The Gold Standard: Why I Don’t Care About Watchmen

 

In 2004 I got some trades for the holidays that year, and oddly enough, I can still tell you exactly which four they are. Green Arrow: Quiver by Kevin Smith, something I quite literally only bought because of Kevin Smith, but that succeeding in making me a Green Arrow fan. Crisis on Infinite Earths, the high bar set for all events, something that when I had been younger DC made a big deal about finally collecting in a $100 hardcover…so I got the trade for twenty bucks in my 20’s. Green Lantern: New Journey, Old Path was my return to Green Lantern, with Judd Winick writing Kyle Rayner and that run, while mainly forgotten now, is among my favorites. Finally, Watchmen, something I bought because, quite literally, everyone was asking me why I hadn’t read it yet.

So I read Watchmen, I’m 18 years old, in college, open minded, and…eh. I liked the art, hated the pirate stuff, and felt cheated that I already knew the big spoilers (thanks Wizard!); needless to say, I threw it up on my bookshelf and got back to my superheroes for a few more years. It wasn’t my thing, what can I say? I got into a few Vertigo books, and found myself more interested in the mature tones in books that didn’t involve my favorite form of escapism.

 

It wasn’t just Watchmen either, I picked up Dark Knight Returns a few months later and absolutely hated it. I didn’t even put it on my main bookshelf, it wound up in the one in my closet with the other books that I don’t want turning into conversation starters. That’s a weird collection in and of itself; Maus is on it due to my inability to get into it, some Ghost Rider trades I got when I was younger that, while I don’t hate, always cause people to talk to me about Ghost Rider, and some Alien/Predator/Terminator/Whatever Vs. trades from Dark Horse that a friend gave me.

 

So when I was maybe twenty or twenty-one I was doing some cleaning and I came across Watchmen and DKR, and being a little bit older, and having some more free time on my hands…and having a girlfriend on the other side of the country, I went ahead and gave them both another shot. I came out in both cases with a newfound appreciation for books that I couldn’t stand just a few years earlier, books I regretted buying. Now, neither is perfect in my eyes. To this day I still hate the pirate stuff in Watchmen, and DKR still goes from visually stunning to ugly as sin and back again, but they both found their way back to my actual bookshelf.

 

One thing I didn’t come out of this with though is a love for Alan Moore. Sure, I checked out League of Extraordinary Gentlemen because of it, but nothing really ever made me a fan of his. I enjoyed the first volume of the League and was indifferent on the second, never looked at any of the following attempts. I never bothered to read V, I saw the movie and left it at that. I never read Promethia, and I hadn’t even heard of Lost Girls until this week and what I read about told me that I didn’t really want to read it anyway (unfortunately such things didn’t remain possible). He has a general theme of his work that leads into the hypocrisy of the things he says and does. He condemns people for using characters and concepts that he used, but with very few exceptions everything he has done is with concepts and characters he took from other creators and media.

Lost Girls features Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy from Peter Pan. It’s not some jovial romp through fiction, it’s more of sexually explicit story for the sake of doing a sexually explicit story. I flipped through it before I decided to write about it here, and I didn’t find some unique and one of a kind work of fiction. I found something that made Cherry Poptart and Tarot look like Catwoman. You want sex? This is a porn comic! There’s tons of it here! We’ve got guy/girl, girl/girl, guy/guy, orgies, pedophiles and their underage victims, drugs, rape, and a reader in me coming out of his flip through wondering what the hell Alan Moore has done to my childhood. This isn’t an original story, it’s not a ground breaking story, and I want the twenty minutes back I spent flipping through it to write this paragraph. It’s a shining example of Alan Moore doing what he does best; taking someone elses characters and twisting them into some perverse shadow of what they were supposed to be.

 

On that note, I didn’t need to know that Mr. Hyde would anally rape the Invisible Man to death. Just like Killing Joke didn’t need the allusion that Joker raped Barbra Gordon, or to keep the rape boat going, it was a relatively central part to Silk Specter in Watchmen. Moore has a thing for gratuitous uses of sex and sexual violence, go figure. His mind is a fucked up place.

