Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The obligatory "Before Watchmen" reaction post

Might as well get this one out of the way.

The story is splattered all over the internet this morning, including on DC's official blog, The Source, (which appears to be unable to deal with the heavy traffic as I write this), various mainstream entertainment news sites and the usual suspects in the comics web. But in case you haven't heard, it boils down to this: DC is releasing a series of miniseries collectively called "Before Watchmen" (I guess they couldn't come up with anything better than an obvious working title) by various writers and artists. Each series focuses on a different character from the original series/graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Among the creators involved are Brian Azzarello, J. Michael Straczynski, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner.

Here's a quote from the announcement on The Source:

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” said DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. “After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”
It's times like these that I'm so happy I decided to name this blog "Irrelevant Comics." I'm so glad that DiDio and Lee hired JMS to make this classic work "relevant" again. Remember when he was hired to make Superman relevant? That was the time Superman went on a long, boring walk across America where nothing happened and nobody gave a shit. Not even JMS, apparently, since he couldn't be bothered to finish it.

Yeah, it's pretty depressing that JMS is considered one of the "best writers in the industry," but it's not like it makes a big difference to me in the end, since I wasn't planning on reading these books anyway.

What I find more upsetting about the announcement is the confirmation of Darwyn Cooke's involvement in the project. Other than Amanda Connor, he's the only creator involved I really give a shit about, and sadly I am going to find it incredibly difficult to take him seriously after this. Remember this video?

In it, Cooke talks about how he doesn't plan to return to superhero comics "in any big way" (what could be bigger than a Watchmen prequel?!), at least not until the industry stops "catering to the perverted needs of 45-year-old men."

I remember when this video was first posted, a lot of people were upset about his comment on lesbian heroes. It bothered me too, but I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt at the time because I still had respect for him as a creator and thought his point was mostly about superhero comics not being for kids anymore. (Who says lesbian characters can't be for kids? But let's not get into that right now.)

But now that we know he's a hypocrite and a profiteer? I'm not feeling so generous. Watchmen (along with Frank Miller's Batman work in the 1980s) is one of the seminal works responsible for the "maturing" of superhero comics' content. It features graphic violence, foul language, sex and even rape - all the things Cooke claims have no place in superhero comics. So what the fuck?

That DC would eventually go back to milk the Watchmen cash cow seemed like an inevitability. The question was when it and how it would happen. And with or without Alan Moore's blessings. There's a lot of history here, and I'm not sure there's much point in me going over it again. In a nutshell, relations between Moore and DC have been bad ever since he stopped working for them, and a lot of it was directly related who owns the rights to these characters.

My friend and fellow blogger Alan David Doane has written a very persuasive short piece on why DC's decision to go ahead with the Watchmen prequels despite Alan Moore's objections is (in his opinion) unethical. You can read it here, and if you agree with it you can also sign the petition.

I agree with a lot of what that petition says, and that's why I'm sharing it here and encouraging people to read it and decide for themselves. Personally, I don't feel strongly enough about it to add my name to the list. I think the prequels are in very poor taste. I think Alan Moore got the shitty end of the stick. But it's also not that different from the way Marvel treated Kirby, or the way DC treated Siegel and Shuster. I'm not saying that two or three wrongs make a right, or that we should ignore one injustice because there are other injustices out there. It's just that I've realized and more or less come to terms with the fact that DC and Marvel are big, ugly, profit-driven corporations, which is pretty much synonymous with unethical behaviour. What they're doing here is ugly, but so is everything else they do. And if I'm going to start signing petitions over this case, then I might as well stop supporting them completely and never buy another one of their books, or else I'm going to feel like a total hypocrite.

That's just my take on it. I think being a fan of (or consumer of) any mass entertainment necessarily involves a certain amount of cognitive dissonance and ethical negotiations with oneself. I feel the same way about television and Hollywood and video games. Hell, I feel that way about EVERYTHING I spend my money on, since it's all part of a giant system I am generally opposed to. (Call it capitalism, I suppose.) Again, I'm not saying the way to deal with these concerns is to shove them at the bottom of your psyche and ignore them. It's important to be aware of these things that make us uncomfortable, and to think and write and talk about them, and whenever possible try to fight them. And if you decide that the best way to do this is for you to sign the petition, then sign it. For me, it isn't.

(Whoa! Did I ever get side-tracked, there!)

I'm not going to buy any of these Watchmen prequels, and I feel this is the best way to send a message to DC. A few hundred names on a petition is not going to do much. The only thing that's going to make a difference at the end of the day is whether the books sell well or not.

And here comes the depressing part: Of course they're going to sell well. They're going to be at the top of the charts and (like the New 52) they will be deemed a success. Before the books come out, Dan DiDio is going to be quoted saying he's puzzled that fans are reacting negatively without having read the books. Guaranteed. And then after the books have come out, if anybody points out that they sucked (after having read them), he's going to point out that they were best-sellers, so obviously the opinion of that reader doesn't matter.

Notice the catch-22 here? Our opinion doesn't matter until we've bought and read the book. And once we've bought and read the book, our opinion doesn't matter because we've already paid for it.

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