Now with a day to have completely digested the announcement of DC’s decision to move forward with a collection of Watchmen prequels, not to mention an extended discussion with a friend, I’ve ultimately concluded I dislike the move.
With various mini-series focusing on Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, The Minute Men, The Comedian, Ozymandias, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, the summer releases will touch on and interpret the lives of these characters for the first time (outside the film) since Alan Moore wrapped up the original series over two decades ago. Watchmen is one of the most revered comic books in the medium’s history, one which has been included consistently on lists compiling the top literary works. And it’s completely warranted. At its core the book was a character analysis of the superheroic idealization and depiction of the modern superhero, breaking down their motivations for becoming a vigilante while highlighting their virtues as well as their vices. Moore’s work humanized each of them, while concurrently celebrating their shortcomings as individual characters. It forced us to look at heroes through another lens which in turn forced us to really look hard at their ethics and morality as it relates to their actions. The book(s) grounded those characters in reality, and despite the story being rooted in the fantastic, his analysis of heroism, vigilante psychology and the moral/ethical implications of action have not been met since. The story itself was a complete work which told its story to perfection.
So I must posit the question. Why revisit their universe? What do these books add or do to enhance the content? What will the creative teams do in so far as paying homage to Moore’s graphic novel? While I can’t go so far as to decisively state they won’t, to presume this decision wasn’t economically motivated due to the state of the industry is naive. I have a friend who characterized the Watchmen prequels as DC’s big red panic button, the button encased in a glass covering, accompanied by the message, “In case of emergency, break glass,” that would be pressed by DC editorial as a last resort. I believe he’s right, and considering the nature of the relaunch of DC titles, this should have been expected. Regardless, this is a delicate project, which despite the inclusion of Brian Azzarello and J. Michael Straczynski as part of the creative teams, I’m unsure whether this is necessary. In fact, it’s not and the more I contemplated these books the more agitated I became.
“The flip-side to that question, then, is ‘Why do anything based on something that was well done?’ It’s weirdly counter-intuitive: the characters are great, the world is terrific, we created something amazing here, so, God — let’s never ever do that again,” Straczynski said in an interview with Comic Book Resources.
While I can see his point, I find his conclusion disagreeable. Not only does it feel like a writer toeing the company line, but I challenge the mentality seemingly possessed by JMS that they should do it because they can. I doubt that any of the writers truly have something to add to any of their characterizations, much less a way to present the material in a way that enhances the purpose of Watchmen. They can try, but in the end I can’t help but feel a degree of pretension at the thought of the effort. This simply isn’t a matter of DC looking to move the story, this is a matter of the company hoping to boost sales with a move that, regardless of fan reactions to the prequels, will be picked up by all, all the same. This will be a lucrative move for the company, yet I can’t help but consider the absence of creativity in the move and the stories that may be produced where the purpose doesn’t seem so much the need to tell a story as it is the need produce a story to increase total revenues.
Mr. Straczynski spoke of logical thought in relation to the decision to move forward without Alan Moore’s blessing, however his logic fails say, if we use his own Superman example. The difference being, as far as Superman and Watchmen is concerned, is that by the time Alan Moore wrote his Superman stories, the ongoing title had been in publication for nearly 50 years. Its continuing nature lends itself to creative changes, not to mention, that as a serial, the book will never end. Watchmen is a different matter, as it’s a 12 issue maxi-series which was written with the intent of telling a story about the nature of the superhero and the humanity buried underneath the perception of their godliness. It’s a complete work without the need for re-visitation. This move is what it is, and it smells of desperation.
“God help us all.”