If all publicity is good publicity, the controversy-coated Before Watchmen project is golden. Any mention of these prequels to the classic 1986 Watchmen series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons makes the comics Internet light up like Times Square. But as with all things Watchmen-related, this question is unavoidable: Has DC knowingly mistreated the creators? The beef between Moore and the company is legendary, and David Brothers of 4thletter has written some stellar essays about the whole ball of wax. They are must-reads.
The deal was that the rights to Watchmen would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the trade went out of print for a year. It became a huge success, so guess what? It never went out of print. Moore has been scathingly critical of DC ever since, though Gibbons’ attitude toward the 2009 movie and the prequels is much more charitable. Neither is participating in Before Watchmen, which will be written and illustrated by some high-profile creators — some that we adore.
Still, that smiley face with the bleeding bullet hole seems a perfect symbol of the shiny happy spin on an ugly story. Moore isn’t the most sympathetic character given his tendency to say that the comics industry has gone to shit since his heyday. But that isn’t the issue. If he and Gibbons were essentially cheated, regardless of whether they should have negotiated a better contract, is any project connected to Watchmen defensible without their combined blessing? Some say Moore is beating a dead horse, but he’s not the one who keeps bringing it back to life.
Other pertinent questions:
- Does a reader who buys this book, and any artist who signs on, cosign DC’s actions? Most of us buy stuff from (and have probably worked for) companies that do sketchy things.
- Does the fact that many creators have gotten a raw deal from the comics industry make this case less noteworthy?
- As long as we get the comics we want, do fans care about the way creators are treated?
- What is to be gained, besides money, by revisiting a work that most people agree is brilliant and perfectly self-contained?
The new comics might so amazing that they shut up all the skeptics, though the bar for critical success seems almost impossibly high. So now we ask you a question, dear reader. Does Before Watchmen deserve a chance? After voting, please feel free to elaborate in the comments section.