A Comparison of the G.O.A.T.s, Citizen Kane & Watchmen (Part One)

Andy Lockley

To begin with, I suppose there should be an explanation of the acronym. G.O.A.T., as referenced in the title, refers to the title of “Greatest of All Time.” It is generally used in discussion with sports figures; for example Michael Jordan is often referred to as the greatest basketball player of all time, Muhammad Ali as the greatest boxer, etc.

The acronym, however, does have other uses. Orson Welles cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane, for example, is often seen at the top of respective “Greatest Films of All Time” lists, including the American Film Institute’s initial “100 Years… 100 Movies” list and it’s tenth anniversary installment, as well as the BBC’s list of “The 100 Greatest American Films.” Though they did not place their choices in numerical order, Citizen Kane appears on both The New York Times list of “The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made,” which presents their original 1941 review of the film, as well as TIME magazine’s ”All-Time 100 Movies” list, which covers the best one hundred films since the magazine’s beginning in 1923. In virtually every other list examined, from late film critic Roger Ebert’s personal list to those by Entertainment Weekly or AMC, Citizen Kane held at least a top ten spot—if not number two, only defeated by such masterpieces as Casablanca or The Godfather.

Watchmen, for its part, does not hold as many prestigious supporters, though this may be a symptom of its genre. Within its field, however, Watchmen has always been touted as a powerhouse. As Sara J. Van Ness writes in the first chapter of Watchmen as Literature:

Once published in graphic-novel form, Watchmen won every Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for which it was nominated in 1988, sweeping the categories for Best Finite Series, Best Graphic Album, Best Writer, and Best Writer/Artist.

Though the Eisner awards are the comic industry’s version of the Academy Awards, Van Ness also mentions the graphic novel receiving an award in what Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons referred to as “the next ghetto up: science fiction.” Watchmen is the only graphic novel, as of Van Ness’s publication in 2010, to have received a Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Society, their most esteemed honor.

Most telling, however, at least for the purposes of this article, would be Watchmen’s position on TIME magazine’s “All-Time 100 Novels” list, the only graphic novel to hold this honor.

Thus, Citizen Kane and Watchmen are G.O.A.T.s.

But does their status as the greatest works in their particular fields provide a proper grounding for comparison? After all, to return to the athletic analogy, Michael Jordan may be the greatest basketball player ever and Muhammad Ali may be the greatest boxer, but that does not make them similar in any regard for comparison.

Except that it does. Any athlete, for example, needs to be physically fit, capable of performing the feats necessary to their sport. Any athlete out to be considered the greatest in their field needs to be not only well-practiced but talented, thinking of new and inventive ways to win, then implementing those before anyone else, changing their sport forever.

The same can be said of these two artistic G.O.A.T.s.

Though to properly understand the innovations these works used in their storytelling, we must first examine, briefly, their storytellers.

Orson Welles received his first laurels from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal’s Federal Theatre Project, which was designed to promote the arts during the Great Depression. In his first production in his early twenties, Welles directed Shakespeare at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, presenting Macbeth set in Haiti with an all-black cast, which some have come to call the “Voodoo Macbeth.” Welles himself commented on this performance, saying, “I think it’s the great success of my life… When the play ended, there were so many curtain calls that finally they left the curtain open and the audience came up on the stage to congratulate the actors.” Following this, he left to create his own theatre company, the Mercury Theater, and presented Julius Caesar as the Nuremberg Festival with nothing but lights; “an imitation of the lights Hitler used at Nuremberg,” said Norman Lloyd, one of his actors, “they went straight up in the air.” The presentation was a failure at dress rehearsal, until Welles added the scene of Cinna the Poet being swarmed by a mob. “It stopped the show,” Lloyd, who played Cinna, said. “The applause lasted, some nights, for three minutes… you know, that’s a whole evening.”

At twenty-three, Welles was on the cover of TIME magazine. “The brightest moon that has risen over Broadway in years,” they said, “Welles should feel at home in the sky, for the sky is the only limit to his ambition.”

Then, in October of 1938, came Welles’s legendary radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells. Staging his production as a news broadcast, Welles’s version of the novel incited panic along the East Coast, and gave Orson Welles even further notoriety. It was this popularity that led to his contract with R.K.O. Pictures, giving him total autonomy over Citizen Kane. “I got that good of a contract because I didn’t really want to make a film,” Welles said in an interview with Huw Wheldon in 1960. “In my case I didn’t want money, I wanted authority; so I asked the impossible hoping to be left alone, and at the end of a year’s negotiations I got it.”

Alan Moore, by contrast, gained notoriety much later in his life. Born in Northampton, England in November 1953, he did not earn any accolades for his various writing works until 1982 and 1983, where he was awarded the British Eagle for Best Comics Writer for Miracleman and V for Vendetta, respectively. From here he moved to working on Swamp Thing for DC Comics, a partnership which led to what are considered to be some of the greatest stories DC has ever published, including the Superman story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and the groundbreaking “The Killing Joke,” which revealed the never-before-seen origin of Batman’s greatest villain, The Joker. It is of course, however, the 1986 publication of Watchmen through DC that completely changed the medium.

However, just because these two works are similar in both what they changed for their respective genres and in the genius and innovative nature of their creators does not equate to their being similar.

It does not mean that their respective interpretations will be anything but disparate.

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