Watchmen returns – or does it?

Online rumours are rife about impending Watchmen 2 comics from DC. CJ examines the speculation, the issue of creator involvement and suggests where the story could go without Alan Moore...

Watchmen returns image

Wednesday saw a new printing of Watchmen‘s Absolute Edition hardcover arrive at stores in time for Christmas. Over the last week, however, industry insiders have prompted Bleeding Cool‘s Rich Johnston to revisit years-old talk that DC Comics’ intend to publish fresh material about one of comics’ most untouchable names. To mix metaphors: is the 1986-1987 limited series that helped redefine comics a sandbox that new kids on the block should be allowed to play in?

Johnston kicked off December with an anonymous tip that Watchmen would return as four miniseries, with at least one pencilled by Andy Kubert. Twitter promptly exploded with the power of a million suns and Watchmen 2 reached the top trends in the US and worldwide. The rumours were bolstered a day later by suggestions that writer-artist of the well-received retrospective DC: New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke, would handle the first miniseries. This week saw Johnston link 52 cover-artist JG Jones with art chores on the miniseries, which will supposedly follow that BAMF everybody loves to hate, The Comedian.

Watchmengate isn’t new. Some of the best creative talents that DC, Watchmen‘s current rights-owner, can offer have been mentioned in the same breath as any potential follow-up series: supposed project head Cooke, Thor‘s J. Michael Straczynski, current Wonder Woman scribe Brian Azzarello and Watchmen colourist John Higgins. Comic Book Resources quizzed Cooke over the speculation but received a non-committal answer. Any official announcement from DC could apparently come as soon as January.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration

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Original artist Dave Gibbons has also been linked with the concept, as you might expect. Writer and warlock Alan Moore, however, doesn’t see the need for any continuation of the story by DC. After reportedly being pressed to allow DC to carry on the Watchmen story, Moore left the company and refused to work with them again.

At first glance any return to Watchmen by the publisher would most likely be taken with a pinch of salt. DC clearly has faith in Moore’s past work though, regardless of any ill feeling between the parties. In a top 30 list of recommended graphic novels on DC’s website, the first, second and third positions are held by Moore’s Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta, respectively.

The hirsute writer stated in a candid 2010 Bleeding Cool interview with Adi Tantimedh that he was, “finished with comics and disgusted with the practices of the comic book industry.” This raises an extremely relevant point: what are the practices of the comic book industry when dealing with superhero characters, their originators and their contributors? The treatment of artists and writers over the 20th century shows us that, in long-format storytelling over decades, even creators like Jack Kirby and Siegel and Shuster have to fight for their recognition.

Outside of comics, other authors picking up the baton of a fictional character’s exploits used to be a rare occurrence.

The James Bond novels – about a character who conforms to the superhero archetype – have been continued after the death of Ian Fleming. Some authors have tried more carefully to be the only people to truly tend to their creations, a good example being J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories. In recent years, books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies have taken creations by another author and turned them into a metafictional mash-up. Moore has even done this himself, repeatedly, with several volumes of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. Film and TV franchises have been wrestling with geek-creep much longer, at least since Star Trek gave in to fan-demand with its movie series and The Next Generation.

Why should Watchmen be held to a different standard?

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Because you demanded it!

Geek-creep is what the Watchmen murmurings boil down to: fans, and people in a position to appeal to fans, mutating something into their own perception of it.

Perhaps it’s the attraction of a thoroughly developed universe that fuels this practice in comics and related media, such as television and novel serials. Whatever causes the phenomenon, its tough cookie for Alan Moore. The creative process isn’t a one-way system, and comics readers and professionals were just among the first to realise this.

Watchmen started out as a 12 issue comic book series, was collected as a graphic novel and finally detonated in mass consciousness with Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie adaptation. Resurrecting Nixon’s 1985 in its parent medium might seem in bad taste to some, but it’s been done to countless fictional properties with and without their creators’ consent for centuries. The works of a much more famous beardy English treasure have been raided ad infinitum – and the Bard of Avon wasn’t averse to taking influence from the stories of others either.

Don’t take this as an argument in favour of plagairism – simply as an expression of surprise that a fictional world as strongly affecting as Watchmen‘s hasn’t been directly mined already. In terms of inspiring the environment of modern comics the series has certainly had a huge influence, and there’s the rub.

