Sunday, February 19, 2012

Still Watching the Watchmen? (Or, My Best Gatsby Metaphor Ever)

Big news hit recently, if you're a comic book nerd. Even if you're not, it may have worked its way onto your radar. DC Comics unveiled its plan to release a series of comics featuring the characters of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' award winning classic, Watchmen. All indications are that the line will function as a prequel to the bestselling story. It's a buzzworthy announcement. It's also, in my opinion, a mistake.

When I originally started drafting this post the morning of the announcement, I got really technical about all the details of Alan Moore's contract with DC and how the terms of said contract led to their pretty public and messy falling out. Then I realized that this was a big waste of my time and yours, precisely because it was pretty public (and did I mention messy?). So I'm going to operate under the assumption that we all know what happened and go from there. If need be, just go over to Wikipedia and search Alan Moore, or even just Watchmen, and you'll be able to get a decent summary of things.

Watchmen was a groundbreaking work when it was originally released in the 80's and is still viewed as a masterpiece today, often appearing on lists of the greatest novels ever written - a particularly impressive feat for a graphic novel in an age when comics in general are still widely regarded as below second class literature. Before there was any bad blood with the company, prequel and spinoff ideas were discussed, with neither Moore nor artist Dave Gibbons feeling very strongly about any of the projects. When the subject of other writers and artists taking a run with the characters came up, Moore was very vocal about his opposition.

And that, right there, is what irked me the most about DC's announcement: this Before Watchmen prequel project is in direct opposition to the creator's wishes. Moore is a bit of a polarizing figure - brilliant and bitter all at once - but however one feels about the man, it cannot be denied that Watchmen and its characters are his.

Now, what about Gibbons? The artist is every bit as important as the writer, and he's given the prequels his blessing, having remained on better terms with DC over the years. Supporting something that Alan Moore is against does not make Dave Gibbons wrong. However, the support of one of two creators does not stop this whole situation from feeling off. It's as if DC is saying, "Well, we know you don't want us to do this, but we're going to anyway, just because we can," and that doesn't sit well with me.

Am I saying that everybody involved with the project is evil and unethical? Absolutely not. Some very talented people whose work I respect very much are on board, and I will continue to respect them regardless.

However, let's ignore all of that for a moment. Let's say that all the creators and businessmen were BFFs and thought this was a wonderful idea. Ask yourself this: Does there really need to be more?

It almost seems like a stupid question. After all, it's human nature to want more of the things you love. But it's also undeniable that sometimes less is more. As a devoted Watchmen fan, I can honestly say that I don't need, or even really want, to see more of those characters, because the story we got was strong enough to stand on its own. There's something special about only having brief glimpses of what life was like for them in the past based on flashbacks and contextual clues, and being able to imagine the rest for yourself.

The best example of less being more that I can think of is Star Wars. That the film series started with Episode IV in big, bold print, immediately implying a rich history that we did not - and might not ever - know was exciting. The agony of only getting passing references to the Clone Wars and the fall of the Jedi was a secret thrill, especially because it let us know that a whole world existed outside of what we were being allowed to see. The prequel trilogy was destined to be the Daisy Buchanan of Star Wars nerds because that story could never, ever have lived up to what had been imagined for decades.

Sometimes a great story needs to be allowed to stand on its own, for the sake of the reader as much as for the artistic integrity of that story.

So, in case you hadn't guessed, I won't be picking up the prequels. It's a personal choice, one that certainly won't affect DC's bottom line for what will most assuredly be a financially successful project. I can't, in good conscience, as a writer who would feel violated if somebody co-opted my characters. I won't, as a reader who feels that she has already been given the ideal experience.

In the spirit of ending things on a light note, check out this classic from 2009 that, in spite of everything I just said, made us all wish for more Rorschach: