was touting the unquestionable boom in graphic novels.”[34] Considering the summer box-office of Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) and the still-thriving DVD market, Gordon had brought the film rights “home” to Time Warner at what must have seemed the perfect time.

Moore has never expressed enthusiasm for film adaptations of comics. Instead, he has repeatedly argued that comics should explore the formal possibilities of comics rather than creating narratives for export to other media. Despite similarities between the cinematic frame and the comics panel, Moore considers such comparisons limiting: if cinematic techniques “are seen as the highest point to which comic art can aspire then the medium is condemned forever to be a poor relative of the motion picture industry.”[35] Instead, he argues that comics writers should explore techniques “that we can do with our storytelling that cannot be successfully duplicated by other media.”[36] As we will see later, journalists who wrote about Watchmen’s decades in development hell would reduce Moore’s claims about medium specificity and goals for the book to one word, unfilmable, then use that word to explain the movie’s troubled development.

In the years following Watchmen’s publication, Moore’s relationship with the comics industry deteriorated. Frank Miller had left DC in 1988.[37] Moore left in 1989, in part over DC’s handling of the Watchmen contract; he subsequently worked for independent publisher Wildstorm Studios, but in 1998, DC bought Wildstorm.[38] In the 2000s, Hollywood released adaptations of Moore’s work, From Hell (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, 2001) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Stephen Norrington, 2003), made, according to industry practice, without Moore’s input or permission. However, in March 2005, Joel Silver falsely claimed that Moore had endorsed the script of V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2005), an adaptation of another of Moore’s stories that DC owned. When Warner Brothers refused to correct Silver’s claim, Moore quit Wildstorm, demanding “his name be removed from the V for Vendetta film” and “from any of his work that DC might reprint.”[39] Moore subsequently forbade his name to appear on film adaptations.[40] Although Moore and Gibbons do not own Watchmen, they do own their names, and therefore Moore’s demand that Warner Brothers not use his name on new texts had legal force. Warner Brothers would then resort to other means to construct the authenticity and merit of their Watchmen adaptation.

The film’s long gestation

The Watchmen movie spent an unusually long time in development, with a long series of failures at different studios. My analysis here argues that the movie finally happened because Warner Brothers, unlike other major studios, belonged to the same conglomerate that owned the rights to the graphic novel, giving the parent conglomerate reason to take a chance adapting a difficult text in a high-budget genre. Even if the movie failed, it would sell books. Moreover, Time Warner owned both light and serious news outlets that would help promote the film but without drawing attention to the conglomerate’s overarching interest in the franchise.

Time Warner began publicity for the Watchmen movie in the 21 October 2005 issue of subsidiary Entertainment Weekly. Jeff Jensen proclaimed, “Watchmen is poised to reenter the pop consciousness”: “talks are under way to produce a long-in-development movie adaptation at Warner Bros.”[41] Around this announcement Jensen builds an article that doubles as a primer on the graphic novel and its characters. Jensen compares Watchmen to Citizen Kane, “a masterwork representing the apex of artistry” in its medium.[42] He praises Moore but omits Moore’s troubles with DC, noting vaguely that Moore opposes the adaptation “for artistic, business, and personal reasons.”[43] As Gray notes, “one of the great economic benefits of conglomeration has been the ability to advertise on commonly owned channels.”[44] When one of those channels appears to report the news, however light, even better for the conglomerate. Significantly, Jensen’s article appeared three days after Publishers Weekly (not a Time Warner property) announced DC’s plans for an “Absolute” edition of Watchmen, a slipcased hardcover retailing for $75.[45] The timing suggests that the talks between Gordon and Warner Brothers prompted the launch of Absolute Watchmen, too.

Time Warner subsidiaries took up the word that had emerged in British accounts of the movie’s development: unfilmable. In 2001 the Independent’s David Thompson had called Watchmen a book “described by Moore as ‘unfilmable.’”[46] In April 2005 the Guardian’s Steve Rose called Watchmen “judged to be unfilmable by the author himself.”[47] On 17 July 2008 Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with Zack Snyder, conducted by Jeff Jensen, which marks the conglomerate’s adoption of the tag: Jensen calls the book a “cult-pop artifact that many had deemed unfilmable, but Snyder may have proven them wrong.” Note the timing of this interview: the following day, 18 July, the Watchmen trailer would debut before The Dark Knight on 9,200 screens in North America, a new record.[48]

In 2008 and 2009 most commentators noted the film’s troubled development, and nearly all called it “unfilmable.” MTV attributes the term to fans, who supposedly wish “someone would come along and turn [Watchmen’s] seemingly unfilmable brilliance into a movie.”[49] Others use the passive voice to turn unfilmable into doxa: Watchmen “has been called ‘unfilmable,’”[50] and it “has been billed as ‘unfilmable’ for more than 20 years.”[51] Warner Brothers use the tag in their press kit, where passive voice conceals Time Warner’s agency as propagator of the meme: “Watchmen has long been considered […] unfilmable.”[52] The studio uses vague phrasing to do the same: “‘People always said Watchmen was the unfilmable graphic novel,’ says Zack Snyder.”[53] The press kit also stresses Snyder’s fidelity to the graphic novel: “Zack respected the source material so much that he knew the only way to adapt it was to hew as close to the source as possible.”[54] By early 2009, this narrative dominated: “Dubbed unfilmable until director Zack Snyder came along.”[55] “Alan Moore believes his Watchmen is unfilmable—and Zack Snyder agrees.”[56] The hype became self-propagating.

Shortly before the film’s 6 March 2009 premiere, other Time Warner subsidiaries repeated the pressbook’s claims. On 25 February 2009, Jeff Jensen, now writing for CNN, announced that despite “Watchmen’s rep as the Unfilmable Graphic Novel,” Snyder “faithfully” adapts the book.[57] By capitalizing Unfilmable Graphic Novel, Jensen reifies the tag that he introduced into Time Warner’s promotional discourse in July 2008. Nick Hunt and J. D. Cargill’s stories for CNN, to their credit, point out something that most colleagues omit: ties between these companies. Cargill notes that Time Warner owns CNN and Warner Brothers, and Hunt notes that Time Warner owns CNN and DC.[58] However, neither Hunt nor Cargill connects all three subsidiaries with their parent. They gesture toward disclosure without parsing the conglomerate’s ownership for readers.

