Before Watchmen: Defining the Argument

I was in the middle of writing an essay against the people who’ve been writing Alan Moore off as a crazy grumpy hippy, who just doesn’t want anyone to have any fun.

But then I noticed the trends on Twitter of how people are reacting to the whole thing. Quite a few are essentially trumping the argument by declaring it unimportant. They’re saying that this is an old issue, and advocate ignoring the whole thing in favour of something completely new and fresh.

While I would be ecstatic to see new fresh work from the industry (and with works like THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY and CASANOVA, I think we do see those stories) it’s also worth looking at the fact that the industry is choosing to create a work that will generate more buzz by its very existence than it would have on the creator’s merits alone. And that the dominant argument seems to be about if DC Comics has the legal right to create it. (Which they seem to.)

Looking at the roster of talent they’ve got on the BEFORE WATCHMEN prequel, I’m sure that the stories will be well-told, well-crafted pieces of work. And I’m sure they’re all bringing their best efforts to the project. Unfortunately, the sales of this work less bearing on these efforts, having come more from the controversy. I can’t imagine that it’s a comfortable place to be as a creator. A few of them have attempted to explain or defend their choice to joining the project, which seems likewise uncomfortable.

The most important, but less-debated point, is that, narratively, artistically, a prequel or sequel is unnecessary. The work is so tightly woven that it really doesn’t leave many questions unanswered, either about what happens next or what came before. This project isn’t happening to finally provide the capstone of a long-unfinished narrative. At its best, it can attempt to find some space to explore a character or moment a bit further.

This fundamental lack of narrative holes to plug, is what’s worth arguing about, the legal wrangles between Moore and DC aside. It’s a project defined by a lack of necessity.

People have called Moore a hypocrite for condemning Watchmen sequels, but having written stories using previously-created superheroes, like MarvelMan or Swamp Thing, but this is a facile criticism. Those stories are each strong examples of Moore making those characters his own, and telling stories that were unique to him. If anything, he’s known for fundamentally changing the view of those characters after his work on them. He didn’t just carry the torch a little further down the road; he blazed a previously unknown path.  Even the Charlton characters that inspired Watchmen are more of a footnote in Watchmen’s creation than they are strong parallels to Moore and Gibbon’s own characters. I would be interested to know if the Before Watchmen creators are going to be as inventive in their interpretations…

In our haste to write Alan Moore off as cranky or crazy, or to argue that the whole thing is beneath notice because it’s wallowing in nostalgia (which the comics industry has been known to do…) we may lose focus on the fact that these stories aren’t filling a void, they are attaching themselves to an established foundation. Which is very different from what Watchmen was when it was released.

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2 thoughts on “Before Watchmen: Defining the Argument

  1. “… these stories aren’t filling a void, they are attaching themselves to an established foundation.”

    I’d say this is true of basically every company-owned superhero book being published. Most of these books are produced out of habit rather than inspiration. Sounds snobby, but hey!

    And I feel that the Watchmen prequels, however well-crafted they are, are going to come across as glorified fanfiction.

  2. Good point, about habit versus inspiration. I’d say that the superhero stories or creative teams we do remember are the ones who had inspiration rather than perpetuating a habit.

    Interestingly, Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men would seem to me to be someone inspired by the habit, if that makes sense. His work directly calls to the Claremont-Cockrum/Byrne days of X-Men, but then goes interesting places on it’s own…

    And Fraction’s run on Iron Man clearly draws on the mythos and legacy of the character, but he also seems to be writing it with a very honest and modern sense of what that character would mean in the world, other than just fighting villains. Interestingly, when things become overtly super-heroic, the book seems less compelling. (Though still pretty good!)

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