 

Now, I know what people want to say anytime someone takes Moore to task. That I don’t get him, that his work is ground breaking and I just don’t get it, or, better yet, someone once told me that I was jealous of his ability. The only thing about Alan Moore that causes jealousy in me is the fact that this schmuck has his soapbox that he bellows from as often as possible that people actually listen to. I envy that he can’t seem to not be relevant despite the fact that his best years are far, far behind him. He’s a bitter and angry old man who believes that he’s still the measuring stick by which all other comic creators are judged.

 

He’s a walking hypocrisy that demands creators be original and never use his stories as the basis for their own, and yet some of his most well documented work was with characters he borrowed or was given to use. Watchmen wasn’t a cast of original characters because he wanted them to be, he had aspired to use the Charlton Comics characters to his own devices. This means we would have had Captain Atom’s wang flying around, and The Question would have been our overly violent trench coat wearing vigilante. It means that instead of Ted Kord debuting as the Blue Beetle and setting the pace for the JLI, we would have just had the impotent outside of costume Night Owl super imposed on to him. I even heard mentions that he tried to use the Red Circle characters as well before finally settling on using his Charlton knock offs. His most famous work, the story everyone rushes to put him on a pedestal over, and it was originally meant to be him using a set of previously existing characters and leaving them too toxic to ever touch again.

Now, I should say that there is no shame in a writer using the characters of another writer to tell a good story. That’s one of the things about comics, that you can actually do that. That one writer will construct a property, tell stories, and then leave so that another will come and add to the overall canon. That’s something very unique to the comic book industry, that a character is bigger than the creative team. That good, bad, or ugly, the character will continue on long past a writer. Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Captain America. The list goes on, and on, and on. Yes, some creators choose to devote their effort to creator owned imprints, and ideas that they own and will be the sole producers of, and there is no shame in that. Really, there is no shame in going in either direction, hell, there’s no shame in doing both at once.

But condemning people for going one way or the other? That’s something I take serious issue with; especially when the condemner is someone who has successfully done both. When Alan Moore came down on Geoff Johns and company for using ideas he crafted in Green Lantern in the 80’s, when he attacked their talent and originality for using characters and concepts he came up with, he made a complete and total ass out of himself. You can’t contribute to a larger canon and not expect it to be used again. It would be like if he expected Barbra Gordon to never ever be mention in any way, shape, or form again after he crippled her…wait, did he expect that too? He might have. I mean, the point here is that this guy who made his name doing work for hire, and has carved out a name for himself doing not just original stories, but big name properties as well (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern), and he actually has the balls to verbally tear down anyone who references a story he did.

 

Because, you know, Alan Moore is immortal and untouchable and everyone in the industry should get down on their knees and pray to God that he might read their work and say it’s not the worst crap he’s ever read. That’s the dream, that’s the goal, to be accepted by the most bitter and hate filled man in the industry. He makes Steve Ditko look like a ray of sunshine.

 

But Alan Moore isn’t the father you will do anything to make proud of you, nor should he be treated as such. There is no benefit or upside to having his respect or well wishes, no book club sticker to boost your sales or fancy blog to promote your product. The most anyone could expect out of him is a metaphorical pat on the back followed up by him telling them that they don’t deserve special praise for doing their job right.

 

I don’t respect the guy. I can’t. To put it in terms of any other media it would be like…well, in wrestling terms, it would be like agreeing with Chyna and Mark Mero and the rest of the never-was committee when they try and take stands about how awful of a person Vince McMahon is and how bad that working environment is. The only reason they’re at all relevant is because he gave them chances, and the fact that they aren’t relevant at all now is because they blew it. It would be like Lindsay Lohan blaming Hollywood for the fact that she’s a washed up nobody, and not the fact that she drank and drugged herself into oblivion. Imagine if Jamarcus Russell came out and said that the Raiders organization is why he was such a fucking shitty quarterback. That’s what Alan Moore is to me. Sure, he may not be a complete fuck up like the people I just mentioned, but he’s got one major thing in common and that’s his soapbox.