Cargill and Hunt do both cite Watchmen’s presence on Time magazine’s list of the hundred greatest novels published since the magazine’s 1923 inception. Compiled by editor Richard Lacayo and regular contributor Lev Grossman and published over multiple issues, the list consists of Watchmen and ninety-nine prose novels: no short-story cycles, poems, or plays, and no other comics. In the 24 October 2005 installment, Watchmen gets pride of place the top of the page. I quote here Grossman’s description of Watchmen in its entirety:

“The story of a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes reunited by the murder of a former teammate, Watchmen is told in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous panels rich with cinematic leitmotifs. A work of ruthless psychological realism, it’s a landmark in the graphic novel medium. It would be a masterpiece in any.”[59]

Note the timing: the week that Time puts Watchmen on their hundred-novels list, DC Comics announces their slipcased deluxe reprint Absolute Watchmen. That same week, Jensen announces the Watchmen movie negotiations at Warner Brothers. Grossman’s claim about the book’s “cinematic” qualities repeats a commonplace attempt at praise by writers less familiar with comics and therefore dependent on comparisons to other media. However, his claim that Watchmen “would be a masterpiece in any” medium seems a non sequitur unless we recall the timing of this list: during Warner Brothers’ negotiations for the film rights. The timing and Grossman’s remarks about Watchmen suggest that Time made this exception for one comic book as part of a strategy to promote not just the book but also adaptations into other media.

Grossman’s past conduct makes his listing of Watchmen even more suspect: in the 1990s, he created fake online identities—“sockpuppets”—to post favorable reviews of his own novel on Amazon.com. In 1999, he admitted using sockpuppets without expressing remorse for “the lies” or “the deception.”[60] At the time of writing, Grossman has not answered my query about his rationale for including Watchmen on the list. Yet despite the dubious credibility of the book’s inclusion on Time’s list, most reporting about the Watchmen movie cites the list as evidence of the book’s greatness and the movie’s ambition. Scholars cite the list, too. On the first page of his monograph on Watchmen, Hoberek, to his credit, raises the suspicion “that Grossman was simply cross-promoting another product in his company’s portfolio,” but he offers instead to pursue “what we might learn by taking Watchmen’s inclusion seriously and treating it as a work of literature.”[61] Of six scholarly essays that mention the list, all cite it uncritically as evidence of the book’s stature.[62] None question the oddity of a single comic book on a list of prose novels, or Time’s conflict of interest, or Grossman’s credibility. Why should we find surprising these uncritical citations of Time’s list? Two reasons warrant discussion here.

First, the graphic novel Watchmen itself critiques the reach of conglomerates through its depiction of the villain Adrian Veidt, the CEO who uses his company’s holdings to create a bogus alien. Veidt hires scientists to construct the telepathic monster, then hires writers, artists, and avant-garde musicians to create a plausibly alien cultural archive for the decoy. When it dies, it telepathically broadcasts this “terrible information.”[63] When these workers finish, Veidt uses assassins to kill them, concealing their labor. If we think of this monster as a media text, then Veidt becomes legible as a duplicitous producer, exploiting workers and erasing their names for his own ends. The monster frightens the USA and USSR into cooperation not merely through the “terrible information” it carries but also through the implicit threat that it may be the first in an unwanted franchise of aliens teleporting into Manhattan; the first monster’s arrival kills millions, so nobody wants a sequel. Hoberek reads Veidt Enterprises’ unauthorized use of the likenesses of Rorschach and Nite Owl for toys as an allegory of “the conflict between the work for hire creative talent of the comics industry and the corporations which by and large controlled and profited from their creations.”[64] However, I read Veidt’s exploitation of his former colleagues’ likenesses as but a smaller instance of his larger modus operandi of expropriating the cultural work of others for his own purposes: the bogus alien instantiates more fully this pattern of instrumentalizing and erasing creative workers. Per Alan Moore’s demand, the Watchmen film does not identify him by name; the credits bill the film as “based on the graphic novel co-created and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and published by DC Comics,” writing Moore out and DC in. However, this credit appears beside a smiling Adrian Veidt, his arms crossed and eyes half-closed in self-satisfaction. This tableau therefore reads not as an artist’s critical allegory of intellectual property relations, as Hoberek argues we should read Veidt’s narrative in the book, but instead as Time Warner’s triumphal allegory of its own success in retaining control of Moore’s work.

Second, many commentators had remarked on the Watchmen movie’s role in selling merchandise before the movie even opened. On 13 August 2008, the New York Times reported that the Watchmen trailer had boosted sales of the trade paperback: “‘from our conversations with the book industry people, there has never been a trailer that did this,’ said Paul Levitz, the president and publisher of DC Comics, which has printed 900,000 additional paperback copies [....] Last year it sold about 100,000.”[65] A week later, EW’s Jeff Jensen reported that Watchmen’s

“above-average potential as an ancillary media cash cow was a big reason why Warner Bros. greenlit the picture [.…] the studio could milk Watchmen for at least three different DVDs: the already-announced The Black Freighter companion disc, an animated film based on the graphic novel’s comic-within-a-comic; the theatrical version of the film; and possibly a separate director’s cut [….]”[66]

This narrative of exploitation ran counter to the narrative of Watchmen’s “unfilmable” greatness that Jensen had propagated. By October 2008, Publisher’s Weekly reported that Watchmen had become “the bestselling backlist graphic novel on the planet.”[67] By March 2009, Watchmen had become the bestselling trade paperback of any kind in the United States.[68]

“I’ve pretty much done my job.”

Why did Warner Brothers hire Zack Snyder to direct the film? Snyder had directed only two features, a remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and a CG-heavy adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 (2007). These commercial successes attracted some praise, but nothing like that heaped on the graphic novel Watchmen. At the 2008 Comic-Con, Snyder explained how he came to the project. He received a call from Warner Brothers, who

“wanted to ask me if I’d be interested in making this into a movie, and I said, “Yeah, it’s [shakes head] seems like a crazy idea.” But I think that—you know, once they asked me, I kind of felt like—responsible. Even if I said no, they would have moved on, and then whatever happened to the movie, I still would have had my chance, and if I blew it—if the movie, for whatever reason, didn’t turn out, I would have—it’s still my fault. So I figured I might as well make it my fault anyway.”[69]

This lukewarm account would not stop Time Warner from constructing an image of Snyder as a driven Watchmen fanatic; the film’s press kit claims that Snyder “expressed to the producers his affinity for the graphic novel and desire to direct it.”[70] EW’s Jensen coaxes answers from Snyder that style him as a fan.

