Sunday, June 19, 2016

Watch This!


What exactly is the controversy with DC Comics using The Watchmen as an element of their latest reborn-rebooted-revised-rehashed DC Universe. If you don't appreciate the "purity" of The Watchmen franchise being sullied by association with mere superheroes, then okay. Get mad, don't buy any of those issues and re-read the original story yet again and savor an excellent bit of storytelling. But why the outrage?


Many seem to suggest it's immoral for DC to use these characters as they desire. I'm not aware they need the permission of the creators to do with these characters as they desire, they own them, but they have been gracious in the past and asked both Moore and Gibbons to weigh in on any future plans. The characters have proven to be successful, so it's obvious why DC wants to market them, it's the nature of business. From what I can gather DC has lived up their side of the bargain struck many decades ago with Moore and Gibbons. That the deal didn't work out exactly like Moore anticipated is not DC's fault. The flaw in Moore's reasoning is that The Watchmen proved to be more successful than anticipated. Shucks what a problem to have since Moore gets a cut of all sales.


Let me be clear. Comic book creators in the past have been royally screwed by comic book companies and famously so. Characters worth millions if not billions have been harvested and their creators have gotten little if any recompense for their dutiful and diligent effort. Companies screw people all the damn time, it's one of the more repulsive aspects to the celebrated capitalism everyone gets giddy about when the stock market tickers start buzzing. Winners and losers, part of the great game, and at least part of the target of the story told by Moore and Gibbons in their remarkable adventure.


But that said, Moore and Gibbons are not among those creators who have been screwed. They were lucky enough to come along when contracts were more fair if not ideal and they have reaped significant profit from their efforts, and Moore could've have gotten much more if he'd been more agreeable to what plans the publisher might've had. He's entitled to believe what he wants, but no one can say he's been screwed out of any money. And it's rich that folks suggest Moore of all creators is a victim of this kind of pilfering since he's made a sizeable portion of his post-Watchmen career scraping out the enormous bins of the public domain and using characters and situations originally developed by such giants as Verne, Rohmer, Baum, Stevenson, Dickens, Wells, Haggard, among countless others. I don't condemn him for these borrowings, I just find it rich that he is put up as a victim when he's a pilferer just like so many of us can be.


Now DC has incorporated The Watchmen into the broader DCU. So what? Why is everyone outraged? God, people get over it already. DC wants to sell comics and they've been rather poor at it in recent years despite making every effort to entice folks to drop five bucks for a slender slick and quickly consumed comic (could that be the problem). If they want to forestall their inevitable doom by using all the tools they have then so be it. There's nothing in the arrangement with Moore and Gibbons that suggests they cannot do it that I'm aware of.


So folks might think it's a bankrupt move creatively, but I cannot for the life of me get why folks think it's immoral. The Watchmen were hatched on the bones of characters from Charlton and elsewhere. Steve Ditko, Pete Morisi, Pat Boyette, Jim Aparo, and Joe Gill get no cut of the profits when characters clearly inspired by their stories featuring Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Thunderbolt, and the Question. Gibbons and Moore cobbled "new" heroes on the heap of the classics and made a damn fine comic. Great! They cut a dandy deal with DC for a piece of the action. Fantastic! Where's the particular and distinctive immorality on DC's part here?

Help me to understand.

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4 comments:

  1. Allow me to note that Moore's *pre*-Watchmen career was also made re-interpreting the works of others--Swamp Thing, Miracleman...

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    1. Just so. It's normal for comics talent to work for a company and establish their reps on the backs of others. That they can later establish their own brands is great, but they shouldn't be so quick in my estimation to degrade the situation they began with.

      Moore's trick is to re-invent the work of others, to allow his own often immense creativty to rest on the continuity established by others. I enjoy it, but let's see it in context.

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  2. Moore was led to believe that the rights to the property would revert to the creators when the comic went out of print. At the time it was unthinkable that a graphic novel would stay in print continuously for decades and so he may have been naive to regard DC as reasonable human beings rather than a soulless corporation. He also felt at the time that Levitz and others were using Watchmen as leverage to bully him into continuing to toe the line. He's given dozens of interviews on this and there are several books on Moore out there if one is curious about the details. He seems like a cranky old recluse these days, but that has nothing to do with the quality of his comics.

    About the originality of the Watchmen characters: Giordano had seen attempts to revive the Charlton Action Heroes fail at DC and asked Moore to try and come up with something for his beloved characters. Moore's original Charlton proposal was considered too extreme for those characters, but Giordano liked the story enough to ask Moore to use it with new characters. The templates were the old characters, but were tortured into new forms. What we ended up with was a brilliant take on archetypal characters, and the beginning of many creators figuring out that they could do a story about any corporate owned character they wanted if they made enough alterations. DC's versions of the Charlton Heroes did not succeed. Moore's take did succeed.

    This doesn't always work. Liefeld did a version of Superman called Supreme that was sort of in line with the violent Watchmen paradigm, but it wasn't that highly regarded. Moore took the character and did a wacky Silver Age style version that seemed truer to the source and still somehow energizing.

    It's hard to get too exercised over this, but my sympathy is always with the creator. Captain Atom would not have seemed as terrifying and awesome a character as Dr. Manhattan is, unless the same drastic alterations were made to the character. Art is being able to look at something that's always there and see what no one else has seen.

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    1. Don't get me wrong. The Watchmen are wonderful reinterpretations of the classic characters and extend well beyond their inspirations. I don't speak to the quality of the work, but rather to the way folks seem to imagine its somehow "immoral" of DC to do this. I don't see this one as a matter of morality, at least not so pure as it's often presented. I'm not sticking up for the corporation by any means, but I do get a little strained by Bronze Age talent who used the work of others (owned by the company rightly or wrongly) to establish their own careers (fair at the time it was done if not ideal) but then bicker about how their creativity has been stolen from them unfairly.

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