 

Ah yes, Alan Moore’s infamous soapbox. He lives for that thing, jumping up on it to scream as loud as he can about how everyone sucks but him. How he’s a victim of evil companies stealing his valuable work and not compensating him for it. Poor poor victimized Alan Moore, getting up on his soapbox every few months to rip into DC Comics and the creators there. Always forgetting that the soapbox was a gift from DC, because let’s be honest, if they hadn’t published Watchmen and V, if they hadn’t given him Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Swamp Thing to write…would we even be having this conversation? Would he even be worth talking about? I know, I’m not being nice here, dude wrote Watchmen! He doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment! It doesn’t matter how many original ideas he’s actually had in his life, all that matters is that he wrote one deconstructionist take on super heroes in the 80’s that wasn’t as good as the Marvel version that came out before hand.

Hello Squadron Supreme! I see you!

 

So what’s the verdict on these upcoming Watchmen prequels? Should they happen? Should DC never touch the project again out of respect for someone who has no respect for them? Or should they look at a potential gold mind and put the right creators on to it to try and take advantage? Yes, the decision is completely about the money, but anyone who would expect otherwise has obviously never handled actual business. Creator rights and respect are what they are, but at the end of the day the bottom line is the bottom line. DC Comics exists to make money. Marvel Comics exists to make money. So why do people think that attacking them for being out to make money is some sort of insult? That’s their overall goal. To profit, to cash in, to pay their writers and artists and editors and everyone else on staff. Sure, it would be nice if they could be all smiles and cheer and give everyone what they thought they were worth, but that’s not business or reality. People get paid what they’re worth, and in the case of creators, they’re worth what they bring in. If a writer can’t sell copies of a book, then you don’t pay them the big bucks. And really, if a project isn’t going to net you any money, why do it?

Is doing prequels to Watchmen without Moore unethical? Not really. I mean, sure, it would be nicer to have his input into a project that is a precursor to his most well known work then to go on without him. But at the same time, it’s not like their coming in with a blatant cash in creative team. I don’t see Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison writing these books to represent DC’s A list writers. I don’t see Adam Beechan and Erik Wallace there to represent their C listers. Hell, I don’t even see James Robinson and this sort of project is what you come to expect out of him! They gave this to Darwyn Cooke! Darwyn Cooke! The New Frontier! That’s not just A list, that’s the right man for the job! Look at the creative teams that DC decided to go with and just try and tell me that it’s just a money grab. There’s no guaranteed top ten on the sales charts creators, there’s no writers that live to write tie-in minis. They went with the right talent to make this project feel as important as it should, as well as to have a chance at actually telling a story that has a chance to live up to the original. They might be going against Moore’s wishes, but they aren’t doing a grave injustice to the series to spite him either.

Watchmen is a valuable property, and really, it’s one that welcomes itself to some sort of prequel. Due to the fact that Moore was unable to use established characters he had to create his characters, and while he didn’t do it from scratch, he did have to establish a unique canon. We were given mentions of things to come before, people and places and events. We were given just enough to get us through Watchmen with the proper understanding of who these characters were, but with so many more stories left as just the briefest of mentions. It’s a story ripe for the expansion of a back story, and while Moore may not be contributing, I can’t fathom a single writer involved not going out of their way to make sure that they don’t hurt the original story.

These prequels aren’t going to ruin Watchmen. Nothing can do that. It’s still a phenomenal piece of story telling that can be picked up and read as is. The prequels aren’t going to hurt the story any more than The Kingdom hurt Kingdom Come, or any of Age of Apocalypse ten year anniversary crap hurt the AoA. That’s the thing about comics, the good never really goes bad. You can go back in later and do whatever you want to it, but if those stories aren’t any good then they will wind up being the ones that are forgotten. Watchmen is almost thirty years old, and if the prequels are any good then ten years from now people will be getting their first taste of Watchmen by getting the full set. And if they aren’t any good? Then I doubt anyone will remember them outside of bad memories. Bad stories tend to not last in trade. For worried fans, these books aren’t going to hurt the story they love. It’s just not possible.

 

So really, I guess I can just sum this all up by saying that I feel that Alan Moore is an asshole, that I support DC’s Watchmen prequels due to the strength of the creative teams, and that really, I don’t care about the man or his opinions at all.

 

Which I guess makes me a hypocrite since I just wrote this whole piece about him, but hey, at least I can admit it.

 

The Gold Standard

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