 “JENSEN: Watchmen was published in comic-book form in 1986—but you discovered it in its graphic novel a few years later when you were in college, right? [sic]
SNYDER: I had seen it in the store when it first came out as a comic, but I never got the first issue, and I couldn’t get into it at the middle; I felt like I missed it a little bit.
JENSEN: When you finally read it, what did you think?
SNYDER: Watchmen is like the music you feel is written just for you.”[71]

Watchmen’ spress kit extends an ethic of fidelity to the cast and crew, whose goal became “to create an experience true to the feeling of the graphic novel.”[72] Actor Carla Gugino uses the rhetoric of superheroism: “There was a great amount of responsibility to do it justice.”[73] Even Dave Gibbons, who drew Watchmen, compliments Snyder’s “attention to detail,” even to “things I had stuck in the artwork that I hadn’t given a second thought to.”[74] The precision of Gibbons’s illustrations helped the graphic novel achieve its formal density; Gibbons therefore offers high praise when he suggests that the filmmakers have surpassed his attention to detail. The press kit’s citation of Gibbons instantiates Gray’s claim about making-of paratexts: they “surround the text with aura, and insist on its uniqueness, value, and authenticity.”[75] The press kit offers Snyder’s production as a new source of aura.

In early 2009, Snyder wrote to an interviewer, “if we help sell 2m more copies of the book by the time the film comes out, I’ve pretty much done my job.”[76] We can best understand Snyder’s “job” as the advertising of brands. Of Snyder’s feature work, only the commercially weak, critically reviled Sucker Punch (2011), which he co-wrote, neither remade an earlier film nor adapted a print text. Snyder began in advertising, where his commercials for clients like Audi, Jeep, Miller, and Sega shortlisted him for four Clio Awards and won him a Bronze.[77] Dark Horse Comics reported that after the release of the trailer for 300, the publisher “received orders for 40,000 copies of Miller’s graphic novel” that had sold only 88,000 copies in the preceding seven years.[78] Snyder’s glossy mise-en-scène and heavy use of slow motion have more in common with TV commercials than with the violent melodramas of Sam Peckinpah or John Woo, despite superficial resemblances. Even violent sequences in Watchmen evoke not action films but the high-contrast, visually iconic features of Adrian Lyne, Ridley Scott, or Tony Scott, who also began in advertising, and who perfected the ancillary-driven “high concept” feature film style that Justin Wyatt analyzes.[79] We might think of Snyder as a director of TV commercials who graduated to directing the most lavish commercials of all: franchise blockbusters.

Watchmen the movie

David Hayter and Alex Tse’s script for Watchmen keeps many elements of the book’s story, including sexuality, male nudity, and violence, all of which Snyder elaborates, earning the film’s R rating. The movie quotes visual motifs from the book but eliminates the symmetries that organize chapters, and it disentwines the narrative registers of the book, simplifying both story information (fabula) and narrative enunciation (syuzhet). For example, the graphic novel’s first two pages present three intertwined narrative registers: captions from the vigilante Rorschach’s journal, police detectives investigating a murder scene, and flashbacks to the murder. The movie separates these three registers and re-plots the story, presenting first the murder, next the detectives, and then Rorschach coming to investigate.

The film opens with the murder. Edward Blake, the retired “mask” known as the Comedian (a Captain America by way of Henry Kissinger), makes himself a cup of tea and sits down to watch TV in his high-rise apartment. After a few minutes of The McLaughlin Group, he flips channels until he finds an ad for the perfume Nostalgia, which he sits back to watch. An intruder kicks in his door, and they fight at length, but the aging Blake proves no match for his attacker, who hurls him through the window to his death. Snyder elaborates the story at every turn: where Moore and Gibbons show one panel where the Comedian takes a punch and one where he takes a kick, and none where he hits back, Snyder elaborates the fight into a three minute slugfest, in which the Comedian resorts to kitchen knives and a handgun. Speed ramping often slows the image so that we linger over airborne fragments of glass and droplets of blood. In the book, we do not know what programs the Comedian watched before his death, but Snyder supplies them and embellishes the McLaughlin Group with multiple, unmotivated shots of the television studio. But the perfume commercial leaves the most lasting impression, because Snyder lets the ad fill the screen and sets it to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” which then plays throughout the fight.

Snyder here celebrates the medium where he began. When the Comedian finds the perfume commercial, he relaxes. Though he has been leaning forward, now he leans back, savoring Snyder’s intradiegetic ad: a beautiful woman lounges beside a pool before a mansion, and a chiseled man wearing only white trunks walks across the water of the pool in slow motion. The ad shows inventiveness here in three ways. First, the Comedian knows the identity of the intruder (although the audience does not) as an “unforgettable” old associate. Second, the ad for “Nostalgia by Veidt” names the intruder: Veidt himself. Third, in that the water-walking hunk echoes a composition in the final chapter of the graphic novel, where the nude, godlike Dr. Manhattan walks on water. When the Comedian shoots at Veidt, he hits the TV instead, but “Unforgettable” swells to become the extradiegetic score of the fight, running from 2:27 to 5:27 and even following the camera to the pavement with the Comedian’s body. It runs much longer than in the 1990 ad for Revlon’s “Unforgettable” fragrance, which starred Cindy Crawford, and which intercut footage of Cole with slow-motion footage of Crawford.[80] Despite the elements of wit in the intradiegetic perfume ad, the sequence also reminds us of Snyder’s modus operandi for Warner Brothers: he makes characters look good by flattening even complex source material into fetishized surfaces. As Hoberek remarks of the film’s reworking of the book’s opening, “the effect is precisely that of the boilerplate superhero story that [the graphic novel] seeks to complicate.”[81]

As Cole’s song plays, the slow-motion cinematography aestheticizes the fight, translating the damage both to the combatants and to the Comedian’s apartment into the idiom of slow-motion food photography. In the 1970s, Elbert Budin employed high-speed cameras that would capture food falling, tumbling, or splattering.[82] Called “tabletop” cinematography in the advertising industry, directors devise elaborate contraptions to hurl food through the air:

“A spring-loaded arm launched an open box quickly upward while a heavy-duty camera—looking and sounding like an outboard motor as it recorded hundreds of frames per second—captured, in super-slow-motion, each flake’s balletic arc.”[83]

With musical accompaniment, slow motion evokes languor:

“the images are almost erotic. Which is no accident. 'You’re using the same part of your brain—porn, food,' [tabletop director Michael] Schrom says during a break. ‘It’s going in the same section; it’s that visual cortex that connects to your most basic senses. What we’re trying to do is be the modern-day Pavlovs and ring your bell with these images.’”[84]

When digital blood finally splatters from the Comedian’s mouth onto his smiley-face badge—the book’s most iconic image—it therefore recalls not only the flying sauces of restaurant ads but also the “money shots” of pornography. Many commentators discussing 300 remarked on its slow-motion eroticization of nearly nude Spartan warriors; in his analysis, Robert A. Rushing notes that the human figure in slow motion “usually signifies a kind of muscular ecstasy, a hallucinatory extension of speed and strength.”[85] I would argue that Snyder’s slow motion reveals an ecstasy not of the character but of the commodity. When the Comedian falls from his high-rise window, we see a proprietary character describe an arc that we might graph somewhere between the divers of Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl, 1938) and the bran flakes, strawberries, and milk plummeting toward their encounter in an idealized bowl. Snyder’s DC films trap heroes in the slowed temporality of high frame rates, fetishizing them in both the Marxian and paraphilic senses, as rippling monuments to a corporate will to manufacture brand loyalty. Cole’s “Unforgettable” seems to refer, with all its love and nostalgia, to the Comedian as a DC property. The unforgettable character stars in an ad for a book—now an ad for a franchise—that begins with an image of his blood.

