Watchmen 2 rapes everything you hold dear, apparently

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. ☕

About mjschneider

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by mjschneider

13 responses to “Watchmen 2 rapes everything you hold dear, apparently

  • Alex M

    This is just amazingly put, a wonderful piece of writing and I agree almost word for word with everything you’ve written. i have the highest respect for Alan Moore as a writer and generally agree with what he says in interviews also, but here I just can’t see where he’s coming from, and it’s particularly strange since, as you say, his works are very postmodern, playful and self-aware themselves. I feel a bit like someone fucked him over somewhere and he’s holding a grudge.

    The only thing I disagree with is the statement that there are objective facts. Whilst I agree that the “everything is subjective” line is used by too many lazy arguers as an excuse not to even try to argue, I do believe that artistic assimilation and appreciation is somehow subjective and that one can’t meaningfully talk about it in an entirely objective fashion, although we *can* talk ideas and opinions that are broadly agreed upon in society and the way that constructs and informs our opinions. I don’t want to get too philosophical here though and it feels like a petty point to pull you up on when your piece was so enjoyable and persuasive!

    • mjschneider

      Thanks for the compliment! And I do respect Moore as a writer and artist; I think I simply don’t share his worldview, and that inhibits my ability to empathize with him on many levels beyond a general appreciation for his talent.

      I don’t think it’s petty to bring up my assertion about objective facts. My point about objective facts isn’t really about whether or not every opinion on art (its assimilation, appreciation, etc.) is “right” or “wrong,” but related to the fact that, in most cases, there are things to be neither “right” nor “wrong” about. You and I differ in our appreciations of Raiders of the Lost Ark (to use a recent example), but we both agree that there is a scene in which a monkey does a sieg heil. You thought it was abominable; I thought it was funny. But we both agree that the scene is in the movie. Whether it was funny is entirely up to subjective experience; whether it is in the movie is an objective fact. It’s in the movie. You included it in your video. We wouldn’t be able to talk about movies at all unless there were movies to discuss.

  • Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

    It’s interesting to see Moore have this reaction, because I’ve read past interviews where he’s basically agreed with you. People ask him how he can stand bad movie adaptations “ruining” his books, and he’ll point to his bookshelf and say “they’re not ruined, they’re right there.” So either he feels differently about Watchmen in particular, or he’s changed his tune one way or the other at some point.

    Moore reminds me a bit of Robert Crumb in his feelings toward movie adaptations. There’s a great moment in the Crumb documentary where he’s getting offered huge bank for an adaptation of his comics, and he’s yelling into the phone that there hasn’t been a decent animated movie made in America since 1930. I just don’t think Moore likes movies very much.

    As for geek entitlement — it’s hard to disagree with you logically, even though emotionally the idea of a Watchmen 2 makes me groan. I remember a time in my youth when I wished my favorite comic books — things I found informational, formative, inspiring — would be made into movies. Now I frequently wish they wouldn’t be, because what I valued about them is often mercilessly stripped from the adaptation in favor of pyrotechnics (or in Watchmen’s case, gratuitous gore). Do I hold some kind of ownership over Watchmen? Of course not. But I do hold ownership over the things I like about Watchmen, and I dislike seeing them treated shabbily or carelessly by others.

    • mjschneider

      Well put.

      I don’t mean to be *overly* reductive or presumptive, but maybe Moore’s just gotten crankier as he’s gotten older. The bit with the bookshelf sounds like something he’d say, but the interview I read for this piece was rather paranoid and dispiriting.

      And the fact that you understand and draw a distinction between the things you like about Watchmen and Watchmen itself. I agree with that entirely. I felt the same way about the latest Star Trek movie. It’s not that J.J. Abrams doesn’t have the right to do what he wants with the franchise, and it’s not fair to hate the movie because it’s not “my” Star Trek… but I still didn’t like the fact that he seemingly rejected everything about the franchise that I personally thought was special about it. I recognize that these are my feelings, not objective criticisms. I still don’t think it was a great movie, but I have other reasons for that that are drawn from the film itself, not my own vision of what “Star Trek” means to me.

  • Tracy McCusker

    A very cogent argument, Matt!

    Leaving out, for the moment, the issue of a work’s rights getting away from a creator, I want to muse a little…

    While I am very happy to sit Watchmen 2 out–and happier still to avoid all mention of it in my glee-filled bubble where Hollywood remakes aren’t cluttering up my mindspace–your point about creative properties existing to make money is well-taken.

    When a person is a fan of a work, I believe that they hope their beloved universe will exist in a world of perfect artistic integrity. That once there are no more Batman stories to tell, DC comickers will all collectively hang up their spurs and the Caped Crusader will perch no more on the gargoyles of Gotham city. That writers and artists everywhere will only tell stories in their Aristotelian whole–a beginning, middle, and end that has no dramatic moment missing. As a writer, I often believe this about my own work too.

