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Less is Moore

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.
Barney the Dog: Now his story can be told!
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.  

^ 12 Comments...

  1. Michael Roberts

    JY, I love you like a brother, but THIS IS NOT THE FREAKING COMIC I WAS PROMISED ON SATURDAY.

  2. Ginger Mayerson

    My God, JY, you’re the Alan Moore of Peanuts!

  3. punx

    I too once felt Moore was an ass about this kind of stuff, but as I have taken a more critical look, I realize that he may not have legal legs to stand on about this, but as you say yourself, the adapted presentations fall short of the mark on varying levels but fall they do.

    I will give the (godawful) Deluxe Extended Director’s cut of Watchmen it’s due for trying to capture the full pre-Internet pseudo-hypertexting experience of moving between the story proper and the Black Freighter comic (and the attendant plot point mirroring therein)…but as Moore said, it simply is not filmable in any way that captures the complexity of its storyline(s) fully. It takes multiple readings of Watchmen to fully grasp the story, which is undoable in cinema (closest there is, maybe, is The Usual Suspects, which you can rewatch looking for more details even though the story itself remains constant)

    As for V For Vendetta….Let me put it the way I have for a while now:

    If you have never read the original GN, the movie is servicable, and does present an interesting post-9/11 subtext that makes the story relevant somewhat.

    If you have read (and love) the GN, the movie is a fucking travesty, having most of it’s soul ripped out in order to hardwire it for a post-9/11 zeitgeist that it never had in the first place, especially if you consider that the events of V For Vendetta originally occur after a ‘limited nuclear response’ that of course would be worse than 9/11 IMHO but also based on more current info would not have really been possible anyway as it would be unlikely Britain or the rest of Europe would be in any condition to have as complex a network and computer system as in the book…I like it even as a fan of the GN, but know like Watchmen it is not filmable in a proper way.

    I always felt Watchmen needed to be an adult-themed animated miniseries with each episode being dedicated to a chapter of the book (the motion comic adaptation may be as close to this concept as it has gotten), while V For Vendetta would be better served in a miniseries format as well, allowing for the whole of Evie’s experience and transformation to [*spoiler alert*] V’s successor [/*spoiler alert*] seem less disjointed as it was in the movie’s narrative.

    And I do find myself *somewhat* intrigued by the concept of filling in those blanks per se in the history of Watchmen, but not enough that I would buy them, maybe peruse them in the comic shop, out of curiosity, but out of respect for the author and story as well to see if these addenda are worthy LOL

  4. DSL

    So are you denying even the possibility that a derivative work might rise above the source material? You appear to be arguing that the reading public should let the quality of the forthcoming work speak for itself, and I agree. I simply would want to wait and see if the bar might be raised or lowered, and not automatically assume, as you seem to do, it would be lowered.

    JY: I do not deny that possibility. An A Tale of Two Cities prequel might erase the memory of Dickens permanently. It just isn’t likely.

  5. H-M

    Sadly, like everything else that involves the rotting prostituted husk that is the mainstream comic book industry, what is right simply doesnt matter as compared to what is profitable. Watchmen is an iconic license, one that DC has most likely been wearing their fingers to nubs wanting to cash in on more, and like any other industry, art doesnt matter as long as there is a buck to be made.

    @DSL. The problem here isnt wether or not a Watchmen prequel or expansion could be good, its that its a STANDALONE WORK and isnt supposed to be meddled with any furhter.

  6. Richard

    I’m inviting banishment and abuse by saying so, but the print version of LOEG wasn’t all that great and the movie version wasn’t all that bad.

  7. punx

    @Richard: Seperate from their literary origins, the cinematic adaptations of Moore’s work are not all that awful (LOEG I also liked, not having read the source material to have a bias), though of course the big banner hype that preceded Watchmen as a movie was solely built on the fanboy base that reveres the book, and it fails on every level to show just WHY they felt that way about it. I won’t go into a pagelong diatribe, I think I did well enough in my previous post, but more than the Squid was needed to honor the true heart of the story.

    I also do agree that sometimes Moore is so fucking out there he laps himself, and even we Blockheads are somewhat guilty of the same when we wonder about a possible animated version of WB, whose voices we’d use, etc. when we haven’t even reached the end, and if it is something that could be realized without JY’s full involvement and editorial input, as most adaptations seem to go these days, where the creator is usually just one voice in a chorus, and not the most important despite the fact that they were the ones who came up with what you now want to make in the first place…

    And again, I will look into them at the comic shop, but out of respect for the standalone work that Watchmen is, to see just how these other people interpret and recontextualize these “missing” moments in order to “flesh out the narrative.”

    It reminds me how a few years ago, Stephen King decided to completely rewrite The Gunslinger, the first book in his long-running series The Dark Tower, in his words, to fit better into the flow of the story as he wrote it as time went on in the following books, since when he wrote it originally, he never thought it would become as popular as it became. I prefer the original version, and have read enough reviews that I will likely never read the newer version because I have understood the story as it stands for the last 15 years based upon the original, and feel there is no reason to have amended it for any reason. (I understand if you have no knowledge of these books, all I have just said makes no sense to you, sorry.)

    Of course, in this case, had Moore decided to be involved and help fill out those gaps himself, we wouldn’t even be talking about this…other than hoisting him on his own petard for violating his stand on the subject, but I do believe the ensuing followup tales would outweigh the derision heaped upon him, because he was involved in it.

  8. Hitherfetcher

    I’m sorry, I just can’t get over the fact that you used “Alan Moore” and “integrity” in the same sentence. The mind boggles…
    Moore was once a creative genius, and we will always have his body of work to admire regardless of how many movies and spin-off series are made from them, but if his own rantings and awful stories in the last fifteen to twenty years haven’t ruined them for me I doubt anyone else’s efforts could. I also continue to read “Dracula” and “The Invisible Man” without complaining about his version of them.
    Want to see a mature response to these prequels? Read Dave Gibbons.
    I will likely look at the prequels in the store, and if they are any good I will buy them; if they are not, I won’t.

  9. james

    alan moore did propose a couple prequels at one point, at least according to some weird livejournal page i found that catalogues every hypothetical comic project he’s ever mentioned. i read a very complicated story behind why he doesnt want anything to do with watchmen or dc. if i wasnt so lazy i’d look it up.. well i can find the livejournal thing easily though: http://glycon.livejournal.com/12853.html

  10. Lewis

    Just want to mention someone did tell the dog’s story in an online comic and it was heartbreaking.

    http://scans-daily.dreamwidth.org/2113348.html

  11. Bartleby

    OK – prior post isn’t showing up. Take 2:

    Alan Moore is being a bit of a bitch. It’s not just that he signed the contract. It’s that HE GOT PAID FOR THEM TO HAVE THOSE RIGHTS TOO.

    Don’t sell your IP and then bitch when they use it like they said they would!

  12. pakopako

    I don’t think the Watchmen prequel will suck, unless by “suck” you mean “won’t capture the same feel as the original”. In that sense, it will likely suck like failing to get that “White Christmas” you re-imagined your childhood past to have.

    I still believe in the warmth of the lie, the immersive world fiction brings. Will I enjoy seeing Barney the dog get walked on the street for forty panels? With a guilty conscience, I have to admit I probably would. Much like how modern movies are just “fanfics with a budget”, pandering to as many people from as many corners of the Earth as possible, so is this modern “history lesson” of the Watchmen.

    I can’t say I’ve taken in much that was “an absolute waste of my time”; I expect the TWC juggernaut to produce something enjoyable (likely not evocative or even provocative) that I wouldn’t mind wasting a Saturday afternoon reading at the library.

    areasuct circle

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