After the Comedian’s death, the film’s slow-motion credits begin, the one sequence that met widespread praise from critics. A series of twenty-two tableaux of characters from the graphic novel appear with credits beside or around them. Little diegetic sound accompanies, muted by time and distance, while over all plays Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A’ Changin”. This montage presents some events narrated in the book’s comic panel sections (like the handshake between President Kennedy and Dr. Manhattan) and some events narrated in the chapter epilogues (like the psychiatric commitment of Mothman). However, many insert Watchmen characters into iconic scenes from the 20th century, offering visual analogues to the alternate history within the graphic novel. These wordless, slow-motion tableaux resemble TV commercials not only at the level of cinematography (slow motion) and mise en scène (idealized human figures, gestures accentuated), but also at the discursive levels of cultural citation and commercial address. By revising iconic photos and films—VJ Day in Times Square, the Zapruder Film, and so on—the sequence makes each tableau function doubly as an adaptation of Watchmen story material and of other, unnamed works. The credits sequence both formally resembles and also functions as a five-minute, high-budget commercial for Watchmen.

My students laughed at Snyder’s riff on the moment captured in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s 1945 photo, VJ Day in Times Square: the Silhouette, a lesbian crime-fighter, cuts off the sailor and kisses the nurse into a swoon. My students did not realize that Life magazine ran the photo, and that its copyright belongs to Time Inc., or that for $74.95, Time will sell you an 11”x14” print with a “certificate of authenticity.”[86] Provided one does not read Snyder’s VJ Day tableau as cross-promotion for Time Warner intellectual property, then Snyder’s take on the kiss does seem irreverent and bold insofar as it revises Eisenstaedt’s image against the grain of postwar U.S. heteronormativity and the impending baby boom. However, this tableau also reads as a gratuitous girl-on-girl shot from a filmmaker whose politics tend toward the reactionary, and not just in the leering Sucker Punch or 300, which Rushing calls an “incredibly nationalistic, misogynist, ableist, and homophobic film.”[87] Just four tableaux after Snyder’s VJ Day kiss, Snyder shows us the lingerie-clad, bloodied corpses of the Silhouette and the nurse sprawled on a bed; on the wall over them the killer has smeared “LESBIAN WHORES” in blood. Beside the bed stand a male cop and a male crime-scene photographer who trips (in slow-motion) a flashbulb. The graphic novel tells of the murder in words only and gives no lurid details about the manner of death.[88] In contrast, Snyder arranges the corpses in an eroticized tableau over which our gaze, the camera’s, and those of an intradiegetic male photographer all linger. Where the book critiques the other costumed heroes’ lack of solidarity with the Silhouette, the movie gives us something like snuff.

Snyder’s choice of “The Times They are A’ Changin” telegraphs not only the hollowness of the film’s version of the book’s cultural critiques but also the film’s aim for the lowest common denominator. No Dylan song has wider recognition than “The Times,” covered by musicians ranging from D.O.A. to Billy Joel, from Cher to Flatt & Scruggs. Its ubiquity derives as much from the vivid imagery of Dylan’s lyrics as from their ambiguity. Unlike “Solidarity Forever,” “The Internationale,” or “The Horst Wessel Song,” Dylan’s lyrics offer no political content, only opportunities to have feelings about political action; a Young Republican, a Red Guard, and a Klansman could all read in Dylan’s lyrics “a song written,” to use Snyder’s cliché, “just for them.” Throughout Watchmen, Snyder adds songs not cited in the graphic novel, most of them both nostalgic (to 2009 audiences) and, like “Unforgettable,” famous unto exhaustion: Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons.” Yet these other songs have not been criticized as evidence of their creators’ “selling out” as has the Dylan track. Moreover, in a moment of prescience, the graphic novel foresaw this song’s fate: in the epilogue of chapter eleven, Moore quotes the song’s title in an ad for the perfume Nostalgia by Veidt, appearing in a magazine owned by Veidt’s conglomerate.[89] Snyder chooses the same song as the book’s villain.

In 1985, Dylan had denounced “stock-broker rock” and the use of grassroots music forms in television advertising as a “big establishment thing.”[90] He therefore met scorn when he licensed “The Times They are A-Changin” to multinational accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand in 1994. Michael Gray’s Dylan Encyclopedia calls the firm “a deeply unsavory organization that anyone with a serviceable moral radar would have known to avoid.”[91] In 1993 and 1994 the company had come under investigation for unethical and illegal dealings in Britain, so to help reform their public image, they paid for “a song only heeded in the first place because of its political integrity.”[92] Had Dylan taken a solitary misstep, one might forgive him and the song, but in 1996 he licensed it to Bank of Montreal, provoking widespread ridicule and disgust. Then in 2005 Dylan licensed the song to Kaiser Permanente, a health insurance company trying to reform its image against a campaign of class-action lawsuits in the 2000s.[94] Blogger Alec Hanley Bemis calls Dylan’s relationship to 1960s activism “at least partially opportunistic; the most important aspect of his participation in the protest movement was that it helped align his art with the interests and experiences of his generation.”[95] For many, “The Times They are A-Changin” signifies the direct action of the Civil Rights Movement and resistance to the Vietnam War, yet for over two decades it has also signified Dylan’s readiness to collaborate in the image-management of corporations.

