DC Comics is about to commit an atrocity; at least that’s what a large portion of the comic-book related commentators on the Internet (heretofore referred to as “the comics Internet”) will all-too-readily lead you to believe. The sheer multitude of opinions in the comics Internet can be difficult to fathom, especially given the actual amount of copies most comics sell. The fact remains that, whether or not people are actually buying comics, people who are interested in comics generally have a lot of opinions about comics and are very happy to share those opinions. The sheer amount of opinions, the amazing passion of the fans, the still-thriving (for all intents and purposes) “Direct Market” of comic shops, the cash cow that comics have been for Hollywood and the emergence of “graphic fiction” as a main-stream concept all can be charted back to a period in the 8th decade of the 20th century wherein comics really, truly, went from being the purvey of the young and young-at-heart to the complex and “mature” (pardon the expression) medium we know it to be today. Not to say that there weren’t comics before that time that challenged the status quo, but it took the one-two punch of Frank Miller’s Batman-bastardizing The Dark Knight Returns and the poli-sci-fi psych-rock of Alan Moore’s disillusioning Watchmen to really align 1980′s planet Earth with the world depicted in 1980′s comics.
Right, I mentioned an atrocity. DC Comics, home of both the aforementioned seminal series, is priming to publish Before Watchmen, a group of mini-series focused on the lives of the characters from the original in stories set, well, BEFORE the original. There are plenty of reasons to dismiss these books outright and some are even uttering the word “boycott”. There are also, at least in this unpaid person’s opinion, enough reasons to give these books a shot.
A lot of detractors have pointed out that working on this project is a sign that the creators involved aren’t necessarily as fine or dandy as they’ve previously been regarded. Oddly enough, I don’t think wanting to get a paycheque is necessarily a bad thing in an industry as fickle as the modern funnies. It’s not like the existence of Before Watchmen
hinged on the precise writers and artists being involved that are, in fact, involved. Don’t kid a kidder. This project was going to happen no matter what. DC Comics is a business, and as such is almost obligated to publish a sequel (or a prequel, as the case may be) to one of their biggest hits of all time. If I were a talented and well respected person in the employ of the company, such as Darwyn Cooke, J. Michael Straczynski or Brian Azzarello, I would likely take the chance to work on the project not only because it would be a paying job in a time where most of the quality comics work is done for a loss, but because it would be an opportunity to help make sure that something as
much of a “sacred cow” as Watchmen
wouldn’t be totally screwed up. After all, it’s not like any of these guys think of themselves as bad at their craft. It’s the mark of talent to want to challenge yourself, not to look down on yourself, and what bigger challenge than to help successfully execute a comics project seemingly everyone not directly involved with wants to see fail?
Another glaring target for the fanboys to aim their derision at has been the fact that Watchmen told a complete story, and any further exploration of the characters would be functionally unfeasible. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had 12 issues to lay out something with a beginning, middle and end, and did so with panache. In fact, being a true comic of it’s time and not some vanity project waiting to be adapted into a screenplay for someone in Hollywood to completely ruin, it really did have an end. The kind of end that made it virtually impossible to plan a sequel. Whether or not Moore wrote it that way for that very reason, it figures that the folks at DC have waited 25 years to release any other Watchmen-related comics. I’m not sure about any of you, but I read comics for the art AND the story. It’s hypocritical for anyone currently reading mainstream capes books to simply ignore BW. The only difference between it and the vast glut of other books featuring licensed super-powered characters is that there ARE still stories yet to be told. I love Amazing Spider-Man as much as the next web-head, but it’s in spite of the fact that every story with Spidey has really already been told. Not so with Watchmen. Yes it ended with no possibility of continuance, but that doesn’t mean the BW minis won’t cover fresh ground about the characters that aren’t a part of the original book. I wouldn’t mind finding out what happens.
One of the questions I ask myself more than anything is “How long should I grow my beard?”. After that, though, I often ask myself “Why do I still read comics?”. It can be
frustrating, as a fan of good stories well told, to see them so often hobbled by editorial SNAFUs, creative differences and silly gimmicks (useless crossovers, pointless costume changes, and gutless “new directions”). Somehow, through it all, I remain a steadfast fan of the medium, and I can’t help but chalk it up to the crazy combination of script, art and canon that makes geeks like me the world over get shivers down our spines. As a fan, it behooves me to pick up BW
. It’s one of the big things happening in mainstream comics this year. Based on my pull list, I’d say I’m still very much interested in such things. Money talks. To not try these books out would be symbolic, yes. A way of saying “Hey, DC! Alan Moore doesn’t want you to do this!”. The thing with modern comics is that they don’t really sell enough anywhere to be that impacted by these sorts of boycotts. DC won’t necessarily measure this project’s success or failure by how many copies they sell. They might very well be looking at these comics as more of a PR move than a storytelling initiative. And since everyone on the comics Internet has been talking about these things ad nauseum recently, I’d say it’s already a success in that regard. They’re controlling the conversation. Do not adjust your picture. In an odd kind of way, though, picking up BW
for the love of the medium and judging the books by their own merits flies in the face of this kind of corporate thinking. And since I legitimately enjoy knowing what’s going on in the world of comic books, I’m going to shell out a few dollars for the untold origins of Rorschach, The Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Ozymandias and Silk Spectre. If I didn’t want to know what was going on in the comics world on a weekly basis, I wouldn’t buy them on a weekly basis, wouldn’t look forward to New Comic Wednesdays. But, I do. I’ll inevitably have BW
on the top of my stack. I’ll let you know how it turns out.