Before ‘Before Watchmen’

July 25, 2012

So, I’m going to write this before reading about Before Watchmen. This is all my opinion, and my opinion purely on the concept of Before Watchmen, without over-assumption, hopefully, over its possible quality and content. I’m writing this in response to an article forwarded to me that I took as objecting to the Before Watchmen comics on the basis of those (as-yet-unpublished at the time of that article) comics ruining comics publishing by stifling creativity and as their production is against the wishes of the original Watchmen writer Alan Moore. I will not be linking to this specific blog as (a) there are many with the same statement (b) I’d prefer not to seem to start a beef with this guy and (c) I’m pretty sure the only person who is going to be reading this is the same person who sent me the link.

1. In terms of the relation of this between DC and Alan Moore, this is, in my mind, what is known as a jerk move. Given that DC only owns the Watchmen rights on a technicality (they were to revert to Moore and Gibbons when the issues went out of print … and then Watchmen’s popularity helped invent the trade paperback) this is pretty much flying in the face of the author’s express wishes and in the face of what they’d said they were never going to do, when asked on this, for the past several decades. Ideally, DC has the right to offer Alan Moore as many dumptrucks of money as they like, so long as he can, in turn, refuse them.

2. That said, DC is not an unchanging hive colony. It is not the same people there now as there were in the 1980s, and not all those working for it have a consensus positive opinion on the actions of some. People who made prior promises have been replaced with people who have not. Statistically speaking, you were eventually going to run across someone who thought this was a good idea, either because their interest in Watchmen is so all-consuming or so tenuous, either financially or creatively, either out of boredom or daring. As long as Watchmen was relevant, regarded and popular, it was always going to be a when, not an if.

3. Is this how it should have been done? I don’t know anything of their plots yet, beyond the fact that they are Before Watchmen. Contrast that to putting a definitive expression on the ambiguity of the ideas at the end of Watchmen, and the ‘Before’ becomes a small mercy. Not to say an After Watchmen is impossible -this whole event proves that it isn’t- but Before is the lesser of the two evils. With the flashbacks, the very concept of time in Watchmen, the framework for this type of storytelling exists. Now, should they all be six-issue stories, conveniently tradepaperback length? Sounds like large coincidence, or that saleable format is more important than any individual story. Moreover, should the amount of additional material outnumber the original story, several times over? There seems to be a great risk of endless padding, trying not to do anything that’ll break the universe, but still be interesting.

4. So, theoretically, how would this be done in a way that might be more in tune with what Moore does. Taking the example of Moore’s work on the League of Extraordinary Gentleman, along with the rest of his metafictional work, the shape of a Watchmen work might be more in the shape of a Tijuana Bible – a series of short stories where authors express what fascinates them about the concept of Watchmen. They’d be in wildly different art styles, narrative styles, lengths, forms and formats. Ideally they’d have been collecting them from significant writers and artists for years, as a response to what Watchmen has meant to the comics industry, possibly launched on an annversary. There’d be no continuity constraints between stories, and they’d all have individual tones and ideas and outlooks.

5. That said, that wouldn’t make Alan Moore happy. No iteration of Watchmen reimagined is going to make Alan Moore happy. There is no quantifiable way to make Alan Moore re-happy in terms of Watchmen’s posession by DC, never mind a reimagining. Really:

http://www.seraphemera.org/seraphemera_books/AlanMoore_Page4.html

So you can’t do it for that reason, because that isn’t going to happen. It isn’t on the table. So, if you instead want to swiftly create and neatly market a smooth transition to the idea of additional Watchmen with art consistent with the original, Before Watchmen is what you do. You launch a series of individual miniseries based on the most significant characters, all at once, with a clear, brandable concept and consistent continuity.

6. That will make a great deal of money, as BW has begun to do so. And that is significant. Yes, a great deal of the internet said this was terrible, that they’d never read DC or this series. Sales have been outstanding, apparently. There will be a great deal of collectability about them, no doubt with variant covers and embossed foils and maybe even a hologram, in classic eighties style. Is that immoral? What’ll that money do? I’m sure cigars shall be lit with $100 bills, as is tradition, but what else? DC’ New 52 has been lauded, aside from all the reboot business, for varying the line. They actually have a consistent range of crime comics and war comics and sci fi comics and supernatural comics. Maintaining a broad range of that size is costly, ever-increasingly so. If this is how DC pays for it …?