    It’s a mental trap. Our beliefs about artistic integrity get in the way of artistic sufficiency: that is, professional artists, writers, filmmakers make a living by making work and getting paid for it. Sometimes that means doing work just for the sake of money (we call it hackery). But just as the ideal of artistic integrity doesn’t exist, most remake/sequel properties aren’t cynical money-making machines devoid of art, purpose, or passion on the part of their creators. (You better believe that I love each and every remake or re-imagining of Superman.)

    It boils down to this: if someone wants to pay to hear about how the Watchmen got started, then telling that story is a valid thing to do. That’s what professional storytellers do. Get paid to regale us about the shit we want to hear about. OH GOD NO assumes no one wants to even dream of a Watchmen 2.

    Really?

    I’m sure the fan-fiction folks got there first, anyway.

    • mjschneider

      Great comments, Tracy. Thanks for posting them. And I think you summed it up expertly with this: “if someone wants to pay to hear about how the Watchmen got started, then telling that story is a valid thing to do. That’s what professional storytellers do. Get paid to regale us about the shit we want to hear about.” To assume or assert otherwise is to fall into that mental trap — and it really defines the work itself as something other than what it is.

  • Elsewhere: A New-Earth, Cussin’, Submission, and Ayn Rand on Symbolism | Christ and Pop Culture

    [...] Is it really “artistic rape” when they make a Watchmen tie-in or when George Lucas releases yet another version of Star Wars? Catecinem doesn’t think so: [...]

  • BNGPossum

    A good and enjoyable post and a very persuasive argument. Can’t disagree with what you’ve said here. More Watchmen content is obviously not an inherently bad idea. Having said that, I personally feel that the creative staff at DC have done lots of very questionable things recently, especially with regards to the relaunch, and so I don’t have much confidence that DC can currently pull off more Watchmen and make it actually work. I know that my response to this news wasn’t “This is an innately terrible idea!” as it was “Oh great, what are these bozos going to clumsily attempt and fail at now?”, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try.

    • mjschneider

      Thanks for the reply, Sam! I don’t think it’s unfair to be skeptical that every relaunch or sequel or what-have-you is going to be of lesser quality — especially when the people involved are known to be clumsy. But that’s more of a matter of personal experience and judgment, a once bitten, twice shy kind of thing. The folks who are claiming that the very existence of a sequel “rapes” the original are people who are claiming that, in principle, sequels or prequels or reboots etc. are inherently pernicious. I think you’ve got the right idea: even if it seems like a bad idea, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t (in principle) make the effort. If it sucks, then it sucks. But if it works, then that’s something really special.

  • Lunar Archivist

    I don’t usually leave comments to cause trouble, but I disagree with your stance for one very good reason: bad sequels or prequels can affect peoples’ perception of the original work through either guilt by association or newly revealed information forcing you to reassess it in a less positive light.

    Speaking from personal experience, the worst example is probably Darth Vader. In the original trilogy, he was an intimidating, imposing, and all-around awesome villain. But, after witnessing the ease with which Anakin Skywalker was influenced by Senator Palpatine’s ridiculously transparent manipulations and how both George Lucas and Hayden Christensen completely failed to sell his face-heel turn, he now seems more dumbass than badass and it’s impossible for me to watch the original movie without his history from the prequel trilogy coming to mind. The original hasn’t changed in any appreciable way, but it’s still been diminished in some way.

    And, honestly, after seeing what the DiDio regime has done with Roy Harper since they came into power…

    http://theragingfanboy.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/deconstructing-red-hood-and-the-outlaws-part-3-roy-harper/

    …suffice it to say I have no faith whatsoever in their abilities to tell good stories that live up the hype. They just seem to thrive on controversy and attention-whoring tactics, which is fine for a tabloids but bad for comics considering the already less-than-stellar reputation the industry has.

    • mjschneider

      I don’t usually leave comments to cause trouble, but I disagree with your stance for one very good reason: bad sequels or prequels can affect peoples’ perception of the original work through either guilt by association or newly revealed information forcing you to reassess it in a less positive light.

      Speaking from personal experience, the worst example is probably Darth Vader. In the original trilogy, he was an intimidating, imposing, and all-around awesome villain. But, after witnessing the ease with which Anakin Skywalker was influenced by Senator Palpatine’s ridiculously transparent manipulations and how both George Lucas and Hayden Christensen completely failed to sell his face-heel turn, he now seems more dumbass than badass and it’s impossible for me to watch the original movie without his history from the prequel trilogy coming to mind. The original hasn’t changed in any appreciable way, but it’s still been diminished in some way.

      You’re not causing trouble! I encourage comments and welcome the opportunity to engage in dialogue with those who see things differently. I perused your blog, I liked it, and I am happy to dive into this with you.

