There are many things in the world of comic book fandom that spark fire, controversy and debate. Somewhere right now, comic book aficionados (fan and creator both) are discussing in raised voices and impassioned pleas, the importance, relevance, or just plain ridiculousness of a character, story arc, book, or this month’s implausible heroic resurrection.
These opposing arguments can sometimes sound as ridiculous as the subject of the argument itself, I know because I am still arguing the possible real life applications of the lightsaber and its inevitable introduction into our societal structure. Have the hospitals and ambulances on high alert folks, its almost convention time. It doesn’t take much to polarize the comic book community, opposing camps are formed and with battle lines drawn at the drop of a hat, each side never gives a square inch. Enter “Watchmen“.
Watchmen, created by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, is a gritty, dark mini-series whose outlawed “heroes” were dysfunctional on a good day and atypically psychotic. They are complex, multilayer-ed and all too human, traits which had been missing from a genre built upon a foundation of spandex, cosmic rays, and pulp science fiction (all of which I am still a fan of). It was one of the first times, beyond WWII, that real life events and figures featured prominently as the backdrop of a comic book thereby molding and shaping the story and the characters within. It is not just one of the most important works in comic book publishing history but THE most important work in comic book publishing history.
Watchmen, deservedly so, made Time’s 2005 “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels” list and ushered in a new age for comic book companies and fans alike. Watchmen was a coming of age for the industry and validated comic books as an art form and true storytelling medium. No longer would comic books solely feature brightly garbed, quick-witted heroes foiling another despicable plot of global domination from this month’s nefarious, cookie cutter megalomaniac. After the Watchmen, the comic book industry would never be the same, it could never be the same. It legitimized the publishers, the creators, and the fans. We had finally grown up.
Since Watchmen’s original publication in 1986/1987, the book has been in constant circulation whether in the form of single issue comics, trade paperbacks, graphic novels, and anniversary editions, and therein lies the first hurdle. According to writer/creator Alan Moore, the rights to his intellectual property were to revert back to Moore and Gibbons once Watchmen had been out of print for a certain length of time, however, timeless classics are rarely out of print. The battle between Alan Moore and DC comics over the rights to Watchmen is, in and of itself, a mythology in the making. The conflict has taken a great personal toll on Mr. Moore, who has all but completely unplugged himself from the comic book machine. An even greater casualty is the estrangement of Moore and Gibbons personal friendship and professional relationship. Watchmen, and its mistreatment by the industry, has been such a bane to Mr. Moore, that he doesn’t even have a copy of the book in his home. Enter “Before Watchmen“.
Much to the dismay of Mr. Moore, DC comics is proceeding with their plans to publish “Before Watchmen”, a plethora (that’s right, I said it) of mini series’ starring Watchmen. In a world of rehashes, reboots, sequels, prequels, alternate time lines, and re-imaginings, this should come as no surprise. After all DC has recently, in a desperate and successful gambit to climb to the top of the mountain has rehashed, rebooted, sequel-ed, prequel-ed, alternate time lined, and re-imagined their whole line of books from top to bottom. Some saw this as the shot in the arm needed for an ailing industry while others saw this as an attempt to trim the fat of their stable of talent, their aging audience, and give themselves a cool, new, hip coat of paint while trying to attract a generation of ADD-addled video game junkies who live and die by the invisible tether called WiFi. Even still, others called it how they saw it, myself included… a money grab.
So as the discarded comic book fans of generation X licked their collective wounds, generation Y could not pull itself away from reality TV long enough to care and the Bieber generation pondered absolutely nothing of substance, DC comics continues to press forward with its plans to release “Before Watchmen”. Many argue of DC’s legal rights to continue publishing Watchmen works, and that claim cannot be disputed, contested or denied, however there’s a big difference between what is legal and what is right. Example, in Florida a single woman who goes parachuting on a Sunday can be arrested and jailed, it is a legitimate law. Is it legal? Yes. Is it right? Of course not. I’ll be honest here, the fact that Mr. Moore’s pleas and wishes have been completely disregarded, ignored, or otherwise dismissed disgusts me on two levels, both as a fan and as a creator.
