February 2nd, 2012
Yesterday, DC finally got around to breaking the news that was already broken: Yes they were going to publish Watchmen prequels, and yes, they had managed to find a group of creators dumb enough to work on them! Huzzah!
Now obviously The Comics Internet has already had a pretty good go at covering this topic. Hell, we covered this announcement in one of our Christmas podcasts before it even happened!
Still, even assuming you’ve already read Newsarama’s I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT SATIRE take and David Brothers’ elegant evisceration of the same, we figure you’ve still probably got room in that multiversal brain of yours for a very Mindless take on these announcements.
If so, rest easy True Believers. Here’s how it begins…
Bobsy: Someone said on the radio this morning that it’s the 50th anniversary of the smiley face. not sure how that fits with the ‘facts’ here, but it made me grimly reflect that if anything could turn that smile upside down then the Watchmen 2 announcement yesterday was surely it. The people in the shop were going crazy about the news, never been in there amid such animated chatter on a single topic before. Everyone basically positive too, saying they were going to buy it, looking forward to reading the characters again.
I can’t believe that we’re seriously supposed to think that the Kubert brothers are an adequate shadow of Gibbons, or that Azzarello, Cooke or (jesus christ) Len Wein are going to be able to produce anything that favourably compares with the original. I don’t even like Watchmen that much, but to go back to it seems to justify everything that Alan Moore has been saying for years about creative and cultural exhaustion.
I realise it’s a bit Canutian of me to wish for a different world, but the expansion into the Watchmen property strikes me as being a victory for capitalism’s oozing tentacles only, hence a defeat for the rest of us.
Zom: I totally understand how you feel, Bobsy, but Watchmen wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. It’s a particularly apposite – given the context of our enthusiasms – and somewhat egregious example of how capitalism loves to gobble up, vomit, and subsequently flog everything ever, so I can empathise with your strong feeling, but really its just one. more. example.
As for creative bankcruptcy, at a deep level yeah, definitely, but isn’t this just how the comics industry has always operated? I do struggle to meaningfully separate what they’re doing now with what Moore did then, and still continues to do with the League. It’s food for thought, though, that possible distinction, and one I’m not content to give up, and I’m open to arguments that back it, it’s just that none spring to mind. Alan Moore says its different, and, you know, magycksz, but I wonder if what he’s doing is simply of a much better standard than we’re likely to get from the likes of Cooke and Wein.
Bobsy: Sure you’re right, in this fallen world of ours (I am apparently feeling a bit pious today) it’s no different to business-as-usual, it’s just the fact of the act of it suddenly crystalises the larger condition we’re facing -
There’s no moral objection to rehashing extant characters, of course. As you say, it’s about the standard. Moore is, simply, a far smarter man and better operator than pretty much anyone on the planet, certainly anyone in DC’s rolodex, so Before Watchmen is immediately fatally hampered by the fact that all we can possibly get is some comics that are inferior to the forerunner. The inevitability of that is what I’m finding depressing, I think.
Botswana Beast: The difference is “more of the same”, with products licensed from a w/a who cannot now get them back because they were too successful, and “wouldn’t this be an interesting stew, all fantastical literature”.
Alan has been stolen from, but I’m sort of accelerationist about this, it is inevitable, probably the last evolutionary dead-end for the industry to mine (well, Marvel will doubtless shortly announce Marvelman stuff, they’re free and clear now Mick Anglo’s dead) and they’ll sell well, and then they’ll try and juice the thing again, with creators they aren’t paying through the nose, and by 2014 no-one will want to hear about Watchmen ever again.
Bobsy: Arguments in the Watchmen debate (not here, elsewhere) I’m finding specious:
- Moore can’t bitch because he ripped off the Charlton characters. [He didn't, the Charlton characters inspired him to make new ones. If there were any traction in this line of reasoning then the big comic announcement of today would be 'New Blue Beetle Sequel']
- Moore can’t bitch because he rips off Robert Louis Stevenson et al in LOEG. [Stevenson is dead. His kids are dead. His grandkids are probably dead. He can't be ripped off by anyone.]
