Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Before Watchmen

I doubt that I even need to link to the news that DC is officially doing prequels to "Watchmen," with a list of some of the hottest stars in comics talent, and also J. Michael Straczynski. A few years ago, I might have been incensed. I had choice words a few times over the "Watchmen" film when it came out, but my opinion on the book--and on Alan Moore--has somewhat mellowed in the intervening time. It's a great comic, to be sure, but literature didn't stop producing masterpieces after Moby Dick, to borrow Mr. Moore's example, and I kind of wish we could get past "Watchmen" as the be-all, end-all of comics storytelling.

In terms of the project, they've certainly done their best to pack it full of great creators, but I can't even feign interest in it. It's a huge amount of single issues for a story that, as far as I can tell, has already been completely told. I'm glad it's not a sequel--that would have been even more pointless--but I have absolutely no desire to read any more about these characters. I can't say that about other great comics, either; I'd read more "Sandman" in a heartbeat. But "Watchmen" has a sense of completeness about it, and I just can't really see the room for any other interesting stories in there. I suppose I could easily be wrong, and I'm sure there's a market for it--I spent much of my childhood reading the bizarre minutiae of why every weird alien was in Mos Eisley Cantina or Jabba's Palace--but that market no longer includes me.

What I'd really like to see is for the comics industry to get to a place where it's possible to take a gamble on a satirical pastiche of politics and society and comics again, rather than continuing to re-hash ones that still involve Ronald Reagan. I wanted to criticize this project for its irrelevance, but as Chris Sims aptly noted, there are parts of "Watchmen" that are even more relevant to comics now than they were in 1986. I don't know how or if comics will ever get back to that point--at least, conventional comics--and I don't see "Watchmen"-level satire happening over at The Gutters.

I can't fault DC for doing this project (though I can wonder why they'd do it now and not three years ago as a movie tie-in). It's going to make money, and that's what business is about--especially in a shrinking market that does not reward experimentation, innovation, or anything better than rote recitation of the old and familiar. I just hope the project is successful enough to allow DC to take some chances in other places. It would be a stroke of brilliance--and a boon to the entire industry, if "Before Watchmen" bankrolled the comic that takes the place of "Watchmen" in the comics discussion lexicon.

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