      I discussed perception quite a bit in the post. I know that some people allow their perception of the original work to be affected by sequels/remakes/etc., but that’s not a rational response, even if it’s one that I empathize with on an emotional level. It’s up to individuals to govern their responses to things, and while it may be common to allow one discrete work to “taint” another by association, I ask that people recognize the difference between that discrete work actually tainting the original and an individual creating that taint.

      The Vader example is a good one. I’m not a fan of the prequels. And they do impact my enjoyment of the originals. Yet I draw a distinction between a.) the Anakin of the prequels literally changing the way that Vader is presented in the originals and b.) the way I think of the relationship between those two presentations. With the Star Wars series, this relationship is a bit more complicated, since George Lucas has actually altered the “official” copies of the original trilogy, and I do have issues with that. But on a fundamental level, I’m not “forced” to reassess the original films in light of the prequels; I can choose to, or I can choose not to. It’s really up to me, whatever Lucas wishes.

      Now, there are many ramifications that proceed from one choice or the other, and they all have their own problems and validity. What I wanted to stress with this post on the Watchmen comics is that fans have a great deal more control over their perceptions than they seem willing to admit. They’re not “forced” to accept sequels, prequels, remakes, what-have-you as legitimate. They may be “forced” to contend with the existence of those extraneous materials, since those materials do exist in dialogue with the original, and DC clearly wants to control the fans’ perceptions (which is its own issue). But it is not a simple case of the prequel “ruining” the original by its very existence. That’s just crazy.

      Let me bring up a corollary to this issue raised by the rest of your comment:

      And, honestly, after seeing what the DiDio regime has done with Roy Harper since they came into power…

      http://theragingfanboy.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/deconstructing-red-hood-and-the-outlaws-part-3-roy-harper/

      …suffice it to say I have no faith whatsoever in their abilities to tell good stories that live up the hype. They just seem to thrive on controversy and attention-whoring tactics, which is fine for a tabloids but bad for comics considering the already less-than-stellar reputation the industry has.

      It seems to me that you’re a well-informed comics aficionado. Your knowledge of the industry likely exceeds that of the casual fan (to put it mildly). As someone who knows how these things work, you probably know that the primary motive for doing Watchmen-related projects is profit. A secondary motive might be to accrue residual prestige for the company by continuing to be associated with what is becoming a canonical work of English literature. Neither of these motives have much to do with producing a work of outstanding creative merit. It may be that the prequel turns out to be awful; it may turn out better than expected. The slimmest of slender chances is that it will match or top the original in terms of quality. And there are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that will go into the project that were not factors in the original. In short, based purely on the way the industry functions, it’s highly unlikely that the prequel will be the creative equal of the original or that it will share the singular concerns of Moore and Gibbons as artists.

      It is my hypothesis that people with a similar level of familiarity with the industry would come to the same conclusion. Which is why it’s so strange that people who are so well-informed about how things work would maintain that this new project — probably driven by craven motives from inception to completion — could taint the original. In our heads, we know that its creative process is vastly divergent from the creative process of the original. We know that, in many practical ways, it’s basically its own thing, as opposed to a “true” sequel to what was, at the time, a very original, self-contained work. Shouldn’t the people who know how unlike a sequel it is be the first to acknowledge that, by rights, this prequel shouldn’t really impact the legacy of the original? Yet the opposite so often seems to be true.

      I’m not particularly picking on you with this. I include myself in this sweeping observation, and those like me. You would think that it would be the average Joe, who doesn’t know anything about comics (or books, or movies, or any other medium in which most products are narrative-driven) who would, in principle, simplemindedly allow a cash-in prequel to shape his vision of the overall legacy of the work. But this clearly is not the case.

      What intrigues me is that it’s not people with a cursory-at-best knowledge of the Star Wars or DC Universe who get riled up about the characterization of Darth Vader or Roy Harper: it’s the hardcore fans. The people who know that the real-world issues of the publishing market, changes in cultural attitudes and politics, the revolving door of artists and writers, the peccadilloes and interpersonal quirks of company leaders/editors, and a host of other things contribute as much to the finished product as anything. Not to mention the fact that sometimes even the best artists simply drop the ball once in a while. We know that all this stuff informs the works we consume, yet for some reason, we regard the original thing (and whatever our personal experience was of encountering it for the first time) as sacrosanct, existing in a virtual vacuum, until the sequel/remake comes along and magically destroys that experience with its very existence. Mind you, I’ve allowed this to happen to myself. But that’s all the more reason for me to insist upon recognizing this absurd sense of entitlement for what it is. If the Watchmen prequel sucks, let’s judge its failure on its own terms (even if those terms are comparing it to the monolithic stature of the original) without adding on the superfluous and anti-rational reason that it somehow drags down the original. It can only do that if we let it.