Zom: I appreciate that that a difference in quality and ambition isn’t trivial, by the way, it’s just not enough for me to place what Moore’s doing in an entirely different category within the context of this discussion: sadly it’s still yet another example of cultural reappropriation for $.
I know what you mean about accelerationism, Botswana Beast. I really want to see what life – i.e. the superhero genre - is gonna be like once DC and Marvel’s business models implode.
Bobsy: Botswana Beast’s accelerationist point rings true – this does feel like taking a step closer to The End, doesn’t it? This is like a textbook example of the effect capitalist realism has on cultural products.
Caleb Mazzocco’s blog on this is good – he’s saying, a lot, how crap the creative teams they’ve picked are, which everyone else seems too polite to.
Zom: I think I agree with every single word written in that post.
Andre Whickey: Re: Watchmen 2: The Watchening, couldn’t really give a shit except for comedy value. I’m sure Darwyn Cooke’s stuff will be good, I’m sure most of the rest will be embarrassing, won’t read any of it unless we do something for the site, in which case I’ll Byrne-steal it.
The Beast Must Die: Super excited about this!!!!
Going to be buying the lot.
Zom: I don’t think that much of Cooke. He draws real real good, but his writing isn’t a patch on the Moore’s or Morrison’s of this world. It’s merely entertaining.
Andre Whickey: Cooke is no Moore or Morrison, true, but he’s still one of the very best people working in superhero comics at the moment. His run on The Spirit actually didn’t feel like one gigantic shit on Will Eisner’s grave, which in itself is quite amazing.
Zom: Re the Spirit, the inoffensiveness of Cooke’s writing gets on my nerves.
He’s a kind of go-to pastiche guy.
Bobsy: This gig’ll bring out the worst in him though – all fetishised fifties social relations and fashions, men being men etc. The ditko at the heart of Watchmen, much obscured by Moore and Gibbons’ tonal and narrative sophistication, will be given free rein in Cooke’s hand, which could get quite ugly.
Maybe that’s not ‘the worst’ in Cooke, maybe the exact opposite (short skirts, basically. he draws good short skirts.), but still.
Illogical Volume: With Darwyn Cooke, it’s weird, I find his comics easily enjoyable because his arsey belief system is implicit rather than explicit, but I’d probably be more engaged with his work if he just let it all dribble out – Miller and Ditko are committed to expressing their arsey beliefs, and this might sour me on some of their work, but fuck, they’re still far more exciting to me than Cooke is.
Botswana Beast: I liked New Frontier quite a lot, found The Spirit kind of irksomely light pastiche. Azzarello is on enough of a hot streak I’d've been interested in any new DC books by him, he can grate… I’m kinda thinking is there probably a moral case for pirating their books, that I’d actually feel morally sounder doing that than buying them?
Who Thieves From the Thiefmen.
Illogical Volume: Other “interesting” factors to take into consideration dot dot dot
The Watchmen “brand” already been used for movies, computer games, toys and calendars. Capital has already had its wicked way with Moore and Gibbons’ creation, so this latest development should be treated as the four colour equivalent of an announcement that Watchmen will finally be doing anal.
So: a step closer to the end, maybe, but a small and predictable one, for all the hype.
The Watchmen toys, games, movie, etc all seem to have been created under the mistaken assumption that what makes Watchmen special is the fact that it features a group of superheroes who are quite like but not exactly like a lot of other superheroes, when what actually makes it special is the specific set of interactions between Moore and Gibbons that are caught in time, like a photograph slowly falling.
As I think the Bottie Beast has argued on That Twitter, Rorschach is probably the most complex and compelling character in the whole comic, but again, that’s all Moore/Gibbons. Post-Watchmen superhero comics have not been rubbish because they lacked characters like Rorschach.
Also, Kieron Gillen has already pointed this out, it’s super obvious, but – the past 25 years of superhero comics = the sequel to Watchmen. None of these comics have managed to replicate the Moore/Gibbons interaction perfectly, but there have been a few amazing misprisions (Seven Soldiers) as well as a lot of tedious ones (see: the life and times of cereal enthusiast Geoff Jeans).
