Category Archives: 1980s

Top o’ the Lot: Captain Picard’s Love Interests

Top o' the Lot Image Updated

From time to time Outright Geekery brings you a slanted and biased opinion on some trivially specific topic of geekery. We call it Outright Geekery’s Top o’ the Lot.

In the Original series of Star Trek it was pretty cut and dry who the woman’s man was.Sexy Picard When you;re cast next to an emotionless alien and a crotchety old doctor it’s easy to be a pimp. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a completely different deal, however, and just about every main character had at least one love interest at some point or another. Geordi has his holodeck warp drive engineer, Worf had a mate and a child, even Data got in on the action occasionally, and Riker had way too many encounters with the opposite sex to count. Out of all the bridge crew on the Enterprise-E, though, Captain Picard had the most interesting affairs of the heart, ranging from longtime friends, to advanced holograms, to cybernetic aliens. So, without further ado, we set phasers to love, adjust tricorders to detect high levels of pheromones, and Engage passion as we run down the Top o’ the Lot: Captain Picard’s Love Interests.

Honorable Mention: The U.S.S. Stargazer

You never forget your first love

This one may seem like a cheat at first glimpse, but let me explain. Captain Picard, above all, is married to his job. He’s in love with The Federaion and is most passionate about his role as a Starfleet Captain. He’s admitted that he regrets never making time for a family, while also understanding how much good his commitment to his work has brought. And since it’s difficult to really put a finger on how to best example this love for his profession, you never really get over your first love, and the U.S.S. Stargazer, Picard’s first chance to sit in the captain’s chair, surely fits that bill. I know, this isn’t a woman, or even a person, but this aspect of Picard’s love life defienitely deserves a mention, if only an honorable one, and the rest o’ this Lot is full of people…well, they’re mostly people.

5. The Borg Queen

Borg Queen
This one comes with way too much baggage for anything long-term to last. Been there, done that!

Little did Picard turned Locutus know what was truly in store for him when The Borg first kidnapped him in the two-part TNG episode The Best of Both Worlds, but he found out during the movie First Contact that he was going to be more than just another drone. The Borg Queen, the “leader” of the hive-mind collective that IS the Borg consciousness, was seeking a mate, and she had her cybernetic eye on one Jean-Luc Picard. It was more than a bit odd, and was destined to fail from the get go. He’s from the Alpha quandrant, she’s from the Delta quandrant; it just wasn’t meant to be. The Queen eventually went on to seduce Data for a brief time before putting the moves on Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine, but I’m not sure she had the same things in mind that she had for Jean-Luc. Of course, this wasn’t the only love interest Picard had that was partially artificial. One of them, the next spot on this Lot, was completely artificial.

4. Minuet

Riker just can’t keep it in his pants!

This one time, in season 1, the Binars, sort of like alien versions of Bill Gates, needed to upload their entire planetary database into the computer of the Enterprise to save it from some disaster or another, and in order to distract certain members of the bridge crew, including the Captain, created a holodeck character unlike any other seen before. Her name was Minuet, and she took Captain Picard by a bit of a surprise when he first met her. Those Binars really know how to make fake women seem realer than the real thing, and not even the esteemed Jean-Luc Picard could fight the appeal of Minuet. Too bad that c-blocking, testosterone-filled Riker took all the attention from the perfect girl made of light-waves and force-fields or we may have seen more of Picard in action way sooner. But his smooth sex appeal wasn’t denied for long as seen in the next love interest in the Top.

3. Kamala

The passion between these two characters was palpable
A part of Jean-Luc wished it was him receiving, not giving away, this bride.

I like this one for two very simple reasons. First, the relationship between the empathic female metamorph born and bred to be attractive to any man in any way, Kamala, and a Captain Picard placed in the awkward position of personally looking after the female with uncontrollable sex appeal made for an interesting and quite complex examination into the feelings of a man viewers rarely were given a glimpse of. It was quite the departure for the character, and made for some excellent moments of growth and enrichment for Jean-Luc that would carry on throughout the rest of the series. Secondly, the character of Kamala was played by one Famke Janssen, also known for playing the character Jean Grey in the X-Men films, which also starred – wait for it! – Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard himself, as Professor Charles Xavier. I can’t help it, I love it when I get my chocolate in my peanut butter!

2. Vash


All Jean-Luc was looking for was a nice quiet holiday on Risa, but what he found was one of the oddest and cutest couples in all of Star Trek. Vash was the antithesis of Jean-Luc: A greedy, self-centered scoundrel. The only thing the couple had in common was their love for archeology, but I guess that’s all it took and opposites attract Vash2because the two hit it off in the strangest of ways. Yes, they saved the universe together, but Vash decided her freedom was better for her than living in a stuffy starship. Although she eventually hooked up with Q for a while (surely just so the omnipotent being could get under Picard’s skin), but Vash left a lasting impression and pretty much sums up the “Oh, what could have been?” trend that is Jean-Luc Picard’s love life. Although, there is that one…

