When Adrian Veidt Owns Shakespeare:

Why I’m Against Before Watchmen

DC Comics recently officially announced that it would be reviving the characters from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s revered graphic novel, Watchmen, for a slew of prequel spin-off comics. In my opinion, these prequels are wholly unnecessary, as the original series didn’t merit any other story to be told besides the one it was already telling, and they will only serve to further line the pockets of Time Warner. However, it might comfort Moore to consider that the over-commercialization of a story that satirized commercial superheroes only serves to make his original graphic novel even more poignant and alive than before.

In their announcement of “Before Watchmen,” DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio said that it’s their responsibility “as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant.” In that respect they should be happy, as their efforts only add to the credibility of Moore’s observation of the bloated, incestuous state of superhero comics in America. Do you remember those fake ads for Minutemen toys that popped up throughout the comic in the original series? Well, the “Before Watchmen” spin-offs belong in those ads. They echo the ‘80s corporate excess that Moore and Gibbons were trying to spoof. They can almost be considered real life artifacts from that comic book world, complete with a “Veidt Industries” logo on the cover.

This irony seems to allude the new series’ proponents. The excuse that I see many creators resort to most when attempting to justify this new “Before Watchmen” (a questionable title, as nothing in the actual story was named Watchmen, so why would anything in the story be “before” it?) line of comics is that of “well, Moore used re-purposed Charlton characters to create Watchmen, so why is okay for him to use other people’s characters but not okay for us to use his?” I find this argument to be deeply flawed. Why did Moore re-purpose those old characters? Because he was trying to tell a story that satirized those characters.

To be sure, Watchmen was not a satire in the sense that Moore was poking fun at the source material necessarily, but a satire in the sense that he was paying homage to it while also turning it on its head. An example of this was the narrative device of Rorschach’s journal in the early issues, which served to spoof Frank Miller-esque noir stories with it’s over-the-top cynicism and gritty metaphors, but was simultaneously one of the strongest entries into that genre.

Moore was trying to tell, in 12 issues (not 50), a story that would tear down everything about American superhero comic books up until that point. He wanted to do this by using pre-existing characters, but couldn’t get the clearance and instead used archetypes based on those characters. But it was never an attempt to create a new X-Men. He wasn’t trying to spearhead a new franchise or sell t-shirts or movie tickets, he was trying to make a point about the state of the comics industry, as well as the state of America and the world. The characters were essentially devices of that story, of that particular satirical event.

They represented archetypes such as the superman, the patriot, the femme fatale, the dark knight, the grim detective, and so on. He then took those archetypes and made them more realistic, with more “shades of gray” in terms of morality, to reflect the politics and culture of that time. This is why, in my opinion, no one needs to know what Ozymandias was doing before Watchmen #1, any more than we needed to know what Quentin Tarantino’s character, Vincent Vega, was doing before the events of Pulp Fiction.

The sad thing is that while Watchmen was essentially Moore and Gibbons holding a mirror up to mainstream comics, pointing out its tropes and pushing them to their limits with the hope of tearing them down so that something better might come out of it, DC was, and still is, apparently not in on that joke. The truth is, by taking these characters out of Moore’s hands and deciding to make spin-offs with them (a decision that seemed to be made out of desperation first and creative inspiration last), it only further re-enforces everything that Moore was trying to say is wrong about the comics industry with Watchmen.

This continued relevance is in keeping with how Moore’s bibliography consistently finds new meaning in contemporary culture. Recently we’ve seen the Occupy movement adopt the mask of his and David Lloyd’s hero, V, for its protests against corporate tyranny, a cause that the hero himself would surely be a part of. Unfortunately, whereas that idea has found new legs in our world as part of the revolution against corporate greed, Watchmen is finding its foothold as an instrument of such greed. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but at the end of the day, it’s what will preserve the satirical sting of the original work and make it relevant for a new generation. Are you pissed off that DC is so starved of original ideas that they’ll bastardize Watchmen by creating scores of unwarranted prequels? Cool. Well, you know what book comes in handy for expressing this frustration toward this dinosaur of a company? Watchmen.

And yet, as with the Keane Act in the graphic novel, there are those who will publicly defend this odious decision. Looking over a discussion thread on Facebook for Newsarama’s story “BEFORE WATCHMEN Creators Part With ALAN MOORE On Project,” I see a few comments defending DC’s actions. They say that not only is DC justified in doing whatever they feel like doing with these characters in the name of making money, they applaud them for sticking up to “whiny fanboys” who bitch and moan while defending “sacred cows.” What these people seem to forget is that with Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were making a statement. A statement doesn’t need a spin-off, and it doesn’t need a prequel. Any artist will tell you that. Does Picasso’s Guernica need a spin-off? Does Hemingway’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” need a prequel?

One comment on the discussion thread even tries to compare the use of Watchmen characters for the spin-offs to how Shakespeare purportedly borrowed his ideas from Plautus. Imagine that. Time Warner, the company that wanted to lobotomize the Internet a few weeks back, being compared to Shakespeare. By a consumer. I think it may be time for me to go on my own Dr. Manhattan-esque quest for intelligent life elsewhere among the stars. I am having very bad luck finding it down here among my peers.

(I should mention here, for the record, that I don’t hold anything against the amazing talent who are involved in producing these spin-offs. It seems like a dream job, and probably the kind of situation where, if someone has to make these stories, at least it’s the group of people who are currently signed on to do it. For all I know these stories might turn out to be pretty damn good, and I sincerely hope that they are, but I will not be reading them. Instead, I will be looking into reading more independent comics with the hope that some day original comic work will be more important than rehashed commercial gibberish.)

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for Sequart.org and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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  1. One comment on the discussion thread even tries to compare the use of Watchmen characters for the spin-offs to how Shakespeare purportedly borrowed his ideas from Plautus. Imagine that. Time Warner, the company that wanted to lobotomize the Internet a few weeks back, being compared to Shakespeare. By a consumer. I think it may be time for me to go on my own Dr. Manhattan-esque quest for intelligent life elsewhere among the stars. I am having very bad luck finding it down here among my peers.

    Funny you should mention the Shakespeare stuff, considering I’m at least one of the people who brought it up.

    Shakespeare, for all we hail him as “great literature” these days, was also a playwright who had to write works that brought in audiences and kept them coming back. In other words, he worked in 16th- and 17th-century England’s entertainment industry, which as I recall is still clearly part of popular culture. The last time I checked, the comic book industry is a part of the entertainment industry, which is still clearly a part of popular culture. In writing his plays–you know, those things that had to bring in an audience–he sometimes pulled in work from other sources as his inspiration. Ever heard of The Menaechmi? It’s the play on which Shakespeare based The Comedy of Errors, only Shakespeare took the “identical twins confused for each other” and doubled it so that there were two sets. Thing is, Shakespeare didn’t just retell The Menaechmi; he made the audience hyper-aware of how much coincidence has to be involved for this kind of comedy to work. Isn’t that rather similar to what you’re claiming Moore did?

    They say that not only is DC justified in doing whatever they feel like doing with these characters in the name of making money, they applaud them for sticking up to “whiny fanboys” who bitch and moan while defending “sacred cows.” What these people seem to forget is that with Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were making a statement. A statement doesn’t need a spin-off, and it doesn’t need a prequel.