Alan Moore’s career is dependent on the use of existing characters and places, but these characters and places aren’t even half of the story of why his work is worth reading. Putting Bob’s latest reminder that I really need to read Cerebus put to one side , Moore is definitely one of the MAJOR cultural figures in comics (which is to say, his work makes sense outside of comics!), he has few peers - Eddie Campbell is better than some of his major literary influences, the Hernandez Bros have created some right proper art in their time, Ware is both amazing and amazingly narrow, [Your Own Less Obvious Preference Goes Here], etc. I don’t think it’s likely that even the more capable creators involved in these prequels will be able to do a better job with these toys than Moore and Gibbons – Cooke is like a less ambitious Frank Miller, he writes and draws pretty comics about decisive men of action, but he’s no genius; Azzarello is a stylish and occasionally tedious pulp writer; Len Wein’s is the face that launched a thousand ships, and so on.
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Zom: And roleplaying game scenarios which involved the input of a very willing Alan Moore. I very almost printed up a nice glossy version of that to give to the Mindless for Christmas ahead of our Watchmen podcussion in an effort to make the point you make below, Illogical Volume.
Gillen’s point cuts to the heart of the cynicism in operation here. The pedant in me wants to point out that the last 25 years are by definition not a sequel to Watchmen, but what they most definitely are, at least on some level, is a response to Watchmen; the artistic ground has been well and truly covered, making any retreading of Watchmen’s ground almost certainly redundant except as an exercise in getting dollars ‘n’ press.
Bobsy: All true Ill-Vol, but re: the Watchmen brand exploitation this is comics!
Andre Whickey: What Moore is doing is taking a whole bunch of things from all sorts of different works and repurposing them into something else. He’s not trading off their value as intellectual properties (how many comics fans were clamouring for the further adventures of Alan Quartermain?) but making a commentary on the original works, while creating something new.
What Moore is doing is closer to, say, when the KLF released Doctorin’ The TARDIS, where they took bits of the Doctor Who theme, Blockbuster by Sweet, Rock ‘N’ Roll by Gary Glitter and samples from Genesis Of The Daleks, and stuck them all together to create something new and exciting. What this stuff is is closer to a bad pub covers band doing a cover version of Blockbuster. Nothing morally wrong with it as such, but a definite difference in kind.
Zom: I dunno, I think he’s undeniably trading on their value as intellectual properties, both artistically and financially, whether he intends to or not. I’m not sure that the work transcending mere cover version status negates this – apparent to me at least – fact. I agree that transcending cover version status makes it more worthwhile, however.
Bobsy: Not financially, Zom – no one’s been making money off alan quatermain prior to Moore.
Also not sure about ‘artistically’, to be honest. my knowledge of quartermain (who maybe for this reason isn’t the best League character to isolate like this) is 100% via Moore. Like with Rorschach/Mr. A., I feel that to great extent LOEG has been a work of REinvention. Not pastiche or ripoff, but a forging of something new out of a preexisting ore.
Zom: I was motivated to pick LoEG up, and still am to some extent, because of inclusion of fictional characters I’m interested in. The same is almost certainly true of a huge number of other readers. The characters are recognisable brands or represent elements of recognisable brands, the rejuvenation, reimaging, whatever angle just makes them more attractive from that point of view.
This is a narrow point I’m making. It doesn’t say much about the artistic worth of what Moore is doing.
Andre Whickey: Interesting- I assumed that pretty much everyone who bought it did so for the reason I did – it had the names “Alan Moore” and “Kevin O’Neill” on the cover. When I bought the first trade (back when I was just getting back into comics) I didn’t have a clue what it was about, I just knew that Moore and O’Neill were people who always did good stuff.
But then I’m pretty far from most comics fans in that characters only make up a very small part of my reasons for buying stuff – I go by writer first, artist second, character a distant third.
Botswana Beast: No, that’s why I got LoEG, and I’d imagine why 95% of folk did – it does feel a little crass talmbout Moore in market terms, somehow.
Illogical Volume: Definitely.
I’m still with Andrew, if most comics creators had announced a project identical to the League I would have given precisely zero fucks, but I’ll read most anything Moore and O’Neil work on together.