In Snyder’s films, even fictional commodities and companies look gorgeous. Readers of the graphic novel would expect the strenuously faithful Watchmen to depict the Gunga Diner tandoori fast-food chain as it appears in the book: patrons eat with their hands from greasy cartons, next to squeeze bottles with condiments oozing down their sides.[96] However, Snyder presents a clean, retro-styled diner with table service, china dishes, and condiments in glass bottles. Many of the film’s revisions of the book’s story information seem motivated by an urge to depict something told but not shown in the comic, like the historical tableaux, while others seem motivated by concerns about running time, like the elimination of the monster in favor of an elegant frame-up of Dr. Manhattan. However, Snyder’s revision of the Gunga Diner seems motivated instead by franchisor-franchisee diplomacy and brand marketability—not for Watchmen, but for Warner Brothers. After the 2008 financial crisis,

“Low- and mid-priced chain restaurants are one of the few segments of the economy that [spent] as much or more on advertising than they did in the years before. […] Fast-food, casual-dining and pizza chains […] spent $300 million more on TV ads in 2010 than they did in 2007.”[97]

Warner Brothers licenses tie-ins with restaurants, so they have reason to avoid depicting even fictional chains as Moore does, physical and visual polluters of urban space. Snyder’s next DC film, Man of Steel (2013), gives a prominent role to a real-life diner chain, International House of Pancakes:

“moviegoers will notice a surprising corporate co-star: IHOP (DIN)[98] …. the restaurant is mentioned by name during a key sequence and a fierce battle unfolds between Superman and Faora, General Zod’s deadly sidekick, in the chain’s Smallville outpost. …. While he wouldn’t discuss the restaurant’s contractual agreement with Warner Brothers (TWX), [IHOP spokesman Craig] Hoffman fielded a few questions about the restaurant chain’s curious prominence in the film, and what it means for pancake sales.

BLOOMBERG: How did IHOP get involved?
HOFFMAN: Well, first of all, I should say that as a recognizable brand with recognizable restaurants. We’re approached a lot about filming opportunities. In this case, we just felt, ‘We’re an iconic American brand, and this is an iconic American story.’ So we were happy to cooperate. [….] We just asked that they don’t disparage the brand in the script.”[99]

Snyder’s Gunga Diner scenes could play as a demo reel to cross-promotion partners like IHOP, Bob Evans, or Denny’s. The latter, after all, partnered with Warner Brothers in 2012 for a Middle-Earth-themed menu to promote Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films; Advertising Age called the partnership that produced the “Build Your Own Hobbit Slam” one of Denny’s “biggest-ever movie tie-ins.”[100] Snyder’s films abandon both darkness and fidelity when either would conflict with cross-promotion.

“Making Watchmen a movie experience.”

Despite the film’s many revisions of its source, reviewers hurled back the marketing’s rhetoric: “Watchmen’s biggest problem, ironically, is that it’s too faithful.”[101] The movie “takes loyalty to new limits. And that’s exactly what’s wrong with it.”[102] Many called Snyder’s fidelity “slavish.”[103] The reviews confirm George Bluestone’s 1957 observation: “Whenever a film becomes a financial or even a critical success, the question of ‘faithfulness’ is given hardly any thought.”[104] The marketing had worked too hard to court perceived fans of the comic.

Scholars have tended to discuss the film in terms of its adaptation of the book. Liam Burke contrasts its marketing with that of 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Stephen Norrington, 2003): “Unlike The League, fidelity was fetishized at each turn in the production and promotion of Watchmen.”[105] Bob Rehak argues that the movie “embodied the many paradoxes of contemporary blockbuster film production, so capable of outré visualization yet so constrained in its operations.”[106] Rehak also calls the film “fanservice with a $120 million budget.”[107] Anime fans use the term fanservice to refer to media creators’ gratuitous attempts to please their imagined core audience, especially at the expense of momentum or plausibility; I would therefore disagree with Rehak’s characterization, in that I read the Watchmen not as an attempt to serve fans of the book but to serve an intellectual property holder by expanding the audience for that property. We could therefore better describe the film as brandservice, an attempt to recruit new customers for Watchmen commodities.

Those commodities included the six different Watchmen home videos that Warner Premiere had developed:

As producer Deborah Snyder, wife of director Zack Snyder, explains in the film’s press kit, Watchmen

“has always been more than the sum of its parts. There were aspects we knew we couldn’t include entirely—like Under the Hood […] and Tales of the Black Freighter—but we knew we could do something with these ancillary bits on the DVD. For Zack, the key for doing this massive project was to always stay true to the graphic novel.”[108]

Deborah Snyder works backwards from the planned product line to a reading of the source text, such that integral parts of the book become “ancillary.” Her claim about Watchmen as “more than the sum of its parts” pays lip service to the book as an integral whole, but her implication that parts can be excised and re-packaged undercuts that idea. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter appeared on 24 March 2009, while Watchmen still screened in theaters. Special features include a featurette, “Story within a Story: The Books of Watchmen,” in which executive producer Lloyd Levin explains:

Watchmen, the graphic novel, is always going to be there. It was all of our job to try to create the analogous movie-going experience. So in handling the supporting material, as a Black Freighter anime, or an Under the Hood documentary, finds the perfect tone for making Watchmen a movie experience.”[109] [sic]

Levin, like Deborah Snyder, treats integral parts of the book as “supporting material,” parts of an “experience” composed of many commodities.

In the DVD featurette “Phenomenon: the Comic that Changed Comics,” which came with the director’s and Ultimate cuts, former DC president Jenette Kahn claims that aesthetic and ethical concerns motivated DC.“We really felt very strongly that the medium allowed for the most sophisticated stories,” she says, “the most offbeat stories, the most independent stories.”[110] One can only guess what independent might mean in this context; maybe Kahn means smaller comics publishers like Wildstorm, which DC later bought, and which Moore left again in disgust. Kahn calls the Charlton characters “the inspiration originally, but Watchmen became a thing of its own.”[111] She writes Moore out of this process, turning Watchmen into a generative force. Against Kahn’s claim, I would argue that under her leadership, DC turned Watchmen from a thing potentially of Moore and Gibbons’s own into a thing DC’s own. Nowhere in “Phenomenon” does Kahn mention licensing, or her strategy of using top artists to generate intellectual property for the conglomerate, or DC’s, or the circumstances of Moore’s departure from the company.

