Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On the topic of Watchmen Prequels

Today DC Comics formally announced that they are developing a series of Watchmen prequels.

there is a reason all the comics geeks over the age of 30 are posting this picture today

Gerry wrote a compelling piece over at his site, and I encourage you to read what he has to say on the topic of Watchmen prequels.

No doubt one look at DC's books by the new leadership up at the very top saw that Watchmen isn't just successful in comics, its a transformative publishing success story for comics.  Its more or less been DC's way of printing money every quarter since I was in high school.  DCE President Diane Nelson is an entertainment executive, and it is not the job of an executive to think of the product as anything but product.  We readers and collectors have the luxury of thinking of our comics as art or works of literature, but the first thing that happens when a book or movie does well?  The publisher or studio starts looking to either produce a sequel or re-assemble the components that made that first hit such a hit.

If the President of a drinking glass making company sees that pint glasses are moving more than tumblers, they need to make more pint glasses, and probably a variety of pint glasses.  ECONOMICS!

That, I get.

But I don't think I'll be picking up any of the series.*

DC seems to have lined up all-star artistic talent (believe me, an Adam Hughes drawn Dr. Manhattan sounds pretty phenomenal).  But they've handed several of the books over to J. Michael Straczynski, the same man who had comics readers howling with his take on Superman, who flamed out on Spidey, who has had myriad problems in comics and whose Superman: Earth-1 seemed to move more off of press clippings about a "Twilight-y" Superman and superlative art than the dull take on the Superman mythos within the covers.

The brief nature of the mini-series (the series run 4-6 issues) tosses a bit of concern out as it feels a bit like the pre-movie tie-in's that DC sends to press as they did with Green Lantern and Superman Returns.  Those comics are notoriously worthless bits of non-canonical background for a story that's already complete within the frames of the film.  Even fans of the Green Lantern comics don't really grab them.  Nor have DC's recent attempts to have mini tie-in's with their comics such as Infinite Crisis, Countdown, Final Crisis or Flashpoint been much more than non-necessary ancillary books that, on average, only succeeded if they mostly ignored the larger narrative they were supposed to support.

In short:  I don't really trust DC to do this well.  I may trust individuals such as Cooke, but from an overall editorial and publishing stance?  Not at all.  Not when they've never successfully run multiple simultaneous series like this before.

Watchmen is a singular work.  Its success is in the clockwork mechanism of the story, seamlessly tying the elements, plot lines, art, etc... together.  Not that I expect a DC run by Didio, Lee and Harras to appreciate what makes Watchmen the most respected superhero book outside of comic shops.  They may see elements on the page, but its not hard to see from their output how all three of these folks were partially responsible for the aftermath of the 80's and the ridiculousness of the 90's.  So is it any mystery that, unlike Levitz, these guys are leaping at the opportunity rather than holding fast?

I will say:  Fellow comic fans, if your response is "well, you'll always have your precious Watchmen book.  Nobody is taking that away."  Yes.  Yes they are.  Frankly, I find the usual arguments regarding "you still have your comics" unsupportable except in the strictest, objective sense.

I'm of the generation that saw Star Wars dismantled and used for parts.  I'm still trying to reconcile Kirk's inexplicable death in Generations.  I watched Indiana Jones sail through the air in a refrigerator and be supplanted by Shia LeBouf of all people.  Spider-Man made a deal with Satan to save his aunt and end his marriage (relevancy!).  I'm currently nervously watching DC flop about with Superman, the foundation of all their livelihoods, trying to make the character as different as possible.  And, if we can be honest, I'm feeling my interest in not just DC, but comics in general, begin to dwindle in no small part thanks to the DC ReLaunch (PS:  DC, I had more money to spend on comics than 18 year olds.  Now that money is going to crack.  I hope you're happy, Jim Lee.).

Sure, I'll always have my copies of Watchmen, but I'll also always know that the temptation of the easy dollar was worth far more to DC than the work itself.  Which, really, should come as no surprise given the history of DC as a company.

