Archive for alan moore

Final Words, Before “Before Watchmen”

Posted in Comic Books with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2012 by pbiris

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A critical piece published on Slate this morning, written by Noah Berlatsky, got me thinking about “Before Watchmen,” the prequel project to Alan Moore’s classic miniseries that will expand upon what I guess is now a “mythos” with seven related limited series penned and illustrated by some of the more recognizable talents in the comic book industry. There’s been venomous criticism of this idea from the moments it was announced, and it’s been given more weight due in large part to Moore’s own harsh words for the concept and the company that birthed it.

And certainly, “Before Watchmen” deserves to be criticized, though I’m not so sure Moore ought to be lionized to quite the extent he is as a result. In the Slate piece linked above, commenter Jordan Lund helpfully (though somewhat problematically) points out the following:

Moore didn’t create the Watchmen characters. His original pitch to DC was to use the Charlton heroes that DC had then just bought the rights to. When he was told they had other plans for Captain Atom (Doctor Manhattan), Blue Beetle (Nite Owl) and The Question (Rorscharch), Moore then created thinly veiled variations on the characters he wasn’t allowed to use.

It’s ridiculous to ask the rhetorical question “After the third or fourth Before Watchmen movie, which iteration of the characters will be most familiar to the public?” when most folks have already forgotten or never knew that Moore’s characters are already a 2nd or 3rd iteration to begin with.

Moore built his career writing other peoples characters and in the case of Terra Obscura he even did so without any kind of attribution or acknowledgement of the original creators. It’s disingenuous to take the argument Watchmen is somehow above the same sort of creative additions that Moore spent decades benefiting from.

The problem is that these characters really are, strictly speaking, Moore’s, even if they were largely inspired by the Charlton characters. But the point should be taken all the same: Moore’s reputation (and whatever wealth he has) has largely been built on the backs of other creators. He didn’t invent Swamp Thing, though he is very famous for reinventing him. He didn’t invent Superman, though he put him to great use in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is basically a literary Justice League. While he’s a vastly talented, innovative writer, he simply did not set the world ablaze with his 1996 novel “Voice of the Fire,” say, or the recent “Neonomicon.” He owes a great debt to the creators of characters that he later put to great use in groundbreaking, powerful stories like the above. And while the whole “Before Watchmen” exercise is by leaps and bounds more crass and cynical than those examples, it isn’t so far divorced on paper: over 20 years after their invention, creators are attempting new stories with comic book characters that still belong to DC Comics.

As an incidental point to what I’m ultimately getting at here, I’m tempted to say that I’m a little surprised at how aghast the community of Internet comic critics seems to be at Moore’s treatment by DC. It’s tied into some harsh contractual stuff spotlighted by the great David Brothers over at Comics Alliance, and while I would 100%, totally disagree with Brothers that the business side of things can be really, truly “gross” … I just can’t quite get behind the core of the argument. Things become murky, I suppose, in a creative business where fictions are being churned out and characters birthed, but as someone who makes a living editing and writing, I can’t pretend to have any disillusions about who my work ultimately belongs to no matter where it’s been published over the years.

Regardless, “Before Watchmen” still makes my stomach churn – I just don’t have too much personal sympathy for Alan Moore. I do, however, have a whole lot of respect for “Watchmen.”

The main objection I have – and it’s a major one – is to the process of harvesting characters, plot points, and ideas from a wholly complete, perhaps masterful artistic work with the singular intent to stitch them together as a Frankenstein monster with seven heads – a monster that will stumble around, stuffed to its eyeballs with advertisements, in a vain attempt to capture the grace of its originator, now practically worshipped by generations of fanboys and hipsters. It’s a cash-grab in the way the “Watchmen” movie was. That movie and these comics diminish the relevance (and appeal) of the original work simply by existing as inferior products and being impossible to ignore. Just as you can no longer have a conversation about “The Dark Knight Returns” without eventually turning to its not-so-acclaimed sequel, “The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” you can’t really sit down and chat about “Watchmen” now without at least glancing at the elephant in the room (and the Watchmen-branded toaster sitting on the counter next to it).

How can anyone judge seven distinct “Before Watchmen” miniseries that haven’t come out yet? It’s simple: these series cannot, will not be as good as “Watchmen.” Cultural circumstances decide that. These things are being born into a market that’s already saturated with serious, intellectual comic work and substantial super hero films like “The Dark Knight.” The zeitgeist was altogether different back in 1986, when “Watchmen” was published. It’s not just that there isn’t a void to fill in 2012, it’s that the thinking people of our cultural sphere already know to reject this series just as the leading thinkers of the Renaissance panned Botticelli’s “BEFORE SISTINE,” which Michelangelo himself condemned.

“Before Watchmen” will almost certainly be a tremendous commercial success, and many, if not all, of the comics might even be pretty good. Still, the damage is already done. There will be inevitable deluxe “COMPLETE WATCHMEN” box sets. The classic will be shelved with the prequels and director’s cut Blu-rays at Barnes and Noble. And new readers won’t be able to avoid back-of-book ads for “BEFORE WATCHMEN: SILK SPECTRE,” etcetera, following Moore’s masterwork, nor getting way more than they want or bargained for in Google searches for “Nite Owl.” That’s the shame of the whole thing: that one perfect, or near perfect, or even “very good,” single book couldn’t be left alone – a book that continues to be a cash cow for DC Comics without all of these nasty appendages grafted on. Do these times prevent us from letting art be art any longer?