    Funny, I thought Moore and Gibbons were writing a comic book.

    I’d take your argument more seriously if Moore himself hadn’t written Watchmen-related prequel-style material for the DC Heroes RPG, and if several sources you can find through a Google search (you do know how to do a little research to back up your facts, don’t you?) indicate that Moore’s stance against using Watchmen characters elsewhere didn’t seem to have evolved over time from a rather varied set of arguments that were a lot less oriented towards the artistic merit of what he did and a lot more oriented at getting a bigger piece of the pie.

    And I find it hilarious that either of the polarized sides of this argument thinks it’s got the moral high ground to claim that the other side is demonizing them. Are you really that naive?

    When you run off in search of the “intelligent life” you think you can’t find here on Earth, see if they can teach you how to do some basic research to back up your assertions–and, for that matter, see if they can teach you how to read for comprehension instead of reading to find a springboard for a rather baseless rant.

    • Mike Greear says:

      First of all, I wasn’t addressing a comparison between Shakespeare and Moore, but between Shakespeare and DC. Secondly, yes, I did do research. I’ve studied Watchmen for years. I own the RPG sourcebook, as well as the trade collection and the original issues, I have read annotations to all of the issues, and I read all the Alan Moore interviews I can get my hands on. Such as this one, from the 1986 UK Comic Art Convention:

      “From the audience: Do you actually own Watchmen?

      Alan Moore: My understanding is that when Watchmen is finished and DC have not used the characters for a year, they’re ours.

      Dave Gibbons: They pay us a substantial amount of money…

      Moore: … to retain the rights. So basically they’re not ours, but if DC is working with the characters in our interests then they might as well be. On the other hand, if the characters have outlived their natural life span and DC doesn’t want to do anything with them, then after a year we’ve got them and we can do what we want with them, which I’m perfectly happy with.

      Gibbons: What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think they’d do that. I think because of the unique team they couldn’t get anybody else to take it over to do Watchmen II or anything else like that, and we’ve certainly got no plans to do Watchmen II.”

      So it’s a self-contained work that they didn’t want to see used by DC and had no plans on reviving after it was complete. I’m not sure of the point you were trying to make in your awkwardly worded sentence about Moore’s argument evolving, but I hope that this goes toward clarifying the issue.

      On a personal note, since the argument you made was at least partially a personal attack, I’m not sure what I did in my piece to get you so riled up, but whatever it was I am sorry I did it.

  2. Very good piece, as always! You (and the other writers) always provide nourishing food for thought.

    Although I agree 100% with your arguments and responses to the ones we’ve been hearing from the supporters of it, I’d like to see Sequart attempt a devil’s advocate position. Is there ANY reasonable argument to be made which could put this in a positive light? If there is, I think you guys could make it?

    • Cody Walker says:

      I am legitimately excited for “Before Watchmen” so I can’t say that I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

      Something that has bothered me about comic fans for quite some time now is this idea that there was a time period when comics were produced for any reasons other than commercial interests. In short, comics are made for money. They’ve always been made for money. They exist to make money.

      Yeah, Watchmen is a book that has a lot of meaning and Sequart could be a website completely dedicated to Watchmen for a year and still not run out of things to say about it, but make no mistake, Moore and Gibbons weren’t writing it out of altruistic reasons. They didn’t do it because they just HAD TO TELL THIS STORY. They did for the dolla dolla bills and there is nothing at all wrong with that. Money is important and while I won’t go the Gecko route and claim that “greed is good,” I will say that there is nothing wrong with how DC is going about making “Before Watchmen.”

      DC is a company that employs many people.
      In order to pay those people (many of whom aren’t remotely as wealthy as Alan Moore), they have to make money selling comic books.
      Watchmen is a recognizable property that could be further developed to make more money.
      Fans will purchase Watchmen comics for sure and hopefully, it will bring in new readers as well.
      Fan purchases mean more money for the company which will pay their employees.

      Now, let’s address a few specifics.

      “it only further re-enforces everything that Moore was trying to say is wrong about the comics industry with Watchmen.” While this is certainly one interpretation of how one could read Watchmen, I’m not sure that I’ve ever read a quote from Moore saying that this is the main idea that he wanted to get across. In fact, quotes I’ve found have said the opposite. From the Onion A.V. Club:

      “I can’t really claim to have any intelligent master plan. I probably didn’t even realize that I was deconstructing superheroes until I was about halfway through Watchmen. Afterwards, it seemed a lot more obvious, but at the time we were just trying to do a cleverer-than-usual, more-stylish-than-usual superhero comic. But two or three issues in, it had become a sort of semiotic nightmare that I still get hounded by literature professors over to this day. It obviously, halfway through the telling, became a very different sort of animal.”


      So, don’t try to play the “he had a master plan” card here. Furthermore, the real reason Moore had a falling out with DC is that:

      “But by 1989, Mr. Moore had severed his ties with DC. The publisher says he objected to its decision to label its adult-themed comics (including some of his own) as “Suggested for Mature Readers.” Mr. Moore says he was objecting to language in his contracts that would give him back the rights to “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta” when they went out of print — language that he says turned out to be meaningless, because DC never intended to stop reprinting either book. “I said, ‘Fair enough,’ ” he recalls. ” ‘You have managed to successfully swindle me, and so I will never work for you again.’ ”

      Was Moore screwed? Yeah. No doubt.

      But so were Siegel and Shuster in the creation of Superman and no one is saying that Superman should stop publication.

      Bill Finger was screwed over too by Bob Kane in a way that was worse than Siegel, Shuster, and Moore ever thought about being screwed (to the point that I think that anyone who gets screwed in comics should be labelled “Fingered”) and that sucks too, but Batman is still going to be published.

      Ultimately, this argument is going to boil down to a moral dilemma between moral absolutism versus utilitarianism (funny, it seems that I’ve read that theme some where before).

      Was it wrong for DC to Finger Alan Moore? The moral absolutist would say “yes” and it is further wrong to screw over anyone else that has ever been screwed and therefore, I will stop reading superhero comics because they exploit the creations of everyone involved.

      If you believe this way, that is absolutely fine and your morals should be commended and admired. To only read creator-owned work because of your moral principles is admirable to me.

      However, the utilitarian would see that Fingering Alan Moore serves a greater good even when we don’t consider the facts that Moore had the opportunity to write these himself years previous and that he refused:

      1) This project has already generated buzz for the comic industry just by being announced and because it involves the creators that it does.

      2) This has the potential to bring in new readers.

      3) This has the potential to make a lot of money and considering that the industry has been hurting the past few years (the New 52 not-withstanding), anything that brings in more money is a good thing.

      4) The integrity of the original work won’t be compromised because it still exists and can still be read. It certainly can’t be any more compromised than it already has with the film and with parodies like this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDDHHrt6l4w

      I think it would be presumptuous to believe that the moral absolutism route is somehow more beneficial than the utilitarian route. After all, the utilitarian route affects more people than the route of moral absolutism.