Future generations won't be able to distinguish the original from the follow-ups (just as 20-somethings currently don't understand the position of Dark Knight and Watchmen), nor will they understand why those books were so different in tone and content.

DC has been laying down their story, attempting to craft a smoke screen in the press and doing a lot of the "let's make up reality to fit our story" business that I expect out of politicians, but not out of comic publishers.

“The original series of WATCHMEN is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell. However, I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire,” said Dave Gibbons, WATCHMEN co-creator and original series artist. 
“Comic books are perhaps the largest and longest running form of collaborative fiction,” said DiDio and Lee. “Collaborative storytelling is what keeps these fictional universes current and relevant.”

Well, Gibbons has to put food on the table.  But Didio and Lee?  Haven't we held up Watchmen for two decades as the visionary work of Moore and Gibbons?  Who do they think they're talking to?

Making the rounds are the folks pointing out that Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster and a host of others ALSO got screwed.  This is true.  Do I read the Kirby Genesis books?  No.  Do I buy Kirby collections and back issues?  Yes.  Was I aware of any of these issues for the first ten years I read comics?  No.  Do I think DC is now paying pretty heavily (karmically, if nothing else) for having had failed Siegel & Shuster?  Absolutey.  Now that I'm informed, do I find the situation around embracing an all new franchising of characters who already have two generations of story under their belt in print a little off-putting?  A smidge.

But, mostly because this would all be fairly unnecessary had Dan Didio done his job and made DC Comics stronger at any point in the past ten years.  Why hasn't he been able to identify or bring to life anything in the neighborhood of works from 26 years ago?  Why aren't we seeing the continuing adventures of Relevant Lady and the Current Squad?

Speaking of creators... have you ever seen so many creators on Twitter behind one idea so much as Watchmen 2?  Man, I know you all want work, creators.  And I know the potential for lucrative work on something like Watchmen 3 seems like a really good deal, but its a little embarrassing, and it makes you look a wee bit like a sell-out, if that idea even has any currency in 2012.

In the end, I think these comics will probably be fine, serviceable comics that only serve to dilute the Watchmen brand in book stores and create the weirdness in fandom when we see squeeing 18 year olds who will say things like "Straczynski's Watchmen is the only real Watchmen!"  because they will not have been there when the work mattered, and they will be a product of teaching-to-the-test.  Also, they'll probably be ugly.

I am aware this is a personal preference.

But its another salvo from DC informing me that they'd really like it if I left comics, please.

*Well, maybe I'll look at Darwyn Cooke's Minutemen, because, c'mon people... Darwyn Cooke.


Gerry said...

Once again, thanks for the shoutout. While I disagree with just about everything you say here. . . well, disagree is really not the word. I guess I agree, I just don't see anything wrong with it. But in any case, it all does boil down to personal personal preference. I will say, however, that I don't think DC is telling you to leave comics at all. I think they are misreading the general nostalgia for Watchmen (as I commented on my blog), while at the same time trying to reach new readers. Both of these things may be mishandled, but ultimately, we all need new readers who will actually spend money on a regular basis. As controversial as this whole thing is, one thing we can all agree on is that it will sell books.

The League said...

Given the online reaction, I have no doubt this will sell books in the direct market. Gen-Y (I have no idea your age), hasn't got the reverence for the material I think some of us from the 80's bring to the book.

Will it sell beyond the comic shop? Man, I have no idea. I think it will in drips and drabs. But the movie has to have killed off at least part of the book store market. Not that movie seemed to get the comic at all, but...

But I don't see this as a way to bring in new readers. Its a way to get the people who may have bought the first volume to buy a second volume. I don't see how new readers are even a part of this scenario so much as replicating a portion of the sales of Watchmen is the goal here (and if you have 8 series instead of one, it gives you a mini New 52).