Mr. Moore’s vision for Watchmen had an intended beginning, middle, and an end. No more, finis, nada mas. The Bible not withstanding, there are other incredible works of fiction that stood the test of time and did not need reboots, sequels, prequels, etc. That’s right folks, Willy Loman is back from the grave in “Death of a Salesman II – Electric Boogaloo”! The honest truth is, and even by Mr. Moore’s admission, that we know everything we need to know about the characters in Watchmen for the full, complete story of the Watchmen. That’s where it begins and that’s where it should end. The fact that DC and their creators are trying to convince you (and possibly themselves) otherwise is a way for them to lay their carcasses down between their satin sheets at night, close their eyes and dream of trampling Mr. Moore’s legacy… guilt free.
Recently Mr. Moore was quoted as saying some pretty hurtful, if not honest things, about the comic book industry, and the comic book professionals who earn their living in the funny pages. I’ll tell you, that is the first time I’ve seen that many comic book professionals passionate about anything since the introduction of variant prismatic comic book covers in 1989 (Or maybe they were just passionate about all of the money they made off of those variant prismatic comic book covers in 1989? Who knows?) It was good to see them passionate again, even if they were aiming their barrels in the wrong direction. Buy (that is not a typo) our complacency, haven’t we earned Alan Moore’s ire? Doesn’t he have a legitimate right to be upset with us? Other creators just shook their heads chalking it up to, “oh, that Alan Moore is being silly again.” As creators, we were unable to grasp the bigger picture, we missed a great opportunity to flex our collective muscles.
When DC approached each creator about “Before Watchmen”, the correct answer should have been, “Yeah, I’ll do it, with Alan’s blessing” and not “Do you guys have direct deposit?” If every comic book pro responded with answer A… it would’ve changed the game for creators and creator-owned rights as we know it. We had the opportunity to completely rewrite the rule book. DC would have had to go back to Mr. Moore and renegotiate the rights in a way that guaranteed the rights reverted back to Mr. Moore on the condition that DC would have been able to peddle their soon to be over-published and comparatively stunted “Before Watchmen”, while their third quarter earnings kept the stockholders happy. One can only guess that perhaps Mr. Moore wanted the rights to prevent this
aborti… sorry, an event like “Before Watchmen”, and that is probably the case. However, if the line had been drawn in the sand, it would have forced every comic book publisher to reassess how rights and future earnings of intellectual properties are negotiated. Perhaps I am romanticizing this close knit community of creators, artists, and free thinkers, maybe it’s just wishful thinking. Or perhaps we are business men and women at heart, looking out for numero uno. Perhaps we just traded in our suits and ties for messenger bags, IPhones, cafe lattes and over-inflated egos.
We are now past the point of no return and “Before Watc$men” is inevitable. There will be a ton of money too be made off of the merchandising. That’s right kids, DC will put out, for a limited time only, Rorschach toilet paper! Now you can experience that same feeling DC gets by both figuratively AND literally, wiping your ass on Alan Moore’s wishes, work and legacy! Hooray! My bum is clean (but not my soul)! And don’t forget your star-spangled Comedian condoms! That’s right! One in Five dissolves with friction. Why? Because the Comedian thinks it’s hilarious, oh that crazy Eddie Blake, such a gut-buster (no pun intended)! Take it away Vince, Sham… woooow!
So as Alan Moore, like a Goth Jesus, continues to get nailed to the cross by the (comic book) man, I hope he can forgive those who have trespassed upon him. Much like Millhouse from “The Simpsons”, holding up his copy of “Baby Watchmen – V for Vacation”, the consumers will consume, because that’s what they’re told to do. The creators will retread because that’s what they’re paid to do, and the third quarter bonuses will be fat because that’s what they expect of you.