    • Lunar Archivist

      This response turned out to be longer than I expected, so you might want to have a seat. It might be a while. ^_^;

      “The Vader example is a good one. I’m not a fan of the prequels. And they do impact my enjoyment of the originals. Yet I draw a distinction between a.) the Anakin of the prequels literally changing the way that Vader is presented in the originals and b.) the way I think of the relationship between those two presentations. With the Star Wars series, this relationship is a bit more complicated, since George Lucas has actually altered the ‘official’ copies of the original trilogy, and I do have issues with that. But on a fundamental level, I’m not ‘forced’ to reassess the original films in light of the prequels; I can choose to, or I can choose not to. It’s really up to me, whatever Lucas wishes.”

      If you can flip that mental switch on and off so easily, then more power to you. I wish I had that ability. But I don’t, and neither do a lot of people. As I said, when it comes to Darth Vader, the prequel trilogy makes him look like an idiot for falling for Senator Palpatine’s obvious ruse. And the fact that he’s seen still serving him two decades later in the original trilogy, having apparently never figured out just how badly he’d been suckered, makes him look so dense that light should be bending around him. For me, Darth Vader can never again be the badass I originally saw him as. And that’s pretty damn annoying.
      “What I wanted to stress with this post on the Watchmen comics is that fans have a great deal more control over their perceptions than they seem willing to admit. They’re not ‘forced’ to accept sequels, prequels, remakes, what-have-you as legitimate.”

      Again, I disagree. We’re talking about a shared fictional universe in which the creators and writers at DC have the final say and fans have zero input short of voting with their wallet. If DC states that something is official canon, no matter how crappy it is, then that’s what it is regardless of our own personal opinion. And it will remain official canon until the Powers That Be state otherwise. The “Watchmen” prequels are explicitly stated to take place in the same universe as the original miniseries. Readers don’t get a vote when it comes to continuity and what they want isn’t always what they get.

      “But it is not a simple case of the prequel ‘ruining’ the original by its very existence. That’s just crazy.”

      As I said in my previous post, for me, it’s guilt by association. When you make a bad sequel or prequel to an existing work that has received near-universal praise, that work no longer stands completely on its own. It will no longer be “that awesome piece of work”. It will forevermore be described as “that awesome piece of work that spawned (insert number here) terrible prequels/sequels”.

      “It seems to me that you’re a well-informed comics aficionado. Your knowledge of the industry likely exceeds that of the casual fan (to put it mildly).”

      I appreciate the kind words, but I should clarify something here: while I’m reasonably well-informed comics afficionado, I’m by no means an expert on Jason Todd, Roy Harper, or Starfire in spite of having written detailed articles on them for my blog. What I am is dedicated to what I consider basic tenets of good writing:

      – Don’t insult or look down on your audience.
      – Do your research.
      – Make the stories fit the character, not vice-versa.

      I spent days downloading or locating the dozens of back issues to get a good grasp of those characters’ backstories and many more days skimming or reading them so that I knew what I was talking about. That may sound like a ridiculous amount of effort for an article on an obscure online blog, but my pride as a writer demanded it. I had to get into these characters’ heads in order to say anything meaningful about them. And the entire reason that the New 52 came about is because Dan DiDio actively fostered a work environment that discourages following these simple rules. And this isn’t the first time he’s done it, either. He did the exact same thing when he was put in charge of the “Transformers” franchise at Mainframe Entertainment in the mid to late 90s. The end result was “Beast Machines”, the sequel to “Beast Wars”, which was not nearly as well-received as the latter by TF fandom. As the article on DiDio down at TV Tropes quips, “What has continuity ever done to him that makes him him hate it so much?” The man must have the attention span of a goldfish.

      “As someone who knows how these things work, you probably know that the primary motive for doing Watchmen-related projects is profit. A secondary motive might be to accrue residual prestige for the company by continuing to be associated with what is becoming a canonical work of English literature. Neither of these motives have much to do with producing a work of outstanding creative merit. It may be that the prequel turns out to be awful; it may turn out better than expected. The slimmest of slender chances is that it will match or top the original in terms of quality. And there are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that will go into the project that were not factors in the original. In short, based purely on the way the industry functions, it’s highly unlikely that the prequel will be the creative equal of the original or that it will share the singular concerns of Moore and Gibbons as artists.”

      Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m troubled that you don’t see the inherent problem with DC embracing naked greed over producing quality material.

      When you get right down to it, there’s doing what’s profitable and doing what’s right, and those two things rarely overlap, if ever. In the case of “Watchmen”, I see mistakes on both sides. First, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons should’ve made sure they had an ironclad contract without any loopholes that DC could exploit. But the people in charge at DC could’ve also thrown up their hands and said “enough is enough” at one point and let the rights revert to them. Yes, that would’ve been incredibly stupid from a monetary or business standpoint, but it would’ve been the right thing to do.