7. Being a trade-waiter myself, I don’t really care. I want a few, well told, self-contained, one-author stories. I don’t need new comics every week, a new one in every series every month. And Before Watchmen can’t ruin Watchmen for me because if I don’t hear anything worth reading from them when they are over, then I will not read them, and the copy of Watchmen on my shelf won’t combust or disappear or change. There’ve been crappy tie-ins and continuations and crossovers to plenty of my favourite comics – it honestly doesn’t bother me, beyond the waste of the opportunity to tell a good story. I hope they never market a compendium that combines W and BW, and I hope they don’t turn them into continuing monthly series, and I hope they don’t integrate those characters with the main universe so Captain Atom and Dr Manhattan could hang out.

8. Being a trade-waiter myself, I therefore don’t have the right to say that everyone should turn away if they don’t like it. Even if diversity is being paid for by commercialization, if that commercialization is being forefronted over that diversity, then I can’t imagine how infuriating this must be for the people who see BW steal the charts every week over the critically interesting. However – wasn’t W the exception to the rule? Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, Batman dominate – and that isn’t by the necessarily consent of the original creators. In the case of Batman and Spiderman, the writer received credit – the original artists didn’t. In the case of Superman, both creators had contention with DC, and their respective estates still are in legal schlemozzles with DC:

http://kryptonradio.com/2012/03/27/warner-bros-duke-it-out-over-superman/

9. And so, to finally come around to the point of the article to which I was directed – this sort’ve thing is killing the creativity in the comics industry. Is is a good sign? No. Is it anything more than a sign? No. The superhero genre has dominated the comic industry since the companies grouped together to use the Comics Code authority to regulate the competing crime, horror, sports comics, etc, out of existence. Those comics in turn have been dominated by a handful of characters, either by the hard cold sales they produce, or by their iconic nature and they have to be kept in print or the rights revert to their creators (Wonder Woman). DC, being older, is even more directly tiered, internally, than Marvel’s universe – everything is under Superman, Batman and the Justice League, as opposed to the equilibrium of Avengers, Fantastic Four, X Men, Spiderman, etc.

10. There have been bigger moments that have dealt worse fates to comics. The Comics Code – and not just the superhero-genre-dominate-the-medium factor. The blow to the adult readership – to the female readership of comics, which had numbers it physically pains me to consider given that in the modern day they still haven’t recouped anything like those figures or statistics in this ‘modern’ age of graphic publishing:

“During the late 40s and on through the 50s, the Romance comics saw their heyday and adult women were a very major part of these comics’ readership. By 1950 there were over 148 different romance titles, and soon, virtually every publisher was putting out romance comics. However, the postwar years saw a decline in female creators and romance comics, which were almost all being created by men, whose stories began reinforcing the idea that a woman’s ultimate goal should be to get married. Still, the comics portrayed working women characters as intelligent and modern with real world problems.
But as the 1950’s drew to a close, female characters began to fall back into supporting roles with superheroines mostly being members of groups and not stars of their own titles. Not surprisingly, female readership began to decline.”

http://www.sideshowtoy.com/?page_id=3501

Detrimental event comics? How about the Death and Return of Superman? Max Landis lands the accusation at this comic that it made death in comics completely and uttlerly meaningless across the spectrum:

http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/02/max-landis-death-of-superman/

11. That certainly sounds worse than Before Watchmen. For my part, let me give you the example of Kingdom Come. I love Kingdom Come. Art, story, character, themes, ideas – it is as close as one gets to perfect, for me. Self-contained, in an alternate universe, with distinct visuals and character interpretations. It is a thing of its own. And there is other stuff related to it now. There is ‘The Kingdom’, which is dreck. There a handful of parts that would have made neat short stories in that universe, but tying it all together with some horrendous padding and obsession over minutiae hamstrings them. The JSA use I have heard of – the use of Magog of in JSA seems to have paid out very weakly in terms of actual story, and its use of the Kingdom Come universe in the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ story an odd little cosmic diversion. But, this is fine, because:

“Alex Ross states that this story is not intended as a sequel to Kingdom Come as that would negate the purpose of the original story.”

