Commentary: The Comedy of "Before Watchmen" Hype

By Todd Allen

Oh, we all knew the Watchmen sequel was coming.  The art leaked and DC’s lawyers went wild — unusual enough to know something was close to an announcement.  Then the last round of announced reprint books included The Art of Amanda Conner (some of her art was in that leaked batch) and a HC reprint of Dave Gibbons’ Green Lantern work (more on that in bit) made it clear an announcement was imminent.  What do we get with the actual announcement?  Comedy.  And more comedy from the PR than from the reactions, if you ask me.

Everyone involved with this knows that if “Before Watchmen” isn’t note perfect, there’s likely to be a lot of egg on a lot of faces and everyone is hedging a little.

Let’s start with with my favorite line from the official announcement:

Each week, a new issue will be released, and will feature a two-page back-up story called CURSE OF THE CRIMSON CORSAIR, written by original series editor Len Wein and with art by original series colorist John Higgins.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m down with Len Wein.  I bought DC Universe: Legacies.  I have Roots of the Swamp Thing packed away somewhere and I think I might prefer his Phantom Stranger work.  He’s an important creator and he brought Alan Moore to DC.  Still, throwing it out like that as the first person with a legacy connection to the original.  That just made me laugh out loud.  I’ll give the official punchline on that to former Esquire editor, Marty Beckerman in his Nerve column:

Original series editor Lee Wein penned many of the new stories, so at least that’s something. Because if Citizen Kane had had a prequel, Orson Welles’ editor should’ve written it.

Unfair?  Absolutely.  But that’s how the press release read to a lot of people.

Speaking of Wein, he’s the subject of the absolute funniest quote in the interviews.  Good ‘ole JMS popped out this gem for CBR:

Alan didn’t pass on being brought on to write Swamp Thing, a seminal comics character created by Len Wein, and he did a terrific job. He didn’t say “No, no, I can’t, that’s Len’s character.” Nor should he have.

Um, dude?  If you want to take that rhetorical approach, you should stick to Watchmen being based on the Charlton characters and Moore tending to retrofit older literary characters.  There’s a big difference between Dan DiDio asking you to do more Watchmen and Len Wein, who happened to be editing the book he was co-creator on, asking Alan Moore to do Swamp Thing.  Still, while horrible logic, that’s comedy gold. [And I’m going to be reading a LONG awaited issue of The Twelve after I post this.  Not like I’m a JMS hater.]

Practically every interview from a creator is defensive.  Everyone know they’re taking a risk participating in such a project.  My advice  — take in the hype.  Taste the fear in the interviews and have a good laugh out of all this.

Then consider the REAL risk-taking DC is doing here.  Watchmen didn’t sell all those graphic novels in the Direct Market.  They sold a lot of them in bookstores to people who wouldn’t have a clue where to get single issues.  DC is opting to take curiosity sales on single issues, rather than on graphic novels.  These titles get a bad rep in serialization, that’s a lot of money left on the table.  But, as JMS was saying today, DiDio is bold.  No pressure whatsoever.

The funniest thing about all of this is how Watchmen colors the mass reaction to these creative teams.  I find myself looking at a Darwyn Cooke title and thinking “do I really want to get this?”  That really shouldn’t be happening, but it’s the Watchmen Effect.  And I’m not exactly in the minority here.  But, figure I was quoting a reaction from Nerve and you see how far away from the DM the ripples go and the irony kicks in that you might be alienating the mass audience to sell the hobbyists.

Finally, we double back to Len Wein, who says to Wired:

“I think reboots are almost mandatory in an industry that has existed for over three-fourths of a century now. The need to inject new blood, new ideas, new approaches, is the only thing that keeps our readers coming back for more.”

My first reaction on reading this was a belly laugh.  Yes, reboot the old characters to inject new blood.  That’s very nearly an oxymoron.   Then it occurred to me, Alan Moore makes an almost annual flustered denouncement that DC is still clinging to his old standards after all these years.  Now it’s a sad comment that DC has to do reboots because they’ve seemingly lost the ability to successfully launch a new character.  The New 52?  All relaunches and revamps.  What is Before Watchmen?  It’s DC going back to an old well one more time.

So here we are and Watchmen is coming.  My last question, based on the initial round of hype… they’re not going to have that Len Wein/Dave Gibbons Green Lantern HC promoted as “by the editor and artist of Watchmen,” are they?