Each DVD case contains ads for the Deadline Games’ Watchmen: The End is Nigh computer game (for Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360) and various Warner Home Video releases, as well as an ad for the graphic novel itself.  The latter calls the book “the runaway bestseller!” and draws blurbs from Jensen’s “Watchmen: An Oral History” in Entertainment Weekly, and Grossman’s entry for Time’s hundred-novels list. A photo shows the trade paperback, the hardcover, and Absolute Watchmen. The theatrical release had boosted sales of the Absolute edition, and now the videos aimed to buoy them.[112] According to DC’s website, Absolute Watchmen

“will be the cornerstone of any serious comic book collection. Each page of art has been restored and recolored by WildStorm FX and original series colorist John Higgins and approved by Gibbons to appear as originally intended. Additionally, this grand tome will include 48 pages of supplemental material […] rare and historically valuable treasures, including samples of Moore’s Watchmen scripts, the original Watchmen proposal, Gibbons’s conceptual art, cover roughs, and much, much more!”[113]

Not even the trade paperback can compete with such fullness. Absolute Watchmen offers rarity and historicity, origins and intentions: a (mechanically reproduced) Watchmen reliquary.

In 2009 DC released a promotional booklet, After Watchmen… What’s Next? Its yellow-on-black cover bears a design that merges the smiley-face badge and doomsday clock motifs from Watchmen, but this clock shows five minutes after midnight. The inside front cover bears an ad for the three print editions of Watchmen, “the only graphic novel selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.”[114] This ad also includes a plug for “one of the most hotly anticipated motion pictures” of 2009, Snyder’s adaptation.[115] However, the first page of the booklet proper makes a sales pitch not for the range brand, Watchmen, but for the corporate brand, DC. The booklet compiles full-page and double-page ads for twenty graphic novels that “answer the question” of the title, advertising four of Alan Moore’s books (more than any other writer’s), as well as Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man:

“Each award-winning, best-selling title reflects an aspect of Watchmen’s broad appeal, and is a great entry point for new fans just discovering graphic novels as well as established readers looking to try something new. [….] Experience the unique storytelling power of graphic novels from DC Comics, the #1 publisher with the most diverse line of titles in the industry.”[116]

Here, a booklet with a cover modeled on Moore and Gibbons’s work for hire deploys that work in service of the corporate brand. Midnight has come and gone, but the monster remains: dead, but still broadcasting its message.

Conclusion: the corporate pietà

Before 1986, the duopoly avoided killing characters because corporations don’t kill sources of profit. Moore and Gibbons sought freedom from this, and they negotiated both greater autonomy as artists and also potential ownership as creators. By opening Watchmen with the death of a superhero, Moore and Gibbons signaled what they took as their freedom from DC’s managerial norm that treated all characters as revenue streams. Since the mid 1980s however, the duopoly has used character death as a marketing tool, most infamously with the 1992 “Death of Superman” arc, which generated record sales. In this series, Superman dies only to return to life some issues later. Batman v Superman performs this reversal in its final minutes: after Superman dies defending the Earth, Lois Lane holds his corpse as Batman and Wonder Woman look on in a corporate pietà, a sorrowful guarantee of resurrection. Just before the credits roll, we see dirt rising into the air above Superman’s coffin, surprising nobody familiar with the duopoly’s strategies.

Yet the moment in DC Universe: Rebirth when Batman finds the Comedian’s badge does surprise, for it breaks with the company’s precedent of keeping Watchmen self-contained. The decision to integrate the book’s characters into the rest of the DC universe seems to erode the distinctiveness of the Watchmen range brand, but maybe DC has become desperate to regain its footing in the superhero marketplace now dominated by the Disney-owned Marvel. Batman’s discovery of the badge retroactively converts the Comedian’s death into a marketing stunt like the “Death of Superman,” and it converts the self-contained and industry-defying elements of Watchmen into merely temporary provisions. Watchmen becomes, in hindsight, DC’s joke, played on audiences and work for hire artists alike.

In his 1940 essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Clement Greenberg wrote, “Where there is an avant-garde, generally we also find a rear-guard.”[117] In the history of the Watchmen media franchise, such a division applies, with Moore and Gibbons as the advance guard, working to expand the formal horizons of superhero comics, and with Zack Snyder as the rear guard, simplifying and domesticating their work to serve corporate goals. Moore turned a form widely seen as commercial and instrumental into something relatively autonomous and self-contained, but Snyder turned Moore’s work back toward the commercial and instrumental, adapting it to the idioms of television advertising. Greenberg notes the temporal dimension of the relation between the avant-garde and kitsch:

“The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. […] when enough time has elapsed the new is looted for new 'twists,' which are then watered down and served up as kitsch.”[118]

Snyder’s film discarded both the book’s politics and its formal complexities, reducing it instead to an advertisement for the book. Then in 2016, DC Universe: Rebirth used that book as a means to inject novelty into “Golden Age” properties like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

Yet the narrative that I have presented here only emerges if we read against the grain of the conglomerate’s marketing campaign, and only if we examine corporate utterances against their contexts, both in the temporal dimension of Watchmen’s emergence from Hollywood development hell, and also in the spatial dimension of Time Warner’s network of properties, corporate and intellectual, news and entertainment. To use the idiom of comic-book layout, we cannot confine our attention to the single panel or the single page when trying to understand something as complex as a media conglomerate’s franchise. We must instead correlate information scattered in different chapters, even chapters that do not appear to belong to the text.

If my suspicion of Time Warner seems paranoid, then maybe media scholars need a little paranoia: we owe it to our students and to our fellow workers to adopt suspicious, resistant stances toward the secretive, profit-seeking, and undemocratic corporations that produce and own so much of the culture we inhabit. The optimism of Nite Owl may help us get to sleep, but the pessimism of the stinking, fascist Rorschach can help us resist the commodification of our pleasures and our virtues. A little paranoia can help us see through corporate attempts to hide exploitation behind rhetorics of creativity and fidelity, truth and justice.


1. Within the division of labor of the 1980s comics industry, the penciller draws, while the inker or colorist fills in color to the line drawings, and a letterer hand-letters word balloons and captions. Gibbons collaborated closely with Moore on multiple drafts of character and architectural designs. I therefore call him penciller rather than artist or illustrator to distinguish his contribution to Watchmen from the contribution of colorist John Higgins, who added color only to the finished pages.

2. In the twentieth century, DC and Marvel outlasted rival comics publishers like Charlton, EC, Fawcett, Gold Key, and Street & Smith, coming to dominate the U.S. comics business by marketing superhero comics to teenage boys and young men. In the 2000s, the entry of Japanese manga into U.S. markets and the growth of the trade paperback market for graphic novels and comic reprints began to change this balance of power. However, DC and Marvel, now integrated into Time Warner and Disney, remain unmatched in brand recognition and revenue.

3. Andrew Hoberek, Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2014), p. 22.

4. Note that within the diegesis of Watchmen, Superman exists as a fictional character, published in Action Comics in 1938, and emulated by real vigilante Hollis Mason. See chapter one, epilogue, p. 5-6.

