Before Watchmen

Imagine a story where Wendy, John and Michael Darling from Peter Pan have a massive group orgy with Peter. Imagine Captain Hook as a rapist who hires Peter as his personal male prostitute. Now imagine Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a nympho at the age of sixteen who has sex with three farm hands as well as her father. Now imagine Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is also a nympho who has sex with her father’s friend as well as many of her classmates at an all-girl’s boarding school, then later becomes her employer’s sexual plaything before being locked in an asylum where she’s systematically raped by the hospital staff. Upon release, she continues having sex with various women and starts using drugs.

I’m betting most of you are probably thinking that this is an absolutely terrible idea for reimagining those classic children’s stories. But you’d, in fact, be wrong. Because it’s not an idea—it’s been done. These events were depicted in Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s graphic novel, Lost Girls.

“Completely shameless” is a phrase I’d probably use to describe Lost Girls. “Completely shameless” is also the phrase Moore used to describe DC’s latest move, the Before Watchmen series of comics. It will feature seven titles: Rorschach by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke, The Comedian by Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones, Dr. Manhattan by J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes, Nite Owl by J. Michael Straczynski and Andy and Joe Kubert, Ozymandias by Len Wein and Jae Lee, and Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner.

Judging from what we’ve seen so far about these books, I’m betting we won’t see Nite Owl blowing Rorschach or anything like that. So to recap, underage characters from classic children’s stories involved in orgies, rape, incest and drug abuse is perfectly acceptable. Mr. Hyde anally raping the Invisible Man to death is perfectly acceptable. But characters from an 80s comic book depicted in a prequel tale is “completely shameless.”

Wow.

There’s this justification I’ve seen a lot saying it’s okay for Moore to do these things because those characters were public domain…but then Moore himself cited a public domain work without prequels or sequels as a justification for why this was a bad idea.

“I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had twenty-five years ago. As far as I know, there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to Moby-Dick.”

This was said by the writer of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls. You either need to have some pretty big balls or a severe lack of self-reflection to make a statement dripping with that much irony. And I’d say the only reason there aren’t any prequels or sequels to Moby-Dick is because Moore is still trying to work out the logistics of how the whale will rape Ahab.

There’s this other justification I’ve seen a lot, basically saying it’s okay when Moore does it because it’s “deconstruction” so that makes it a different situation. Then why can’t Moore use archetypes, like he did with Watchmen in the first place? What this justification can be summed up as is: because he’s Alan Moore, that’s why. As a friend of mine pointed out, Moore seems to have bought into his own hype. It’s fine for him to write stories about characters created by J.M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Bram Stoker, etc., but no one can touch his characters because he’s Alan freaking Moore.

I say this as a fan of Moore’s work (or at least his pre-Lost Girls stuff): pot, meet kettle. It’s okay for Moore to take classic characters and reimagine them, but it’s not okay for people to do it for Moore’s creations? And let’s be fair—Watchmen was not composed of wholly original characters. Originally, the story was going to feature the Charlton Comics characters who had been acquired by DC, but DC got gunshy and thought they may want to use the characters again in the future. So they told Moore to change it. Back in 1986, here’s what Moore had to say about the Watchmen deal (emphasis mine):

MOORE: My understanding is that when Watchmen is finished and DC have not used the characters for a year, they’re ours.

DAVE GIBBONS (Watchmen artist): They pay us a substantial amount of money…

MOORE: …to retain the rights. So basically they’re not ours, but if DC is working with the characters in our interests then they might as well be. On the other hand, if the characters have outlived their natural life span and DC doesn’t want to do anything with them, then after a year we’ve got them and we can do what we want with them, which I’m perfectly happy with.

In 1986, Moore was perfectly happy with the Watchmen deal. In 2012, he calls that same deal “draconian.” He’s entitled to royalties, but refuses them. Oh, and it gets better. A few years ago, Moore could have gotten back the rights to Watchmen.

Back when the series first came out, Moore said he was interested in doing a prequel story if it sold well. Given the rights dispute, it never happened. A few years ago, DC told Moore, “if you do that prequel story or some other Watchmen story, you get the rights back.” Moore refused, saying that it was too late and that he didn’t want Watchmen back.

I’ll end this with a story about the late, great Raymond Chandler. Once, Chandler was asked how he felt about Hollywood potentially ruining his books. Chandler responded that Hollywood could never do that, because his books are still sitting on the shelf.

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3 thoughts on “Before Watchmen

  1. As for the Chandler quote, I think Moore claimed to have the same attitude when he sold the movie rights to his stories, collected his royalties, but refused to acknowledge the films. I think Moore just likes sneering at others. Nothing he has ever written would lead me to think he has a concept of objective morality that any publisher could follow to earn his respect.

  2. I have to agree with Moore, because Lost Girls was an artistic effort (whether or not you approved of it), while Before Watchmen is more shameless whoring on DC’s part.

    • I like to refer to this as The “It’s Only Okay When Alan Moore Does it” Defense.

      This idea that it was shameless whoring for DC to ask Wein, Straczynski, Cooke and Azzarello to write stories featuring characters they didn’t create, but it wasn’t shameless whoring when DC asked Moore to do the same thing with a number of characters he didn’t create, is absurd.

      And as far as Lost Girls go, if that were written by anyone other than Moore, you wouldn’t call it an “artistic effort.” It was slash fiction, pure and simple.

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