P.S. – Dan?  If you’re brazen enough to do “Before Watchmen,” you’re brazen enough to do a “Watchmen Babies” variant cover.  It would be awesome.  Own the joke.

Comments

  1. I took the mentions of Len Wein and John Higgins being involved as “Look, literally everyone else involved in the original is involved in these prequels, so pay no attention to Alan Moore…he’s just a stick in the mud!”

  2. A lot of the New 52 immediately made me think of DC from around 25 years ago. Captain Atom, Firestorm, Hawk and Dove, Justice League International, Suicide Squad, Swamp Thing, Animal Man…? It was almost like they looked at what they published back then to get ideas.

  3. Jasmine Benettt says:

    I see the DC hate is still continuing. Although it is consistent with their constantly being trash talked in the month to month sales articles.

  4. Justin H. says:

    Where’s the hate? I see an analysis of some quotes from creators working on a controversial series, not hate. I see lamentation that DC is going back to the well, not hate. And I see that someone is turned off to a creator’s work for the first time because of the work he’s doing, not hate.

  5. Todd Allen says:

    That’s part of the thin-skinned nature of comics. If you disagree with something you’re accused of hating. You’re supposed to be a zombie, after all.

  6. Chris Hero says:

    YAY! Marc Oliver is a Monster lives on!

  7. Orson Welles’ editor was Robert Wise. He directed THE HAUNTING, WEST SIDE STORY, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
    Honestly, you could do a lot worse.

  8. It’s okay: I (Darryl Ayo Brathwaite) hate this entire thing. That’s Hate-hate. With a capital “H.”

  9. The only thing I find funny is the usual over the top and delusional behaviour of the Moorites. From making ridiculous comparison of Watchmen to Citizen Kane, to sheer sheer blind worship of a guy whose best work is based on other people’s characters. There seems to be no end to how far they will go to bash DC because they want to do prequels about work they own that is truly hillarious to me.

  10. “You might be alienating the mass audience to sell the hobbyists.”

    This, and the other article causally mentioning that One Piece and Asterix outsell even Watchmen about ten fold are the real issue here for me.

    Increasingly the economic problems in comics are caused by “fanboy” types marketing fan service to other fanboys and ignoring any other markets.

    What bothers me more than them doing a Watchmen 2 is that they are just entirely disinterested in making a serious profit in comics by marketing outside of a small cult following.

  11. Al™ says:

    Wait for the trade. It will be continually in print forever.

  12. Yes, there is a lot of unintentional humor in today’s round of press releases and interviews (earlier today I included in my blog some of the same quotes Todd highlights above). Laughter seems to be the sanest reaction to all this.

    Len Wein has now updated his blog with more about the project, and he just happens to remind us that Watchmen was based on the Charlton characters and that the ending was stolen from The Outer Limits, before hyping the new books.

  13. Brad Ricca says:

    Great piece, Todd.

    Though this whole thing in the other thread that all Moore does is rehash old characters is really nutty. Are you kidding? People don’t read Watchmen because it is a nod to some barely remembered line of heroes that people quote from a Wikipedia entry, they read it because it is a near-perfect execution of story and image. We’ve all read it — right??? Same with LoEG — most comics people wish they came up with that idea before he did. It’s about good storytelling, not who owns what. I don’t think he’s threatening to sue or go on a hunger strike, I think he is just upset that the blood and sweat he poured into those insanely-detailed scripts is, in his words, being cheapened by a summer comics event. If anyone is allowed to have that opinion — anyone — it is certainly the original author.

  14. I have to laugh at the cracking of the Internet here. This won’t ever be a black stain on someone’s career. Its actually low risk for those involved. Do people hate Joe Strummer because he did Cut The Crap? All of this will blow over and make Dc a ton o bucks.

  15. Mikael says:

    What a stupid article. You do know that DC/Vertigo did a whole promotion called “After Watchmen”, etc – as in, what else to read in their long list of evergreens (something Marvel has struggled to create). And now they can connect it to Before Watchmen. Imagine newer readers reading BW and thinking, well – guess I better go read that too. Suddenly, a whole new audience reads Watchmen. You may poo poo it all you want, but it’s actually a clever marketing drive.

    What egg can possibly be on their faces? If the books sell, they won’t give two flying figs if the books are bad or not. They still got your money. And yes, I mean your money – as in all the people moaning the loudest.

