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Comicscape: Before Watchmen

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Comicscape: Before Watchmen

Who watches the watchers of Watchmen?

By Joel Rickenbach     June 06, 2012

"I'm still torn over Before Watchmen. I've never had to make a moral choice about what comics I buy before now." -Michael Avon Oeming via Twitter
And you thought last week's column about gay storylines was controversial. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the comic shop, now your decisions as a fan and consumer could affect the rights of creators, and line the pockets of the big corporate publishers, who are choking said creators under their big leather boot. When DC's Before Watchmen was announced it set of a firestorm of hype and controversy. Before I even had time to choose a side, I said to myself- All that matters is that the stories are good. Do that right, and DC will have paid the proper respect to Watchmen, the book many consider the best story comics have ever told. But as time passed, and the idea festered in my brain and in my heart, I started to have thoughts much like Mr. Oeming's above. Suddenly, just a good story wasn't enough.

Watchmen was presented to me as the comic book bible, literally. I was haunting my local shop, and one of the wise old sages who worked there shoved a bagged and boarded Watchmen #1 in my face and said "This is the bible, kid. Read it." Each trip to the store after that was accompanied by a purchase of another issue of Watchmen, until I had completed my twelve week journey into a world comics had never shown me before. This "bible" was sure as hell cynical, but it was also damn good, REALLY damn good.

Why was this comic so good? It's really very simple- Alan Moore. I had never read a comic with such a strong point of view before, and I was quickly learning the difference between the monthly character titles and the creator-centric limited series' that were telling very specific stories in a finite amount of issues. There's a giant discussion to be had about the comic industry, how it operates and how the business always clashes with the creative, but for the sake of brevity let's put it in a nutshell- Creators want creative freedom to tell stories without restraints, and the companies want the creators to maintain the status quo so the machine keeps running. Of course the editors want to tell good stories as well, and in the modern era they've conceded some of the restraints in the name of good story, but at the end of the day you can't kill Batman unless you have a way to bring him back, and if your big dénouement ends with the death of Magneto, someone will just bring him back in a year or two. This is important because it's essentially what's happening to Watchmen, just 26 years after the fact.

Let's talk a minute about creators rights. I'm going to use a non-comic example that might blow up in my face, but what the hell. There was a video making the rounds a few months ago of George Lucas passionately lobbying congress for the preservation of classic films. In the video he made the point that these classics should never be altered or tampered with, and in fact, it should be law. Geeks across the globe were beside themselves. The man who is infamous for messing with his own films was essentially lobbying against his future self! Oh, what delicious irony! Years of hatred and forum posting were justified and neatly wrapped up in a bow. Of course, the fervor of vengeance made sure just about everyone gleefully sharing the video had completely misinterpreted it. What Lucas was actually lobbying for was creator's rights, and it goes something like this- Lets say Warner Bros., in a financial driven decision, sells the rights to The Maltese Falcon to a random person or company that sees the ownership of that film as a investment. Excited to start putting that new investment to work, that random company decides that colorized movies are all the rage these days, so, lawfully, they have every previous black and white version pulled from the shelves, so that the only way to see The Maltese Falcon is their new colorized version. Generations will grow up never knowing The Maltese Falcon as it was originally intended by its creator, and that is a scary thought. This is the part where you jump in and say "But that's exactly what Lucas did with Star Wars!", however, my Padawans, there is a huge difference. You can hate and rage against every little change Lucas adds to his films, but they are his films. He is the creator, and the random entity in the example above is not, they never had any part in the creation of the film, and should never be allowed to have creative input on a work of art, decades after the fact, just because they spent money. It can be a slippery slope, but the rights of the creator are incredibly important, and are usually completely ignored.

