Monday, June 13, 2016

Real Name: Dr. Johnathan Osterman
First Appearance: Watchmen #1 (September, 1986)
Fight Club Ranking: #DNR

Featured Fights:
- Has Not Yet Been Featured on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths.

If the 2009 feature film release of Watchmen proved nothing else, it's that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' story can find a mainstream audience on the strength of visuals alone. DC Comics knows this and apparently they're ready to reach a bold new agreement with the seminal work...

Watchmen is one of the most celebrated and best selling "graphic novels" of all time. It's been as absorbed into educational syllabus and literary notoriety as it has been celebrated for its more visceral charms and base super-heroics. Somewhere between the two - a healthy assessment lies.

For roughly twenty-five years, DC Comics was content to profit on the prestige of the twelve issue mini-series. Collected editions have long flirted with best selling lists, reaching new heights thanks to the pop cultural loudhailer of a feature film release. A cinematic adaptation seemed to be a reasonable compromise. An opportunity to celebrate the work and inform the masses, all the while increasing profit, with notable exception of Alan Moore himself, who's famously refused compensation for what he typically deems lesser approximations of his work.

The real shots were fired in 2012, when DC and Warner Brothers were no longer content to merely direct interested readers to what they can read "After Watchmen...". The time had come to bring these characters back to print -- the controversial, expansive line of Before Watchmen prequel comics.

I've never been one to kneel at the altar of Alan Moore. I often times wonder if his greatest creation wasn't the persona that precedes him, and perpetuates interest in his work. Watchmen certainly doesn't strike me as the be all, end all of superhero comics. In fact, I read it as a very loving tribute and participation in sub-culture phenomenon, of which superhero comics occupy a sizeable portion. Containing a cracking yarn about murder and political manipulation, but ultimately a superhero comic by any other name.

Yet -- even as a heretic in the church of Moore, Before Watchmen raised questions I never expected to try to answer. On a basic level, I actually think more Watchmen comics makes a lot of sense. The characters are wholly conceived as part of the serial world of the superhero. There's nothing overly precious about them or their world. They've had adventures in the past, stretching back to the Golden Age of 1940s comics. The implication of Watchmen's memorable ending -- more stories to come.

Before Watchmen makes a lot of sense, yet under threat of new comics without the input of Alan Moore, I find myself questioning the wisdom of it all. On a basic level, I know the value of Watchmen must have diminished with such frequent sales. The basic economics of getting more out of this popular property make sense - but the creative risks don't strike me as worth it. Maybe the power of Watchmen really is that it's a contained extract from a world that should never go on. The power of its ending is certainly stronger without answering questions about the future. At least they got that much right. For a little while, any way.

We now know the Watchmen universe is going to continue. Like so many other DC Comics properties, it seems it will officially be folded into the sprawling multiverse as the catalytic influence on Rebirth -- pseudo-reboot that rejiggers the dour New 52, even if it doesn't completely correct it.

The premise seems to be that Doctor Manhattan's machinations have had a cosmic influence. It was his influence that robbed the DC Universe is several years of its history. Batman examines the iconic blood spattered smiley face button worn by The Comedian in The Flash: Rebirth #1 [via Comic Book Resources]. Like Before Watchmen - I can begrudgingly see some merit.

There's a post-modern idea at work that's really appealing to think about, even as it creates friction. If Watchmen truly has been so influential to modern comic books, perhaps even more so than the event that defined the modern DC Universe [Crisis on Infinite Earths], then it's intriguing to consider it as an in-fiction cosmic force. Why not shape the New DCU on the back of its most influential tomes? Why not fulfill the requests of the unwashed masses who want to see more?

There are, of course, reasons not to.

Hard reboots to the DC pantheon have arguably been the source of some of their biggest problems over the past few years. Overwrought world building, waterlogged inter-connected stories, and a sense that everything is so much less have made DC a bitter taste throughout the decade.

The New 52 and subsequent reboots have been the ultimate realization of short term thinking that's plagued Big 2 comic books throughout the internet age. A quick fix, short term mentality that indulged always misguided impressions that DC's history was uniquely problematic -- selling reasons not to read, instead of the unique wonder of their sprawling universe.

DC found some of their biggest successes in the mid to late 2000s with the explosion of the Green Lantern universe and stories like Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night. Stories that dug deep into the canon and made the most of it. The antithesis of The New 52 and even Rebirth, which seems content to only paper over some of the cracks and return what was lost. Brand building that should've encouraged similar tact with more characters, including the ones who inspired the Watchmen heroes. Who really needs Rorschach when you've got The Question? What does Nite Owl do in a superhero universe that Blue Beetle can't do better?

The short answer is that the Watchmen characters provide notoriety and familiarity. Which is sad, because if Watchmen encouraged anything, it was arguably to strive for better in this world. The psychotic in the squidgy mask was never meant to be the one to aspire to. None of them were meant to be part of the DCU. We'll have to wait and see what happens once they are. Maybe it actually makes perfect sense.

No comments: