Less is Mooreon February 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm
Mark Hughes, a contributor to Forbes, has taken Watchmen author Alan Moore to task for DC Comic’s tactless plan to create a series of prequel stories for The Watchmen. This, naturally, chaps the ass of the Watchmen creator, as have all attempts by the companies that own the rights to his work to capitalize on them in the manner of, well, capitalists.
Moore has by and large been in the right to reject all affiliation with the horrible movies that have emerged from his mostly excellent work. The big screen adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stands out as the definitive butchering, but V for Vendetta and The Watchmen are also, in their ways, junk (though V for Vendetta, while fully forgettable as movie fare, has supplied movements like Occupy and Anonymous with the iconic Guy Fawkes mask, resurrected from history and now the most consumable symbol of rebellion since the Che T-shirt). Still, a contract is a contract, and as Babylon 5 creator Michael Straczynski (a writer slated to pen one of the “Before Watchmen” books) points out, Moore has had 25 years to author his own add-on material to the Watchmen mythos, and has chosen not to. If DC wants to build on the story and reduce the seminal tome that is The Watchmen to just another ever-unfolding series of arcs like Batman or Superman, passed from one author to another, well, Alan signed on the dotted line despite just that possibility.
Hughes and Straczynski are right on the letter of the law, but both veer into the rather more cynical territory of nyah-nyahing at Moore, since several of Moore’s most recent hits involve recuperating public domain creations like Mina Harker, Allen Quartermain, Peter Pan, Dorothy of Oz and others for stories that would have scandalized their original authors. Who, then, is Moore to wag a finger towards anyone?
This criticism boils down to calling Moore a shameless hypocrite, when what he is doing is rubbing raw an otherwise numb nerve of what artists in previous eras have called integrity.
I am not saying that creators like Straczynski possess none of that rarefied stuff. It is simply that, when confronted by those that have more of it, they retreat to that safe domain of the signed contract and call the complaining author, who is not after all alleging a legal wrong, of being a crybaby. “You can’t claim ownership of what you don’t own! Now shut your gob while I tell the real story of what happened between the Comedian and the Vietnamese baby-mama he plugged! God knows the public has waited 25 years to have those two-pages turned into a six-issue epic!”
Regardless of what can be done with The Watchmen, the question is whether it should. Critics are right to point out that Moore cannot claim sacrosanct status for his own creations, especially when DC is not acting in bad faith. Of course Alan Moore knows that The Watchmen is out of his control. His appeal is not to Time Warner’s legal department, but the reading public. If DC Comics can’t leave well enough alone, can you at least?
Moore’s argument, again, is rooted in his integrity. He has not sollicited any of the build-ons to his work, movies or otherwise, and has staunchly refused Hollywood’s financial enticements. He has said that The Watchmen was a comic that couldn’t be filmed, and the results speak for themselves. Not garbage, but not approaching a worthy adaptation either. The trailer for The Watchmen eclipsed the finished feature in atmosphere, and is all the big screen really needed.
Not every film made of Moore’s stories have been awful– From Hell is a strong standout– but the question remains: how many inferior knockoffs must the public sit still for?
The best argument against Moore’s piety would probably be Moore’s own behavior. The original premise of The Watchmen was to tell that story using existing characters acquired by DC from the defunct Charleston comic book company. Are Michael Straczynski, Darwyn Cook, and Brian Azzarello planning anything in Before Watchmen that is more sacrilegious than that? And does the fact that Moore has put his own spin on existing fictional works only after their authors have slipped this mortal coil amount to a real moral high ground?
In the end, the world is thus. I enjoyed Donnie Darko immensely, and have resisted every temptation to see it’s sequel, S. Darko. Would it suck? I hope never to know. Reflect on the meaning of that word: suck. From what does something suck? Like any parasite, from that which is superior to it. Before Watchmen may not be bad comic books, but they will not be superior to their host. This is because, like all things that attach themselves to something great, they will simply suck.