News came out recently that DC Comics was planning a series of prequels to Watchmen, one of the most celebrated comics of all time. The news met with predictable oohs, and aahs, and vitriol. Some people think more stories about the characters is a good thing, some think the franchise should have remained untouchable. Alan Moore, who wrote the original classic, isn’t happy at all, as .
I can’t say I disagree with him when he says he just wants to see the original left alone, but our reasons are different. To him, the work should be untouchable because it’s a classic work. Let’s ignore, for now, that Moore spent a lot of time writing stories about other characters who already existed in comics, like Swamp Thing, Superman, and Green Lantern. Let’s put aside that his best known works include erotic stories of familiar characters like Alice in Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. And let’s for the sake of convenience forget that Moore himself initially wanted to write Watchmen about a group of pre-existing characters. All this, though complete hypocrisy when Moore complains about other writers playing with his characters, is irrelevant. Because it’s this quote from Moore from the New York Times article linked above that I want to focus on:
I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago
This isn’t entirely true, but it’s a part of my problem. And we’ll add this quote from the DC people responsible for the decision to proceed with the new line of Watchmen comics:
It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant. After 25 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
That’s it right there. That’s the thing that bothers me most about this whole project – the lack of originality. They want to keep their characters relevant, as though Watchmen is suddenly no longer relevant. Even if that were somehow true, the response to “nobody cares about this guy any more” becomes “let’s change his costume and make him angsty” rather than “do we have anything interesting in the slush pile?”
DC was willing to lay some money down on a new project (apparently, a lot of it). They were willing to gather up two and a half herds of talented writers and artists. There were willing to take a risk that maybe more fans would be turned into rabid haters than would be turned into admirers of the new work. But they decided to focus that time, money, and energy on a prequel to something that already existed rather than trying something new. It’s the biggest part of why I stopped reading comics forever ago, and really original stories are the biggest reason why I started reading them again. But then this happens…
I know they have a bottom line to protect, parent companies and bosses and shareholders to please, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of risk-taking going on, and those risky stories have always been the ones I was most drawn to. I know that they want to take their big franchises and keep them big franchises, but where is the interest in the next as-yet-undiscovered massive franchise?
Maybe this will all work out, and if it does then good for them. I expect some of it to be good. Some of it might be very good. Some of it will have people lighting bonfires. In the end I doubt any of it will have the impact of the original, which begs the question, “why bother in the first place?”
I wish they’d just leave Watchmen alone, not because Watchmen deserves to be left alone, but because I’m sure there’s a lot of fresh stuff that none of us has ever heard about; it’s out there waiting to be written and I’d love to read it.