1. Doctor Beverly Crusher

Crusher1It was put out there quite early in the series and was a constant tightrope walk for both character throughout the entire run of the storied show. But Captain Picard’s and Doctor Beverly Crusher’s relationship was deep and complex, straddling a line between precious friendship and hidden, and somewhat forbidden, feelings. See Picard was in command when Beverly’s husband was killed in the line of duty, and while the loss cemented Picard into the Crusher family for all-time, moving the relationship past anything but a Crusher2close friendship seemed like a black mark on the memory of the fallen friend. But oh, man, we all wanted to see it happen. The tension between the two characters was an ongoing thing, they we’re arguably the closest of any two characters on ANY of the series, and wouldn’t Jean-Luc have made the best damned step-dad in the whole world to that unruly Wesley? Out of all of Picard’s love interests, all of them would have been better for having Jean-Luc, but only Beverly would have made Jean-Luc better for the experience. She was that damned good!


See a mistake? Disagree with the choices? Tell us what you think about this installment of Top o’ Lot, join in the discussion and share your opinion.

Top o’ the Lot: The Rest of the Animated ’80’s

Top o' the Lot Image Updated

From time to time Outright Geekery brings you a slanted and biased opinion on some trivially specific topic of geekery. We call it Outright Geekery’s Top o’ the Lot.

For the last month or so I’ve been delving into my two most favorite cartoons from the 1980’s, G.I. Joe and Transformers, running down my favorite characters from each side of each of those great teams that made up the shows. And I could probably go on for months on end just creating lists based on those two shows. I never even cracked into my favorite G.I. Joe and Cobra vehicles (and they have enough of those to fill 4 lists each!), my favorite episodes of each show (another two lists), my favorite crossovers between these two shows, and plenty of other trivial minutia I could turn into something (kind of) substantial. But, eventually, I have to get to other subjects, like The Top o’ the Lot: Wielders of Mjolnir Not Named Thor, or Top o’ the Lot: Girls Who Dated Captain Picard, among many others. But, I figured I had room for one more list from the animated 1980’s, and what better way then to highlight the rest? And, boy, are there a lot of the rest! This is going to be a Giant-Sized issue of Top o’ the Lot, and there’s no better topic for it! So, without further ado, we go back in time and run down a slanted and biased list of cartoon craziness; it’s Top o’ the Lot: The Rest of the Animated ’80’s.

Honorable Mention: Shirt Tales

Shirt TalesThe Shirt Tales wasn’t the most popular cartoon of the 1980’s but it was something completely different, and I think it deserves some attention. The show was kind of like The Avengers meets Wild Kingdom, as a team of anthropomorphic beasts lived dual lives. One, as a group of park animals (but not quite a zoo) where they puled the Yogi Bear treatment on the oblivious Mr. Dinkle the Park Ranger. Their other life, however, was a super-hero team that flew around in a jet/car/boat thing and saved the world! It was weird, and pretty interesting. The oddness doesn’t stop there either, as each beastly member of this team wore different colored shirts, and, every now and again, the shirts would change to show what the character wearing it was thinking. WTF!? Yeah it was strange, and, just as crazy, based on a line of greeting cards. They get a mention for being cool and crazy, a big attribute of the entire list, and this was one my little sister and I could agree on, even though I never admitted it. Saturday mornings, some Cap’n Crunch, and Cartoons! Oh yeah, here we go!


11. Silverhawks

Yes, an Eleven! If I’m expanding my biased and slanted views, I’m slanting the whole damn thing!

SilverhawksTAALLYYHAAWWK!! Silverhawks may have been copying another animated show from the 1980’s, but it had an appeal all it’s own. Just because it was “Thundercats in space” didn’t mean that wasn’t an awesome concept. The “partly metal/partly real” team of heroes lead by Commander Stargazer and filled with larger than life characters, like the cowboy with a weaponized guitar Lt. Colonel Bluegrass, fought the good fight against the Mon*Star, Yes-Man (great name!), and an equally creative group of assorted villains. A fun little action show, but it makes the list for having some really great characters that were the typical 1980’s fair. Silverhawks makes the Top o’ this Lot despite the main villain Mon*Star growing to immense size, when everyone know what 80’s toon had the best, biggest monsters.


10. Voltron

Voltron 2 Voltron may have been the name of the biggest, baddest robot in all the universe, but the show based on that bot was nothing short of excellent, in all of it’s wonderful versions. The 5-man team with the lions, known as Lion Force or Voltron of the Far Universe, is by far the best known of the teams, and probably the most popular, but I was always partial to the Voltron of the Near Universe, Vehicle Voltron, because of the search and discover nature of the series. It felt like Star Trek with a huge robot! Lion Force Voltron was just easier to follow than the 15 member strong Vehicle Force, and was probably the better of the Voltrontwo shows, as well. Either way, no matter how you like your flavor of the guy, Voltron was a really cool take on everything going on in animation during the 80’s, and the Japanese elements in this series was some of my first introductions to the style. “And I’ll form the head!” Man, it’s funny hearing that now that I’m older.