      Damn, I know that this type of dilemma has been presented before, but for the life of me, I just can’t remember where, but it sure seems like the person who followed the moral absolutism code of ethics was killed or deatomized and the utilitarian had achieved something great but at the price of moral integrity. It also seems like someone in an owl costume was pissed but couldn’t do anything about it.

      It will come to me later today, I’m sure.

      Finally, Mike, you concluded with “Instead, I will be looking into reading more independent comics with the hope that some day original comic work will be more important than rehashed commercial gibberish” and I think this is absolutely great. More independent comics should be supported, but more importantly, they should be written about and I honestly do look forward to your findings and the writing you’ll be doing about independent comics.

      What independent titles are you thinking of getting into?

      • Cody,

        Your response about using Finger interchangeably with being screwed had me laughing out loud! Too bad I was reading it on my Kindle Fire while rocking my youngest to sleep! LOL The comments following become even more disturbing (and hilarious for it). I’m sorry to say, however, that I’m not entirely sure Bill Finger would find the humor in it, but I guess that’s one of the challenges of having that for a last name. :-)

      • Mike Greear says:

        I would have to say that, regarding your point about Moore not knowing the totality of the themes of Watchmen when he began writing it, the elements of deconstructionist satire were there from the beginning. In a video interview for the Comics Britannia series he said that Rorschach was invented as a way to explore the darker, more fascist perspective on a guy who wears a mask and beats up criminals, something that is now a cliche of post-modern superhero comics. The entire premise of fat, middle-aged superheroes who fought in Vietnam and had been forced to retire by a Nixon administration already sets all that up, even if Alan Moore didn’t already have things like the squid monster in mind when he started on issue #1. It was still a deconstructionist piece. In fact, it was because of these dark, satirical leanings (specifically a story he’d written about the mysterious murder of an established, recognizable superhero) that DC decided to keep Alan Moore from using the actual Charlton characters that they had acquired, so it was always understood back then that he was looking to take the deconstructionist route. And to my understanding, it was the constant rehashing of old ideas and old characters (such as what DC is now doing with Watchmen) that sparked this rebellious phase of dark, deconstructive, grittily realistic superhero stories in the late ’80s, of which Watchmen is the crown jewel.

        Here’s a relevant quote from Moore himself: “The alchemists used to have these two principles that they could more or less divide the entire universe up in to, and these were referred to as ‘Solve et Coagula’. ‘Solve’ is to take something apart and examine it – it’s analysis. ‘Coagula’ is to put it back together again – synthesis. Analysis and synthesis… Solve et Coagula… and to some degree, the analysis, this is deconstructionism. This is what we were doing with Watchmen.”

        (I’d also like to add that in “The Mindscape of Alan Moore,” the author says that for him the most important aspect of Watchmen was the storytelling, which made the story feel like a simultaneous event than a linear progression from start to finish. This is another “baby” that I am worried DC is “throwing out with the bathwater.” Just another point that I think I might have left out of the original piece.)

        As for Indie comics, I’m wanting to start with the more well-known alternative titles like Persepolis, Ghost World, Habibi and Blankets, etc. I also want to sink my teeth into some of the stuff that Image is putting out right now. A twitter friend of mine also recently put out the first issue of his comic, SCAM, which I hear is doing very well and I’ve yet to get my hands on a copy.

        Thanks for the reply, Cody. I wouldn’t mind doing some more point/counterpoint stuff in the future if you have any topics in mind.

  3. I’m going to take the stance of acquiescence. DC is well within the terms of the shady contract that Alan Moore signed. They’re shady. He signed it. Time to move on.

    Why does any comics fan raise a stink about something like this when that person can simply NOT ORDER / BUY IT?

    I’m not calling Mike (or anyone in particular) out, I just don’t understand the fervor all haters are expressing. DC is legally presenting a product, you can choose not to buy it.


    • Mike Greear says:

      My stance is I have a column to write every week, lol. I personally won’t be buying it, but I don’t really mind if anyone else wants to. It’s a free country/market. (Don’t tell anyone I said that.)

  4. ...Jeffrey Chon says:

    “Sequart Research & Literacy Organization is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting comic books as a legitimate artform.”

    That’s from your mission statement, fellas. Nothing about being devoted to promoting comic books as a legitimate product or for promoting DC’s right to make money. If you’re going to use the “it’s caplitalism, dummy” argument to defend the corporation over the artist, then you forfeit the right to call anything on this site art.

    • @ Mike: I think many people overlook the power of the dollar and its vote. It’s an issue I tried to raise in my last article about voting (with our dollars) for those projects we find worthy of support; in this instance, it’s withholding our dollars and support if we don’t believe in this sort of creative direction.

      @ Jeffrey: I fail to see how the organization is promoting DC’s right to make money? I see some individuals who assert this, but I’m not entirely sure they are speaking on behalf of the whole organization. Still, I think Cody is just trying to look at things from a pragmatic point of view–if they don’t make money, then they can’t create comics. How many qualified actors perform in the big budget movie so they can do the artsy / indie flic?

      I’m not sure these Watchmen prequels will be of interest to me, as I feel the strength of Watchmen was that readers had everything they needed to know handed to them in each issue. That said, it doesn’t mean that others aren’t going to want to try their creative “hand” at working with new material. As far as comics is concerned, Moore and Gibbons created something that was on par with some of the great literary works. And just as Moore wanted to try his hand with the characters from the greatest Victorian lit, it only stands to reason that later creators would want to try and follow suit. And FWIW, it doesn’t seem to be too much of a leap to assume there was a good possibility Moore and Gibbons would have revisted Watchmen had they been able to reacquire the rights to their collaborative creation.

    • Cody Walker says:

      Jeffery – ” If you’re going to use the “it’s caplitalism, dummy” argument to defend the corporation over the artist, then you forfeit the right to call anything on this site art.” – I’m not saying that when artists are Fingered that they deserve it or that it’s fair because that’s business. I’m simply saying that to completely dismiss the Before Watchmen minis on the principle that Moore was Fingered is a bit of a double standard considering people are willing to not hold that same standard to Superman, Batman, or any other corporate super-heroes.

      It is further presumptuous to believe that all of the minis are crap without reading them first. I’m willing to believe that none will be as good as the original, but I’m optimistic that they can be incredible. And you know what? I’m further willing to believe that a few of them could be considered “Art.” I’m willing to believe that a few might even be worthy of study. I don’t know for sure that they are going to be incredible, but you don’t know that they are going to be terrible.

      The argument your presenting of “corporation versus artist” is too simplistic. Remember, without DC, Alan Moore never would have been able to do Watchmen in the first place. Without Charlton comics, Moore never would have had the characters to craft the story. Yes, he created a great story, but he was as dependent on DC and the corporation as they were of him, so don’t treat the situation as an “either/or” situation.

      Art can still be created even with corporate involvement. Watchmen is a perfect example of this. Sandman too as well as many other comics. Looking beyond comics to other art forms, we can see that making money and making art aren’t separate ideas. There are plenty of movies put out by major production companies that make a lot of money that can be considered Art. Just because something make money doesn’t mean that it’s not Art.

      • Mike Greear says:

        The difference here, for me, is that “Watchmen” was made because Alan Moore went to DC and said “I have a story to tell, you guys have these Charlton characters, if you’re not doing anything else with them, can I use them for this story I got?”

