You’re probably aware of this:
The Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created Watchmen, released in ’86-’87, 12 issues and a collection that’s never been out of print, and sold in its millions.
And unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’re probably aware that DC have now decided it’s time to do these:
Seven mini-series (Crimson Corsair is the back-up feature in each mini), 34 issues in all plus a single issue Before Watchmen: Epilogue. Happening this summer in the same with a new issue out each week.
And in announcing these comics, DC have done what many thought was unthinkable, diluting the story of a self-contained, high-point of comics. It now joins other famous works with modern sequels/prequels - Gone With The Wind had its Scarlett, Peter Pan had Peter Pan In Scarlet.
On a purely “what does that do to the original” basis, the answer is simple. NOTHING. Will they really add anything to the creative genius of Watchmen? We can’t say yet, but really, it’s very probable that they’ll add nothing at all. Read them, don’t read them. Has no effect on the original self-contained start, middle and end of Watchmen.
You may also know of the problems regarding the book, with a difference of opinions between writer and artist, and DC Comics. Whilst Dave Gibbons seems happy to support DC when it came to the film and these prequels, Alan Moore has dissociated himself from the company completely.
It all boils down, with Watchmen to the comic industry in the 80′s being completely different. Comics sold as comics, there was no graphic novel industry, no market, and no comic had ever remained perpetually in print before. So when DC offered Moore and Gibbons a deal that essentially said the rights would revert to them once the comic series and a possible collection went out of print, all seemed well, a victory for creators rights etc etc. (See this by Leigh Walton, quoting from the UKCAC 86 panel where Moore and Gibbons set out the deal.)
But Watchmen never went out of print. And Moore at least felt cheated and deceived by DC. The resulting fallouts have been well documented, and not something we’ll go into here.
Basically we’re into the realms of ethical right and wrong vs commercial/corporation hunt for profits. Yes, DC absolutely have every legal right to publish these prequels, and do a second movie, and lunchboxes, action figures, duvets… the whole Star Wars merchandising thing. And yes, people have made the argument that all of the writers and artists on Before Watchmen are doing essentially what a generation of comic creators did, including Moore and Gibbons – working on other people’s creations, other people who had terrible contracts, awful rights issues and were generally screwed by the big corporate company who had no real need to be so unfeeling.
BUT, the crucial difference here is that Moore and Gibbons went into this with their eyes open. They negotiated the contracts so their creations would come back to them after a series, a possible collection and a year off.
I don’t really buy the argument I’ve seen around recently that Moore and Gibbons should have glimpsed the future, realised that Watchmen was going to do something no comic had done before and remeain in print indefinitely in collection form. Moore became a magician at 50, he wasn’t a bloody psychic in the 80s. And DC initially did the right thing, agreeing a contract that was beneficial to all. If they’d have carried that on, as soon as it became obvious that there was going to be no point any time soon that the book was going out of print, then they should have renegotiated.
(And don’t tell me that would be bad business. Think longterm – it would probably have made them MORE money. A DC that had creator’s interests totally at heart would probably be making money even now off everything comic related that Moore and Gaiman created in the last 20/30 years.)
That they didn’t renegotiate, that they didn’t do the right thing is hardly a surprise, but it does make the situation of Moore and Gibbons different from those that went before. DC decided to leave the contracts as they were, the contracts, that, through a completely unforeseen shift in the comic industry, were essentially meaningless.
Fair? No. I don’t think so, and it doesn’t take much wandering around the Internet to find similar views:
“So, while DC had promised them that they’d get their creation back once DC was finished with it, they decided instead to keep it in print, and forever keep it from them. This may have been the word of the contract, but it was never the spirit of it. And I know that there are lots of people who are saying that they should have read their contract more carefully, but this is, to be plain about it, a bullshit argument – the graphic novel format didn’t exist as we know it, and nobody foresaw it, so how could there have been a clause in the contract about it. So, I feel that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have had their great work, which most people who have an opinion on these things regard as the greatest achievement in comics, kept away from them by the greed of a huge American corporation. It’s as apt an analogy for what’s wrong with the world as you could possibly wish for.”
Finally, we double back to Len Wein, who says to Wired:
“I think reboots are almost mandatory in an industry that has existed for over three-fourths of a century now. The need to inject new blood, new ideas, new approaches, is the only thing that keeps our readers coming back for more.”
My first reaction on reading this was a belly laugh. Yes, reboot the old characters to inject new blood. That’s very nearly an oxymoron. Then it occurred to me, Alan Moore makes an almost annual flustered denouncement that DC is still clinging to his old standards after all these years. Now it’s a sad comment that DC has to do reboots because they’ve seemingly lost the ability to successfully launch a new character. The New 52? All relaunches and revamps. What is Before Watchmen? It’s DC going back to an old well one more time.
“For all the talk of staying “relevant”, you might substitute the word “solvent.” Just as The New 52 was the Hail Mary pass/adrenaline to the heart that DC desperately needed to prop up a failing direct market, WATCHMEN 2 is the other guaranteed cash grab. It’s DC’s Eros Comix. While we may find the idea of WATCHMEN prequels repugnant on some level, the level of talent attached is guaranteed to “Make us look!” even if the idea itself is still so unnecessary.”
“If we care at all about the comics industry, if we care about comics as an art form, if we want it to be taken seriously, if we want to see talented people produce quality material, then we need to start caring about the way those people are treated in this industry. We need to start valuing creators rights over our own greedy need for more third-rate pulp. We need to stop making shameless, defensive rationalizations and questioning people’s motives when the basic motive underlying those outbursts is “me wanty.” We need to stop acting like petulant, entitled children. And we need to speak out when creators whose work we claim to value and enjoy are given short shrift in the name of the Almighty dollar.”
In case you’re wondering, one of the highest profile pro pieces I could find championing Before Watchmen was this by Lukas Siegal at Newsarama:
“Some will point to Alan Moore’s lack of “approval” or involvement as a bad thing, but that’s one of the best parts in my eyes. It’s good to see new creators taking on these characters. it’s good to have fresh voices reaching into these characters. If a character is compelling, there should always be more stories to tell. Moore’s assessment that DC is relying on his “ideas from 25 years ago” is ludicrous and insulting to the talented people working on these books. He didn’t write prequels, they’re writing them. It’s like saying all of his use of public domain characters is him relying on other peoples’ ideas from 100 years ago: he can’t have it both ways.”
And if you’re sitting there slack jawed at the idea of a creator’s disapproval being “one of the best parts“, don’t worry, head over here where David Brothers doesn’t so much take the argument apart as dissect it:
“I don’t even understand how Lucas can be in a position to know things about comics, which isn’t hard to begin with, and actually say “Some will point to Alan Moore’s lack of ‘approval’ or involvement as a bad thing, but that’s one of the best parts in my eyes.” and mean it. The comics industry is built on exploitation, your favorite artists from the ’60s and ’70s were almost definitely screwed out of their creations, and editors and managers today apparently believe that having a book on the shelves is a higher calling than having a good book on the shelves. The history of comics isn’t even hard to find out. Alan Moore has been vocal about his experiences, Dwayne McDuffie spoke out, every month there’s a new fund raiser for some old artist who drew some incredibly ill and classic comics but doesn’t have health insurance… this is basic.“
In the end, it’s up to you. Sure, some of the creative teams are good. Darwyn Cooke in particular will no doubt do a good job. But even knowing that, the whole thing puts a nasty taste in my mouth. And I’m not alone.
But what do you think? Ignore it? Pick it up out of interest? Looking forward to it?