It’s all over the Interwebs now, but I wanted to weigh in. For those who haven’t heard yet, DC Comics announced “Before Watchmen” a series of prequel mini-series using the characters and world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s classic Watchmen. This has, predictably enough, created a lot of controversy, with Alan Moore himself telling the New York Times that the project is “completely shameless” and wishing it wouldn’t happen. Dave Gibbons is far more accommodating, saying wishing the new creative teams success (both artistic and financial).
The controversy is inevitable—Watchmen isn’t only excellent, but it is a truly complete saga. If ever there were a graphic novel “maxi-series” that doesn’t need any bookends, this one is it. To some fans (and to Alan Moore) the Watchmen universe is sacred, and no other writer should ever venture into it.
From a pragmatic point of view, the world and characters are the intellectual property of DC Entertainment, which they can do whatever they want with. But even from an artistic point of view, is that fair? Hasn’t the entire history of comics consisted of characters that are created by one writer and artist being reinterpreted by another? Indeed, even the Watchmen characters weren’t completely original creations, but Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ reinterpretations of the Charlton Comics characters that DC owned.
Indeed, as J. Michael Straczynski, one of the writers of two of the forthcoming Before Watchmen mini-series (Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl) argued to Comic Book Resources:
A lot of folks feel that these characters shouldn’t be touched by anyone other than Alan, and while that’s absolutely understandable on an emotional level, it’s deeply flawed on a logical level. Based on durability and recognition, one could make the argument that Superman is the greatest comics character ever created. But neither Alan nor anyone else has ever suggested that no one other than Shuster and Siegel should ever be allowed to write Superman. Alan didn’t pass on being brought on to write Swamp Thing, a seminal comics character created by Len Wein, and he did a terrific job. He didn’t say “No, no, I can’t, that’s Len’s character.” Nor should he have.
And BTW, Len Wien, who was the editor of the original Watchmen series, is also writing two of the mini-series in Beyond Watchmen (Ozymandias, Curse of Crimson Corsair).
The Watchmen universe is certainly not one that I feel needs revisiting. I’ve never wanted to either read or write any stories in that environment, or with those characters. But that said, some of the writers and artists involved, such as JMS, Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, Adam Hughes, Amanda Conner, Andy Kubert, and others, are some of my very favorite creators. Seeing more work from them, whatever it is, interests me.
And as much as I feel Watchmen is Alan Moore’s opus, I don’t think that his interpretation is sacred. He is an expert craftsman in a long line of craftsmen who have taken comic book characters, shaped them, and then left them for others. Comics are a conversation, a medium of serial, collaborative graphic storytelling, that go back to before I was born and will continue long after I’m dead. Some interpretations are good, some are not, and until we actually have these mini-series in our hands, we won’t know which these are. But I’ll judge them by the same criteria I’d judge any other new interpretation of classic characters, not with a knee-jerk “this must suck because it’s not written by Alan More.”
I’ll give DC Entertainment and these creators the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not going to get enthusiastic yet, either. But I’ll read them. That I’ll do.