Bobsy: I was going to write something similar Andrew, but on reflection I realised that I actually am a little bit interested in the further adventures of the invisible man, so Moore was leveraging himself, for me, a little bit of extra interest there. Not sure if it’s a significant factor overall though.
Zom: I hate to get all bad faith on you guys, but really? You really truthfully weren’t properly interested in Moore’s Invisible Man or Moore’s Martians or Moore’s Dracula? The idea of Moore’s Prisoner doesn’t tickle your fancy? Moore’s Dr Jekyll didn’t pique your interest? Moore’s Moriarty? His Nemo? Really really?
Moore and O’Neill are of course the overriding factors, but I’d fibbing or failing to analyse my motivations properly if I were to try and edit the various brands that Moore’s hijacking out of the equation. I love that stuff. We all love that stuff. It’s a huge – at least in my estimation – part of what makes the League so enjoyable: the nexus of Moore’s creativity and well loved fictional standbys. Just because we wouldn’t love it if said creators weren’t attached doesn’t refute my point.
Illogical Volume: You’re egging my chickens here Zom.
I have FEELINGS about Sherlock Holmes and War of the Worlds, but when I heard that Doctor Who’s dad was working on his very own Sherlock I was just a bit like “Oh?” and when I heard that War Horse’s dad was doing WOTW I was like “Oh…” and when I heard Iron Man would be crossing over with Sherlock and Lock Stock I didn’t even make a sound, I just stayed quiet.
Which is to say: I might have been fibbing but not entirely and not on purpose.
Andre Whickey: Those are things I like about it now I know what it is, but I bought it without having any idea what the subject or characters were beyond the picture on the cover, purely because I knew I liked the creators’ work, and with the exact same level of enthusiasm with which I bought, say, the first Supreme trade without having a clue what Supreme was.
But even now, when I do know what the concept is, what interests me is the way Moore’s take on those concepts differs from the original, or throws new light upon it, or how he juxtaposes them with other characters and situations. Were Moore to write an Invisible Man or Prisoner series which was just a straight continuation of those stories, I’d still read it because he’s Alan Moore, but the idea wouldn’t enthuse me much at all in itself.
If this was going to do something *different* with those concepts, that’d be a totally different matter. One of Morrison’s Multiversity things is supposed to be (if it ever comes out) a Watchmen-analogue Charlton Universe story. I’ll read that, because I know Morrison will not just do a lazy “Further adventures of Rorschach the badass” story.
Likewise, the Giffen/Dematteis/Maguire Justice League was, in its early issues, a very obvious attempt at incorporating big swathes of Watchmen into mainstream superhero comics (the line-up has a lot of the same basic types as Watchmen, it’s all done on the Ditko nine-panel grid and so on). But it’s very clearly doing something very different from just a straight Watchmen sequel, and it’s one of my very favourite mainstream superhero comics.
This, on the other hand, seems more like the film version of Sgt Pepper, where Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees played Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sgt Pepper isn’t as great an album as many people think, and the Bee Gees aren’t as talentless as their reputation suggests, but you know just from that single-sentence description that the film actually has negative artistic merit. (Well, not quite, the bit where Frankie Howerd sings Mean Mr Mustard while getting a massage from some robots is quite good).
Botswana Beast: Yeah, I bought all the ABC books and actually – well, Tomorrow Stories aside, I do not like when a Moore is “being funny” – I liked it easily the least, initially, because it was not so understandable as a franchise (someone on twooter sed: the greatest trick corporations pulled was making us think of narrative art in terms of franchise, which is prob troot’) or as a proto-superhero comic, which it is, much as Tom Strong is. I also maybe prefer it when they’re analogues (because it becomes less hermetic, but I’m not particularly attached to any Victorian fantastical fiction); Planetary is – was – very much the 5th ABC limb now I think of it.
Zom: Yars, Moore isn’t very good at “being funny”. It always feels like “being funny”. Which was your point.
The Beast Must Die: Wish Geoff Jeans and Jim Lee were doing some of these Watchmen things.
Also Judd Winick.
Illogical Volume: Luv U 4Eva, The Beast Must Die!