      Which leads to the first of two reasons why fans get so pissed up by DC: the lip service, i.e. that the people in charge will say or do anything to sell books or make the most outrageous lies with a straight face and expect people to swallow them. In an online interview, Dan DiDio stated that the prequels were “a love letter to Watchmen”. This statement is, to be charitable, complete and utter bullshit. As you yourself said earlier, the primary motive for these books is profit, pure and simple. You know it, I know it, and so does everyone else. While I understand that smart marketing will not allow you to state the truth outright, making such a blatantly false statement – especially in light of the fact that Alan Moore has explicitly stated that he didn’t wish prequels/sequels to be made – and expecting me to swallow it is an insult to my intelligence. You’re going against the express wishes of the creator and then selling it to me as some kind of respectful dedication to him? Please, spare me. This is almost as big a lie as the sales pitch for the New 52, which was sold as a “relaunch with some continuity tweaks” and instead proved to be a complete reboot of everything that wasn’t Green Lantern or Batman related.
      “What intrigues me is that it’s not people with a cursory-at-best knowledge of the Star Wars or DC Universe who get riled up about the characterization of Darth Vader or Roy Harper: it’s the hardcore fans. The people who know that the real-world issues of the publishing market, changes in cultural attitudes and politics, the revolving door of artists and writers, the peccadilloes and interpersonal quirks of company leaders/editors, and a host of other things contribute as much to the finished product as anything.”

      Just as theologians are the most qualified individuals when it comes to evaluating scripture and a scientific article must withstand peer review before it is deemed to have merit, comic books are best scrutinized by their target audience, however laughable that might sound to some people reading this. But it’s true. The experts are the best judges.

      But let’s take Roy Harper as an example since he’s been mentioned here. He went from being a somewhat irresponsible single father superhero with a supervillainess ex-girlfriend/baby mama – something unique in the DC Universe – to a psychotic vigilante with a dead kid and a cybernetic arm, i.e. a walking cliché from bad 90s comics. And why did he suffer this fate? Was it part of some grand vision or direction for his character? Hell no. He was simply collateral damage from the Powers That Be’s increasingly desperate attempts to fix Green Arrow after executive meddling broke him.

      If you look back at the sales of Green Arrow’s sales in the early to mid 2000s, they were pretty steady at around 30000 to 34000 copies per month as per Diamond’s figures. Not a best-seller, but definitely not too shabby either. Then executive meddling forced a Green Arrow/Black Canary marriage through – something the fanbase at large was hardly clamoring for – and the two were given a book together. Not only did this screw up Black Canary’s character, who had recently adopted an Asian child who now needed to be quickly gotten rid of, but it also disrupted the group dynamic of the Birds of Prey and screwed up that book. Now, all this might have been worth it if it had been done well. But it wasn’t. Not only was the whole thing badly handled and written, but within a year, the new book’s readership dropped by a catastrophic 50% down to around 17000. That’s an unmitigated disaster.

      As if that weren’t bad enough, Dan DiDio and Eddie Berganza then hijacked James Robinson’s “Justice League: Cry for Justice” to fix Green Arrow, engaging in yet more executive meddling by forcing through another direction in which Roy Harper was maimed and his daughter Lian killed for no other reason to fix a mistake they made. What’s worse is that, rather than have the stones to assume responsibility for it, they then threw Robinson under a bus and pretty much let fandom at large believe he was to blame.
      And this is the OTHER reason why “hardcore fans get all riled up”, as you put it. Excessive executive meddling has been used during Dan DiDio’s regime to push through dubious or just plain bad ideas, with fan favorite characters suffering terribly for it, but none of the people in charge are assuming responsibility or learning from their mistakes. They just pass the buck, then keep charging blindly forward and making the exact same mistakes over and over again and screwing more and more things up. It’s like a comic book version of Wall Street.

      “But that’s all the more reason for me to insist upon recognizing this absurd sense of entitlement for what it is.”

      You’re not the first reviewer/blogger to state that fans’ sense of entitlement is absurd, but I maintain that it’s no such thing. The reason is that comics require three types of investment: money, emotion, and time. Unlike a movie, book, or television episode, where you can see what kind of feedback it receives mere hours after a release, comics required you to stick around for three to six months to see how a story ends since no one knows how it will end other than the creators: that’s a comparatively long time. If people start following something, even if it’s terrible, a not insignificant number will continue to stick with it to the bitter end. They may do this because they figure they might as well finish what they started, because they hope it’ll eventually get better, or just out of some misguided sense of commitment. An unsatisfying resolution just feels like adding insult to injury since you’ve now lost up to 18 dollars worth of money and half a year on something that wasn’t worth it.

  • mjschneider

    Thanks for the in depth response! I’ve responded in kind, which is why it took so long.

    If you can flip that mental switch on and off so easily, then more power to you. I wish I had that ability. But I don’t, and neither do a lot of people. As I said, when it comes to Darth Vader, the prequel trilogy makes him look like an idiot for falling for Senator Palpatine’s obvious ruse. And the fact that he’s seen still serving him two decades later in the original trilogy, having apparently never figured out just how badly he’d been suckered, makes him look so dense that light should be bending around him. For me, Darth Vader can never again be the badass I originally saw him as. And that’s pretty damn annoying.