9. The Littles

The LittlesThe Littles was another one of those quirky little shows from the 80’s that was just outright entertaining. And it should have been! The books the show was based on continue to be mandatory reading for the early reader. This show, again, had great characters, but The Littles was all about the odd relationship between this family of strange, tiny beings living inside the walls of a house, and the Bigg family, the residents of said house. It was also cool to see how The Littles using “borrowed” Bigg items and using them in Little fashion. Sure the source material may have been ripped off from The Borrowers series of children’s books, and the 1997 film adaption of the same name was really cool, but it takes absolutely nothing away from how quaint this show was. And that gets The Littles into the Top, but the rest of the list is all out action!


8. Danger Mouse

Danger MouseAmong the great many shows I watched on Nickelodeon back in the day, my favorite had to have been the Brit import Danger Mouse. Along with his sidekick Penfold, DM was a rodent version of the super-spy James Bond, at it was hugely entertaining. He had a fire hydrant (plug?) secret base, a fast car, and was a pretty good driver despite having the bad eye. This was almost the perfect British cartoon for American kids in the 1980’s, and for good reason. It was smart, funny, never took itself too serious, but didn’t let that stop them from being serious about it. I have nothing to say about today’s current batch of Nicktoons, but back in the day, but Danger Mouse was original. I can’t say the same for the next member of this Lot, but it didn’t take away any of the awesome.


7. The Real Ghostbusters

The Real GhostbustersThe film made so much money and reached such high levels of success in inserting itself firmly into popular culture, a Ghostbusters cartoon was bound to be a thing eventually, and I’m so thankful that it was. The movie might as well have been an animated flick, so the translation worked nicely. My favorite thing about this show, and probably the reason it beats out some other shows missing from this Top, is the work of one J. Michael Straczynski. His written some of the best things I’ve ever seen in comics and TV, and this was better because of him.


6. Adventures of the Gummi Bears

It cannot be ignored. I know. There were a ton of great Disney shows in 1980’s. It was the heyday for Disney’s entire 30-minute series efforts. But only three of the great The Disney Afternoon series, including Talespin, Darkwing Duck, and Goof Troop, all premiered in the 90’s, with only Duck Tales, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and, my personal favorite, and the first in the string, Gummi Bears.

Gummi BearsThe Adventures of the Gummi Bears was a fantasy cartoon that followed the adventures of mystical magical bears, that lived deep in a forest hidden from man, and drank a weird potion that would make them bounce around like Superballs. Oh, and it was loosely based on a gummy bear-shaped candy. No matter how terrible that premise sounds, Gummi Bears was a great show. I loved the fantasy universe, and the characters were quintessential Disney Afternoon Animation characters, before those characters were even cemented. Gummi Bears was the original! And it started an historical run of animation. I’ve included the show’s theme, but THIS version is by far my favorite.


5. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Oh yeah! He-Man! I loved He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for one plain and simple reason: Jealousy. I was kind of a spoiled kid when it came to toys. I had too many G.I. Joe and Transformers to count at some points, and I was always able to fill in a Thundercats action figure or some other bits from other toylines, but my mom, for some He-Man and The Masters of the Universecrazy reason, was set on not buying me ANY He-Man! It was absurd. Maybe I should have this chat with my therapist, but a friend at my baby-sitters house had them all. He-Man, Man-at-Arms, Beast Man, Skeletor, even Stinkor, and action figure that smelled like a skunk. He had the Castle Greyskull and Skeletor’s Snake Mountain playsets, and Snake Mountain had a voice-changing microphone! Jealousy and toys made this show unforgettable for me, but it was fun watching, placing He-Man in the dead center of the Top, toys, again, helps the next spot, but creativity puts it a spot from the Top three.


4. M.A.S.K.

Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, because acronyms are hard, was another odd one, and another thief, but that is exactly what made it cool. M.A.S.K. was a strike-team formed to M.A.S.K.combat one specific enemy, V.E.N.O.M. (because acronyms are awesome), just like G.I. Joe. Both sides of this conflict drove or piloted (or sometimes both!) cars or other vehicles that would change somehow. For example, a ordinary looking ’57 Chevy transforms, oh, I mean CHANGES, into a tank. Hmm, reminds me of another show from the 80’s. But M.A.S.K. also incorporated some weird helmets worn by the characters, each having some kind of crazy power. It added a whole X-Men elements to the whole thing and, for the 80’s, they pulled it off. But it wasn’t quite able to break into the tippy Top o’ this Lot, but it’s full of familiar names.

3. Thundercats

HOOOOO!! Maybe it was that triumphant theme song, that great chant that Lion-O used to call his friends, or the way my younger self could relate to Lion-O’s plight. Mutant cats Thundercatsfrom outer space landing on Earth…Third Earth, excuse me, and setting up shop and building a new home. And what a home?! The Cat’s Lair was so cool! And that tank? Whoa! Each Thundercat had his or her own certain appeal, and Mumm-ra and Slithe and his bunch were fun villains. Even better was the huge cast of characters that filled Third Earth, including the Robear Berbils, Wolos, and Brute-Men, and even better than that were the new Thundercats they added, like the blind Lynx-O, and addition of new villains, like Hammerhand and his Berserkers. What a great frekain’ show! It doesn’t quite stand the test of time, but none of these shows really do, and the recent new treatment of the franchise left me wanting, but Thundercats was a special thing, that will never be duplicated.


2. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

I’m not absolutely sure, but it’s a safe but that this show was a big part of my adoration for comics, and if you know anything else about me, that is a huge adoration; it’s borderline obsessive! So this is a really important show for me. I would have just old enough to watch what was going on, but not remember watching it, but I know for a fact that I did. Either Spider-Man and his Amazing Friendsway, this was a good one, and an early addition to the more modern and sophisticated Marvel Animation that would follow decade after decade. Seeing Spidey hanging out with Iceman and Firestar was a great trio to see in action and, noteworthy, Firestar was created just for this show, and has appeared in many comics since and currently in Amazing X-Men, which is quite amazing BTW, but don’t get me started. I did have a problem with Peter’s transforming HQ with a flipping sofa and spinning TV stand, but oh well. It didn’t keep this nostalgic and super important toon from almost taking the Top spot o’ this Lot. That was saved for a show that I simply could not wait to see when I was a kid, because it was based on the very first thing I ever did that made me feel like a geek.


1. Dungeons & Dragons

I’ll admit without hesitating that I missed the first run of this show. I’m not that damned old! But I firmly remember a 5th or 6th grade sleepover and playing my first game of Dungeons & Dragons with some friends. I was hooked, and I’ve played many pen and paper RPG’s Dungeons & Dragonssince and currently, but it was this show that helped me keep a passion for the game going during years of moving from city to city, and leaving game after game. I had at least 30 different characters of differing class, race, and level pre-made just waiting for a game to come my way, and I couldn’t help but add my own creations to the magic items, many of those being based on the classic magical weapons from that cartoon. Six friends take a trip on an amusement park ride and are teleported to the world of Dungeons & Dragons where they take on the persona of the classic player classes available in the role-playing game. Another character, The Dungeon Master, appears as a mysterious wizard and gives the gang a bunch of enchanted items. And the dragon Tiamat was amazing to see animated, and being voiced by Frank Welker didn’t hurt, either. Couldn’t get enough of this when I was a kid, because of the way it reminded me of playing a game I instantly fell in love with. That’s enough to put Dungeons & Dragons and the very tippy Top o’ the teller than usual Lot.


See a mistake? Disagree with the choices? Tell us what you think about this installment of Top o’ Lot, join in the discussion and share your opinion.

Top o’ the Lot: Members of Cobra

Top o' the Lot Image Updated

From time to time Outright Geekery brings you a slanted and biased opinion on some trivially specific topic of geekery. We call it Outright Geekery’s Top o’ the Lot.

The cavalcade of ’80’s animated after-school nostalgia keeps up it’s steady march toward Cobra Logothe horizon, and we’ve got a long way to go before I move onto something else. I ran down my list favorite G.I. Joes last week, and, just like the twin Transformers list from a couple of weeks ago, the badguys are always tougher to pick. There’s a ton of names missing from my list – Major Bludd, Destro, even Serpentor – that really should have been on here, but just copying and pasting the entire Cobra roster isn’t cool. So, without further ado, COBRA-LALALALALALA!! The Top o’ the Lot: Members of Cobra.

Honorable Mention: Cobra Commander

Leaving Cobra Commander off this list is a good way to get myself punched by a fellow contributor to this blog, and I’m not taking that risk again. And he’s just a great character! A megalomaniac with the bankCobra Commanderroll to back it up, Cobra Commander stands as one of the greatest villains of all time. Whether he wore the mask or the helmet, cape or no cape, brainwashing civilians or setting up a Pyramid of Darkness, this dude was a badass. Sure, he never quite got over on G.I. Joe the way he always wanted to, was actually displaced as Cobra leader for a time, and there was that one time he became a snake, it doesn’t matter. Cobra Commander makes the list because it’s a list of Cobra Members, he’s their damn leader, I don’t like getting punched, and he’s a legitimate badass, but he’s not a character I adore, like the rest of the Lot.

5. Doctor Mindbender

Doc Bender makes the list for a few reasons. His part in “building” Serpentor alone should Dr Mindbenderget him on the list, but look at that outfit. Nothing says “maniacal scientist” like wearing suspenders and no shirt. But Dr. Mindbender’s origins, both of them, is terribly funny. In the comics he was an orthodontist (Yeah, a dentist) who created a machine that numbed pain during oral surgery, but, via a mishap with that same machine, became an evil madman. In the cartoon he was just thrown into the mix, but Shipwreck accidentally drops some chemicals on his head causing all of Mindbender’s hair to fall out. And that accent? Everything was very important to Doc Mindbender, I guess. And the monocle? Why?! He’s kind of the epitome of the zany characters that made up the Cobra cabal, and that doesn’t end here.

4. Tomax and Xamot

Tomax and XamotThe Crimson Guard Commanders and heads of Cobra’s corporate face Extensive Enterprises, Tomax and Xamot were, again, just plain old fun. They were integral in building Serpentor, their shared “feelings” was a pretty fun deal, and they were headed to be the new stars of the whole damn thing. In the unreleased 3rd season of the cartoon, Tomax and Xamot were going launch a new team of terrorists, The Coil, as Cobra-La and The Joes all but destroy themselves. Ah, what could have been? Also interesting to note is that the same duo that voiced the Autobot twins Sunstreaker and Sideswipe also voiced this set of twins, so maybe I don’t actually love Tomax and Xamot; maybe I just like their voice-actors…NAH!! I love these guys. The next spot, though; that’s more of a fear thing.