        However, it would seem that “Before Watchmen” was made because DC said “These characters earn us money, find another way to cash in on them. Bring in some fan favorite creators and make some new books.” “How many books?” “Literally, like 40. 40 new Watchmen books. All in the same year. One week apart. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just flood the market with these things.” “And what will they be about?” “About? Who am I, Billy Shakespeare? Just print the damn books, Seymour!”

        The difference is in the intent. Moore had a story, he used the proper channels at his disposal and eventually he saw that story turned into a physical artifact of amazing complexity and endless fascination. This is art, or as he and Aleister Crowley would say, magick. And yes, he made a pretty good amount of money from it. DC had a property and they are using it to sell a product and make more money. That is called capitalism. The inclusion of fan-favorite creators to create said product is purely incidental.

  5. Cody Walker says:

    @Forrest – Bill Finger still has the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing, so I like to think he would be honored that his name can be used as being screwed (“he got Fingered”) and as an award (“they gave him the Finger.”)

    Also, they call them “fingers” but they don’t “fing” anything!

  6. Mike Greear’s article represents his own views, as do all articles on this site, including my own. Comments also reflect personal views. None of the above should be taken as representing those of this organization, which takes absolutely no stance whatsoever on “Before Watchmen.”

    Part of treating comics “as a legitimate artform” is to have open and serious debate, as accompanies other media. This debate sometimes involves views contrary to Sequart’s own stances. In the past, we’ve even published pieces saying that comics shouldn’t be treated as a serious art.

    That is, oddly enough, part of taking comics seriously — we believe passionately that comics can stand up to such scrutiny, and ideas offered in the process might be important to remember going forward, even if we don’t agree with them. I’ve published a great many things I didn’t personally believe in, because I believe they raised worthwhile points of view, and this policy will continue. It is crucial to Sequart’s mission. A legitimate artform requires a serious debate.

    The downside of this approach is that these debates are bound to be contentious, as intellectual debates often are. That’s a good thing. And “Before Watchmen” obviously elicits especially passionate responses.

    I encourage everyone to remember that, whatever our views on a particular issue, we’re all on the same side when it comes to the fact that comics deserve such discussion.

    Part of this discussion, as with that of any artistic medium, entails a consideration of how art and commerce overlap or are at odds with one another. Such discussion occurs in virtually every other medium, and it’s entirely in sync with taking comics seriously as a form of art.

    It is entirely normal, for example, for serious critics of Twilight‘s artistic merit to also argue that those books’ sales support systems of distribution that also allow customers to encounter more artistically worthwhile work. It is also entirely normal for other serious critics to disagree with this and disdain Twilight‘s artistic merit. Or to object should a movie studio decide to make a sequel to Citizen Kane, even if it did support movie theaters. These are entirely legitimate positions and subjects for serious discussion and debate.

    Awareness of the fact that the artistic and the commercial both exist and are related but not identical with one another — this is a prerequisite for serious discussion of art.

    Taking comics seriously as an artform involves recognizing the commercial. Artistic production does not occur within a vacuum. And work produced for commercial reasons may well have artistic merits — or else much of mainstream comics wouldn’t qualify as artistically worthwhile.

    But this serious discussion should not involve treating comics only as a product, nor confusing commercial wisdom or foolishness with artistic merit or lack thereof. Similarly, the legal right to do something is obviously not the same as a moral right.

    Again, I think we probably all agree on these things. I don’t think anyone’s crossed the line above, and I see a great deal of intelligence in many of the points that ostensibly disagree with one another. This is very much what I hoped for, in creating an organization where comics could be discussed with passionate intelligence.

    But I’m a tolerant guy who can note what’s a good point, even when if I think it’s part of an argument that ignores certain salient facts. (That I don’t want to ignore such facts is part of why my own writing here tends toward the lengthy.)

    But not everyone is such a tolerant lover of vigorous debate. Many, in fact, might take offense. Or drop by and conclude that Sequart isn’t the place for passionate intellectual debate but rather a sort of free-for-all in which the intellectual points might get lost.

    So I encourage everyone to tone things down a bit — and to write in a way that, while no less passionate, is a bit more obviously respectful to one another.

    Thank you.

  7. ...Jeffrey Chon says:

    You guys are all here to advance the artform, not to rally around an industry. I know that’s why I was here all those years ago, and I know that this is also the reason all you guys are here as well. I know this to be true, and I will acknowledge that my comments came across as combative and accusatory. That was not my intent and I hope you guys will accept my apologies on that.

    Mike’s piece was about aesthetic objections, about DC subverting the author’s “intent,” as I read it. The fact that Before Watchmen is going to make a lot of money shouldn’t ever enter the equation as a valid reason in an aesthetic argument. And Sequart has, and will always be, a venue for aesthetic arguments. If not, then it may as well be Newsarama, at which point we’re all screwed.

    For the record, I do hold the same standard for Siegel and Schuster, and for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko comics. This is why I don’t read superhero comics anymore. This is why I really don’t have a dog in this fight other than the fact that I felt we were losing sight of what Sequart’s function was, a function that I feel I had a hand in forming. And this is why I will never darken these door again.

    • Cody Walker says:

      “You guys are all here to advance the artform, not to rally around an industry.” – Monthly comics are a part of the artform and as such, I feel that it is important to think about a company’s right as much as a creator’s right.

      “That was not my intent and I hope you guys will accept my apologies on that.” – No need for an apology. We’re having a discussion and all opinions are welcome. If I ever came off as rude, I apologize as it was not my intent, but rather, a product of text being without intonation.

      “Mike’s piece was about aesthetic objections, about DC subverting the author’s “intent,” as I read it. The fact that Before Watchmen is going to make a lot of money shouldn’t ever enter the equation as a valid reason in an aesthetic argument. And Sequart has, and will always be, a venue for aesthetic arguments.” – Maybe I made the argument into what I wanted rather than directly addressing the aesthetics, but it’s difficult to argue about the aesthetics of Before Watchmen because it hasn’t come out yet. To dismiss the projects because you think they won’t be worthy of study is a bit presumptuous and I didn’t think I would have to make that argument simply because it seems self-evident; one can’t judge the aesthetic quality of something that does not exist.

      “For the record, I do hold the same standard for Siegel and Schuster, and for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko comics. This is why I don’t read superhero comics anymore. This is why I really don’t have a dog in this fight other than the fact that I felt we were losing sight of what Sequart’s function was, a function that I feel I had a hand in forming. And this is why I will never darken these door again.” – That’s awesome that you stand up for your principles and I absolutely mean that with all sincerity. I think it might be a bit extreme to leave and never return because you and I disagree. Most people disagree with me because my brain was corrupted to a Marxist way of thinking when I was in college and I see things differently than others do. Hell, Julian and Kevin pissed me off so much that my wife forbid me from being on the internet because I would just get furious and take it out on her (http://sequart.org/magazine/4608/how-not-to-relaunch-a-universe-a-review-of-justice-league-1/).

      I hope you know that you can submit articles and we’d be more than happy to post them. If you’d like to change the course of the conversation, we are always more than happy to oblige. We are absolutely always open to submissions of all kinds, so please write the kind of article you’d like to see on here and we’ll run it.