The thought of continuing Watchmen sans Moore is a difficult one to entertain, but it’s important to remember that Rorscach et al are effectively the Charlton Comics characters acquired by DC in 1983. Moore had intended to retain their names, and DC were the ones with cold feet when it came to permitting the writer to use the properties they’d acquired without first disguising them. The Charlton characters identities were obscured and so Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, Blue Beetle morphed into Nite Owl and The Question to Rorschach. 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths melded the Charlton superheroes into the DC universe and there the two sets of characters diverged. What can be learnt from this? That no idea exists in a creative vacuum, to sit untouched unless its orginators allow it to be.

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Too popular for its own good

Struggles to recognise comics creators’ ownership of their work are what pushed artists and writers to found Image Comics a few years after Watchmen was published. The cross-media hit The Walking Dead might not be on our screens if Image and its studios had never existed. Some of the Image creators have returned to mainstream comics work and even taken their studios with them – witness the absorption of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters into the DC universe post-Flashpoint. Contributing to shared universes and working on one’s own comics don’t have to be mutually exclusive, just carefully balanced.

Other creator-owned efforts, like Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint, have replaced creators who’ve moved back into the mainstream. A line was clearly drawn in the sand back at the point of Image’s founding: an attempt at recognition where it’s due.

What those creators – and Moore before them – didn’t realise was that it isn’t just the publishing giants they have to battle for their credit, but the readers who inject their imagination into a character or series too. The massive amount of tweeting about the speculative Watchmen sequel is solid evidence that any new series is, at worst, hotly anticipated, and would most likely help continue DC’s sales success into 2012 following this year’s New 52.

With reservations in mind and the greatest of affection for Moore’s work, here are four suggestions for spin-offs from what many consider the greatest example of the superhero genre.

Suggested prequels

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Moore won an Eisner Award in 2006 for a follow-up miniseries to his America’s Best Comics title Top 10. Called Top 10: The Forty-Niners, the series was a look back at the first adventures of one of Top 10‘s more senior characters and predated Jonathan Ross’ retro genre-melting-pot Turf by several years. A Forty-Niners-style look at The Minutemen, focusing on the Watchmen’s predecessors before vigilantes were made illegal, would give room for action, character expansion and neatly avoid having to deal with most of the original story’s main cast.

Viewed from the perspectives of Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl, and original Silk Spectre Sally Jupiter, Minutemen would probably have the most potential out of all the possible miniseries concepts that are floating around to deliver a story that would add to Watchmen without taking anything away. With the right creative style on board – say Cooke’s classic, retro art and modern writing style that saw such good use in DC: New Frontier – it could be a big deal.

Rorscach and Nite Owl Team-up

Readers know that Nite Owl and Rorscach were something of a not-so-dynamic duo before the events of Watchmen. Both characters have de-tech-tive qualities to them, incorporating gadgetry with street-level crime-fighting. Andy Kubert has handled Batman before, in the Batman & Son and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? storylines. Could Kubert be a suitable fit for a Nite Owl and Rorscach: The Masked Nutjob miniseries with guest appearances from other members of The Watchmen?

The Comedian

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Perhaps the most compelling character among The Watchmen, readers barely get to scratch the surface of The Comedian outside of flashbacks. He could be the father of the second Silk Spectre, and judging by Watchmen‘s Viet Nam segment he might have more children across the world. Speculation is that JG Jones is attached to The Comedian, but it would be exciting to see Dave Gibbons return to write and pencil any miniseries about the charmless chuckler. Gibbons has turned in decent writing for DC with the Green Lantern Corps series and his own The Originals graphic novel.

The Watchmen Strike Again

Although only prequels have been hinted at so far, there is room for a continuation of the original. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre survive the events of Watchmen as a newly happy couple, while Rorscarch’s diaries hang over the world at the office of The New Frontiersman newspaper like the sword of Damocles. The Comedian could have a few illegitimate offspring who might be interested in taking up the family business and challenging Silk Spectre; begin the series with the suspicious death of Sally Jupiter and readers have a mystery on their hands that recalls the death of The Comedian sparking the first series.

At Watchmen‘s close, Dr. Manhattan left for space but presciently announced to the machiavellian Ozymandias that nothing ever ends. Despite being marked for another miniseries, JG Jones’ detailed style could lend a Watchmen sequel the necessary Kingdom Come-esque grandeur for a major DC storyline.

Who watches the reruns?

DC has the Watchmen property and it’s highly unlikely they won’t use it at some point, if not in 2012. Archetypal characters like Sherlock Holmes, Conan The Barbarian and Dracula are examples that stories continuing The Watchmen’s adventures will come about decades hence when the writer and artists of the world’s grittiest superteam aren’t around to express their opinion. The superman exists and, for better or worse, he belongs to us all.

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Sources: Bleeding Cool, Comic Book Resources and DC Comics

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