    Actually, I don’t have the ability simply to flip a mental switch on and off! I wish I did, but I don’t. My gut reaction to the prequels is still the filter through which I view the series on an emotional level. Whatever my critical stance is, it’s the result of a great deal of reflection, consideration, and internal debate — or debates with other people that have helped shape my opinion. I agree with what you say about how terribly the prequels botched the characterization of Vader, but I’d rather not let that upset my enjoyment of the original films. That’s my choice. It’s not necessarily something that comes naturally, but I think it’s worth the effort.

    Again, I disagree. We’re talking about a shared fictional universe in which the creators and writers at DC have the final say and fans have zero input short of voting with their wallet. If DC states that something is official canon, no matter how crappy it is, then that’s what it is regardless of our own personal opinion. And it will remain official canon until the Powers That Be state otherwise. The “Watchmen” prequels are explicitly stated to take place in the same universe as the original miniseries. Readers don’t get a vote when it comes to continuity and what they want isn’t always what they get.

    Who cares what the Powers That Be at DC say? And why should overall continuity be so important? The company doesn’t hold it to be sacrosanct; they retcon as they please, and capriciously at that. The canon changes with the management. It makes more sense for fans simply to enjoy what they enjoy, and disregard what they don’t. If fans want to read stories in which the entirety of a decades-spanning drama carries through with its logical emotional and practical consequences, then they probably should not be reading mainstream superhero comics.

    None of that is really the point, though. The point is that if an individual likes a certain character or storyline, but he doesn’t like certain things have have been done with that character or storyline, then it is up to him to decide the level of commitment he has to his preferences for that character. What we’re fundamentally talking about is how readers — fans — perceive what they’re being offered. Despite what DC wants us to think, it does not entirely control our perceptions. So why do fans seem so eager to cede that control over to the company?

    As I said in my previous post, for me, it’s guilt by association. When you make a bad sequel or prequel to an existing work that has received near-universal praise, that work no longer stands completely on its own. It will no longer be “that awesome piece of work”. It will forevermore be described as “that awesome piece of work that spawned (insert number here) terrible prequels/sequels”.

    So what if something awesome spawned terrible prequels/sequels? Again, it’s up to the individual to decide if the terrible sequel/prequel is going to affect his enjoyment of the original. Sure, you can choose to allow guilt-by-association to ruin your experience of something you once cherished. But that’s up to you. I’m not willing to cede whatever I control I have over my own perceptions and experience over to others, especially if it’s going to make things less enjoyable for me overall. That would make no sense on the level of personal satisfaction, and it certainly doesn’t make for a good general principle on which to base evaluations of discrete works.

    I appreciate the kind words, but I should clarify something here: while I’m reasonably well-informed comics afficionado, I’m by no means an expert on Jason Todd, Roy Harper, or Starfire in spite of having written detailed articles on them for my blog. What I am is dedicated to what I consider basic tenets of good writing:

    Don’t insult or look down on your audience.
    Do your research.
    Make the stories fit the character, not vice-versa.

    Those are good tenets!

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m troubled that you don’t see the inherent problem with DC embracing naked greed over producing quality material.
    When you get right down to it, there’s doing what’s profitable and doing what’s right, and those two things rarely overlap, if ever. In the case of “Watchmen”, I see mistakes on both sides. First, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons should’ve made sure they had an ironclad contract without any loopholes that DC could exploit. But the people in charge at DC could’ve also thrown up their hands and said “enough is enough” at one point and let the rights revert to them. Yes, that would’ve been incredibly stupid from a monetary or business standpoint, but it would’ve been the right thing to do.

    I never said that the intersection between profit motive and artistic integrity wasn’t problematic. I’m simply acknowledging that DC is a company whose bottom line drives the creation of its products. At the same time, just because something is underwritten by people with pure profit motive does not mean that the final product will be bereft of merit. History is strewn with great works of art done on commission, sometimes by very venal patrons or artists. Does that diminish the work itself? I think you’re creating a false dichotomy by saying that “there’s doing what’s profitable and doing what’s right, and those two things rarely overlap.” First of all, you’re turning this into a moral issue, which it really isn’t. Moore might think it is, but Moore is a paranoid crackpot. Watchmen was initially created under the aegis of DC. It is hailed nigh-universally as a masterpiece, and its influence has been incredible. Its very existence in the first place is evidence that naked greed (DC paying Moore/Gibbons to create it in the first place in the belief that it would sell well) and artistic integrity (the vision of the illustrator and writer) overlapped. The fact that naked greed underwrote the production of the prequel might be problematic, but then, naked greed underwrote the original, too. I don’t see that as a decisive factor in whether or not the prequel “ruins” the original, since, quite obviously, it never “ruined” the original for fans prior to this.

