The Internet just about broke in half last week with the announcement that DC Comics would be publishing a series of prequel comics based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic, groundbreaking graphic novel WATCHMEN, and without the involvement or approval of Moore, the writer of the series.
Long rumored to be in the works, so much so that’s it’s kind of been an open secret in the comics industry for at least a year that this was brewing in some way, shape or form, BEFORE WATCHMEN is definitely happening. I’ve made it clear on many occasions that I consider WATCHMEN to be one of the best and most influential comics works ever created, if not the best. I’ve read it countless times, I know it backwards and forwards. So you’d think I’d be lining up with those declaring this move a travesty, a cheap, commercial cash grab executed by a mercenary publisher out to screw the creator.
Actually, I’m pretty okay with it, to be honest.
Here’s the thing: if it was a sequel, new stories springboarding from the end of Moore and Gibbons’ work, I’d probably have a lot more reservations about it. Or worse, if the characters were incorporated into DC’s new universe the way the Wildstorm characters were, I’d be kinda horrified. But prequel stories, about the characters in their prime? I’ve got to admit, that’s what I’ve always wanted to see. The flashback sequences in WATCHMEN are some of my favorite parts of the book, those brief glimpses of a trim, muscular Nite Owl and tidier, more sane Rorschach teaming up against the underworld.
It’s a point I’ve made before: whether it’s a bad movie, a bad TV show, or an ill-advised sequel, you can’t “ruin” the source material. These books could all be terrible, and the one true WATCHMEN will always be on my shelf for me to read and enjoy whenever I want.
But I can’t imagine these books being terrible, not with the kind of talent DC has lined up. THE MINUTEMEN by Darwyn Cooke? SILK SPECTRE by Cooke and Amanda Conner? DOCTOR MANHATTAN by Straczynski and Adam Hughes? Top to bottom, there’s not a single title or creative team that sounds bad to me, and some, like the ones above, that I can’t imagine missing.
So if I know I want to read the books, that leaves the question of ethics. Should I read them, knowing that Moore himself has come out against them? The relationship between Moore and DC is a long and thorny one, and with, no doubt, missteps and poor choices made on both sides. The initial agreement between Moore and DC was that after the book went out of print, the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons. As WATCHMEN has become such a classic, it’s never gone out of print, and most likely never will, and as a result, the rights have never reverted and Moore feels ill served. Do I think DC intentionally has been keeping the book in print as a way to punish Moore or keep the rights from lapsing? No. But I do think DC is a company that’s interested in one thing: profit. And with that book always selling well, year after year, why wouldn’t DC keep cranking out printing after printing?
I’m not privy to the inner workings, but reports are that DC has offered Moore plenty of opportunities to come back and work on those characters, no doubt with quite the financial incentive, all of which offers were refused. At that point, I don’t see why DC shouldn’t go ahead and take advantage of those characters without him. Moore’s objections from a literary standpoint don’t really hold up from my perspective, as this is someone who’s built his entire career off of reinterpreting the literary creations of others, whether it’s Mick Anglo’s Marvelman, Len Wein’s Swamp Thing, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edward Hyde, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man or J.M. Barrie’s Wendy Darling. It’s easy to reflexively say, “how dare they use those characters without Moore’s permission!”, until you realize that L. Frank Baum probably wouldn’t have liked what Moore did with Dorothy Gale in LOST GIRLS.
Even the WATCHMEN characters themselves were originally intended to be continuations of someone else’s creations, the stable of Action Heroes from Charlton Comics, to be precise. So if Moore’s complaint was solely based on his rocky relationship with DC, that’d be one thing. But when he says stuff like “As far as I know, there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to MOBY DICK,” all I could think about was that comic I read where Ishmael from MOBY DICK was serving as first mate on Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.
Who wrote that one again?
Scott Tipton might just go read WATCHMEN again. If you have questions about WATCHMEN or comics in general, send them here.
I’m the same with Moore’s work, and I think all his best work is a chore. But that’s kind of the point: It has a depth of thought bhnied it that other graphic novels don’t. He can tell a more complex story and use the medium to his advantage better than most, though Warren Ellis clearly has the same DNA but with a more accessible, if rawer, edge.