Before Watchmen: The Year’s Biggest Non-Event

If you heard a popping sound  this week, chances are it was the sound of geeky heads exploding over DC Comics’ announcement of their Watchmen prequels, all printed under the banner Before Watchmen.

For those of you outside the comics community, who may know of Watchmen because it’s one of the few series to escape into the non-comics world, this is the equivalent of someone making a sequel to Citizen Kane.  Watchmen is our sacred cow and not just because it’s one of the greatest graphic novels of all time (it is).  What makes Watchmen special is because it was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of what superhero comics could be.  There was nothing like it before its debut and creators have killed themselves to make something like it since.

Alan Moore (the writer) is angry about this.  Alan Moore is always angry but it’s worse when he has a reason.  Dave Gibbons (the artist) gave a weak statement of support with a clear “I really wish you wouldn’t have done this” subtext.

The biggest surprise is the talent they lined up for them.  Two, Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke, are favorites of mine.  Their inclusion gave pause to what would’ve otherwise been an immediate feeling of disgust.  Since then, I’ve read several opinions, pro and con, and have a clear feeling on the subject.

When it comes to the books themselves, I’m indifferent.  It doesn’t matter who is working on them.  Watchmen is a complete work and I have no interest in digging further into its back story.  I don’t mean this to reflect poorly on the talent.  If Darwyn Cooke he has a story to tell about The Minutemen, who am I to tell him he can’t?  Just don’t expect me to buy it.

Here’s what irritates me:

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” said DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. “After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”

Really?  Hey Dan and Jim, Rorschach isn’t Superman.  He’s not an open-ended character without a complete story who gets reinterpreted over multiple generations to keep him relevant.  We know everything important about him.  His story has a beginning, middle, and end.  He’s a complete creation.  You don’t need to “keep him relevant”, just visible. You’ve done that.  You’ve sold a lot of Watchmen books in the last five years and he’s so interesting people went to the movies to see a so-so interpretation of him.

You know what, though?  I shouldn’t be arguing with their statement.  Why?  Because it’s BS.  Anyone with a brain in their head knows this isn’t the result of a creative impulse.  DC has a bankable property, they don’t need its creators’ permission to use it, and they’re confident they can finally get away with doing this.

I don’t know Brian Azzarello (which might be good because I’d probably annoy the hell out of him) but I have enough respect for him to assume he’s doing this out of a true creative impulse.  But his book wouldn’t be happening at all if not for DC’s desire for a cash grab.

I’m not against said cash grab for moral purposes.  Moore feels DC screwed him on Watchmen and he may be right.  I know they’re not keen on him either.  I’m not interested in reffing a fight between an increasingly bitter man and a bottom-line minded company, even if the man is my favorite writer in any medium.  These things are murkier than many want to acknowledge.

What I’m irritated by is that DC has a lot of momentum right now and a rare chance to grab readers’ attention for almost any project.  They can put great writers and artists to work creating this generation’s Watchmen.  Instead they’re wringing everything they can out of the original.  It runs counter to what they were doing in 1986, when they opened up the potential for sophisticated artistic expression in mainstream comics.

Don’t get me wrong.  I read a lot of DC Comics.  I’m a defender of the New 52 initiative, if not all the individual books.  That’s why I’m so disappointed to see them drop the ball on the follow through.

I won’t be buying these books.  They may turn out to be solid reads but I don’t like what they represent.  I also won’t spend any more time writing or arguing about it online.  Ignoring them is the best way to insure they fade away.  The only exception is if you’re at a book store and you see someone checking out the Watchmen books on the shelf.  We have a responsibility to make sure they know which one is the real thing.

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