Watchmen – The TV series

At the time I’m writing this, the Watchmen HBO TV series is available on Hulu, and possibly other streaming platforms.

That first sentence was for the web-link summary. Let’s step back a bit.

I stated in an 2009 blog post that I felt that Watchmen was the finest comic I ever read. Part of the reason I got out of reading comics on a regular basis was I didn’t think I’d find anything better. It’s 11 years later, and I stand by that statement.

When I first heard that a sequel to Watchmen was being made for HBO, I was skeptical. The graphic novel told its story and was done. What more could be said? The answer, it turns out, was plenty.

The main theme of the Watchmen graphic novel was what might happen if people in our “real” world put on costumes to fight crime. It explored that idea and many practical consequences, including the reality of public reaction, government intervention, and the fact that underneath the costume there were still human beings. But the story was basically a self-critique of the “costumed superhero” concept, using and abusing the tropes of comic books to tell human stories.

The theme of the Watchmen TV series is racism. It’s clear why HBO has made the series available outside of its normal channels so that a wider audience can see it. Though the story involves costumed crime-fighters to some degree, this is definitely not a series for children, no more than the Watchmen was.

In particular, the series begins with a harrowing depiction of the Tulsa race massacre. I knew about the incident before I watched the series, but only because a friend had mentioned it at one time on his web site. It’s not a comforting sequence. Like the Watchmen comic, the TV series is not meant to make people comfortable.

As a fan of the comic, I have a few caveats:

– If you’ve never read Watchmen comic or seen the Zack Snyder movie, some of the plot points will seem opaque: Why is everyone so obsessed with “Dr. Manhattan”? Why are the Rorschach masks significant? Why should anyone care about the old guy in the manor?

– This is a sequel to the Watchmen comic, not the Watchmen movie directed by Zack Snyder. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you may have to get around the differences: Why do people keep talking about squids?

– The series has clever visual cues that readers of the comic will get, but will just slide past everyone else. These details are not critical.

I claim that the Watchmen comic is the best I’ve ever read. I won’t say that the Watchmen TV series was the best one I’ve seen. However, it does make a timely statement about the long-term effects of racism; the Tulsa massacre reverberates throughout the series.

This must be said: The series drops the ball on how law enforcement reacts to racial issues. In particular, the show only gives lip service criticism of suspending rights and due process when you’re the “good guy” and you’re fighting the “bad guys.” In that way, the Watchmen TV series is no better than the old pulp comic books that the Watchmen graphic novel condemned.

Economix: Why people vote against their interests

About a year ago, I posted my review of Economix, a graphic book that provides an overview of economic theory and practice through to about 2011. The author, Michael Goodwin, working with the artist Dan E. Burr, has occasionally posted additional comics on his website on topics like Obamacare and Net Neutrality.

Recently, Goodwin and Burr have created a 2018-era epilogue for Economix on why people vote for Trump and Brexit; that is, why they vote against their own interests. I think it’s well worth a look.

Aside: To my intense surprise, I see that there’s a short quote from my review on the Economix blurb page. I feel both honored and unqualified.

Economix

When I discuss the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with folks, I usually point them to the following three on-line comics:

These three comics go over the details of health insurance in the US, the problems that Obamacare was supposed to solve, how well it solved them, where there was room for improvement, and the Republican response.

Of the three, the last is the most outdated even though it’s the most recent, since it doesn’t include the multiple proposals that were voted down after the American Health Care Act (Trumpcare) failed to pass.

You don’t have to agree with the author of those comics, Michael Goodwin; no one is obligated to agree with anyone’s perspectives, much less those expressed using illustrations (by Dan E. Burr). I refer to them because they’re easy to understand and offer some common ground on which to come up with new ideas.

Michael Goodwin is the author of the graphic “novel” Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures. (I put “novel” in quotes because it’s not intended as a work of fiction. Perhaps “graphic book” would be better.) It goes over the history of economics, from the theories to practice, defining terms along the ways.

I learned quite a bit from Economix. Here are three highlights:

  • the difference between socialism and communism
  • the economic justification for fascism (basically it puts a country on a permanent war economy)
  • that many current economic ideas used to shape current policy are based on models that even their creators insisted were crude approximations

The book was published in 2012 and its description of the national and global economy stops in 2011. It’s still an invaluable perspective on “how the heck did we get here?”

Again, I don’t expect everyone to agree with what Michael Goodwin says. In particular, he does not spare criticism of Ronald Reagan (though he’s no big fan of the economic policies of every president since Nixon). I suggest the book because it breaks down complex topics into easy-to-understand pictures, and offers a common reference for discussion.

In short, if you don’t know economics, I strongly recommend you read this book. I certainly wish I had it by my side as I struggled with (and failed) my Economics 101 course back in 1976.