Watchmen: A Very Short Review About Losing the Squid

watch600I finally saw this movie, and can happily report that it has a great many angles worthy of analysis!  But to keep this post Very Short I will address only one point, which I trust will  not really be a spoiler.  And this key point is, the omission of the squid.

You don’t know about the telepathic terror squid?  Go read the graphic novel — it is not in the movie.  My contention however is that it is a better movie, a better story, without the squid.

The idea that a story ought to be unified is a concept that goes all the way back to Aristotle.  Like machines and musical theater, a story should have as few parts as necessary to keep it upright.  (There is another whole class of things, like circuses, gardens and cooking, in which more is almost always better — almost everything on a plate is improved with curls of dark chocolate, for example —  but I am valiantly trying to keep this thing Short.)

Losing the squid in the transition from graphic novel to movie has improved the story strength of Watchmen considerably.   The core plot problem — saving the human race — can now be solved within the circle of the members of the Watchmen, without dragging in an alleged extraterrestrial with tentacles.  The inescapably laughable bits — murmur it aloud to yourself, telepathic terror squids, and smile — vanish away. Logical conundrums, like the difficulties that the unlucky Adrian Veidt would inevitably face trying to foist off a cephalopod onto a scientific community armed with DNA analysis, are gone.  And now, we have an ironclad reason for Dr. Manhattan to take off for another galaxy, a point that was always weak in the print version, where it was attributed to Feeling Remote About Humans.  (Reason tells you that this problem would not be solved by removing yourself from all humans; the solution would be to join a bridge club, line-dancing class or yeah, maybe even a superhero team.)  When problems are solved by the change, it is the right change to make.

The story is tighter and more focused for lack of the squid.  And anything that can be removed from a story really should be removed.   Fiction is like fashion models — there is no such thing as one that is too lean and taut.


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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Watchmen: A Very Short Review About Losing the Squid — 9 Comments

  1. While it’s very difficult to imagine a story that couldn’t be improved by the addition of a cephalopod (remember, I run, I trust your review and will look forward to the movie… but now I gotta read the graphic novel, which I missed because of quitting comic books cold turkey when Sue Storm could not think of anything to say but “Oh! Reed! What does it MEAN?!” (circa 1970)


  2. That, and the FF costume update that involved a cut-out “4” right over her chest, has made me avoid Sue Reed for years. (How could it possibly be done, except on the printed page? Would you support the cut-out with a panel of sheer interfacing? Pipe the edges of the opening to make them hold their shape?)

    I think the problem with the squid in the GN is that belief had to be suspended just that teeny bit too much. Yes, you could startle the world’s PowersThatBe into cooperation — for what, maybe twenty minutes. But the moment the squid was analyzed the hoax would start to fall apart. (They can now identify the different strains of MRSA by DNA analysis; you cannot tell me that they could not track that squid’s terrestrial origins.) And the larger logical problem, that if -no more aliens- arrive to invade Earth then people will gradually quit cooperating to forestall invasion, continues to stand.
    This would all be OK if it were the type of comic book that involved way-out feats — Superman crashing the time barrier, the Flash on a Cosmic Treadmill. Since WATCHMEN is of the grim ‘n’ gritty school this does not chime so well. The only real super-powered being is Dr. Manhattan, and so it is appropriate and tidy for him to be the fall guy.

  3. There are such great US comics out there, they’re just not necessarily superhero comics ^^.

    Linda Medley – Castle Waiting
    Carla Speed McNeill – Finder Series
    Ursula Vernon – Digger
    Katja and Phil Foglio – Girl Genius
    Deadmouse – Ballad

    And those are just a few ^^

  4. I have seriously considered getting into GIRL GENIUS, but suffer from time constraints. Of the list you propose, which ONE is the best?

  5. Heh, I can’t answer that easily because they aim at different satisfying qualities… I do think I picked mostly comics with strong characters and narrative lines, as you can see almost all have female creators and co-creators (not sure about dangermouse).

    Girl Genius is a steam punk space opera romance, very flamboyant with lots of gadgets and gags.

    If you want a deeper look at fairy-tale stereotypes and what is behind them (and not in mystery or crime series sense like Fables) the slice-of-life exploration of (mostly female) choice and a great setting is in Castle Waiting. Linda Medley has been releasing following stories in pamphlet format so far – via Fantagraphics – I hope she gets a second collection. I found page previews of issues 11-14 (the hardcover collects the first ten issues):

    The Finder Series may have a male protagonist, but he often is sidelined by the women in the different trade paperbacks. I have hear people recomend the Dream Sequence trade as the most amazing of the collections.

    Digger, Girl Genius and Ballad you can read complete online, so decide for yourself. Digger and Girl Genius also offer book collections.

    My personal favourite so far is Castle Waiting.