    Which leads to the first of two reasons why fans get so pissed up by DC: the lip service, i.e. that the people in charge will say or do anything to sell books or make the most outrageous lies with a straight face and expect people to swallow them. In an online interview, Dan DiDio stated that the prequels were “a love letter to Watchmen”. This statement is, to be charitable, complete and utter bullshit. As you yourself said earlier, the primary motive for these books is profit, pure and simple. You know it, I know it, and so does everyone else. While I understand that smart marketing will not allow you to state the truth outright, making such a blatantly false statement – especially in light of the fact that Alan Moore has explicitly stated that he didn’t wish prequels/sequels to be made – and expecting me to swallow it is an insult to my intelligence. You’re going against the express wishes of the creator and then selling it to me as some kind of respectful dedication to him? Please, spare me. This is almost as big a lie as the sales pitch for the New 52, which was sold as a “relaunch with some continuity tweaks” and instead proved to be a complete reboot of everything that wasn’t Green Lantern or Batman related.

    Don’t get me wrong: I agree with you on everything you said right here. But that doesn’t affect the central point, which is that even if this prequel business is obviously driven by shallow, stupid reasons, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the original work. And since it doesn’t detract from the original work, saying that it detracts from the original work is not a valid criticism. I’m sure there will be plenty of valid criticisms to make, but that’s not one of them.

    But let’s take Roy Harper as an example since he’s been mentioned here. [...] And this is the OTHER reason why “hardcore fans get all riled up”, as you put it. Excessive executive meddling has been used during Dan DiDio’s regime to push through dubious or just plain bad ideas, with fan favorite characters suffering terribly for it, but none of the people in charge are assuming responsibility or learning from their mistakes. They just pass the buck, then keep charging blindly forward and making the exact same mistakes over and over again and screwing more and more things up. It’s like a comic book version of Wall Street.

    I hope you don’t mind that I only quoted a bit of that section. I’m not trying to take anything out of context; I just didn’t want to reprint the whole thing.
    A lot of what you said here touches on the area of authorship and what authorship entails. As with a lot of the otherwise keen and intelligent observations you’ve made, authorship isn’t really the issue here. But since I know that authorship has unique characteristics in comics, I’ll dive into it a little more in depth.
    Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman, but the Batman of today is not necessarily “Bob Kane’s Batman.” The same could be said of virtually any big name superhero that has outlived his/her creators. Most writers who work on flagship books (or even one-off properties under the roof of a major company) don’t labor under the delusion that they are the sole authors of their creations. (If they want that, they work for Image or a small press indie publisher.) They recognize that they’re working within a highly bureaucratized, corporatized machine; they may chafe at the reality of their situation, but they recognize it for what it is. Crap rolls downhill, as they say, and these writers recognize that whether they like it or not, the folks at the top call the shots. What’s unique about the Watchmen situation is that it’s one of those rare titles that the company did not exploit for a long time, in which the preferences of one of the creators (let’s not forget that Gibbons was involved, too, and that he apparently doesn’t care if DC wants to flog that horse!) were more or less respected. DC could’ve made a sequel or prequel at any time. It didn’t until now. So readers had a couple decades in which to get used to Watchmen being a standalone title. There were no competing visions. Now it’s not standalone — at least, according to DC. But as you have detailed, DC says a lot of things, only to backtrack when it’s convenient.
    To return to Batman, consider how many iterations have existed throughout the years. He’s been a smiley, friendly neighborhood crimefighter with a boy wonder sidekick, a super-dark avenger in a future dystopia, his backstory has been altered in various adaptations across other media, etc. I suppose that an “official,” canonical continuity exists, but Batman has been around so long and had successful, iconic runs in so many different ways that, for all practical purposes, the canon is more of a guideline than a rule. A big part of that is because Batman hasn’t been authored by a single person or even a single corporation. You could even argue that the whole Jason Todd thing was an episode of the audience literally helping write the story. Whose preferences should be respected in the case of Batman? Who’s the “creator”? What artistic integrity does the continuity of Batman have, if any?
    I’m sure that DC has done a lot of stupid things with Batman over the years. In the end, though, people still love and read his stories. Not every story is great; not every characterization is consistent with the 70+ years he’s been around. Fans can essentially create their own idea of Batman from he material available, and they’re happy to do so. They argue about it endlessly, too, which is fascinating. From all the competing visions available, each individual eventually must simply decide for himself what kind of Batman he cares about.
    Fans of Watchmen have not had to do this. And while I know that executive meddling can destroy good ideas or drag bad ideas out to unconscionable lengths, in principle, it’s possible that the Watchmen property can survive and thrive just as the other big superheroes have. Does this dilute the meaning of the work by Moore and Gibbons? That depends upon how you view it. In comics, it’s customary to consider some titles in terms of arcs or in terms of runs by creative teams. It seems to me that Watchmen as a property might live on for decades, spawning countless iterations, many of which might suck, and many of which might be the result of executive meddling. If it gets to the point where Watchmen is no longer a graphic novel by Moore/Gibbons, but a decades-long series, I don’t think that the quality of the Moore/Gibbons run (or perhaps it will be known as the Ozymandias arc or something) will be judged more harshly simply for being associated with a string of mediocre spinoffs. The opposite is more likely: the original arc may grow in stature as fans have opportunity to compare it favorably with everything that came after. In the end, it is still its own discrete story, and it is not necessarily affected by other interpretations of that universe.
    There are literally hundreds of examples of sequels, prequels, remakes and the like that I could trot out to demonstrate that original versions of stories are not always “ruined” by other versions. I recommend that you read my blog post on the subject of remakes, which is linked above, since pretty much anything I could say about sequels/prequels is covered by the same points. I realize that a lot of comic fans think that Watchmen is a special case, but it’s not. Rather than be precious about something that isn’t really theirs to begin with, it simply makes more sense for them to channel their energies into more fruitful areas of criticism.

