Thursday, February 2, 2012

Liars, Damn Liars and Watchmen Fans

Why the Outrage About DC Comics’ Before Watchmen Books Is Hypocritical and Nauseating

DC Comics just announced its plans to publish seven miniseries based on, and serving as prequels to, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ popular and critically acclaimed Watchmen comic, first published in 1986 and 1987.

Although these new titles had been rumored for months, the announcement still resulted in a so-called “shitstorm” on the Internet, among fans questioning the moral integrity of not just DC Comics, but also the creators participating in the prequel books, not least because of Alan Moore’s own, well-documented opposition to any and all such plans.

The Beat has a good summary of the planned projects, the pertinent commentary and, if you scroll down to the comments section, the resulting controversy among comics readers.

There are valid moral objections to these prequels, certainly. Moore and Gibbons are the creators of Watchmen and its characters, but thanks to the wording of the contract they signed 25 years ago, the property has been in the possession and under control of DC Comics.

And DC, as you might expect from one of the “Big Two” comics publishers, is seeking to exploit Watchmen for money, rather than to do the charitable and morally preferable thing and grant Moore and Gibbons control over their creation. So that’s not particularly nice or ethical of DC Comics.

But those types of objections don't begin with Watchmen. What's supposed to make these sequels any more outrageous than the continued publication of Superman or Captain America, whose creators haven’t fared any better, when it comes to controlling their creations?

I haven't heard a compelling case that they are. If you compare what Watchmen has done for Moore and Gibbons with what Superman has done for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and their estates, I think it's pretty hard to think of Watchmen as a particularly outrageous case in the long line of properties that have been exploited by Marvel and DC with zero regard for their creators since the first Superman story was published in Action Comics #1 in the year 1938.

If anything, Moore seems to be one of the few creators who've done pretty well regardless of any ill treatment, all things considered. He certainly is if you look at many of the “lesser known” writers and artists whose creations have contributed to the wealth of those companies, and who nobody gives a rat’s ass about, in terms of recognition or money. Alan Moore? He's been treated like a fucking prince in comparison.

I don't recall seeing any shitstorms for Gary Friedrich when he lost his legal fight with Marvel over the ownership of Ghost Rider a few weeks ago, at any rate. But Ghost Rider isn’t Watchmen, of course.

Except, you know, it kind of is, in all the ways that would count towards some faintly consistent idea of morality.

So, what makes Watchmen so special?

There’s a lot of talk about ethics and morals and such, but it's hard to avoid the impression that people are outraged because of the perceived quality and creative significance of Watchmen more than because of any genuine concern for creators’ rights or perceived moral wrongs.

In other words, a lot of this seems to be about a bunch of wannabe critics whose tender esthetic sensibilities are being molested by DC’s presumptuousness to publish a series of sequels to the great literary masterpiece of singular importance that is Watchmen.

And this makes the outrage on Moore’s behalf (Gibbons is fine with the sequels, by the way) a lot more nauseating to me than the hardly surprising fact that a company like DC Comics chooses to exploit yet another superhero property.


A Principled Stander said...

"What's supposed to make these sequels any more outrageous than the continued publication of Superman or Captain America, whose creators haven’t fared any better, when it comes to controlling their creations?"

Hear, hear.

Probably why I haven't purchased product from either DC or Marvel for over a decade.

If Before Watchmen creates an awareness and stirs people to pass on it for ethical or moral reasons then good on them. It's never to late to start.

It's certainly preferable to knowing complicity in an exploitative and regressive way of doing things.

Martin de la Iglesia said...

Sorry, but your comparisons don't work for me. Both Superman and Ghost Rider were hijacked (i.e. taken over by other authors) almost immediately after their creation. That was just as outrageous as this Before Watchmen thing, but I wasn't around back then in the 40s and 70s to take offence, and now it's too late. But Before Watchmen is happening now, and I guess people are enraged about it because they feel something could have been done to stop DC.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

I don't think it's helpful to frame it as a special case, though. It's part of a pattern that started a long time ago, and that still extends far beyond WATCHMEN. If DC wasn't doing THIS particular thing, the people objecting on moral grounds now still wouldn't have any less reason to object, if their morals were consistent. It's not like "doing right by Alan Moore" would suddenly undo all the other moral wrongs committed against creators, then and now.

Hdefined said...

I'm just sick of all the backseat editing this has prompted, as if fans are in any position or have any authority to determine What Should Be Done and Why.

Not that they can't offer an opinion, and there's no harm in doing so, but this news hasn't prompted opinions, it's prompted pretended outrage and whining.

These people are all still going to buy the books.

Esteban Pedreros said...

I guess it makes some sort of sense what you say... too many people have been screwed by the companies.

My distinction would be... most of the cases you talk about are cases of people regretting a decision they made, about selling their creations to DC or Marvel (or whatever), and both companies making themselves rich with those creations. But I would argue that had Superman "died" a couple of years since its original publication, nobody would have been outraged and nobody would have sued anybody.

In the case of Watchmen, Alan Moore strongly opposes the project, and I believe him when he says that he got screwed in a very different way, DC retains control of the property not because Moore and Gibbons sold it, but because they had clever lawyers, and took advantage of an unforeseen circumstance... that the books remains in print to this day.

And quality is a big point when one talks about a work as well regarded as Watchmen, the "let me show you what superhero comics can be" book, that everybody tells you about when you start reading comics.

I guess that when you regard a commercial product as "art", it's hard to let it be just a commercial product once again.

Richard said...

Watchmen is a finite story though. Any continuation or expansion goes against what it represents fundamentally. People liked the Bible- why not write a third testament?

Moreso, unlike the other examples you cited, Watchmen was in fact creator owned in the original contracts signed by Moore and Gibbons. Not work for hire as were the others.

CJ said...

Fist of all, if you didn't notice a shitstorm over the Gary Friedrich case you were absolutely not paying attention. The outrage over his treatment was deafening.

Secondly, you're excusing an injustice by saying that there have been greater injustices that have come before, which is possibly the most impotent defense possible for this kind of behavior. That's like saying burglary is morally justifiable because black-market organ trade is worse.

Thirdly, you're correct, the treatment of Siegel and Schuster and Jack Kirby has been horrendous. That's why a lot of the people who are decrying the Watchmen prequels are also raising objections over creator rights on the whole.

In summary, you're making arguments against cases that nobody made to begin with and I would suggest a more thorough examination of the actual objections being raised before constructing an article in the future, as this is less of a defense and more of a limp-wristed sequence of excuses for bad behavior.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...


"Fist of all, if you didn't notice a shitstorm over the Gary Friedrich case you were absolutely not paying attention. The outrage over his treatment was deafening."

Note that the post went up on February 2. At that point, there was no public outrage about Gary Friedrich to speak of. That didn't happen until a week or two later, when all of these cases (you can also add James Sturm's boycot of the AVENGERS movie, as publicized at SLATE on February 7) started to inform each other, as far as public discussion is concerned.

Given all that's happened since (Brothers, Roberson, Langridge, Bergen Street, etc.), I think I may have been proven wrong.

And I'm pretty glad I was.

CJ said...

It's cool that you've been able to revise your opinion on the issue in that regard; a shocking amount of people are unable to do that no matter how much they're confronted by. "People caring more than you thought they would" is always a good thing to be proven wrong about!