Kingdom Come isn’t altered or erased by these – even though a Kingdom Come creator was involved in each of these projects. Did The Kingdom or the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ arc.ruin comics? It was my opinion that they were pretty bad. I was sad that the continuation of the universe wasn’t something I enjoyed. If anything, the ‘Justice’ universe is much more a continuation of the spirit of Kingdom Come. Does this apply to Before Watchmen? Alan Moore doesn’t approve. But if a creator approves, as Dave Gibbons does, doesn’t that count equally with Moore’s disapproval?:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=36724

Even if Gibbons isn’t drawing a book of his own in this series, he still can give this project his blessing. And I will respect the guy that drew the Owlship, and the Glass Clock and the Squid monster enough to at least equate what he did with what Moore did.

12. Also, if executive meddling is going to bring BW into the world, let us least remember that W was brought into the world by executive meddling. If not for some panicky editors, we’d be talking about how Captain Atom, after concurring with Peter Cannon, killed The Question, much to the horror of the Blue Beetle. All of which would have been immediately up for grabs by DC at the time and, moreover, the rape of the Phantom Lady character by the Peacemaker character would hardly have been done with the consent of the creators of those characters. Has Alan Moore’s own battles since changed his beliefs about character use? Technically yes, in the sense he doesn’t want his used. However, it was fair game to use the Dr No era James Bond, and have him to attempt to rape Mina Murray in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier:

http://lxg.wikia.com/wiki/Jimmy_Bond

Or to have Lord Voldemort in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Century: 1969 and have him attempt to rape Mina Murray.

http://lxg.wikia.com/wiki/Tom_Riddle

Later, in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 2009, Moore had Harry Potter, as the AntiChrist, kill Allan Quatermain with a lightning-attack from his penis-wand, shortly after implying he wished to rape Mina with afforementioned penis-wand. For the purpose of completeness, he then had Mary Poppins, as nanny to even the deities themselves, turn Potter into a chalk drawing that then washed away in the rain. Having Mary Poppins kick the ass of a Harry Potter villain is pretty neat – so much so that there is an as-yet-unconfirmed rumour about just the same in the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics:

http://www.themarysue.com/voldemort-mary-poppins-olympics/

-but still, a pattern emerges, is what I’m saying. If Moore’s own work uses copyrighted materials without the consent of the author, then the personal nature of Moore’s beef isn’t a valid argument. To the degree that Moore uses these characters is quite legal I’m sure – every name is out of the corner of the reader’s eye – but, then again, DC has the legal right to use these characters. It is something of a jerk move, but by legal standards and Moore’s own practice, it is fair game. It is like the Jimmy Carr scandal; mocking a legal-but-jerky method of avoiding tax is highly laudable … except if you yourself are using that same method:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jun/20/jimmy-carr-tax-david-cameron

13. Now, (and, as the last point) you may have felt my mentioning the rapes these characters attempted were unrelated or tangentially related to this argument. Actually, there is a reason, beyond the feelings of their original creators. It relates to why, fundamentally, there is an argument for Before Watchmen, why, even if this set of book turn out to be a boring cash-in, the idea of revisiting Watchmen could have some merit:

Watchmen isn’t perfect.

No really, and I’m not just talking about the squid, whatever your feelings about that are. It isn’t even, mainly, about plot-holes. There are plenty of little plot holes that a BW story could explore of course – how the heck did that detective know Dan Dreiberg was Nite Owl II for a start. Did he stake out Hollis Mason’s place? Did he know Hollis Mason from his days as an officer? Did Veidt tip him off? Otherwise, it is just an excuse to force Dan onto the bottom of the river in the short term, and on the run in the long term. In fact, why did those detectives start expositing about the Keene Act in the first pages? Surely they already knew-

And there are other things, like in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen film, that I liked being elaborated upon. I liked Hollis Mason sketching out the start of the superheroes as guys who dressed up in fancy-dress costumes so they could beat up crooks who were dressing fancy-dress disguises so that couldn’t be identified in line-ups. It was a neat little solve that explained so much. I loved the visual reimagingings of the opening, feeding back how we saw the eighties into an eighties-written work, demonstrating the cultural impact of superheroes in an alternate universe, over fifty years, in just under five minutes. I loved Silhouette getting to kiss the nurse in the iconic ‘We Won!’ image.

But those are just tiny details. No, the real reason to look at Watchmen again would be the same as the reason it was created in the first place. Watchmen was a satire, that has been in turn enshrined at the core of comic ideals. Moore didn’t, couldn’t have foreseen that so many writers would take their cues from his story for the next thirty years. It paved the way for ideas on ethnicity, sexuality, transhumanism, psychosis, science, etc, in comics. But it is still that mainstay, over a quarter of a century later. As such, where are the non-white heroes? Where are the transgender heroes? Where are the rest of the female heroes?