There is also a very undefined, unsaid and rarely used aspect of the creator's rights theorem- Respect for the creator. When money is involved, respect goes out the window pretty quickly, and for many this is the biggest issue surrounding Before Watchmen. DC holds the rights to Watchmen, and always has since it was published in 1986. They are not the third party entity like in the example above, but no one currently at DC has any creative ties to Watchmen either. It's in situations like these where fans like us trust the publishers to do the right thing, to preserve the work of art we hold so dear. Sure, release hardcovers and special editions all you want, just don't mess with what the creator intended. Well, DC has messed with Alan Moore's intentions about as much as humanly possible. The prequel-izing of Moore's literary work is positioned as the comic event of the year, and DC will have you believe that the demand from fans was so overwhelming, they had no choice but to give them what they wanted, which is apparently to release 35 new Watchmen books (The original was 12 issues) at $3.99 a pop. Those who are opposed to Before Watchmen say DC should know better, DC's argument is, after 25 years, the time has finally come for new Watchmen stories to be told. Alan Moore, the creator, says “I don’t want money, what I want is for this not to happen.” So, tell me, comic fan- How are your morals doing right about now?
Personally, I'm really coming down on the side of wishing Before Watchmen didn't happen. At this point I'm pretty sure the business decisions of corporate entities will never surprise me, but I long for the day I find myself shocked when they make a decision for the sake of art, which they are constantly making millions from. DC has assembled what is probably the most talented group of writers and artists ever to collaborate on a single project. Some of my absolute favorite creators of the modern age are involved, and even as I type that, I have nothing but doubts. You see, I believe Watchmen was a product of its time. It had something to say about the current and future world we lived in. The paranoias and anxieties we currently have are not the same as they were in '86-'87. Watchmen's impact and ideas still work today, but what worries me most is whether or not today's creators (as insanely talented as this bunch is) can work within that mold, and capture that "it" Watchmen has. Zack Snyder surely didn't in the film in my opinion, and I wonder if the time for this type of story is out of the grasp of the modern day. Will we be left with just imitation? Even if my fears are proven wrong, and the stories are as great as the talent attached to them, it's still not the voice of the creator. Alan Moore is what makes Watchmen so special, any other noise from that universe will sound like a pirate signal.
The crew here at Mania will be doing a jam-style review of Darwyn Cooke's Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1, to be posted for your reading pleasure on Friday. Obviously I will be buying the book so I can read and review it, and therefore contributing to this project I feel Moore and Moore allergic to, but I have to believe if I was at my comic shop, with the money in my wallet, the outcome would be different. What say you?


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Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.



Showing items 1 - 10 of 56
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InnerSanctum 6/6/2012 2:59:16 AM

 So hard to folllow.  Like giving a review of one film and then listing hundreds of other films...leaving you on your own.  Could you just narrow it down a bit?  Most people don't even read half the books you list.  Stick to what's popular and give a quick synopsis.  I'd rather have  review over six quality books than a list of what is being released.  

DaForce1 6/6/2012 3:52:57 AM

 Actually, I love the full list. It lets me (and others) see what's coming out for the week, and if there's anything I missed (like Image's Creator Owned Heroes, which I never heard about). It's not hard to follow, the article talks about one book, and after that, the list for the week is printed.

CyanideRush 6/6/2012 4:25:57 AM

@Joel: If I weren't giving my thoughts on it for the jam session, I'd likely be avoiding it altogether.


Dodgyb2001 6/6/2012 4:39:31 AM

All the more galling for Alan I imagine, as DC made him a promise to revert the rights to him should watchmen ever go out of print, which of course it hasn't.

I have a small connection to Alan Moore is my mate's mother has had the pleasure of having him sit for her as she painted his portrait, as they live near him in Northhampton.

jedibanner 6/6/2012 5:59:45 AM

yeah, keep with the long list, no narrowing down please. Most people DO read the books listed and don't stick to what's popular....

As far as this ''Before Watchmen'', DC ain't gonna see a dime from me on this pile of crap. I choose to ignore this continuity crapfest and is 10000000000000000% against this. DC has made sure to destroy what was unique and original about Watchmen and anhihilate everything that was so pure about this comic event.

Stupid suits and their lust for money.

Someone should start a protest and ban these books.