Say what you will about fans being able to avoid “Before Watchmen” if they want to: Our culture makes any sort of ignorance as to its existence (or motives) all but impossible. “Watchmen” is now irreparably changed. And maybe you’re someone who likes all of these new products, who relishes the very idea of them: I’m not out to yuck any yums, here, but the discourse sure feels different when “J. Michael Straczynski,” “Zack Snyder,” and “Patrick Wilson’s humping ass” are uttered in the same breath as “Alan Moore,” doesn’t it? A little cheaper, maybe?

I have no illusions about the nature of comic books. My all-time favorite writer Grant Morrison has done staggering work for DC Comics with old characters and repurposed ideas – that’s essentially all there is to the (dare I say) miraculous “Seven Soldiers of Victory” series. But there is a reverence in his words and actions, a delicate touch, that is not to be found here. Plus, Morrison’s characters and plots almost always come from what are very distinctly shared (corporate) universes. “Watchmen” was tight, complete, alone. A true graphic novel despite its original serialized form.

Make no mistake: We’re all losing something here as fans. So why all the worry over Alan Moore?

(Note: This piece is also available on Tumblr!)

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Grant Morrison is awesome.

Posted in people that are awesome with tags , , , on April 21, 2008 by pbiris

I met Grant Morrison this weekend at New York Comic Con, which I decided I was just nerdy enough to attend (though I perhaps lack the, shall we say, gravitational pull of what is apparently a majority of planets that read comic books), and as is probably not altogether unexpected of a rendezvous with a writer that worships chaos magic and routinely references his psychedelic, drug-influenced, Earth-shattering experiences in Kathmandu, it was quite something.

Grant Morrison is one of my idols, the acclaimed writer of We3, The Invisibles, The Filth, Seaguy, Kill Your Boyfriend, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, All-Star Superman, and hallmark runs on Animal Man, New X-Men, Doom Patrol, JLA, Seven Soldiers, and Batman, to name a few. In no small way has he contributed to the legitimization of the super hero comic as an art form, and is, in my eyes, equaled only by Alan Moore in terms of literary prowess in the medium of “sequential art” (an oft-flaunted and pretentious phrase that means “comic book”). Anyone dumb enough to laugh off comics as a somehow inferior, unintellectual form is free to read The Filth and From Hell and then get back to me, tail rooted firmly between their legs, anuses puckered from the shocked dumping that followed their paradigm shifts.

I was surprised to find that, for someone with such an array of significant works under his belt, Morrison was down to Earth, funny, appreciative of his fans and ready to talk about anything, including an extensive rundown of his former drug habits at the Spotlight on Grant Morrison panel. Similarly, for someone whose work hints so vividly at insanity and malcontent, he appeared to be a very friendly, happy fellow that joked around and laughed a lot. Put simply, he is everything a celebrity comics writer (are there such things?) should be. (Sean McKeever, on the other hand, who is currently shitting all over Teen Titans and recently wrapped up the abomination known as Countdown to Final Crisis, was closed off and didn’t seem particularly interested in interacting with his readers.)

With all this in mind, it was with a mix of nervous excitement and intimidation that I waited in line for the Morrison signing. Here is a creator that I fervently admire, but as a writer myself, and a young one at that, I couldn’t help but feel the pangs of jealousy set in. Grant Morrison is an author at the top of his game, the absolute center of attention with his upcoming Final Crisis and conclusion to the beloved All-Star Superman; put simply, he is what (though not who, necessarily) I want to become. As if that wasn’t all enough, Morrison is penning the upcoming Batman R.I.P., which is slated to shatter Dark Knight’s world as we know it, and, well, I wrote my NYU admissions essay about Batman. You do the math. My pants were wet.

After waiting in line for almost two hours for Morrison to sign my “Club of Heroes” issues, I wanted to think of something, anything I could say to him that would communicate the fact that he is my hero without necessarily sounding like a gushing geek that could barely contain the buttered cobs of corn hidden beneath my floppy man breasts (that is, the floppy man breasts I would ostensibly have as such a person). When I got up there, in true nervous loser fashion, I could barely look him in the eye and handed him my comic books, upset with myself at my inability to make a first impression that would convince this comics god to take me on as his protege. I took an awkward picture with him in which I look absolutely terrible, and was about to shuffle off when he said to me in his thick-as-molasses Scottish accent, “J.H. Williams did a great job on this, didn’t he?” I looked at the books in my hand, realized Williams was the artist, and responded with “Oh yeah, absolutely fantastic.”

Then, nothing else coming to mind, I added, “It would make me very sad if you made Jason Todd Batman.”

He leaned in, smiled, and responded. “Don’t worry about it.”

Grant Morrison is awesome, and I am a nerd.