Could you imagine if that was what Before Watchmen was? Watchmen illustrated that in a group of apparently ‘normal’ heroes, anything that could be concealed, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, psychopathy, paranoia, sociopathy and disconnection from humanity, could exist. So what about the other half of that? What about the non-white heroes that fought alongside the others, but never received an invitation to Minutemen meetings, or who have been classified as ‘Black Unrest’ Captain Metropolis’ Crimebusters? What about the other female heroes who were shut out because the Minutemen already had two? And the dialogue of female superheroes can progress beyond (a) Rape is the New Dead Parents (b) Undercover-as-Stripper Costume (c) Bury Your Gays.

Of course, it probably won’t be that. I’ve have specifically written this before reading what is going on in those books, because this is about rejecting the very idea of reinterpreting Watchmen. Watchmen the book won’t change magically, but the discourse, the ideas surrounding it could be changed, questioned, reinterpreted. Of course, this also doesn’t need to happen, to the Watchmen characters in specific or Watchmen in general. There are plenty of ways of reinterpreting the original material without reimagining it. But, if someone chooses to do it that way, I won’t shoot them down for the very idea, and especially without hearing what they have to say.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish, partially because I am done, and partially because a new cover of All Along the Watchtower by ‘Devlin, has started playing on the radio, just as I finish this:

Seriously. No really. I’m pretty sure that means the snake-god-puppet Glycon has probably been invoked to bring about my end. Lets face it – that’d be a really cool way to go. I wish Promethea was here.

And that is three hundred times ten. Snyder indeed.

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The Only 1555 Words I Will Ever Write On This

November 20, 2011

I don’t write about politics here, because I don’t keep up enough, because I’m far too wishy-washy, because I’m no where near smart enough, because there are many more writing far better, because my wandering, childish style has a slight charm with small stuff but would be a slap in the face with the big stuff …

But.

Occupy Wall Street. This is written because of it, but not about it. I am not going to tag this for one side or the other to find. I am just going to talk about the coverage this is getting – one very, very small part; the culture of the protest. I have read, repeatedly, about the honour and respect associated with the peaceful protest. The American Civil Rights Protests and Anti-War Protests are regardly highly as changing a culture. The protests in the histories of India, of China, of South Africa, are spoken of as world-changing. Peaceful protest, as a phrase, method and ideology, is enshrined with respect.

But, when it happens these days, it seems that the protesters are -sometimes- covered as being lazy, insane and inconsiderate. The coverage isn’t by any means all one way, nor is it entirely undeserved. Critiques of society deserve to be critiqued all the closer right back. And people have every reason to suspect the word ‘protest’ after the monsterous atrocities that ruined countless lives in London during summer. The arsons, assaults, thefts, and pure-spite-fuelled vandalism upon persons who had nothing of anything to do with anything would be reason enough to get people suspicious. But is that all the reason?

Could well be. But, hasn’t there been a jaded regard for protesting for a while now? Petrol goes up by a penny, people get angry, it is brought down again … then put again quickly on the quiet a few months later. We see something wrong and we flagellate ourselves as a society for being apathetic about or cynically jibe each other about an obvious, but unstoppable, political manoeuvring. But then, when someone does protest something, there is that impulse to count the days until it collapses, and console ourselves that it’d never have worked anyway. Its a Catch 22 of protest being respectable but impossible or the province of hippies and meaningless.

I think part of that is ‘enshrining’ past protests, which is usually something we do with things that are dead. And, unfortunately, the need to protest, to state that things aren’t fine and that they need to change. I’m not talking about this issue, and I’m not talking about this protest – we are simply are always going to be a society that requires periodic protest to temper the ruling hand with mercy. We’ll be doing it still in ten years, in a hundred years, in a thousand years, when we want the space arks to bring the dungbeetles to when we want preserve the last star in the universe from burning itself out, we’ll protest.

And, yes I know I just undercut my entire argument with sci fi references. I actually needed to; it was getting dark.

But, yes – we’re never going to be perfect, protest is always going to happen. We learn from our mistakes, and we make entirely new ones. My sister once asked me about the stock market crash in ’29, and if it had been ‘fixed’ for that to never to happen again. The specific causes of that crash might have been fixed, or policed against, or made irrelevant by the sheer passage of time – or were simply to big, too integral a part of competitive trading to ‘fix’ – but all the same, for different reasons or similar, it happened again. But the deep pervading cultural assumption was that the market was important, and so was ‘fixed’. Static. Perfect. Safe.