      • Company rights and creator rights are both a bit academic to me. Certainly worthwhile, and I think of them. But if we’re going to address comics as art, we’ve got to address primarily — not in every article — what’s there, on the page… how it works, what it means, and what it’s not doing. We can discuss “Before Watchmen” in this way, even as a project — whether it’s a smart artistic move. The rest is entirely worthwhile, and a great many good points have been made in the process. When the dust settles, the terms of the debate will shift in an advantageous way.

        Yeah, Cody, I thought often of our in-print-only fight over Justice League #1… and Kevin’s writing against people losing track of comics as art. We really go at it, and we’ve got a bruising, direct culture here at Sequart, where we really fight it out intellectually. What’s funny is that, when we talked on the phone during all that, we agreed about most things… we were just writing passionately about where we disagreed. I hope the outside world understands this culture we have, and doesn’t perceive infighting, because if it did, it would look like Sequart’s coming apart at the seams! Whereas the truth is that we have this culture of disagreement and challenging each other, as long as it’s not personal, which I think is actually perfectly in sync with intellectual culture.

    • I totally took your comment in the best way, Jeff. And for the record, I’d love to have you back. You’re an excellent writer, period.

      I agree that an extreme “it’s capitalism, silly!” argument is out of sync with our mission statement. I actually think Cody wasn’t quite making that point, though. I think he was just poking holes in the idea that Alan Moore’s intentions were as pure as we sometimes think in retrospect. He said that this does represent a screwing of Alan Moore, but that the results may well have artistic merit themselves. Which is a pretty moderate statement, I think. And perfectly in tune with New Criticism and its idea of taking the work on its own merits. If it were produced by a serial killer, to cash in on his crimes, it might still have artistic merit. Whether we feel comfortable reading it is something else entirely.

      Cody also pointed out that this could be a boost to comics, which I think is fair but which doesn’t concern me too much. It’s a boost to DC, certainly, but I’m not too excited — personally — about people flooding into comics shops if what they’re buying isn’t good art. And the jury’s definitely still out on that score.

      What’s really worrisome here is how DC’s doing so much so quickly. And it doesn’t have a good record of managing quality when it does that.

      • Gary Ancheta says:

        I think this has something to do with the digital initiative and the idea that they’re not going to do a summer crossover story. They’re going to push it out over the summer during the same time they would have an event crossover. And then in the fall, they’ll push their digital initiative version of the Watchmen when kids are going back to school and they need the economic boost in August.

      • Cody Walker says:

        @Julian – “It’s a boost to DC, certainly, but I’m not too excited — personally — about people flooding into comics shops if what they’re buying isn’t good art.” I can feel the Justice League fight coming back here and we probably won’t be able to agree, but I don’t think that EVERY comic should have to live up to the impossible standards of “good art” (if by “good art” we mean an artistic standard that transcends commercial appeal).

        Most comics don’t aspire to be “good art” but rather, they exist to entertain an audience. This goes for all media. Not every movie made has to be Citizen Kane nor should every movie aspire to be that.

        I watched the movie “Heckler” and while I didn’t agree with all of it, Jon Lovitz made a great point about how when the movie “Benchwarmers” came out, it was critically panned and deemed “immature” but he was okay with that because it was a movie made for a specific audience (pre-teens to teens) and featured humor that would appeal to them. He knew his audience, it appealed to his audience and the critics that didn’t like it were probably judging it from a different standard.

        Of course, Before Watchmen shouldn’t be given a pass and it should be scrutinized, but let’s do that when it comes out.

      • I agree completely, Cody, and you’ve made a great many good points here, which I’ve found quite reasonable.

        I’d only add that the “new 52″ and “Before Watchmen” are quite different beasts. It’s one thing to point out that the quality of the “new 52″ is lackluster, if not often embarrassing. But it was transparently a “boost DC sales” idea, synergized with day-and-date digital, and all the claims to quality and diversity and telling bold and new stories now looks like the most cynical of marketing ploys. That’s fine.

        But I don’t think “Before Watchmen” can be judged by these same low standards. It’s not, you know, a Jon Lovitz movie. It’s just not.

        There’s a record here. “Before Watchmen” is not being launched in a vacuum.

        If DC wants to set off this firestorm about its corporate practices, it has the right to do so. But if the results look anywhere near as lackluster and ill-considered as the “new 52″ proved to be (as a whole, of course… no need to point at exceptions), DC’s going to be looking like a vile, evil parody of a corporation. One with absolutely no concern for telling good stories, whether art or entertainment, but simply pushing sales and apologizing later.

        It’s there and only there where we might part ways, Cody. Because you might say, well, yes, DC’s goal is to sell, and it’s obviously quite content to build hype, sell lots of copies, and wind up with egg on its face, so long as it can still repeat this cycle. But every single one of these cycles for five years have run exactly this way, and at a certain point, someone’s got to point this out. It’s one thing to run a crossover or a relaunch with these transparently cynical corporate values. It’s quite another to extend that philosophy — the “fuck storytelling, fuck quality, just generate buzz and apologize later” philosophy — to Watchmen.

        Keep in mind that the only reason most of this product sells is because it’s made to seem artistic and entertaining — it’s product, Cody, but it’s marketed as all art is marketed, on the basis of artistic merit (which includes fun narrative). It’s simply not marketed like a Snicker’s bar. The selling of art requires selling people on that art’s merit, even if that’s merely competent, fun stories. When you lose the public’s confidence in such claims, you’re nowhere, even as a commercial enterprise.

        So yeah, fine, DC’s doing this. I’m not prejudging, I swear. I’m actually not even against it. I’m just not for it either.

        But it can’t be ignored that DC’s taking a real risk here. And that if it doesn’t do better this time around, it’s going to be in a really untenable position. Because while the underlying reality might be commercial, as you’ve pointed out, art is sold as being bold and valuable and historic — and DC’s no exception. Those are words DC can’t use again (without public snickering) for at least a decade if this turns out to be as ill-judged as the “new 52.”

        So we’ll see. “Before Watchmen” might turn out to be brilliant. It might turn out to at least be new and interesting. It may or may not be totally ethical to do at all, but these other creators — who are all quite talented and competent — may well produce interesting and valuable work, even if it’s unethical. Plenty of creative teams have been unethically treated, only to have their successors do worthwhile material in its own right. I’m perfectly able to compartmentalize those two judgments.

        But if “Before Watchmen” turns out to be crap that can only be justified on the basis of a Jon Lovitz movie, then DC’s then made it very clear that any brilliance or lasting worth in Watchmen was the result of Moore and Gibbons, for which DC (at least today’s DC) deserves absolutely no institutional credit whatsoever. DC would effectively lose the argument with Moore, in public, 25 years later. And show it was everything Moore said it was. That’s the risk here for DC, and it shouldn’t be ignored, nor this risk removed by claims to corporate monetary interest.

        If the prequel’s good, it’s good, period. Whatever the ethics of its production, the work stands on its own. But if it’s safe and tame and disposable, the whole project is going to come off as a transparent strip-mining of a classic work to generate short-term sales. And no one should take such a company seriously again, when it claims it’s on the cutting edge of anything or that it gives a shit about anything other than the dollar.

