David Hayter must die.
Seriously. I don’t call for the elimination of another human being lightly, but this guy has simply got to go.
Before he ruins everything.
Who is David Hayter? Glad you asked. This is the hack behind the hackneyed script to the X-Men movie from last year. You remember it, right? Captain Picard vs. Richard III in a battle for mutantkind? Director Bryan Singer’s first bad film? Remember?
Let me tell you about that first. The buzz in the comic book community (yes, there is such a thing) was that the X-Men movie, the first major Hollywood production based on a comic book since the death of the Batman franchise, would re-energize the industry. It would single-handedly prop the dying comics medium up and infuse it with hundreds, nay, thousands of new readers. The world would finally understand the complexities and subtleties of the comic format, and accept it as the art form it undoubtedly is.
The X-Men movie was supposed to save comics.
What the industry hasn’t quite learned yet is that only good comics will save comics. And there are good comics, ones that should be marketed and made into movies and given mass exposure. From Hell is an excellent example, a superb comic book written by Alan Moore and drawn by Eddie Campbell. It delved into the secret history surrounding the Jack the Ripper case, balancing equal parts whodunit and conspiracy theory into a rich, masterful whole. The movie, adapted by the Hughes Brothers and starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, came out a couple of months ago.
It was a disgrace.
They chopped up Moore’s meticulous research and added a ridiculous Hollywood ending. They cast beautiful people with perfect teeth as poor prostitutes, and (by necessity) gutted huge chunks of Moore’s overarching hypothesis. This film didn’t make a single moviegoer interested in the book it came from. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a big deal – the filmmakers really don’t care if you read John Irving’s The Cider House Rules or John Grisham’s The Firm, for example – but comics is the only mass communications medium in the world that seems to rely on other mediums to provide its own success.
Which brings us back to X-Men. Ideally, Hayter and Singer’s film was supposed to bring new readers to the comics. X-Men is already one of the top-selling books in the industry, ranking at about 150,000 copies an issue. That, by the way, is a pathetically small number, even when compared with comics of 10 years ago that were selling in the millions per issue. The film was supposed to improve that number, and while it may have slightly, the film sucked. It only served to confirm to those not reading comics that they remain what their detractors consider them to be: adolescent superhero fantasies with no depth at all.
Here’s the thing, though: X-Men the comic book sucks, too. As the industry’s public face, it’s a pretty poor ambassador, chock full of static characters in funny costumes beating the shit out of each other for the flimsiest of reasons. If anything, the movie was better than the comics, so those potential readers who saw the film and then sought out a comic shop were greeted by a convoluted mess of a comic with trite dialogue and lousy artwork.
As I said, only good comics will save comics. The last time the industry saw a resurgence was in the early ‘80s, culminating in 1986 with one of the best comics ever produced. It was a massive, perfectly executed examination of the superhero mythos and cold war politics. It was subtle, complex and literate, a true work of literature and, in many ways, the last word on superhero comics.
It was called Watchmen, and to this day few comics have surpassed it in scope and craftsmanship. It was written by Alan Moore (him again), simply one of the finest writers working today, and drawn by Dave Gibbons, an artist so sublime that you only understand how good he is through subsequent readings. Watchmen is a mystery at heart, and all the clues you need to solve it are there in Gibbons’ artwork. You should know the main villain’s identity before he even appears on stage.
Watchmen is an ideal choice for mass exposure. It works on numerous levels, and can be read as a superhero adventure, a commentary on mutually assured destruction, a psychological treatise on costumed heroics or a condensed history of comics from the ‘30s to the ‘80s. It is, hyperbole aside, a near-perfect comic, a synthesis of the finest elements of the art form, and as such, translating it to other media has proven nearly impossible.
Terry Gilliam tried it. He was gung-ho to write and direct the Watchmen film in the late ‘80s, and then he gave the treatment a go, and came up with an 8-hour, hundred-million-dollar outline. He deemed it an impossible project, even though he goes back to it every few years. Now, think about it. This is Terry Gilliam, the man who makes sense of the labyrinthine on a regular basis. He’s filmed books that were deemed unflimable before (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and wrapped complex structures into finely woven tapestries (12 Monkeys, for one). If he thinks Watchmen is unflilmable, well, I’m inclined to take his word on it.
But not David Hayter. Oh, no.
Here’s a guy who thinks he can do it, and do it in two hours. In fact, based on the strength of X-Men, he’s been given Watchmen as his directorial debut. The thinking probably goes that one comic is just as good as another, and if he can do X-Men, why not give him this other comic. That’s like saying, “Well, this guy did a pretty good job of adapting the latest Stephen King book, let’s give him Love in the Time of Cholera. A book’s a book, right?”
Strikes against him: First, he’s never made a film. Terry Gilliam’s made 12, and even he can’t get his mind around Watchmen. Second, he wrote fucking X-Men, in which a character actually says, “Do you know what happens to a toad that gets struck by lightning? The same thing as everything else.” That line’s almost a master’s thesis on bad grammar and shitty dialogue, and should be listed under “Don’t Do This” in the scriptwriter’s handbook. Third, Hayter thinks he can do this with no problem, which says to me that he has no idea of the scope and importance of the work he’s adapting.
Why am I so worked up over this?
Because while it’s true that only good comics will save comics, the industry can be brought down by bad representations of it in other media. Do you think any new Batman readers were gained through Batman Forever or Batman and Robin? No. And yet Fantagraphics noted a huge upswing in sales of Daniel Clowes’ work after his graphic novel Ghost World was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film this year. Those outside the industry can only judge comics on what they see and hear of them. For 15 years they’ve been hearing about how great Watchmen is, but the film is what most people will experience first. If the movie makes them want to read the book, then terrific. If it doesn’t, that was our one shot to sell Watchmen to the non-comics-reading world.
This project is going to happen. And it’s going to suck.
So David Hayter has to die. That’s the only thing that might derail the film. Comics are in too much of a slump to allow this travesty to continue. Find this arrogant bastard, this young Joe Eszterhas, and club him to death like a baby seal. And let him know that he’s dying for the sake of art, for the sake of a work that he won’t be allowed to mangle. And then club him some more.
And then go read Watchmen, if you haven’t. It’s worth it.
Next week, I promise to be more serious, and to talk about music. It should be a big one, all about the King of Pop.
See you in line Tuesday morning.