"The crowd is curious, but well behaved." - Les Nessman, five time winner of the Buckeye Newshawk Award, as well as the recipient of the Silver Sow and the Copper Cobb Awards.
Les pretty much summed up how the Jackie Earle Haley signing went yesterday afternoon at Atomic Comics and Gaming here in San Antonio. I'd like to say I was surprised by how many people showed up, but truthfully I wasn't. While I don't have an accurate head count, there must have been at least 300 people milling in and out of the place over the course of 2 hours, smack in the middle of a Thursday afternoon workday. The place was packed, and it's not as if Atomic is an especially large place. Yes, Watchmen may well have detractors, but its San Antonio fans came out in full force, and the store was selling all manner of merchandise for their Jackification. One fan even presented Jackie with a painting of Rorschach, pictured at right behind my friend Suzanne (click to enlarge). Although I wasn't there to witness that moment, my other half, Jeanne, told me about it later on, as she was in the midst of the fray for about the first hour. Being a print journalist, believe it or not, still has its perks.
I've actually got a lotta love for fans, since, well, I am one...but I haven't done much in the real world of fandom for a number of years, so it's a strange and fascinating place to wander back into. Gone are the days of fandom being exclusively the domain of the socially inept; these days fans live next door to you...they're your lawyer, doctor...or your wife. I wanted to approach the signing not as a buddy of the honoree, but as a fan. I took in my copy of the graphic novel (which, by the way, was given to me by my online Farscape bud Tyler Trafford) and a Rorschach action figure that was given to my kid by his girlfriend, intent on getting Jackie to sign both. Turns out there was a two item limit...Suzanne had four items - and two were for our mutual friend Lee Sparks, who lives in Austin. Lee is Watchmen crazy, and has been, I suspect, since the individual issues were first published. So that Suzanne didn't have to make a choice, I made it for her: I blew off getting either item I brought signed so that Lee could have both of his items inscribed by the Mighty Pen o' Haley. It's probable that this was all splitting hairs, as I seriously doubt Jackie would've turned me down...but that would've defeated the point...which was to be a fan. As far as Jackie goes, I might not get another chance to simply behave like a fan. Honestly not sure if I care whether or not he ever signs my crap. Nothing to do with Haley...I've just got no love for autographs in general. (Although a Tom Baker scribble might actually mean something...)
Jackie's been pretty open with me (and many others in interviews) that he really embraces fan culture, and at this point considers himself to be a huge fan himself. This is one guy who won't be telling groups of Watchmen devotees to "get a life" anytime soon. (No disrespect to The Shat intended - he is, after all, Denny Crane.) It was a grand afternoon, in that respect, as I can't imagine that five years ago Jackie ever considered the notion that he'd someday be looked at as a badass superhero to so many. Perhaps the vestiges of Kelly Leak have finally disappeared, and when, in casual conversation his name is mentioned, it will be linked with the real identity of one Walter Kovacs, rather than the Bad News Bears...not that there's anything wrong with being a Bear, mind you.
Jackie Earle Haley isn't someone who ever expected to get another chance. He is not someone who’s tried to cultivate a look that appeals to the Hollywood machine. He’s not someone who tried to do much of anything other than be Jackie. His flame shone brightly for a short period of time and he’s now been granted another go at it. This almost never happens for a talent of his ilk. Talent - that’s the key word here. The guy is talented. His early work hinted at it, but his new work – much of which has been informed by life - has cemented it. Many people have trod similar stomping grounds, and few have gotten that second chance. If so, then Jackie should inspire those people. He isn’t a John Travolta – someone who’s reinvented variations of himself several times over. There’s the child actor, the huge gap in between, and then…today. Today doesn’t even remotely resemble Kelly Leak. It’s easy to say “resurgence,” but what about “renewal?”
But enough about Jackie. I love him, and hopefully you, as a viewer of his various works, love him too...
This must close with some hard talk of Watchmen. To say the movie has been received with mixed reviews might be lowballing it. I've read more critical pieces of this movie than I have for any movie in years - just to see what folks are saying. The good reviews, of course, put a big ol' grin on my face...but the negative ones, especially the overwhelmingly negative leave me wondering if these people have seen the same movie I have (four times at the time of writing)...or more importantly - what has happened to the audiences of the '70s, who enjoyed being challenged when they went to the movies? Had Watchmen been released 20 years ago, would people be so quick to call bunk?
The superhero movie genre has become so dominant in the past seven or so years. It's also become mostly predictable. As much as I personally disliked The Dark Knight, I'd be foolish to deny that it didn't buck the trend. Yet I adored Iron Man, despite having no investment in the concept. But Watchmen the movie is in a league of its own. It bears almost no resemblance to either of those benchmarks. It doesn't look or feel like anything that's come before it.
Does it work - like the graphic novel in relation to its predecessors - as a sly response to the fare that's surrounded it? I dunno. If I gave more of a fuck about superhero movies maybe I could say. Aside from the first two Spider-Man flix, the rest (yes, even Iron Man) leave me unwilling to return for future dissection. Regardless - love it or hate it - is there anything else like it in the genre? If people aren't enjoying Watchmen, it's because people don't take the genre seriously...or because they take it too seriously. My first reaction to the film was, "Well, that's probably the best movie they could've made based on that source material." After the second viewing, I was in "Oh-My-Fucking-god" mode. If you've only seen it once, I urge you to see it again. Some movies, for better or worse, just work that way. Watchmen is one of them. My bud Taylor, who's 19, and who I convinced to see it with me on viewing #4 , said to me tonight, "When's that coming out on video? Man, the morning after I saw it I realized how much I liked it."
And if you think Malin Akerman fails to deliver then you are clearly a gay man. And I do love gay men...but it's a huge shame you can't dig on the Laurie Jupiter, because she just makes my heart ache in a way Alan Moore completely failed to.
(It has come to my attention that the previous paragraph may be perceived of as offensive at worst, or nonsensical and without merit at best. It probably would've been better had I included a squid.)