        Which you might say is already the case. But the fact is that DC doesn’t pretend to care only about the dollar. It talks about doing bold artistic things and telling good stories. As does any movie company or any artistic enterprise, even if it’s also (or even primarily) commercial. When that public faith in artistic quality is lost, the hype-sales-disappointment cycle at last fails… or deserves to. Or at least a company becomes a laughing stock.

        Sorry to prattle on. I agree with everything you’ve said, which has been quite smart and careful. I just want you to acknowledge the very real risk involved — and that even if art is commerce, commerce entails public confidence in one’s claims and one’s products, which DC is currently holding onto by a thread.

      • I was tough on Justice League #1 — based on DC and Johns and Lee’s claims about how considered and new all of this was going to be, as the vanguard of this bold new vision of the DC Universe. It wasn’t sold as “this is gonna be kinda shitty, and I gotta admit it’s a rush job, but I think it’s fun and exciting enough.” But I agree with you completely, Cody, that there’s a place for work like that! I enjoy plenty of it myself.

        I hardly expected Justice League #1 to be Citizen Kane. I did kinda expect it would make sense, both logically and in terms of comics storytelling. (Its basic premise and certain key plot points were so illogical that they should have lead to sacking of editors.) I expected this in addition to bringing the obligatory exciting action scenes. That was obviously expecting too much there, and that’s fine. I’m okay with stupid fun comics existing, whether I read them or not. But that’s not what Justice League #1 was billed as. And I definitely was not holding it up to some unrealistic standard. My standard was more Die Hard than Citizen Kane.

        The problem with “Before Watchmen” is that no one could even claim, “meh, it’s a rush job, but I hope it’s fun and exciting enough — and hey, more Dr. Manhattan!!!” That’s a completely untenable position, for a prequel to Watchmen. And it won’t be used by DC, nor its creators. That might be a retreat position for Justice League #1, but it’s not available for “Before Watchmen.” It’s just not.

        Consequently, if you think I was tough on Justice League #1, I and everyone is going to be at least as tough on “Before Watchmen.” And of course, they should be.

        That’s not prejudging the work. Nor is debating the ethics of publishing it to begin with — which doesn’t require that the work itself be shit.

        But man, if “Before Watchmen” comes out with characters doing totally illogical things that wouldn’t pass muster on the revived V TV series, the way Justice League had, be prepared for DC and “Before Watchmen” to be raked over the coals for years to come.

        And I think that’s entirely fair.

  8. Woah, woah, WOAH MAN! WOOAAHH MAN! (So I Married an Ax Murderer? Anyone?)

    OK, seriously though I think that things jumped up to about a 12 here and we need to all bring it back down to about a 2 or 3.

    Listen, everyone here has a damn fine point. Yes, Moore did make money off of Watchmen. This cannot be argued. However, he also had a high level of a certain aesthetic that was almost completely counter intuitive to how comic books were done at the time. (lots of words, no true main characters, lots of tertiary materials to build the world but can also be argued distracts the “entertainment” reader – please don’t read that anymore than in the same way Hickman makes the joke in The Nightly News)

    Now, to Alan I would say you raise some interesting points. But, I would also argue that Shakespeare considered it as influence or reaction and not outright plagiarism. To which influence is the ingredient that makes works great and not outright theft. This does not discount that he was entertainment, but he was also something of an egoist, so wasn’t he attempting in his own ability to put on a great, elegant spectacle of a play?
    I could be very wrong on this point.

    To Jeff, I would say I don’t always agree with certain points of the comics are for capitalism idea either, but I can say that it is, and I have to be emphatic here, NOT Sequart’s stance on anything. By now we should all know and it be clear to see that Julian Darius’s mission is, and only, to further comics are an art form.

    Trust me, no one at Sequart is making money off of our endeavors. These are labors of love. We are not paid money for these articles we post weekly. Often times we write these at a loss to our own money and time we could spend with friends, family or just reading. Instead we all try to form some cohesive stance on a subject or book that we want to discuss the implications.

    But, even if the argument is comics are for capitalists, then I would still invite this argument in the door. Why? Because it is another side of this coin that SHOULD be told, even if I disagree with it almost 100%. It is a bit like cutting the oppositions mic because you disagree with them.

    So, Jeff, I would hope you continue to brighten our doorstep because we need voices like yours, Mike Greear, and Alan Williams. You are all adding to a great debate that must happen.

    But, if we are going to continue the debate, we must all understand the other person has a right to their opinion and a certain modicum of civility. Not to say it wasn’t civil, just, let’s temper the tempers from super nova to “I am annoyed”

    Thanks all!

  9. @Kevin: There is still some debate about Shakespeare’s sources and whether or not we should consider him a plagiarist or “culturally informed.” Here’s an article from the Atlantic (one of hundreds, if not thousands at this point!) that informs my judgment on the Bard:


    Essentially, Shakespeare is shown to be directly lifting passages (in addition to general content) from other sources; the difference however, is that he is not “slavishly copying” and is improving the source. Of course, that’s a subjective assessment of his work based many years after the fact. Other writers did the same but were less successful in their “improvements” and have rightly been forgotten. So I still assert that there is literary precedent for picking up where one artist / writer left off; unfortunately, only time will really tell if these “improvements” will last.

    @Cody: You’re essentially proposing “Finger” as the new “pharmakon”? Interesting… :) So those writers nominated for the writing award but lose out to a lesser peer would essentially be fingered out of their Finger?-)

    • Miles Prower says:

      I would say that someone who was Fingered out of a Finger award would have been “Finger Fucked.”

    • The point about Shakespeare is, of course, quite correct. All I’d add is that the concept of plagiarism was quite different, and it’s not entirely fair to apply our idea backwards.

      Ultimately, though, all this talk of Shakespeare and Alan Moore’s process has to do with intent, and I don’t personally find that informative here. Whatever Moore’s intent, Watchmen is what it is now, just as Shakespeare’s revered now but wasn’t in his time or for a century after his work.

      The question, I think, ought to be “what is gained by doing this?” We may or may not get some interesting, artistic prequels. We may also sully a classic graphic novel — and for what may be very little reward, artistically. But those should be the terms of the debate, once the dust and important caveats about intent — and whether DC has the right to do this — have settled. It’s how we’ll judge “Before Watchmen” in years to come, not just today.

      In my personal opinion.

  10. But that’s what happens to art! It happens all the time! And it’s a good thing!

    It doesn’t matter if Shakespeare borrowed ideas. What matters is that his plays could work in so many different visions. Sci-fi Tempest? Black Macbeth? Nazi Richard III? Samurai King Lear? Great! Why not? Do you wanna a prequel of Hamlet? There is one, written by John Updike (I admit that it doesn’t work as well as Samurai King Lear). It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it breathes new life into the old work. And that’s wonderful.

    Hell, Shakespeare even works when he’s rubbing elbows with that candy-colored clown we call the Sandman!

    Because people are still creating new ways of using Sherlock Holmes, we all know who Professor Moriarty is, even if he only appeared in one single short story by Conan Doyle.

    We don’t need to know about what Vincent Vega was doing before Pulp Fiction, but… We didn’t really need to know about Don Corleone’s young years either. But we’re damn lucky that we have it!