  16. Mikael says:

    Let’s also add that DC once again has won the news of the day (week?). Look at the Beat – 4 articles. CBR, Bleeding Cool, other media – all covering this. You just gave them what they wanted: promotion. So while you laughed and scoffed, you just made a few more people interested in buying it and once again Marvel is left in the news dust.

    So while you’re patting yourself on the back for thinking you’re witty, you just gave DC free promotion.

  17. EJ, its okay if you don’t care for Watchmen but yeah it really is analogous to Citizen Kane-style influence on our field. But that don’t matter because you just want to look at shitty fan fiction.

    Use of silly term “moorites” highlights the dreadful deficit of literary appreciation on your part

  18. “Do people hate Joe Strummer because he did Cut The Crap?”

    Actually yeah, I did hate Strummer for cheapening the Clash name by making Cut The Crap. Never bothered to buy any of his subsequent solo work after that. So there’s another perfect analogy for this Watchman prequel travesty.

  19. Jimmy says:

    @todd Allen. I do think using a ridiculously patronising tone (‘belly laughing’ at people’s choices) could be called hating… But whatever.

    Its just that pointing and laughing at people doesn’t feel like decent commentary to me.

  20. Yrzhe says:

    The real coup would’ve been if DC had gotten Ditko to do one of these series. Preferably Rorschach.

  21. “There’s a big difference between Dan DiDio asking you to do more Watchmen and Len Wein, who happened to be editing the book he was co-creator on, asking Alan Moore to do Swamp Thing.”

    This is the statement of Alan Moore:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/books/dc-comics-plans-prequels-to-watchmen-series.html?_r=1
    “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.”

    Moore talks about using old ideas instead of creating something new and fresh.
    So, there is only a little difference between Dan DiDio asking you to do more Watchmen and Len Wein, who happened to be editing the book he was co-creator on, asking Alan Moore to do Swamp Thing.

  22. People who fall back on the “Alan Moore is a hypocrite because he offers fresh perspectives on existing stories all the time” defense really miss the point. All of comics is built on fan fiction – the literary shame that dare not speak its name. (That’s okay, fan fiction is part of a rich literary tradition.)

    The issue is that Watchmen is one of those rare books that rises above the source material and somehow becomes something other. Unfortunately, DC Comics now sees it as just another comic property that has not yet been fully exploited. Watchmen, in their eyes, is not a piece of art, it’s a product. And that’s sad on all kinds of different levels.

    Oh and by the way, it is also the gold standard for how DC Comics screwed Alan Moore, contractually. And now they are doing it again.

    For many, this is going to be like those two mythical Highlander sequels that I keep hearing urban legends about – you know, the ones that never actually got made.

  23. Cole Moore Odell says:

    For me, the most pathetic thing about the hype is how DiDio and Lee so aggressively redefine Watchmen from the self-contained novel it’s been for 25 years to a “fictive universe”, one with a open-ended “complex mythology” rather than defined plot, characters, themes and structure. To justify what they’re doing,They have to use corporate serial comics cliches that flatten it into just another piece of endlessly exploitable IP, and they know it. It’s a great irony–they’re only doing this because Watchmen is a special case, but in order to do it they have to deny that it’s special.

  24. “For me, the most pathetic thing about the hype is how DiDio and Lee so aggressively redefine Watchmen from the self-contained novel it’s been for 25 years to a “fictive universe”, one with a open-ended “complex mythology” rather than defined plot, characters, themes and structure.”

    Somebody should found a defense fund to combat the great harm inflicted by human beings, thoughtless and perishable as they are, upon defenseless enduring works of art. Too many works of art are suffering on this planet, and it is an untenable situation.

    WATCHMEN is just the tip of the iceberg!

  25. I know that you’re just being flippant, Marc-Oliver, but Watchmen is just the tip of the iceberg. If the contracts are not strong enough to defend against such exploitation, there is nothing to stop DC from doing exactly the same thing to Preacher, Planetary, Y the Last Man or 100 Bullets.

  26. El Tiburon says:

    Listen, 2 months, we’ll be reading Nite-Owl Corps.

  27. “If the contracts are not strong enough to defend against such exploitation, there is nothing to stop DC from doing exactly the same thing to Preacher, Planetary, Y the Last Man or 100 Bullets.”

    But I don’t mind DC doing things to books. They’re a publisher. It’s their fucking job to do things to books.