In other news, Plok just stepped into the ring. I liked this bit:
…it doesn’t matter to me how it works out. Well, I’m not gonna be reading the damn things, am I? If you want to read them, go ahead; that’s your business, and I’m happy to say it doesn’t affect me any more than you mean it to. But I must confess, it does matter to me that the grand PR circle-jerk has expanded to the point where creators are happy to paint other creators as hypocritical malcontents for failing to actively support the cynical exploitation of their creations…where creators unthinkingly adopt and promulgate the company line even to the point where they imply no creator’s contribution is as important as the contribution of the characters they made popular, and that making a living off the work of earlier authors is fine so long as no one rocks that boat, but if someone ever does then it’s still fine, only not for them. You want to see some hypocrisy, well…there it is, you know? And it’s of the saddest kind, too. So I’m kind of pissed at J. Michael Straczynski, if you want to know the truth. And is that fair?”
Zom: I go back to this point…
“It’s a huge – at least in my estimation – part of what makes the League so enjoyable: the nexus of Moore’s creativity and well loved fictional standbys”
So, yeah, I’m with you on that Andrew. I was never not with you, but regardless of whether he’s doing something new or not, he is still trading on properties which have proven $ appeal and that demonstrably enthuse people in and of themselves.
While I think that maybe I agree that looked at holistically we’re talking about different kinds of things – in fact, yeah, obviously I do - I don’t think that Moore isn’t getting leverage (to borrow Bobsy’s term) from his use of fictional characters and settings and that have an in-built appeal*/depths, which makes it difficult to entirely divorce the League, no matter how good or worthy in other ways, from the broader cultural wotsit of capitalism eating and puking and selling the world, of which Wa2chmen is such an irritating example.
To use my favourite Wittgensteinian term (who wouldn’t?) there’s a family resemblance, at the very least, between LoEG and Watchmen Re-Wound
*I have no evidence, which is frustrating, but I’d be prepared to bet quids that Moore picked up many new readers thanks to his forays into the worlds of Holmes, Dracula, Poe, Haggard, etc…
Bobsy: “Wa2chmen” – that’s genius.
Gary Lactus: wha2evschmen.
Bobsy: I do hear what you’re saying Zom, but I think the salient nugget here might be: Alan Moore isn’t ripping anyone off by using Mina Harker. In a much more solid – though still somewhat porous and questionable – way, JMS *is* ripping off Alan Moore. And as plok says, the way they’re all covering up his righteous indignation by being all ‘make the stories relevant to today’ is some of the stinkiest bullshit.
Illogical Volume: Total Agreemence.
Zom: “Alan Moore isn’t ripping anyone off by using Mina Harker” – Agreedz.
Make his stories relevant.. cor, what a load of cobblers.
Botswana Beast: I think there are a great number of reasons why the items of this loose family are not morally of the same category, which we discussed at the start here Zom – plus, only people I’ve seen making this connect (Dave Uzi aside) are total berks, and you wooden wanna be a total berk.
Zom: I’m hardly likely to back down because I’ve been compared to berks now am I? I appreciate that I backhandedly suggested that you and Andrew were either lying or being un-selfreflective, Botswana Beast, – sorry about that – hopefully you can see that that was a measure of my incredulity that the reappropriation angle wasn’t a big factror in the League’s appeal. I went about being incredulous in very much the wrong way and I should have apologised earlier.
My argument, such as it is, is limited but I think quite sound, it’s also not supposed to be a moral point. I am not saying that Wa2chmen and LoEG are morally equivalent. Maybe the aforementioned family resemblance has moral dimensions, but I’m not overly concerned with them right now. Taken in isolation Moore is unequivocally doing a good thing with the League – good creatively, artistically I mean – taken within the broader context of a culture which constantly sells us the same old stuff coated in bile I think it’s more problematic.
Bobsy: STOP! cest finis!
There are familial resemblances obvs – neither Wa2 or LOEG use wholly-original characters and settings.
The difference is that with LOEG – no-one died (because they were all already dead. A victimless crime.). With Wa2 – a little bit of ‘Da Alan Moore Complexsz’ is dying, so is a problem.
Supplement to the above: LOEG is just better – so it contributes far less to the ongoing problem of cultural entropy that Wa2 is – by consent, I think – symptomatic of.
(We have an end to the post)