Via io9 and Bleeding Cool, it looks pretty certain that some form of official Watchmen-related story is going to be made. The response is as you’d expect. The io9 category: “PLEASE GOD NO.” In an earlier article on the topic, Cyriaque Lamar rhetorically asked:
A Watchmen prequel would certainly be profitable — and perhaps even readable — but is it necessary?
As I’ve ranted before in my post on remakes, this is a spectacularly stupid reason to be against something. Whether something is necessary depends on the reason for its existence. If the purpose is to increase profit margins and readership, then, yes, it actually is “necessary.” And I’m fairly certain that folks like Darwyn Cooke actually have genuine artistic aspirations for a project deriving from one of the most celebrated projects in comic book history. To assume otherwise is to be a fool.
Then there’s another stupid reason. This one is articulated by Alan Moore himself, the writer of the original Watchmen (unless he’s not; depends on which medium you’re talking about):
Now, I don’t think that the contemporary industry actually has a ‘top-flight’ of talent. I don’t think it’s even got a middle-flight or a bottom-flight of talent. I mean, like I say, there may be people out there who would still be eager to have their name attached to WATCHMEN even if it was in terms of “Yes, these are the people who murdered WATCHMEN”. I don’t want to see that happen… I don’t wish to make money out of my characters being put through a lot of lame moves, which can do nothing but discredit the original work.
Or, to put it in a less delicate fashion (emphasis mine):
I wasn’t going to take the rights back at this stage after they had pretty much, in my opinion, raped what I had thought to be a pretty decent work of art. I didn’t want them throwing me back the spent and exhausted carcass of my work and certainly not under terms that would apparently allow them to go on producing witless sequels and prequels ad infinitum.
Alan Moore may be a creative genius. I am not offering an opinion here as to the merits of the Watchmen he did with Dave Gibbons or the movie adaptation. (Although you can read my thoughts on the film here.) The fact that Alan Moore is arguably a genius doesn’t mean that he’s always right. As a matter of fact, this is a particular point on which he is simply wrong.
Unless DC goes back, Ministry of Truth style, and erases all the extant copies of the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen as the authors intended it, the company has done nothing whatsoever to “rape” the original work. Sequels, prequels, adaptations, spinoffs, or remakes do not alter the original work. The original work, barring editorial intrusion that literally alters the images or text, remains the original work, whatever else follows it. It may be that the added material is not up to the standard of the original. If it’s not, that has no bearing on Watchmen’s quality. Moore may be an ingenious writer, but he is a paranoiac and a crank; whatever his raw intelligence, his perspective is persnickety and warped. The problem with the entire line of reasoning employed by Moore and any other geek who feels that DC expanding upon the Watchmen property is blasphemy is that it fosters a sense of ownership and entitlement that just doesn’t exist.
Fans do not own a particular comic property. They may be responsible for whether or not it is a commercial success, but what Moore promotes is the idea that the perception of what the artistic object — in this case, Watchmen — is trumps its actual place in reality. Those suggesting that the original Watchmen would be “raped” by prequels, sequels, or what-have-you are provably false; what they mean to say is that their feelings of what the work means to them would be exposed as a mere, fallible construction. The fact that Moore falls into this trap just as easily as the average Internet nerd isn’t surprising. Even though the graphic novelization is one of the most revered (and constantly in-print) books out there, and even though it is exactly what he and Gibbons created, the book as-it-exists is inseparable, for him, from the legal and personality clashes he had with the company at the time he created it. More than that, he is clearly insecure about the strength of the work to stand on its own. Even though it is one of the few graphic novels consistently to land on contemporary “top 100” lists of 20th century literature, he is so protective of his perception of Watchmen that he won’t even acknowledge his role in its creation when separate adaptations are made, preferring instead to have his name removed from the credits of any film adaptation of his work. Apparently, he thinks that a bad movie adaptation irreparably damages his actual work, and would rather dissociate himself from the work entirely — the better to protect his cherished, idiosyncratic conception of what it is — than just say, “Yeah, I wrote the original and I stand by it.”
You’d think that a writer as given to postmodern tendencies as Moore would be a little more self-aware than this. His League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is nothing if not a surreal, inventive adaptation of other pretty decent works of art. As stated previously, Moore may be a creative genius, but he’s not always very intelligent.
Why am I bothering to excoriate Moore and others? Because I perceive a tendency in our culture to prioritize the subjective experience over and above objective facts. These are the morons who say things like “everything is subjective.” Not everything is subjective. A comic book is still going to have all the particular properties that made it that comic book and not another one, even if two people get different things out of it. A movie made from that comic is not literally going to alter the original comic book. And just because you utterly adore a certain version of a story does not mean that another version is inherently bad simply for not being the version you already adore. A distressing number of people fail to understand these fundamental differences.
When people claim something like “George Lucas raped my childhood,” what they mean is that George Lucas did not conform to the rosy, nostalgic impression that they have constructed of their childhood entertainment. That’s what they mean, but that’s not what they understand. As much as I understand that the visceral, subjective experience of something can feel real and true to the individual, I also expect individuals to recognize that their own, unique experiences are not the gold standard to which reality conforms. I would like for them to express themselves accordingly. I know this won’t happen, but even if it is unreasonable for me to expect them to express themselves precisely and accurately (because Lord knows I use convenient shorthand myself), I don’t get the impression that a majority of people grasp the distinction between how things are and how they express their understanding of those things.
People like Moore promote a muddying of that distinction. They endorse faulty understanding and the privileged place of the subjective experience. They pretend that there is no such thing as an inarguable fact or a system of logic that sets ground rules for mutual exchanges of perspective — even when facts are not entirely undisputed.
I’m sure that Moore would be the first person to acknowledge that he doesn’t have all the answers or that he’s not always right. I’m also sure that he would be the first to make an aggressive case that no one person has a legitimate claim to any objective truth. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I will certainly acknowledge that, where many things are concerned, it is difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a single, indisputable conclusion that is always true. But it will always be true that DC licensing additional stories for the Watchmen universe is nota rape of the original story. It will always be true that making an unqualified assertion that something is “not necessary” is vague to the point of utter stupidity. Mostly, I think it will always be true that these altars to the worship of the Self and the individual’s subjective experience will breed confusion and a misguided sense of entitlement. ☕