During a conversation about the book and movie versions of Watchmen last night with a couple of gentlemen from Conor’s old haunt, Federalist Paupers, the idea came up that Watchmen might be the first genre work to both completely be and completely destroy its source material (in this case the superhero comic). Later, we’d see the same attitude at play in films like Unforgiven, which was both a legitimately great Western and, at the same time, a devastating attack on the genre. Somewhat lesser, more overtly comic works of genre deconstruction came later: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the underrated Last Action Hero, and Wes Craven’s Scream. The shared aim of all of these films was to obey the rules of their given genres while simultaneously using those rules to collapse the genre in on itself.
Before Watchmen, had anyone ever really done this before? Agatha Christie, perhaps, with her murder mysteries in which everyone is the killer, or the narrator is the killer? Still, it seems to me that with books like these, Christie, like Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns and his delightfully noirish early run on Daredevil, wasn’t trying to break down the genre, but rather trying to expand it by taking its formula to its logical conclusion. It seems like there might be some s.f. novel from the 70’s that works in a similar manner, but I can’t think of one off hand. Does that make Alan Moore the first to pull off this stunt — or even attempt the trick at all? I’m curious to see if anyone can recall anything in this vein prior to Watchmen.