Why a sequel to Watchmen? (Answer: $$$)

26 Dec

by Mike Hansen

Cover art for the 1987 U.S. (right) and U.K. (...

And then there was world peace, and they all lived happily ever after, The End (Image via Wikipedia)

Looks like it’s happening. DC’s throwing some high-level artists on Watchmen spinoff projects, and the general consensus is that it might be interesting, and that even the people who are complaining about Watchmen sequels (or prequels, or whatever, Who Cares) are gonna buy them. (I really need to find more comics to praise on this site, because it’s hard to keep up with complaining about the news coming from the comics world…)

I’m not surprised that DC is doing more Watchmen without Alan Moore; what surprises me is that it took them this long to pull the trigger. After all, Marvel didn’t touch Elektra after Frank Miller left Daredevil – until they decided they could make money off the character. Publishers that own characters will always put exploitation of their property before giving the creators the respect and control of their creations. (I wonder if Marvel’s ever going to pay Jack Kirby‘s heirs for all of the reprints of his work – not to mention all of the comics by others featuring his creations…)

The problem with sequels is that they’re rarely as interesting as the original vision, Chris Claremont’s first X-Men run notwithstanding. The more dependent a project is on previous material by other authors, the more I wonder why it even exists (from an artistic standpoint: obviously, with company-owned material, the reason is simply To Make Money).

Sure, in the 1960s-1970s, it totally made sense for a generation of fans that grew up on classic Golden Age comics to want to continue the stories of their favorite characters. But as comics grew up, especially in the 1980s, the best comics were coming more and more from original visions from creators that owned their work. One of the reasons I’m especially proud to have worked at Dark Horse Comics is that it was a leader in publishing and presenting material in a way that respected the authors. (One of Mike Richardson‘s finest moments was buying the rights to Nexus from First Comics after its collapse and then returning the rights to its creators.) It took DC and Marvel decades to catch up with having a proper backlist of their best and perennially selling material in print (and they could still be doing a better job: Marvel lets too many volumes go out of print, while there is very little consistency in DC titles’ completeness and package quality).

Watchmen was intended to stand on its own, and the creators expected the rights to revert to them. I’m guessing that DC is trying to convince regular comics buyers, many of whom are already fine with pointless continuations and “cover-band” versions of better and more original content, that Watchmen should be treated as a property to exploit instead of a work of art that should be presented as its creators intended. DC’s history of treating Alan Moore as a cog in its machine instead of as a valued author should serve as an example to all writers and artists to know exactly what rights they’re giving up when they sign a contract.

Frank Miller Overstreet's Fan 23

Here's what Frank Miller thought of Marvel bringing back Elektra in the '90s. Wonder what he'd say today? (from Overstreet's Fan #23, May 1997)

In the 1980s, creators had terribly few options to have their work published and earn a living. The 1990s self-publishing boom showed that it was possible for creators to make a living off their own work. Today, despite the recent cutbacks from publishers and lower sales on single issues, there are many more options for creators to share their work and make money in the process: as physical media consumption is slowly dropping, the avenues for artists to reach new audience segments through the internet and digital media continues to increase. (In fact, enterprising music artists can make more money on their own than by signing with a major record label today. They may not get heard on the radio nearly as often – if at all – but they can still reach a much broader audience than ever before.)

Meanwhile, DC continues to go backwards by demanding additional rights from creators in its publishing agreements. There’s no reason that DC deserves a piece of Fables. There’s certainly no reason that Warner Brothers should share the Harry Potter copyright with J.K. Rowling. DC should be happy that it continues to make money selling collections of Preacher, but no, because a Warners executive went apeshit because DC didn’t get the media rights for next to nothing, creators have fewer opportunities there to get their fair share of revenue from their work. I hope they’re getting something (I dunno, health insurance?) out of it, because there are other ways to make money with one’s writing and drawing talents.

DC thinks that it can create additional perennial sales with unnecessary tie-ins to its all-time best-selling graphic novel, and despite the deck being stacked with good talent, I believe (and hope) that DC will find itself disappointed. Then again, I’m disappointed with comics buyers (and retailers) every month when I see the disposable crap that outsells the good stuff…

Cover of "Elektra (Widescreen Edition)"

Well, Miller was interviewed for the Elektra DVD's special features...

I hope that someday enough comics readers will figure out that the characters they love are only as good as the creators that bring them to life, and that those creators’ original works are much more enjoyable than their work on somebody else’s creations. Ed Brubaker does good writing on Captain America, but his work on Criminal and Incognito is brilliant! Brian Michael Bendis does solid writing on the Avengers titles, but Powers and Scarlet are fantastic!

Imagine if all of the best creators in comics started producing their own work that they owned and controlled. Image Comics proved it can be done. If Grant Morrison took his talents away from Batman and Superman to original projects like We3 or The Invisibles (both all-time classics), the readers would be all the better for it, and in the long run his bank account could be as well.

DC and Marvel got to where they are by giving their creators no choice in giving up the rights to their creations. But there are very few creators who are doing new and interesting work on company-owned characters, and even fewer whose work is as good as or better than the sea of creator-owned material out there. I’m sure there are plenty of books they’ll publish that I’ll enjoy, but there are many more out there that are not owned by DC and Marvel that I’ll likely enjoy more. I’ve only got so many hours of comics reading in me before I’m dead and gone, and I’d rather spend them reading the best new and original work than pale copies of others’ work.

I don’t imagine that it’s likely that a Watchmen spinoff, no matter who works on it (besides Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, of course), would be worth reading. Life’s too short.

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5 Responses to “Why a sequel to Watchmen? (Answer: $$$)”

  1. Deano December 26, 2011 at 18:17 #

    Great post. Alan Moore is a legend. No A.M. no Watchmen!

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