3. The Baroness

The BaronessAnd, yes, it’s THE Baroness. Wait! Girls can be villains?! Sure, there was Mystique, but The Baroness was pretty much my first introduction to a badass female villain that truly carried herself in her own unique way. She was strong, yet feminine; in a world surrounded by strong male archetypes, she held her own, and never lost that strength in femininity. And the glasses were super hot! She may of had a thing with Destro, but she was always the one in charge, adding even more credit to her character, and I could see her legitimately commanding Cobra with a lot more success than those guys who have been trying for years. They say behind every strong man is a strong woman, and this is the case with The Baroness, only she’s holding a knife, boys. Tread lightly.

2. Zartan

Dude, I loved Zartan! I loved his homage to the apocalypse that all American kids thought Zartanof Australia back in the ’80’s (thanks, Mel Gibson), he had his own little fun squad of delinquents on bikes and Swamp Skiers at his beckon call, and the toy?! OMG the toy was brilliant! It’s really the only reason Zartan makes the list! The Cobra Master-of-Disguise came with a removable mask, a removable breast-plate (that really didn’t do much but get lost or sucked up the vacuum), and a sweet color-changing ability that darkened the action figure when put into sunlight. It was really cool, and something almost unheard of in today’s “collector-centric” toy releases. Zartan was a great character, both in the comics and the cartoon, his action-figure was arguably the coolest in the entire line, and, as a master-of-disguise, he was a great addition to the Cobra lineup. All of those attributes could have; maybe should have; pushed Zartan to the Top o’ this Lot, but it’s slanted and biased, and I have a special place in my heart for this week’s Top Spot.

1. Firefly

Firefly is my favorite member of Cobra because he fits each and every measure I put on such a character. Sure, he “works” for Cobra, but he’s a mercenary at heart: No promises; Fireflyno refunds. He was a great toy with tons of accessories included in the package. His comic book persona was awesome, eclipsed only by the cartoon version, simply because the voice-over work of one Gregg “Dinobot Grimlock” Berger, who was also on The Littles, Pound Puppies, voiced both Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio in Spider-Man, and way too many other animated shows and video games to mention here. However, the one thing that puts Firefly over the top is the way he was replaced by that pretender Storm Shadow. Firefly was supposed to be the go-to ninja for Cobra! Oh, what could have been?! Even with that injustice Firefly is a great character. Mysterious, dangerous, and in it for himself. That pretty much sums up the entire problem with Cobra; why they never win over The Joes: They’re all just in it for themselves. Firefly, at least, admits it.


See a mistake? Disagree with the choices? Tell us what you think about this installment of Top o’ Lot, join in the discussion and share your opinion.

Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now: Watchmen

Hello, friends! Taylor here! And I’m exciting to be bringing you something new today here at Outright Geekery: an examination of some of the greatest comics ever written in a segment we’re calling Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now. The aim here is to shine a spotlight on some of the best material to have ever graced the comic medium, and to break down the components of the stories that add up to make the books so good. Basically, think of this as our site’s version of a book club meeting, where we can get together to talk about the all-time classics.

With this in mind, what better book could there be for our initial outing than the one that many people, myself included, consider the greatest comic book ever created? And so let’s dive into Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.

Before we get started, though, you should know that I meant what I said when I named the segment “comics you should have already read by now;” I’m going to be writing with the expectation that you have already read Watchmen. Remember, this is going to be a discussion about the things that make the book good, not a review encouraging you to run out and buy it. As such, I am going to be talking about the book in its entirety, which includes the ending. Naturally, this means that this post will contain quite a few spoilers.

Those of you who haven’t read it have been warned.

Now that that’s out of the way, let us begin.

A Brief Synopsis

Set mostly in New York City in the year 1985, the world of Watchmen is one not dissimilar to our own; it has the same history, the same leadership, and is also embroiled in the tension of the Cold War. Indeed, the only major difference between the real world and the world of Watchmen is the existence of superheros. Yet while there is only a handful of these costumed crime fighters, only one of which actually has super powers, they influence several key events of the 20th century in a profound way. A few examples include the god-like Dr Manhattan almost single-handedly winning the Vietnam War for the United States, the Comedian, a sadistic government agent, ending the Iranian Hostage Crisis and assassinating JFK, and the ingenious Ozymandias reshaping society with a number of inventions.

Our story picks up, however, long after the glory days of the superhero, in a time when vigilante activity is abhorred by society, and the world seems to be on the brink of nuclear annihilation. It is in this climate that the Comedian is found dead, setting off a chain of events in which his fellow vigilantes become embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy in which the fate of the whole world is on the line.

With this as our backdrop, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons give us an intricate and brilliantly crafted tale filled from cover to cover with complex, engaging characters, clever plot-twists, and compelling philosophical issues. In fact, there is so much to talk about in Watchmen that it is often difficult to point to any one thing that makes it so good. Rather, I would argue that the thing that makes Watchmen stand out the way it’s individual components work in concert with one another to create a finished product that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Now, we could spend hours talking about all the things that Watchmen does well. But rather than try to tackle the book in its entirety, I want to attempt something else; I want to try to break down the two things that, more than anything else, make Watchmen the greatest comic ever written. In my opinion, these things are Moore and Gibbons’ intimate understanding of comic books as a medium and of superheros as a genre.

Understanding of Comics as a Medium

At this point, I’d like to take a step back from Watchmen itself and talk briefly about storytelling in a general sense. Even before the dawn of civilization, human beings have been telling each other stories. With this much time to refine the formula, we’ve pretty much worked out all of the various tropes and conventions that we can use for telling tales, and applied these techniques across a number of different media. Fast-forwarding to the modern day, we now have a wide range of formats for telling stories, including film, prose,  and comic books.

Each type of medium, naturally, has its own strengths and weaknesses. Movies are able to combine audio and visual elements to convey specific moods and emotions that, with talented directors and actors at the helm, can have an extremely powerful effect. Books are able to go into greater length of detail to bring in the reader for the long haul, as well as use well-crafted words that prompt the reader’s imagination to create its own scenery. Comic books, meanwhile, have strengths all their own, several of which are on display in Watchmen.

Let me show you what I mean with three examples.

First, let’s take a look at Chapter 5, “Fearful Symmetry.” Following the deranged Rorschach as he investigates the Comedian’s murder, we find out that the vigilante has bitten off more than he can chew and is set up to take a fall. I bring it up here, though, because of the way this chapter utilizes a stunning artistic approach that can only be achieved in the medium of comic books. As you read through the comic book, you start with the 3×3 panel layout that is more or less the default for the whole story. As you move along, though, Gibbons begins to throw in a number of larger panels at seemingly random intervals. Nothing special so far, though; this has pretty much been the approach for the whole run. All this changes, however, when we reach this two page spread…

It is at this point that the panel layout begins to mirror itself centered upon the central panel above, so that if you were to lay all of this issue’s pages side by side, the panels would have perfect symmetry. The finished product, then, incorporates into its very presentation the same symmetry that is an iconic part of Rorschach, the chapter’s protagonist, adding greatly to the overall effect of the story. Again, this is an artistic approach that takes advantage full of the way comics convey information, and is not something that could be achieved in another medium.

Another area in which Watchmen takes advantage of the strengths of a comic book can be seen in the way it paces its story. One good way to demonstrate this is to take a closer examination of my personal favorite chapter, “The Darkness of Mere Being.” During this sequence, Dr Manhattan brings Silk Spectre to his new home on Mars to give her one last chance to convince him to return to earth to save humanity (or in a broader sense, to convince him that humanity is worth saving). As the chapter progresses, Laurie’s advocacy for humanity forces her look deeply within herself to find her answers. Consequently, she spends time dwelling on moments that, for better or for worse, defined her life, including interactions with her mother and other members of the superhero community. As the comic moves along, we constantly switch back and forth between Laurie’s memories and her seemingly losing battle to move Dr Manhattan to action, as Laurie uses her own past as a lens through which to examine all the chaos of the human experience. As she continues to be honest about her own past, though, her anxiety builds as she pieces together who she is and where she came from. Ultimately, this all builds to a crescendo as Laurie relives some of her worst memories while simultaneously being reduced to hopelessness as the one being capable of saving humanity stands before her, uncaring. It is in this moment of purest desperation that she comes to the realization that the Comedian, a sociopath, a rapist, and a murderer, is in fact her father. Here, Laurie hits her absolute low point, with her life figuratively collapsing around her while Dr Manhattan’s palace literally crashes upon her.

Yet just when everything seems lost, Dr Manhattan is finally moved by Laurie’s plight, concluding that if the chaos of everyday life could produce people like Laurie in even the most unlikely of circumstances, than human life might be worth fighting for after all.

When read from beginning to end, this is a very powerful and moving scene. Like I said, we spend the entire chapter building up to a fever pitch before reaching the climax, aided along the way by carefully sequenced words and imagery. Altogether, the chapter is made so strong by the pacing it achieves, a pacing that can’t really be used in a different medium.

Don’t believe me? Let’s make the obvious comparison and look at the equivalent scene from the Watchmen film. I just finished gushing about how the comic had such a powerful build up, but in the movie, Laurie’s big realization comes in a matter of seconds when Dr Manhattan uses his powers, at her request, to make her relive a repressed memory. Where the comic slowly, tantalizing leads you into a powerful moment, the movie pushes the realization upon you all at once. As you might imagine, the effect isn’t quite the same. To be fair, though, it’s not really the movie’s fault; they simply changed the sequence so that it would work in a movie format. When telling a story on film, one of the greatest limiting factors is always time, since it’s very hard to keep an audience engaged for extensive periods. Consequently, it’s difficult to justify including too many things that don’t directly advance the plot. When dealing with source material as rich as Watchmen, there is simply not enough time to keep everything. And one of the things we have no time for is to let Laurie and Manhattan have their debate on Mars, leading to the vastly abbreviated version we get in the movie.