Roqueja 6/6/2012 6:16:01 AM

I stated my opinion on the Watchmen pre-stories when they were announced, to the tune of "Gimme some more."

They are well crafted characters that deserve the spotlight once more.  I want to read of how these characters got to the experience that they shared in Watchmen.  I want to know more of their connections, what makes them tick and more of their performance in action, and their limits.  I want more stories with characters of this caliber.  Alan Moore used many other authors characters in his stories, so I see no reason for other authors to refrain from using some of his as they do their very best to tell an engaging story.


gauleyboy420 6/6/2012 6:43:43 AM

The thing about  Moore's (and fans) indignance about what is being done to his creations is that he has committed the same transgressions on MANY other intellectual properties that were not created by him. He maintains no one should touch his creations, while he has made much of his career by writing and changing as he sees fit other peoples creations. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, while fantastic and one of my favorite reads, is just one transgression. NONE of these characters were created by him, and he did not seek approval of the creators. YES, they are public domain, but that still goes against the very notions Alan Moore is putting forth as his objection to Before Watchmen.

And lets not forget, his original intention with Watchmen was to use Charlton characters, again characters not of his creation, and DC said no. Watchmen became stronger and more Iconic because of this IMHO, but there is also the fact that Nite Owl is a pretty carbon Copy of Blue Beetle. How fair is that to so blatantly copy an existing character?

Another example of Alan Moore writing, and drastically changing someone else's creation is Miracle Man (or Marvel Man) another GREAT read (and GOD I wish there were more than 25 issues) But the fact still remains, he had no moral qualms about the fundamental changes he made, and what would Miracle/Marvel Mans creators think about how he wrote Kid Miracleman?

Miracle Man also brings up another great point for me, in that to say no one can follow Alan Moore elevates him to a status that is false. YES, he is a GREAT writer, but not so great that another Great writer couldn't follow him. Niel Gaiman picked up around issue 19 (or 20 I think) on Miracle Man and really added new depth and perspective to the story and characters that I don't think Moore would have. I truly think these creators are talented enough to do the same for Before Watchmen

One more quick, but important thing to me that get overlooked too often. Dave Gibbons is co-creator of Watchmen, his opinion matters on this subject and he should be given more credit in this article and many others that I have read. Too often only one creator gets credit for fan favorite projects and with comics, the artist is just as much a creator as the writer. The artist interprets the words, he is a visual storyteller. Dave Gibbons is not against these books coming out, and his opinion should count to fans too.

Anyway, looking forward to reading these, and their reviews.

Also I love the pull list, helps me decide what to buy.

gauleyboy420 6/6/2012 6:44:45 AM

I cannot get the first part of the above comment to post... very frustrating...

jedibanner 6/6/2012 6:49:59 AM

I will try to respond again in a calmly manner and hold control over my emotions...


Crap....lost it already.

But seriously, Roqueja, it IS fair to ''want more'' from a specific character, especially from Watchmen since they were written so wonderfully and perfectly.

But my beef with this is that it takes away the unique aspect of the story that was once existing. Sure we can ignore these new books but it's like sequels and trilogies, some are great but most are crap and they always, always take away what was original in the first one.

When the story was written originally, it was done in a single comic universe and was presented as a one off thing. It was written in that frame of mind that it was a once in a life time, ''only this once'' kind of story. I am willing to bet that if the idea was to create a new universe within the watchmen for a long term development, the original story would've been written differently from Alan Moore...most likelly he wouldn't even have written the damm thing knowing it would become a non-limited story.

THAT is why I'm against this...and the way DC is just cashing in on the popularity of the original mini-series and the fact that Alan Moore is so against this and yet the new generation of comic reader don't care about respect and honoring what was once established in the industry.

I know some will want to read more about this...your choice, no harm done. But from my end, I know I will ''defend my honor'' and respect the original material that was written in a way to be a one-off story ant leave it at that.

gauleyboy420 6/6/2012 6:55:42 AM

LOL! I admire you attempt at staying calm Jedi ;)

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