    If WATCHMEN — or any of the works you cite, for that matter — is of the quality that people tend to ascribe to it, then it will endure, no matter how many shitty follow-up titles are published under the same title.

    If there IS anything worth being outraged over here, then surely it’s not the comics industry’s treatment of books, but its treatment of the people who created those books. It seems very odd to me to see these two concerns getting mixed up a lot.

    You could get the impression that nobody would give a shit about DC’s ill-treatment of Moore if everybody didn’t think WATCHMEN was such a bloody great book. Which, I think, doesn’t exactly give the people objecting to the prequel books a lot of moral high ground to take versus DC.

    I didn’t see 150 comments here four weeks ago when Gary Friedrich lost his legal fight with Marvel. Are we appalled because creators are being treated poorly, or are we appalled as critics, because DC is harming the reputation of a beloved book that’s so much better than stupid old Ghost Rider?

    I’d like to think it’s the former, but I can’t be sure. The one thing I’m sure of, though, is that the books does not need our help, if they’re as great as we think they are. It’s the creators that often get lost in the shuffle.

  28. PAUL D HOUSTON says:

    Will Alan Moore see any money from these?

  29. I am consistently appalled at what seems to be standard business practices at the Big Two. There is a very good reason why I buy almost nothing from those publishers – beyond the fact that most of their work is creatively bereft.

    Their treatment of creators also reinforces my conviction that working for them would be a terrible, terrible mistake for most any creator these days. They’re not the only games in town anymore and their track record speaks for itself.

  30. Andrew Bonia: “What bothers me more than them doing a Watchmen 2 is that they are just entirely disinterested in making a serious profit in comics by marketing outside of a small cult following.”

    Entirely disinterested? The news rolled out on the websites for USA Today, The LA Times, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Wired, Comic Book Resources, and the Associated Press. All of those are mainstream press outlets except CBR, which is the mainstream-est comics outlet. They certainly seem to want news of this to reach a mass audience, and considering Watchmen was a trending topic on both Twitter and Yahoo yesterday morning, it sounds like they succeeded to me.

  31. “They certainly seem to want news of this to reach a mass audience, and considering Watchmen was a trending topic on both Twitter and Yahoo yesterday morning, it sounds like they succeeded to me.”

    Sure, it made news, just like the Death of Captain America did. And sure, there will be a bump in sales. And yes, those sales will pale in comparison to the latest random book of Naruto.

    Again, they’re just trying to capture a large share of a shrinking market rather than expand into new ones.

    If this sells a ton of comics that’s great. I hope it does. If it gets new people reading comics that’s even better. There’s an amazing creative team attached to this, so they’ll probably be good comics.

    But at the end of the day, it’s still just another stunt aimed at the same demographic. It’s Dark Knight 2 without the original creators.

  32. Synsidar says:

    If WATCHMEN — or any of the works you cite, for that matter — is of the quality that people tend to ascribe to it, then it will endure, no matter how many shitty follow-up titles are published under the same title.

    The major difference between WATCHMEN and the endlessly serialized heroes might be that the other heroes are symbols and only symbols. The characters in WATCHMEN are more than that. Putting superheroes in morality plays, refusing to provide explanations for their powers, refusing to describe their day-to-day lives, placing them in suspended animation between issues, etc., all force writers to treat them as symbols. There are readers who are fine with writers treating the characters as symbols, and will endure any amount of repetition to see their heroes acting heroically, quipping, and shouting, for example, “Avengers Assemble!”, but the publishers and writers are pandering to fetishists. The reason that Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has made such an impression on me is that Azzarello is writing her as a person, not as a symbol.

    SRS

  33. Actually, Marc-Oliver, that’s NOT the traditional definition of the job “publisher.”

    My blood pressure is off the scales. This is a god damned travesty of literature. This is a sin and a shame.

  34. Chris Hero says:

    @Andrew Bonia

    You have my thoughts exactly. I don’t see how this is going to appeal to anyone outside of established comic readers.

    Regular comic readers don’t think of characters as serials. No one wants to read a new Dragon Tattoo book written by somebody else. There are working examples like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, but the Tom Clancy brand is the draw there.

    I think this will be heavily ordered by the DM, the floppies will end up in quarter bins, and the trades will sell terribly.