    You’re not the first reviewer/blogger to state that fans’ sense of entitlement is absurd, but I maintain that it’s no such thing. The reason is that comics require three types of investment: money, emotion, and time. Unlike a movie, book, or television episode, where you can see what kind of feedback it receives mere hours after a release, comics required you to stick around for three to six months to see how a story ends since no one knows how it will end other than the creators: that’s a comparatively long time. If people start following something, even if it’s terrible, a not insignificant number will continue to stick with it to the bitter end. They may do this because they figure they might as well finish what they started, because they hope it’ll eventually get better, or just out of some misguided sense of commitment. An unsatisfying resolution just feels like adding insult to injury since you’ve now lost up to 18 dollars worth of money and half a year on something that wasn’t worth it.

    Believe me, I understand. I collected comics for a few years, and I’d still be doing it if I had the money (and storage space) to spare. I’m well aware of the risks. But I’m also aware of the amount of control that collecting comics gives me. It’s not the fault of the company if people stick with a terrible title till the bitter end. And yeah, it really sucks when you get an unsatisfying resolution after dumping years and dozens of dollars into a title. But isn’t that something you sign on for if you choose to collect monthly comics? Or even if you collect the trades? And in the case of the mainstream superhero titles, you know that you’re not even signing on for a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end, since many of those books or characters have been around longer (in some form or another) than some of us have been alive. You know right from the start that if you invest in something like that, you’re in for a long, torturously knotted, and very bumpy ride indeed. I’m not criticizing that; I’ve done it. I’m just saying that we know the risks, and we take them because we know that there’s something to be gained from it.
    I’d also like to draw a distinction between the kind of tripartite investment you mention and the absurd sense of entitlement. Yes, monthly comics soak up money, time, and emotional capital. But that’s something I choose to invest of my own volition. I know that all the company and its artists are going to give me is what they’re capable of giving. In the case of a creator-owned title, chances are I’ll get a distinct vision told in the unique voice of a particular team. In the case of a company-owned title (or character), chances are I’ll get different visions of that property as different creative teams and executives pass through the revolving door; hopefully there are more good than bad run in there. Just because I’m choosing to invest in this does not guarantee a payoff, any more than investing in a book or a movie or a music album guarantees a payoff. It’s true that a comic arc requires more time, and possibly more money (though not always; ask any old school anime fan how much they had to spend in the 80s and 90s), but I don’t know that the emotional component is any greater, and that’s what really drives this sense of entitlement. In that respect, comic fans aren’t really different from fans of series or genres in other media. And no matter the medium, that sense of entitlement is equally absurd. And by “entitlement,” I don’t mean, “I paid a lot of money for this, and I expect something of quality in return.” What I mean is when fans start to view themselves as the guardians of the artistic soul of something, prioritizing their preferences and perceptions over the material and the creative processes that go into it.
    Which brings us back to Watchmen. A reaction to the prequel could be as simple as, “Eh, it’s not as good as the original.” That would be fine. Instead, though, there is a legion of raving fanatics who, because their sense of personal identity is so bound up with the work, that they are incapable of drawing a distinction between one work and another, between the experience of one work and another, and between the way they feel about the work and what the work actually does. As I said earlier, it’s not like I can flip a mental switch and magically make those emotional distinctions myself. Not without effort. I’m not asking that people behave as androids, carefully regulating their emotion circuits or else. All I’m asking is that we recognize that it’s not rational or intellectually valid to hate the prequel because it somehow taints the experience of the original. Emotionally, I understand that this happens. But if we start saying that our subjective, emotional reaction to things is a valid yardstick for critical evaluation of something — without at least fully acknowledging that that’s what it is — all we’re doing is contributing to this vapid sense of entitlement, that whatever pleases us is morally correct, when that is completely not true.
    If you — or I, or anyone else — wants to hate the prequel, then that’s great. Bring on the critical discourse. But if we can’t check our idiosyncratic emotional baggage at the door, let’s at least acknowledge that the big pile of suitcases in the middle of the room is something we brought with us, rather than something that was put there by the people we’re criticizing.

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