By that same token, a prose version of the same scene would likely have to spend far more time to achieve the same effect as the comic, simply because, as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Where the comic is able use pictures to convey Laurie’s memories quickly as we move back and forth from past to present, a novel would have to spend several paragraphs to set up each transition to a new memory if it wanted to achieve the same level of detail. Where the movie had no time to build tension in the first place, a book would undo any tension it created as it is forced to provide the necessary exposition the shifting landscape requires. Moore and Gibbons, fortunately, knew that this sort of narrative landscape would work perfectly in a comic, and were able to use this to great effect.

Finally, Watchmen also provides us with a great example of a comic book’s ability to use imagery to give the audience story cues with a degree of subtlety that isn’t attainable in films or novels. To observe this, let’s look in on Chapter 11, “Look On My Works, Ye Mighty,” which serves as the climax of our story. By this point, Nite Owl and Rorschach have discovered that their old ally Ozymandias is the mastermind behind the Comedian’s murder and the conspiracy behind it. The chapter picks up with the duo en route to Ozymandias’ Antarctic retreat to confront him once and for all. When they arrive, however, they are promptly and soundly beaten, after which Ozymandias has a polite conversation with his attackers. As he explains his motivations, the action switches between this scene and New York City, where several of the minor characters we’ve been seeing since the beginning of the story have been caught up in a minor street fight. Once Ozymandias has finished explaining the details of his cover up, we finally learn about the plan that was at the center of it: to put and end to Cold War hostilities by convincing the world that all of humanity faced a common foe in the form of inter-dimensional aliens, and to murder millions of people in order to make the threat seem real. Upon hearing this, Nite Owl is incredulous, and asks Ozymandias when he was going to “do it.” Adrian responds with one of the most famous quotes in all of comics…

It is then that we realize, in a terrible moment of clarity, that the heroes are too late, that the villain’s monstrous plan has been carried out, and that millions of innocent people, including several that we’ve come to know over the course of the story, have already been dead for over half an hour. We also come to realize that the events which we had been watching unfold on the streets of New York during this chapter were shown out of sequence. Moore and Gibbons had ticked us into thinking that there was hope for them, when really they were dead all along.

Or did they?

When we go back and read the chapter over again, we can find an important clue that would have let us know from the beginning that the fight next to Bernie’s newsstand had been carried out before Nite Owl and Rorschach entered Ozymandias’ lair: the clocks. There are plenty of clocks to be found around both Antarctica and New York, letting us know that all of our bit characters had gathered at 11:25 pm, the same time that Adrian had pushed some mysterious button (though we didn’t know what it was at the time). We could have known the whole time, then, that the scenes in New York, which all take place over the same span of time from different perspectives, had been played out before the superheroes had confronted each other. The clocks were there, plain to see if you knew where to look, just another detail to be found on the page.

As stated above, the aspect I want to highlight here is the subtlety with which these clues were put before us, and how this sort of subterfuge couldn’t be carried out in books or films. If a novelist wanted to play with the events being out of sequence in the same way, he or she would have beat you over the head with the whole time-of-day thing. When the only bits of scenery the reader can get are conveyed by the words of the author, it’s tough to be sneaky about what you choose bring the reader’s attention to. Here, you’d end up having to say something like “And Bernie checked his watch to see that it was not yet 11:30.” Movies have a similar problem in that the audience would not be able to read clocks very well unless you put them into focus, which would once again be sending out all sorts of red flags. The aspect that makes playing the sequencing clever in the comic is that it there to find but very easy to miss; it would be pretty tough to miss if the clues were given in a paragraph or on a screen. Yet as they have demonstrated over and over, Moore and Gibbons have a mastery over their own craft and understood that their trickery would work perfectly well in the pages of a comic book.

Understanding of Superheroes as a Genre

In addition to using the comic book to its maximum potential as a storytelling medium, Watchmen also demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the superhero genre. The way they go about doing this is to break down the superhero formula and create a deconstruction of it. That is to say that it takes our preconceived notions about who superheros are and how their stories play out and turns them on their ear.

Examples of this can be seen in a variety of sources, even in elements as basic as the motivations of the various superheros. If you’ve read a fair share of comic books, you no doubt have seen a wide range of superheros. And while they all have unique elements to their origins, as a general rule, they fight crime because they are essentially good people; they are men and women who, for whatever reason, fight to save the innocent or punish the guilty because it is the right thing to do, and because they want to affect positive change upon the world.

The superheros of the Watchmen universe, however, are largely a subversion of this trend. Rather than having a cast of characters who fight crime out of a sense of morality, Moore decides instead to create characters who behave as people in the real world might. As you might expect of people who dress in flamboyant costumes to commit acts of vigilantism, these characters do not create their alter egos for purely noble reasons. To run through a few, we have the Comedian fighting crime simply because it gives him an excuse to revel in his violent tendencies, the original Silk Spectre who wears a skimpy costume as a way to gain publicity, and Dollar Bill, a man who is paid by a banking chain to act as their living commercial. And those are some of our heroes; our villains include the likes Captain Carnage, a sexual deviant who gets a rise out of being beaten up. Taken as a whole, then, the costumed adventurers of our story are motivated by either a deranged psychosis or a desperate plea for attention; in fact, one could argue that only Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, takes on his identity purely out of a desire to do good in the world. The rest serve as dark parodies of the superheros we know and love, and this doesn’t end with their motivations.