  35. Mike L says:

    So anyone want to take bets how long before we see the Minutemen turning up in the New 52? Because now that Pandora’s box is open, that’s next.

    They lost me at Curse of the Crimson Corsair. Okay, I get it . . . superhero comics weren’t popular in the Watchmen world because there were ‘real-life’ superheroes . . . but really? You couldn’t even be bothered to pick another genre, like romance, or war comics? I guess if you’re going back to the well, might as well completely wallow in the backwash.

    Or maybe it’s a meta thing: there’s a complete lack of creativity in that fictional world, too.

  36. Respectfully, Darryl, I must disagree with you. This is absolutely something that publishers do – ethically dubious, unscrupulous publishers who are just looking to make a buck. The guy who printed an unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote, for example (a novel that Cervantes later wrote out of canon in the authorized sequel).

    By Marc-Oliver’s logic, Casterman would be well within their rights to create brand new Tintin material – even if the heirs of the Herge estate protested. The only difference here is one of scale – Alan Moore does not have the kind of money that could afford lawyers to block the move.

  37. “By Marc-Oliver’s logic, Casterman would be well within their rights to create brand new Tintin material – even if the heirs of the Herge estate protested.”

    No. By my logic, wrongdoing against books is of infinitely smaller concern than wrongdoing against their creators.

    It’s making me sick to see people talk about WATCHMEN like it was their fucking baby, not least because this leads me to suspect that most of them wouldn’t give a shit about DC’s grave offense if it was being perpetrated against lesser works.

    Much of the outrage seems ESTHETICAL in nature, not moral. That’s what’s bothering me.

  38. uthur says:

    RM—
    “Alan Moore does not have the kind of money that could afford lawyers to block the move”

    —bullshit. he most certainly does.

    the problem isn’t money, it’s the contract he signed. that contract, so onerous to comix folks, is also known as the standard book contract—rights revert when the work goes OP.

    there are NO legal grounds on which to challenge the contract. that’s why alan doesn’t sue.

    “here is nothing to stop DC from doing exactly the same thing to Preacher, Planetary, Y the Last Man or 100 Bullets.”

    —yes there is. they are not on the same contract. Vertigo books are “creator owned” in conjunction with DC.

    if you are gonna critique Kaptal, at least know what you are talking about.

    oh, that’s right, you can’t, cause you are soooo angry.

    so much aggrandized “hate” on this site. my favorite, though, is this:

    “Actually yeah, I did hate Strummer for cheapening the Clash name by making Cut The Crap.”

    really, that is one of the more pathetic examples of faux-outrage. i’d laugh if it wasn’t so pathetically self-important. joe was crushed when he heard this, KET—that’s why he died…

  39. Torsten Adair says:

    “Regular comic readers don’t think of characters as serials. No one wants to read a new Dragon Tattoo book written by somebody else.”

    Counter-argument #1:

    Have you Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion (Bourne Series #9) by Eric Van Lustbader? It’s a hardcover book, but it should be available at your local library, since it was a New York Times bestseller.

    Or maybe you prefer fantasy?
    After you finish reading the original 14 Oz books by L. Frank Baum (highly recommended), there were 26 more books issued by his publisher.

    Or a good mystery? Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon are quite popular with kids and teens!

    Is it okay for an estate to issue new stories after the author is dead? It’s creator-owned, right? V.C. Andrews, for example, is now a ghost writer!

    If you want a comics example: Boom Studios’ Peanuts comics.

    Counter-argument #2
    Yes, you are correct. Look how many people stopped reading the Amazing Spider-Man after Steve Ditko left. After Stan Lee stopped writing. After the JMS debacle.

    Readers also don’t want to read more about a character, that’s why there’s only one comic book title featuring the Untold Team-Up Tales of Peter Parker, the Ultimate Astonishing Amazing Spectacular Sensational Friendly Neighborhood Avenging Spider-Man.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Commentary: The Comedy of “Before Watchmen” Hype (comicsbeat.com) […]

  2. […] Commentary: The Comedy of “Before Watchmen” HypeThe BeatComedy. And more comedy from the PR than from the reactions, if you ask me. Everyone involved with this knows that if “Before Watchmen” isn't note perfect, there's likely to be a lot of egg on a lot of faces and everyone is hedging a little.and more » […]

  3. […] Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Warren Ellis – just too dang expensive. It's all a part of DC Comics' "More Before" Initiative, previously referred to as 'Panic […]

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