BEFORE WATCHMEN: What’s the hubbub, bub?

I had a few thoughts to share on the controversy over DC creating new Watchmen titles over the protestations of creator Alan Moore.  If you’re a comic book fan, you already know the essence of the battle, so I won’t restate what’s clear.  But I think that both sides of the argument are taking unnecessarily extreme positions.

First, Alan.  I’m not a DC hater.  At least not for the same reasons that Alan Moore hates DC.  DC hasn’t done anything outrageous, even based on Moore’s own accounts.  He admits that he failed to read his own contract, which clearly states that DC owns the rights to the characters unless and until they allow the title to go out of print.  DC has ensured he still gets paid for uses of Watchmen (although Moore disputes whether he’s gotten the right amounts of money) but Alan says he doesn’t want their money.  True, it’s astonishing that DC would go out of its way to alienate a man who is respected as one of the top three comic book writers of all time (a rank that’s pretty much undisputed), rather than do everything they could to give him what he wants.  But, at bottom, The Watchmen were created for DC, published by DC, and DC took the only risks in backing the project financially.  In fact, if Watchmen had been self-published, I doubt it would have found its audience and become such an important work of mainstream art.

(And yes, Alan, The Watchmen is now mainstream.)

However, DC, your hands obviously aren’t clean.  Putting to one side all the conflict over how DC took advantage of the creators of Superman and sticking just to the Alan Moore conflict, in responding to all the criticism about the Before Watchmen project, DC honcho Jim Lee said:
“I guarantee you that every single one of these creators that’s working on these books, think they can outdo — match or outdo — what was done in the original.”

Jim, you had me on your side until that comment.  You can’t possibly be serious.  Watchmen is the graphic novel by which all others are measured.  It is one of the bestselling books of all time—not just comic books, book books.  There’s not a graphic novel in history that ever received such high levels of literary acclaim and sales.  So go ahead with the new project, but don’t try to say it’ll be better than the original.  ‘Cause you just sound stupid.
It’s important to understand that DC didn’t just screw Alan once.  They did it again, when they bought Wildstorm and, with it, the rights to Alan Moore’s Top 10 comic.  I have to say, though, that if Moore doesn’t like other people owning his toys, he shouldn’t have created for other people.  I mean, The Watchmen was fool me once.  His work for Wildstorm was fool me twice—shame on Alan.  I know Wildstorm was indie when he started, but it was still owned by someone else—not Alan Moore.

And since then, DC is under new management and they’ve reached it out him several times to try to make things right.  He’s refused.  I understand being mad.

I understand holding a grudge.  But it you’re not going to do business with people, sulking and bad-mouthing is just bad form.  Take your football and go home—you don’t need to stand outside the field and keep yelling at the players.

In all, though, it’s amazing to me that DC won’t do more for Moore—or didn’t do more for him in the past, when they had the chance.  When the casts of TV shows demand more money or spin-offs or movie deals, the industry knows to give it to them.  When Van Halen wanted green M&Ms (back when music still mattered), they got them.  Why wouldn’t a man who has created multiple storylines and/or characters who have sold millions of copies get some special handling?  Moore’s projects have led to movies for V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Swamp Thing, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and others.

His Superman story (“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”) has gone through multiple repackagings and reprints.  When you’ve got a temperamental genius, you treat the guy with kid gloves.  It’s just common sense.  But if you don’t, and if you’re a publisher who owns properties that could make you some money, you make the money nevertheless.

Everyone complains about how comic book sales are down and the industry is on life support.  Yet when there’s some sales to be made, everyone criticizes DC as sellouts.  You can’t have it both ways.  Everyone rises on the same tide: If DC can pull people into comic stores, they’re more likely to find out about lesser known works by publishers or creators who can’t afford publicity.  If DC makes money, they’ll have more to spend on “riskier” products, such as some of the ones under the Vertigo banner.

Let’s get real, this is just business, man, and DC is a businessman.

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