    Yeah, sometimes it doesn’t work. Like Psycho IV. Fine, but since it’s unnecessary it can be easily forgotten or despised.

    The new work has the right to exist, and we should all judge it accordingly. Some of it is crap, it always is, but we gotta at least be open to the possibility that a new vision may bring something interesting. And if it doesn’t, fine. The original wasn’t destroyed. Miley Cyrus recently covered a Dylan song, and for a good reason (Amnesty International). Ouch! But so what? I still love the song. And I can think of at least two great covers of it.

    And here’s the thing: We read comics! And mainstream superhero comics is all about different talent providing different visions. Think on how many different visions we got of the X-Men over the years. Claremont alone was responsible for quite a few of them, very different from each other. Again, not all of them work, but so what? How many people wish that the X-Men had remained in the Lee-Kirby phase forever?

    Yeah, we don’t need to know what Ozymandias was doing before Watchmen. I agree. We also don’t really need to know what Matt Murdock was doing before Frank Miller. I started reading DC just after Crisis (the original, the one that matters), and at first I believed that I didn’t need to read any pre-Crisis work (I was so wrong). I never read Leifeld’s Supreme. Has anyone?

    If we don’t welcome change, new talent and new visions, then what? Wouldn’t we miss a lot of stuff that gave us so much pleasure over the years?

    You know what? First I bought the series. Then I bought the trade paperback. And then the Absolute. I spent a lot of money with the same old thing. I won’t run to buy the new series. But I may buy it, if I think it’s worthy. I just think that it can be. Hell, I hope it is. And if it’s not, okay, it’s just another bad comic, that’s all.

    • Mike Greear says:

      These are all good points, but I’d have to say that I was trying to express in the article a difference between “X-Men” and “Watchmen,” as well as a difference between what Moore did with the Charlton characters and what DC did with Watchmen by explaining that Moore’s intent wasn’t to launch a new superhero line for people to imitate forever and ever. It was an attempt at deconstructing superhero cliches and experimenting with new methods of sequential storytelling. Doing a spin-off of any kind to something like that would be ridiculously redundant and inferior. That was my thesis.

      His work doesn’t merit a spin-off because “Watchmen” was already spinning off of something, with the intention of doing it better and hopefully inspiring people to try new things and take risks and use their imaginations instead of going back over the old stuff again and again.

  11. Miles Prower says:

    If DC had allowed Alan Moore to tell the same story with Blue Beetle, the Question, and Captain Atom, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place.

    • That’s hilarious. And true.

      But what if Moore had, and no one had used those characters since — they basically ended with Moore, which is why DC and Moore switched to new characters. Then we’d be more or less in the same boat now. Because the real argument isn’t so much that these are Moore and Gibbons’ characters, which is true enough, but that this is a classic work that doesn’t need a follow-up, much less 30+ issues of prequels.

      • Miles Prower says:

        “Because the real argument isn’t so much that these are Moore and Gibbons’ characters, which is true enough, but that this is a classic work that doesn’t need a follow-up, much less 30+ issues of prequels.” – I disagree. If DC had used the Charlton characters, there would be no dispute over whether or not they have the right to use them here. Moore would have no claim to them at all except for the plot he constructed and if people were truly angry about DC using the Charlton characters again, then one could just as easily say “Then, why aren’t you mad about Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing? Why aren’t you mad that they kept writing Superman stories after Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”

      • I really liked your short point about Charlton, but you’re now going too far. Moore didn’t use the Charlton characters, any more than Fighting American used Captain America or the Fantastic Four used the Challengers of the Unknown. They are different things, and the fact that they’re based on one another is a whole can of worms you really don’t want to open.

        I’m not “mad” about “Before Watchmen,” BTW. Not at all. I’m just saying that we’re talking about a lot of things that, while true, aren’t relevant to the point. And the point is that DC has the right to do this, even though it’s against the spirit of the contract Moore negotiated. No one’s disputing that. The question then becomes whether it’s ethical or wise.

        Pointing out that Moore based his characters on preexisting ones is correct and smart, but it doesn’t say anything about whether a whole series of Watchmen prequels makes sense or not — or in what way.

  12. Gary Ancheta says:

    The story of the Watchmen is not interesting. A character dies and the other characters try to find out who is killing off “Superheroes.” The ending has one of the heroes as the ultimate villain and we get a final showdown. Even the conclusion is a rip off of an Outer Limits episode.

    There’s nothing really innovative about it. When it first came out, people kept on stating how this is basically ripping off Marvel’s Squadron Supreme, another popular book that came out at the time.

    What was innovative about this story was the story telling and the use of motifs:

    1. The watches in various panels counting down to midnight as the story progressed

    2. The repeated motif of the Hiroshima Lovers that are echoed throughout the story.

    3. The often half-written “Who Watches the Watchmen” graffiti around New York

    4. The background New York characters and the background of New York that interact with supporting characters leading into the creshendo scene that destorys New York.

    5. The dual narratives of the Pirate Comics bleeding into the actual storyline.

    6. The text pieces in the back that add or comment on the narrative in the comics.

    7. The use of quotes as titles and then using the whole quotes in the end that echo the events in the series

    8. The effective use of the 8-panel grid that allows you to really control movement and pacing as well as creating “the mirror” scenes in issue 5 where the first 16 pages are echoed in the last 16 pages.

    9. The use of similar flashbacks from different perspectives in order to paint the whole picture of the incident (this is also why I think the prequels are not necessary: the whole thing is that we aren’t sure what happened in the past. If we’re told through these flashbacks what happened in the past, that defeats the whole purpose of the unreliable narrators telling you the story. It would be like a prequel to Chinatown where we have Evelyn Cross being raped by her father, Noah. It ruins the whole story to read the prequel. This is also why Alan Moore was probably going to a Minutemen story so you could do something with completely different characters).


    These are the things people should’ve taken away from Watchmen. You can see some people learned this lesson. Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch pays a loving homage to Watchmen in his Jenny Sparks issue that really evokes the style and colors of Watchmen. Ed Brubkaer does Warren Ellis one better in his last Incognito issue where examines criminals in the same way Moore examined heroes and creating an almost mirror image of the Rorsearch goes to jail issue of Watchmen. Keith Giffen’s V4 Legion of Superheroes used the 9-panel grid as well as the use of text pieces to build suspense and to hint about narratives that would be coming in the story. Alex Robinson’s Tricked really takes the lesson of intertwining-yet-independent character narratives/dual narratives of different stories that weave into a culmination that ends in a tragedy. JH Williams’ work (from even before his Promethea work with Alan Moore) was very inspired by the design and use of color in Watchmen to display emotion, motifs, and narrative threads.

    I just wish people took away the design lesson of Watchmen than the lesson of “These Characters are Cool.” They aren’t cool. The only reason they’re interesting is the intricate way they used motifs to echo flashbacks and flash-forwards. The important thing in Watchmen isn’t the story, but the way the story is told. If more people figured out the motifs and created new tricks from what Watchmen pioneered then we’d have a richer medium.

    • Yes, yes, yes about what made Watchmen unique. And this was quite the point of revisionism, not “let’s make super-heroes bad!” It’s a follow-up to Watchmen‘s sophistication that we need, not more stories starring these characters.

