DC Comics have decided to expand the Watchmen universe. Alan Moore’s famous short run series about a group of vigilante superheroes are forced to rejoin together to stop doomsday. It’s dark, it’s driven by character development instead of action, and is filled with twists that keep the story going in unexpected directions. It is a brilliant self-contained narrative that did a lot to help comics gain more respect as literature.
Alan Moore has no interest in revisiting Watchmen. It’s a rarity when he revisits any of his old work. Unfortunately for him, he does not own the rights to the Watchmen franchise. DC does.
DC unveiled its plans yesterday to release seven short run series for seven different characters in the Watchmen universe. Each one will be written by a different author and focus on a specific character’s origin story.Here’s my one concern with this decision. Didn’t Alan Moore already cover most of this territory in Watchmen? We know Silk Spectre is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre and The Comedian. We know that Ozymandias was a competitive gymnast with superior intellect who turned his superheroism into a massive corporation. We know all about the Minutemen, the original superhero alliance that spawned Silk Spectre II and changes to the laws regarding superheroes.
These backstories were not insignificant to the plot of Watchmen. They defined the book. The conditions in the world that led to these superheroes joining together against an unknown enemy were caused by their backstories. They’re heavily detailed and given enough weight to be memorable. The characters in the present respond to each other in specific ways because of the actions in the past that Moore chooses to write about.This does not mean that these Watchmen prequels are doomed to fail. I actually look forward to them. Writers come and go all the time in comics. That doesn’t mean that there is an absolute decline in quality or intentions as a property grows and changes. The risk here is not creating a new Watchmen series but in choosing to retread ground that Alan Moore covered in great detail.
Yet it is Moore’s own writing that gives me hope for the project. He created a rich universe to explore. While Moore’s Watchmen is a complete package, that does not mean the cast of characters he created do not have more stories to tell.
Even more encouraging is Moore’s own work in other well-known universes. In 1988, DC put out a self-contained Batman story written by Alan Moore called The Killing Joke. Moore took four of the major characters in the Batman universe–Batman, the Joker, Commissioner Gordon, and Barbara Gordon–and created a twisted but faithful slant on the world of Gotham. The Joker sets out to drive Commissioner Gordon insane to prove that anyone can be forced into madness.Moore’s comic is a prequel for The Joker and a contemporary story in the Batman universe. In The Killing Joke, we learn that The Joker was once an engineer at a chemical plant. He quits his job to become a stand-up comedian but fails miserably. His wife encourages him to work with two criminals to rob the chemical plant. The criminals tell him before the heist that his wife is dead, throw him in a costume so he’ll be blamed as the mastermind of the crime, and put him face to face with Batman. That one day turned him into the criminally insane Joker.
Just think about the implications of this. Moore gives the Joker a strange but fitting new backstory that lines up well enough with what we knew about the character. He shakes up the lives of the Commissioner and his daughter forever by paralyzing her from the waist down. He reveals his dark origins to Batman and forces the hero to think like him for just one moment. DC comics ran with the changes as Batman continued.
Obviously, there is a difference between doing one issue of a long-running series and thirty new comics in a universe that only existed for twelve issues. While Moore himself does not support new Watchmen, his previous work in inserting his own ideas into pre-existing universes can act as a template for how this should go down.
The new writers need to stay faithful to Moore’s tone and content. They can’t just randomly change personalities and existing stories to do something new. A character wounded by a bullet can still be used. A character subjected to a personality transplant and all new abilities cannot be maintained.
I can only hope the Watchmen prequels stay true to the work of Alan Moore. The original run is well-respected for a good reason. I can only hope nothing will spoil that.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.