Moore also gives us a number of examples of the minutiae of superhero life being dissected for us to see. We have superheros getting put into peril by their ostentatious costumes (Dollar Bill was killed when his cape become caught in a revolving door during a bank robbery, and the first Nite Owl was nearly taken out by a drunken assailant when his mask was pulled over his eyes). We have Laurie and Dan complaining about when they needed to use the bathroom while on patrol. We have a subversion of the heroic superhero death, as Hollis Mason is killed in his home by a gang of anonymous thugs who mistook him for his younger counterpart, a meaningless death that pales in comparison to the type of symbolic or grand (albeit temporary) deaths we are accustomed to seeing in comics.

In my opinion, however, the ultimate subversion of the superhero formula is the broadest one it makes: the subversion of our assumptions of how superhero stories play out. At the core of their characters, superheros fight, to various degrees, to maintain a status quo, to stave off external threats that would do harm to the world they know. And almost without fail, they succeed in saving the world.

What happens in Watchmen, though? Well, this happens…

The heroes fail. The villain wins, plain and simple, and flat-out tells us that we shouldn’t have expected him to stand around and gloat like an idiot before his plan was complete.

And in the wake of our heroes’ failure, the world is radically transformed, the old status quo be damned.

By playing with our expectations in this way, Watchmen delivers the ultimate sucker punch, one that can only be fully appreciated by those familiar with the archetypal superhero story. After all, only the ones who knew a foundation in all it’s glory can truly understand the gravity of watching it get torn down. It is in this way that Moore and Gibbons, who had an intimate understanding of how superhero stories are told, were able able give the reader an experience of shock that is rarely achieved.

Oh, so much more…

So, I’ve been going on for a little while now. But like I said earlier, we are barely scratching the surface of all the there is to talk about in Watchmen. I’ve barely even mentioned Rorschach, and how he acts in near perfect accordance with Kantian ethics. Nor have we talked about how the Silk Spectre spends the majority of the tale confined by feminine stereotypes before finally liberating herself in the end when she comes to terms with her own identity. Or the way The Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic within the comic, reflects the character arcs of at least three of the main characters, most directly Ozymandias. Or the way various characters react when confronted by Nihilism, and how it shapes our understanding of the story. Or how the story can be an effective tool for our understanding of Cold War society and nuclear paranoia. Or how…you know what, I had better stop there.

As you can see, Watchmen has more meat to it than we could ever pick apart in one sitting. Watchmen is a book with layers of complexity around a powerful and thought-provoking story, that behooves you to read it over and over so that you can absorb the whole thing. And that goes a long way towards explaining why so many people consider it the best comic ever written.

So that’s what I think! How about you guys?

Bygone Geekery: Misfits of Science

DVD CoverContrary to popular belief, the 1980’s were a blast. If you overlook the fashion, and the politics, and certain musical releases, the decade provided a much needed breath of fresh air in a lot of areas. While there was a strong surge of traditional science-fiction offerings to be found in the ‘80’s, the decade, in this context, can be best appreciated for giving us the new genre of the sci-fi/comedy. Ghostbusters and Back to the Future are just the most popular contributions to this new genre, but even Honey, I shrunk the Kids and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure were movies that would not have been made before the 1980’s and the rise of the science-fiction/comedy genre.

Cast MontageThe popularity of this newly created genre was not strictly a property of the big screen, however, and while there had been straight-up comedy shows with sci-fi elements for years, including the ‘60’s My Favorite Martian and Lost in Space, all the through to the 1980’s, with examples like Alf, Mork and Mindy, Small Wonder and The Jetsons coming to mind, all of these shows stressed the “sitcom” aspect, with the “science-fiction” part playing second fiddle. All that changed with the 1985 series The Misfits of Science.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of room for discussion about to what degree ANY comedy/science-fiction show treated their particular balance of genre, and moving overseas makes the case much easier, but it’s hard to argue against The Misfits of Science being the first show to do it up proper here in the states. NBC put the show right up against CBS’s powerhouse Dallas, showing mad confidence in a show like this, and the focus was on the science-fiction, not on the comedy. Oh, there was comedy there, but it wasn’t the priority. More than likely it was a combination of this competition with one of the highest rated shows of all time, and the way the show so strongly embraced the geek, that caused its early demise, but I was only 8 years old when the show originally dropped and it left a lasting impression.

Fun characters thrived. A shrinking tall guy; “electrified” rock n’ roller; and one of the earliest appearances of a telekinetic Courteney Cox; plus a ton of extras filling out the cast. Also worth note is writer Tim Kring of the hit show Heroes had his first paid gig for the show, and there are numerous efforts for an upgraded remake to be produced. Misfits of Science is worth a watch simply to see what all the excitement is about.