      Since that’s what we’ll get, I’ll judge them on their own merits, while holding my nose just a bit — and reading a friend’s copies, instead of buying my own. But it’s more smart comics that I really want.

      • Gary Ancheta says:

        DC doesn’t seem to like innovative design narratives in their comics. Part of the reason is probably because of their digital initiative. No one at DC seems to want a Chris Ware-style design narrative for Superman. What Moore and Gibbons did only works for comics because that’s the intent of that design. 9-panel grids only work if you understand that the comic book is basically a newspaper page on its side, so it can fit 18 grids of information comfortably. On a digital screen, it doesn’t translate as easily.

      • Cody Walker says:

        @Gary – “DC doesn’t seem to like innovative design narratives in their comics”

        Batwoman and Swamp Thing aren’t innovative?

      • Mike Greear says:

        “It’s a follow-up to Watchmen‘s sophistication that we need, not more stories starring these characters.”

        That’s totally it. That, in a nutshell, is what I was trying to get across.

    • I don’t read many super-hero comics anymore either. But it’s for an entirely different reason than Jeff’s. As someone who’s read super-hero comics for some time, almost everything I read now seems like it’s got amnesia, like it doesn’t know these ideas have been done before and done better — or worse, that elements in the current story have already been deconstructed and shown as profoundly silly. There’s a way out of that, of course — to go into winking Supreme mode — and that’s how you know the writer is aware of this past work. I don’t see much of that consciousness out there right now.

      Again, just my personal view. But not entirely a matter of taste.

      • @ Julian: It’s only natural, I think, that there is going to be overlapping and layering of ideas to a point where it’s difficult to discern the point of origin. But now I’m thinking back to the difficulty of world building from the previous podcast with the difficulty of continuity. Do creators need to “wink the eye” to what came before me–and therefore adhere (to some extent) to continuity? Or can they move onward as each re-presents the old in a new way without the burden of what came before?

        I bring this up because it seems–in part–that the creators involved with this project opted for the latter: Move forward with creating something new from the old.

        Sure, I would be far more interested in what Moore and Gibbons would do given the chance; but that’s not going to happen, so there’s no point in pursuing that train of thought. However, you do ask, “What’s to gain from this?” I’m not sure if my response to your question is exactly on the mark, but I think there is some value to some thought about why one might read these prequels–though I don’t find there to be a need to excessive circular discussions on the matter. But it’s worth asking, “Why should I buy this comic?” or an even better question: “What am I interested in buying this comic?” I’m hesitant to offer an answer because it’s such a subjective question, but I’d be curious to know the reasons others come up with and as equally interested in know what answers to those questions they found from the comics themselves.

        But as it seems you are pointing out here–we really have to wait until the book come out before we can dig make any firm decisions on the matter.

        (And I agree with the point you mention about DC–too much too quickly does not bode well for quality)

      • I do think we can debate now whether it’s a good idea or not, or whether it looks misjudged artistically or commercially.

        Personally, I don’t care that much whether it’s commercially successful. I’m invested in comics-related popular news stories that show comics as an artform (e.g. a story on Persepolis and Iran) rather than simply any and all popular press attention. But that’s me, and I recognize others have other views — that attention and sales are automatically good for the industry and thus the medium. But the medium isn’t the industry, and I have little loyalty to the later but great loyalty to the former.

        I do accept that there could be artistic merit in the prequels. I am worried that they’re being rushed in vast quantity (by a company with a really poor track record for doing so… “new 52″ anyone?). It smells already (as the “new 52″ did, pre-press). But suspicions aside, it’s the work itself that will ultimately have to be judged, and that’s not yet available.

        Of course, that’s a separate argument from whether this should exist.

    • @ Gary: Thanks for such a thought-provoking response. I’ve always felt the technical aspects of Watchmen were its greatest strengths, and you’ve highlighted them quite nicely. I’m also really interested in going back to look at Brubaker’s Incognito now, as I hadn’t made that connection–very interesting points to consider.

      • Gary Ancheta says:

        Incognito is worth the read, if only for Brubaker’s deconstruction of Alan Moore’s deconstruction of Superheroes. Thanks.

        But to sort of bounce off of your reply above, I think the reason why I don’t want to read it is that to actually do a prequel featuring the Watchmen characters does a disservice to the original work. The original work’s use of motifs and tropes were for a specific purpose in the narrative. Every time a trope was used, like a flashback, the key idea was that it wasn’t repetition. It was an advancement of plot through a slight change of the trope. Like, for instance, the idea that we see the Hiroshima Lovers throughout the series, but in the end we finally get a Silhouette of Dan and Laurie making love in the Hiroshima Lovers pose as a reaffirmation of life instead of a “death wish” that came from the onslaught of the creature appearing in New York.

        The repetition in the flashbacks work precisely because we aren’t sure what came before. We get these bits and pieces from other people as the story progresses, but our “breakout” moment is when, on Mars, the crystaline structure that Jon had been creating is destroyed by a “nostalgia bottle.” Sure, that can be a metaphor for continuity. But it is also moment where we, as readers, have put together the flashbacks into a sequence where we realize the true meaning of the structure of the flashbacks: the Comedian is Sally’s father.

        To actually show us the incidents in these characters’ past defeats the purpose of the flashbacks in the Watchmen series, thus negating the impact of Sally’s revelation. The whole story leads us to that revelation where Sally realizes her life has meaning and Jon realizes that he can actually break out of his self-determining prison (which is illustrated brilliantly in different panels towards the end where Jon “breaks” through the 9-panel grid).

        If we, as readers, know what happened in the past fairly immediate past, then Sally’s revelation becomes moot (as well as Ozymandius’ reveal that he’s the figure behind the deaths). If they were to do any “times past” story, I would’ve rather they just focused on the Red Circle pastiches of the Minutemen. At least it wouldn’t screw up the revelations in the actual Watchmen book.

  13. Miles Prower says:

    Rob Liefeld, the most hated man in comics, is finishing Moore’s Supreme run and allowing other people to complete the script, but no one is talking about how THAT infringes on anyone’s rights.


    • Because Liefeld originated Supreme and owns it and didn’t say “if you write it, Alan, I’ll give you the rights to the character… when it’s no longer in print (heh heh).”

      Again, I’m not personally mad about this. Just saying there’s a difference.

  14. I agree with the point that Before Watchmen is not being written in a vacuum. Unlike Batman, for example, creators can tell the sort of “What If” stories about him because the character is so much greater than one story line. And after nearly 75 years, the character rather lends himself to having a combination of artistic story lines alongside more superficial (but still enjoyable!) story lines. Watchmen, however, has its small world focused primarily on informing / challenging its readers, while entertaining those same readers was only a secondary aim (and perhaps not one Moore & Gibbons really aimed for at all!).

    So, perhaps the heightened anxiety over what DC is about to publish is well-deserved. The more I think about it, the more I do see these prequels as being superfluous when I consider the real strength of Watchmen was in the simple fact it needed no backstory–everything you needed to know was built into the book. Moore and Gibbons demonstrated a certain economy of words, ideas, and images that got the job done… so why add more?

    For now though, it’s a waiting game.

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