Anyone could have done a parody of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ much-lauded graphic novel Watchmen, especially one whose release is so precariously synced with the U.S. premiere of Zack Snyder’s film adaptation. But with Watchmensch (Brain Scan Studios), Rich Johnston and Simon Rohrmuller merely use the familiar settings and characters of the original book as a platform to tell quite a different tale, that of creators’ rights and publishers’ legal acrobatics. Of course, the story of Moore’s ongoing disputes with DC Comics is the stuff of legend at this point, but Watchmensch goes beyond that single case, delving as far back as the birth of the superhero comic industry: When Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster sold their creation, Superman, for $130 to the future DC Comics.
If there’s any one person qualified to write such a far-reaching work of critical satire about the comic industry, it’s Johnston, whose weekly column, “Lying in the Gutters,” has been spilling the inside dirt on all things geeky since 2002. There’s a lot of meta commentary happening in Watchmensch, and it’s a lot to digest, but just as in the series that inspired it, Johnston includes a helpful text page, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow Stories?,” which spells out some of the between-the-panels details.
It takes about half of the book to really grasp who characters such as “Mr. Broadway,” “Nite Nurse” and “OzyOsbourne” represent and how everything relates, but by the time you get to the surprise ending (no, really, much like Watchmen, this tale has a few twists you won’t expect), the payoff is worth the sometimes-difficult journey.
The art by Rohrmuller is pitch perfect: He apes Gibbons’ detailed-yet-clean lines well enough without merely copying, but the revealing spreads on pages 18 to 20 are some of the best-drawn panels I’ve seen in years. And presented in black-and-white, the artwork is crisp, clear and refreshing.
While Watchmensch shoves a lot down your throat in just 28 pages, it’s a good primer for anyone interested in the somewhat-sketchy, behind-the-scenes workings of the entertainment industry. The story works even better if you’ve read Watchmen, as otherwise the stylistic storytelling choices make little sense, but on its own, you could do worse with your $3.99 than send it the way of Mssrs. Johnston and Rohrmuller when Watchmensch ships next week.