5. Clare Parody, “Franchising/Adaptation,” Adaptation 4, no. 2 (September 1, 2011): 215.

6. Sherry Ortner, “Studying Sideways: Ethnographic Access in Hollywood,” in Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries, ed. Vicki Mayer, Miranda J. Banks, and John Thornton Caldwell (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 176.

7. Janet Wasko, “Critiquing Hollywood: The Political Economy of Motion Pictures,” in A Concise Handbook of Movie Industry Economics, ed. Charles C Moul (New York: Cambridge UP, 2005), p. 25.

8. Moore and Gibbons (penciller), Watchmen (New York: DC Comics, 1986-1987). Colors and 2005 digital re-coloring by John Higgins.

9. Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: New York UP, 2010).

10. Alan Moore “Chain Reaction” Interview Transcript, interview by Stewart Lee, Web, January 27, 2005, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=4533.

11. Hoberek, p. 88.

12. Regarding Charlton, Hoberek notes that the company “had come into business when its founders met in the New Haven County Jail, where one of them, John Santangelo, was doing time for illegally selling copyrighted song lyrics,” p. 83.

13. Paul Lopes, Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Comic Book (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2009), 102.

14. “Beyond the Summer,” DC Spotlight, September 1985, p. 32.

15. Hoberek, p. 93.

16. Darrell Boatz, “Alan Moore,” Comics Interview, 1987, p. 9.

17. Ibid., p. 11.

18. “Watchmen [advertisement],” Infinity, Inc., August 1986, p. 33.

19. “Watchmen [advertisement],” New York Times, November 6, 1987, C40.

20. Matt Stahl, “Privilege and Distinction in Production Worlds: Copyright, Collective Bargaining, and Working Conditions in Media Making,” in Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries, ed. Vicki Mayer, Miranda J. Banks, and John Thornton Caldwell (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 56.

21. Alan Moore, “Lying in the Gutters,” interview by Rich Johnston, Web, May 23, 2005, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=14937.

22. Dave Gibbons, Chip Kidd, and Mike Essl, Watching the Watchmen (London: Titan Books, 2008), p. 237.

23. Quoted in David Itzkoff, “The Vendetta behind V for Vendetta,” New York Times, January 20, 2009, Web edition, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/movies/the-vendetta-behind-v-for-vendetta.html.

24. Philip S. Gutis, “Turning Superheroes into Super Sales,” New York Times, January 6, 1985, F6.

25. Ibid.

26. Jennifer M. Contino, “A Chat with Kahn,” Sequential Tart, May 2001, http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/may01/kahn.shtml.

27. Quoted in Gutis.

28. Gutis.

29. “Jenette Kahn: First Female Comic Book Executive,” Makers.com, AOL-HuffPost Lifestyle, N.d., https://www.makers.com/profiles/591f2648bea1777081616656.

30. “Jenette Kahn: First Female Comic Book Executive.”

31. Kahn does not write or illustrate comics, so for AOL-Huffington Post to call her a maker seems to engage in the corporate fiction that executives who hire, direct, and fire creative workers somehow do the making.

32. Michael Cieply, “Battle over Watchmen Surrounds a Producer,” New York Times, September 19, 2008, Web edition, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/20/movies/20watc.html.

33. John Horn, “A Super Battle Over Watchmen,” Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2008, Web edition, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-ca-watchmen16-2008nov16-story.html.

34. Lopes, p. 160

35. Alan Moore, “On Writing for Comics: Part One,” Comics Journal, January 1988: 92.

36. Mark Burbey, “Alan Moore,” Comics Journal, September 1984: 81.

37. Lopes, p. 114.

38. Itzkoff.

39. Ibid.

40. Moore, “Lying in the Gutters.”

41. Jeff Jensen, “Watchmen: An Oral History,” Entertainment Weekly, October 21, 2005, p. 1.

42. Ibid.

43. Jensen, p. 4.

44. Gray, Show Sold Separately, p. 7-8.

45. Douglas Wolk, “20 Years of Watching the Watchmen,” Publishers Weekly, October 18, 2006, http://web.archive.org/web/20081216131133/http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6275201.html.

46. David Thompson, “Zap! Kapow! Comic-Book Heroes and Villains Coming to a Cinema Near You,” The Independent, November 16, 2001, http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/132A8D09BB8CE368?p=AWNB.

47. Steve Rose, “Friday Review: Other Books in Development Hell,” The Guardian, April 8, 2005, http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/10959C8B974E5020?p=AWNB.

48. Carl DiOrio, “High Expectations for Dark Knight,” The Hollywood Reporter, July 16, 2008, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/high-expectations-dark-knight-115810.

49. Larry Carroll, “Watchmen Trailer: Director Zack Snyder Says Sneak Peek Had to Be in the ‘Spirit of the Graphic Novel’,” MTV.com, July 18, 2008, http://www.mtv.com/news/1591135/watchmen-trailer-director-zack-snyder-says-sneak-peek-had-to-be-in-the-spirit-of-the-graphic-novel/.

50. Horn.

51. Vanessa Thorpe, “Hollywood Studios Fight over Watchmen Movie,” The Observer, December 7, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/dec/07/hollywood-studios-fight-watchmen-movie.

52. “Watchmen. Digital Press Kit.” (Warner Brothers, 2009), p. 4.

53. Ibid., p. 5.

54. Ibid., p. 4.

55. John Hiscock, “Watchmen a Heroic Effort,” Tornoto Star, February 27, 2009, E01.

56. Craig McLean, “Zack Snyder: ‘Nothing’s Too Graphic for Me’,” The Independent, March 1, 2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/zack-snyder-nothings-too-graphic-for-me-1633113.html.

57. Jeff Jensen, “Will Anyone Watch Watchmen?,” CNN.com, February 25, 2009, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/02/25/ew.watchmen/index.html?iref=24hours.

58. Nick Hunt, “Watchmen Finally Ticks Toward Big-Screen Release,” CNN.com, February 3, 2009, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/02/03/watchmen.background/. J. D. Cargill, “Watchmen Stars Eagerly Await Release,” CNN.com, March 5, 2009, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/03/05/watchmen.stars/index.html?iref=24hours.