Do we really want to admit that things are really, really, future-crushingly bad. No. Do we want to admit that, rather than a fix by an appropriately messianic, memetic, magic minority man, our best response is a bunch of hippies grousing in tents, disrupting foot traffic and going home at night? Really no.

And on the other side of that argument, the past wasn’t perfect either. Oh, the protesters were very, very great, but there does seem to be this need to anoint, and to cast issues in black and white. History, as far as second level at least, does have a problem with praising someone, but also stressing their calculation, their desires. The War protests were, in part, done out of a moral objection … but also by people who didn’t want to be called up. The civil rights protests were also, in part, done out of moral objection, … but also by people who saw real, tangible objectives and practical methods to get them.

Rosa Parkes, for example. By the end of second-level education, the primary impression will be that of a saintly, tested figure who, one day, tired, simply chose not to give her seat. It isn’t until third level education, at least for me, that the picture of the tactical brilliance and measured assault of this move upon segregation, with the orchestration and backing of the civil rights movement, and multiple persons of action doing it, emerges. Hitting buses, which would have been economically wasteful to fully segregate, and so tax-wasteful … and then applying that to schools, hospitals, etc, was a stroke of genius. Simplified histories insert naturalism and instinct over even-more-impressive decision and strategy.

And they never were clear cut, and they never will be. When we exist in the societies they helped to create, they are, but they weren’t clear cut at the time. They were disruptive, and loud, and reaching for impossible or unspecified things. And even those that admitted the moral veracity of the issue would have to admit that the social turmoil generated over the decades of change -change still going on- had heavy costs – costs which were immeasurably outweighed by the gains, but costs which, when measured against gains which were at the time thought impossible, seemed all too costly to consider.

This is the part, usually, where I’d reference Dr Who – Day Of the Moon, lets say, where Canton has an African-American significant other, which in 1969, by virtue of saving the world from alien rulers, he’d get to marry – if that significant was not also male. And even in 2011, could he really get that right? Even now? In every state? But no. Lets engage with of the extant, popular critical discourse on this.

There is thing that a video review series called Feminist Frequency -check them out on youtube- said when talking on Sucker Punch (and remember this, it’ll be coming up next week); that Sucker Punch is constructed, textually, in a world which is a feminist utopia, and feminism is a concept of past struggles. This opposed to the very real, very necessary, very outnumbered movement, constantly required to even halt the political, cultural, employment, ideological, social and medium chauvanism, never mind actually reach parity, that Feminist Frequency, and I, know that it actually is. How I feel this statement actually relates to Sucker Punch is complicated. How I feel this relates to general society is actually pretty straightforward (because I’m really that bass-ackwards, but you knew that already).

Protests regarding racism, sexism, classism, etc aren’t over, and we can only deal with each generation. And when it is this serious, dismissing it isn’t dealing with it. The movement has no one voice, no one message, no one suggestion? Problems, yes; but if they did, we’d accuse one voice, one message, one idea hijacking the protest representing a whole world of affected persons. The disorganised nature of the protest has them actually ignoring speeches from respected individuals who have long, long campaigned for social change? Big problem. But, given how previous organised protests have been criticised for spending millions to fly in celebrities, wouldn’t we have criticised them here too?

Why is the use of the internet to orchestrate the Spring Revolutions praised, but received with suspicion in the western world? Why are people praised for standing for democracy in countries where it is shaky, but treated with a veneer of distaste when they stand up for it countries where it is strong, though not always strong? Problems elsewhere are bigger, but they are no less real.

Protests, (much the mohawk-sporting grunge fan, which, for all that the original fans are parents and grandparents by now, has been part of every fictional street gang of more than 3 people since 1981) are always going to be perceived as disruptive. And, beyond that realisation … I have no real problem with how they have been received. Specific cases of violence are worrying, but I live nowhere near where any of the protests are being held, and have no idea what the provocations or situations to these instances are. There hasn’t been any massacres, any tanks rolling over people or gunned down crowds. The response hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t been horrific, either.

And that is it. This isn’t coming up again, I’m sure everything I’ve just said has been said -and rebutted, eloquently- elsewhere, and I really just needed to get this out of my brain and focus on what I’m good at – over analysing why the cartoon cat hits the cartoon mouse with a mallet. And that is 1555 words.