I'd also bring up here - since I didn't elsewhere - that the book was also a product of its time, and not something I think post Cold War kids are going to ever really embrace. Without the doomsday clock ticking down, is it Watchmen? Will Vietnam get watered down to a vague Iraq-like mess without the political context reflected in the domestic scenes?

Any more than I think DC's New 52 really created a new set of readers, or at least enough readers to replace the ones its losing (and I'm not the only one cutting DC books every month), this is short term thinking. Its Didio and Lee tearing into the last bit of sea rations they've got when there's no land in sight so they can tell everyone on the boat that they aren't hungry.

Its a personal preference, but to me, as a consumer, its not a product I want. Why can't I hold Watchmen a bit sacred? Its the foundation of my move to more mature comics, and something that I still feel humbled by every time I crack the cover?

I may like Elvis, but that doesn't mean I need to buy Elvis cover albums just because a fairly talented performer is covering some Elvis tunes. I can like Elvis for being Elvis. And if everyone started covering Elvis, I'd turn off the radio.

DC may not exactly mean to be getting rid of me, but they aren't worrying about me, either.

Gerry said...

I'm 38. I love Watchmen. And no matter what this turns out to be, I'll still love Watchmen. I love Elvis too. But without people covering him, chances are, new generations would never care. Not to mention, he was mostly performing covers, himself. This is not exactly the same, but we really don't know until it comes out. I may completely hate it, too. All I'm saying is its all about the execution. The idea, on its own, is neither good or bad. (I'll give you JMS, though, that's a huge mistake!)

The League said...

Well, to extend the metaphor, Moore was most certainly covering Charlton concepts.

I'm just going to be ornery on this one.

Frankly, I think the greatest chance of Watchmen disappearing is by diluting the brand until there's only one core element that's "the one time Watchmen was any good. The rest is 'meh'". I don't assume Hitchock movies are going away because nobody made a movie explaining "The Birds" or we didn't see the further adventures of Jimmy Stewart from Vertigo. But we have all tried to forget the Psycho sequels and remake.

Gerry said...

I'd really like to see you check them out though. You could dissect exactly what's wrong or, grudgingly, what's right.

The League said...

Well, I don't know. I don't plan to spend any money on these books, and if I'm serious about keeping Watchmen just the Moore/ Gibbons work, I'd prefer not to dilute it.

I might be tempted to look at the Darwyn Cooke book. I'm just such a fan of the guy's work.

The League said...

I should mention, Alan Moore has made arguing for him very frustrating with his co-option of pretty much all sci-fi for LOEG. Screw you, Alan Moore.

Anonymous said...

Morrison's 'Seven Soldiers' story was a very successful instance of DC publishing multiple & simultaneous minis.

The League said...

Agreed. All written by Morrison. Maybe there's something to that?

Simon MacDonald said...

I understand why DC is doing this. They are being told to make money and certainly selling some limited series based on the characters from Watchmen will sell like hotcakes.

Will I buy it? No, certainly not. I expect the series to be of middling quality and can JMS even get them all out before he has a major blow up with DC?

I'm just going to sit back and wait until they are all out and peer reviewed then I'll pick up the one collection that was any good from the library.

The League said...

I expect these things will be the only thing to knock DC's flagship titles out of the top spots for the next year, so I get the salesmanship.

It's just going to be embarrassing when these comics are sub-par and the readership can't tell the difference, anyway.

Simon MacDonald said...

DC's readers can't seem to tell quality from name recognition by looking at the top 300 books sold. Case in point, 6 - Detective Comics, 9 Batman: The Dark Knight and 23- Batgirl all outsell the amazing 26 - Batwoman!

The League said...

I had started a fairly long post on this topic, the devaluation of comics as art and/ or literature and the evolution of the comic reader into a fat little kid constantly craving more sugary treats, but it made me want to give up on comics and life in general, so it got shelved.

Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, probably best you never finished that post.