59. Lev Grossman, “Watchmen: 10 of Time’s Hundred Best Novels,” Time, October 24, 2005: 110.

60. Lev Grossman, “Terrors of the Amazon,” Salon.com, March 2, 1999, http://www.salon.com/1999/03/02/feature_222/.

61. Hoberek, p. 3-4.

62. David Barnes, “Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen,” KronoScope 9, no. 1–2 (2009): 51. Rjurik Davidson, “Fighting the Good Fight?: Watching Watchmen,” Screen Education 54 (Winter 2009): 19. Bryan D. Dietrich, “The Human Stain: Chaos and the Rage for Order in Watchmen,” Extrapolation 50, no. 1 (2009): 137-38. Bob Rehak, “Adapting Watchmen After 9/11,” Cinema Journal 51, no. 1 (Fall 2011): 155. Phillip E. Wegner, “Alan Moore, ‘Secondary Literacy,’ and the Modernism of the Graphic Novel,” ImageText 5, no. 3 (n.d.), http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v5_3/wegner/. Daniel Wood, “The Times They Are A-Changin’: The Passage of Time as an Agent of Change in  Zack Snyder’s Film Adaptation of Watchmen,” Colloquy: Text Theory Critique 20 (December 2010): 104.

63. Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen, ch. 12, p. 10. [Because the trade paperback lacks continuous pagination, I give both chapter numbers and page numbers for citations.]

64. Hoberek, p. 81.

65. George Gene Gustines, “Film Trailer Aids Sales of Watchmen Novel,” New York Times, August 13, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/arts/14arts-FILMTRAILERA_BRF.html.

66. Jeff Jensen, “Kevin Smith Says Watchmen is Astounding (Insert ‘But’ Here),” Entertainment Weekly, August 21, 2008, http://www.ew.com/article/2008/08/21/watchmen-update-2.

67. Calvin Reid, “Comics Bestsellers,” Publishers Weekly, October 6, 2008: 16.

68. Dick Donahue, “Paperback Bestsellers/Trade,” Publishers Weekly, March 16, 2009: 19.

69. mahalodotcom, “Watchmen Comic-Con Panel: Part One,” YouTube, July 25, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nofdf5a8ics.

70.“Watchmen. Digital Press Kit,” p. 4.

71. Jeff Jensen, “Watchmen: A Chat with Zack Snyder,” Entertainment Weekly, July 17, 2008, http://www.ew.com/article/2008/07/17/watchmen-chat-director-zack-snyder.

72.“Watchmen. Digital Press Kit,” p. 11.

737. Ibid., p. 6.

74. Ibid., p. 16.

75. Gray, p. 82.

76. Quoted in McLean.

77. “Clio Awards Archive,” ClioAwards.com, N. d., http://www.clioawards.com/archive/.

78. “Sales of Frank Miller’s 300 Soar,” ICv2.com, November 16, 2006, http://icv2.com/articles/comics/view/9631/sales-frank-millers-300-soar.

79. Justin Wyatt, High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (Austin: U of Texas P, 1994), p. 24-26.

80. Chuck D’s All-New Classic TV Clubhouse, “Revlon Unforgettable Ad, 1990,” YouTube, June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-0xVcU_AN0.

81. Hoberek, p. 68.

82. “Flying Food,” 99 Percent Invisible, March 22, 2016,

83. Richard Brody, “Good Enough to Eat: My Life in Tabletop,” The New Yorker, October 10, 2011, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/good-enough-to-eat-my-life-in-tabletop.

84. David Segal, “Grilled Chicken, That Temperamental Star,” New York Times, October 8, 2011,

85. Robert A. Rushing, “Skin Flicks: Haptic Ideology in the Peplum Film,” Cinema Journal 56, no. 1 (Winter 2016): 103-104.

86. “V-J Day in Times Square, by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945,” Time.com, N.d., https://shop.time.com/storefront/photos/v-j-day-in-times-square-by-alfred-eisenstaedt-1945/prodTDSHOPTIMESSQ.html.

87. Rushing, p. 99.

88. Moore and Gibbons, chapter one epilogue, p. 9 and chapter two, p. 26.

89. Moore and Gibbons, chapter eleven epilogue, p. 10.

90. Quoted in Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (New York: Continuum, 2006), p. 153.

91. Ibid, p. 152.

92. Ibid.

94. Dan Goldgeier, “Bob Dylan Shills For The Kaiser, And Opposition Mounts,” AdPulp, August 29, 2005, http://www.adpulp.com/bob_dylan_shill/.

95. Alec Hanley Bemis, “The Revolution Will Be Advertised: Brief Thought on Political Art,” Arcade, November 11, 2010,

96. Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen, ch. 5, p.  10.

97. Segal, “Grilled Chicken, That Temperamental Star.”

98. IHOP trades as DineEquity, Inc., “DIN,” on the New York Stock Exchange.

99. Devin Leonard, “As Superman Battles in ‘Man of Steel,’ IHOP Emerges the Winner,” Bloomberg.com, June 14, 2013,

100. Maureen Morrison, “Denny’s to Launch Middle-Earth Inspired Menu,” AdAge.com, October 22, 2012, http://adage.com/article/news/denny-s-launch-middle-earth-inspired-menu/237907/.

101. Violet Glaze, “A Lifeless Ordinary,” City Paper (Baltimore), March 4, 2009, http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/126C620181DA8C60?p=AWNB.

102. Devin Gordon, “Till Death Do Us Part,” Newsweek, March 9, 2009, p. 60.


104. George Bluestone, Novels into Film (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1957), p. 114.

105. Liam Burke, The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2015), p. 122.

106. Rehak, “Adapting Watchmen After 9/11,” p. 158.

107. Bob Rehak, “Watchmen: Stuck in the Uncanny Valley,” Graphic Engine, March 9, 2009, https://graphic-engine.swarthmore.edu/watchmen-stuck-in-the-uncanny-valley/.

108. “Watchmen. Digital Press Kit,” p. 4-5.

109. “Story within a Story: The Books of Watchmen,” Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter, DVD, (Warner Home Video, 2009).

110. “Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics, ” Watchmen: The Director’s Cut, DVD, (Warner Home Video, 2009).

111. Ibid.

112. Before the movie’s release, Absolute Watchmen “surged up from 49 to 14” on Amazon’s list of comics bestsellers. See Dave Carter, “Amazon Top 50,” Yet Another Comics Blog, February 13, 2009, http://yetanothercomicsblog.blogspot.hk/2009/02/amazon-top-50_13.html.

113. “Watchmen: The Absolute Edition,” DCComics.com, 2016, http://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/watchmen-the-absolute-edition.

114. After Watchmen… What’s Next? (New York: DC Comics, 2009).

115. After Watchmen… What’s Next?

116. Ibid., p. 1.

117. Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Horizon: A Review of Literature and Art, vol. 17 (April 1940): p. 261. UNZ.org, April 1940, http://www.unz.org/Pub/Horizon-1940apr-00255.

118. Greenberg, p. 262-263.