There shouldn’t be any prequels or sequels to Watchmen.
The seminal work by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was originally released as a twelve-issue miniseries in 1986/1987 and, once collected, became one of the most highly regarded graphic novels of all time. Along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Watchmen remains a defining example of comic art in the modern era.
It’s a work that stands alone and should be left alone, but recent news indicates that we’ll be seeing some new Watchmen material in the very near future.
In the past week, Rich Johnston of BleedingCool.com has written much about DC Comics’ efforts to continue the franchise with four prequel miniseries. Johnston claims Darwyn Cooke, of DC: The New Frontier fame, will be the main story architect behind the project, despite Cooke dismissing (but not denying) the idea in an interview with Comic Book Resources. Cooke himself may work with artist JG Jones, of Final Crisis fame, on a miniseries about the morally-ambiguous Comedian. Andy Kubert, along with his father Joe Kubert, are rumoured to be joining up for a series to feature the original Nite Owl teaming up and his successor. Other big names in comics, like J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello, John Higgins and original Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, have also been attached to the project.
Could a lot of money be made? You betcha.
Back in 2008, when just the trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film was circulating, moviegoers found their way into bookstores in large enough numbers to increase sales of the graphic novel tenfold. The New York Times reported that Watchmen‘s 2008 print run amounted to over 1 million copies, while sales in 2007 came to only 100,000 copies. Following the film’s release, DC began an “After Watchmen, What’s Next?” sales campaign to promote 20 other DC-owned graphic novels to new readers.
Now that DC Comics has once again topped the monthly sales charts following the relaunch of its entire superhero universe in September, the next logical step is to keep that momentum going. Selling so well that it’s never been out of print since its initial release, Watchmen is the comic industry’s answer to Pink Floyd’s bestselling The Dark Side of the Moon. That album famously spent a continuous 741 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts between 1973 and 1988 before recently re-entering the charts thanks to special edition reissues released in September. You don’t have to be in Hollywood to know that sales like that make a sequel a very, very attractive idea.
It’s also important to remember that when author Alan Moore and artist David Gibbons had finished Watchmen for DC Comics in the 1980s, they entertained the idea of doing a prequel miniseries about the early days of Watchmen‘s in-continuity superteam, the Minutemen. Only when relations between Moore and DC soured over ownership issues and royalties from promotional materials did the idea of a follow-up project was blown right off the table.
Knowing that follow-up prequels were once intended make the present push more palatable. Still, one very important, essential ingredient is missing from the equation:
Make no mistake, Moore was the architect behind Watchmen. As much as Dave Gibbons realized Moore’s vision through his impeccable art, it was Moore’s story that, quite literally, changed the landscape of the comics industry for decades to come. Moore, of course, didn’t think his little book would have become such a tremendous hit, or he wouldn’t have negotiated with DC Comics to have the rights to the book revert back to him and Dave Gibbons once Watchmen fell out of print. When it became clear DC would keep the book in print and was never intent on letting the rights to the book lapse, Moore got very, very angry and vowed never to work for DC again.
Then, in August of 2010, Alan Moore confirmed that DC had approached him with an offer of the rights to the original book, in exchange for the rights to any sequels, prequels or other derivative products and stories. Of course, Moore was Moore, and rejected the idea outright.
“I wasn’t going to take the rights back at this stage after they had pretty much, in my opinion, raped what I had thought to be a pretty decent work of art. I didn’t want them throwing me back the spent and exhausted carcass of my work and certainly not under terms that would apparently allow them to go on producing witless sequels and prequels ad infinitum.”
DC Comics has the rights to do with Watchmen what it will, especially with Dave Gibbons’ blessing. But in the name of art, is it right?
When you look at the Star Wars prequels, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again (the 2011 sequel to The Dark Knight Returns) and even The Matrix, you see where Alan Moore is coming from. When you take a piece of art and try to turn it into a franchise, you ultimately cheapen the value of the work. That value diminishes even more when such a project proceeds without the original visionary architect.
Sadly, it seems like no one at DC is listening. There’s a lot of money to be made, and they know that even the most conscientious objectors will pick up a new Watchmen book, even if only to see how bad a train wreck it could be.
Still, if we really had a choice of how they’d go about continuing Watchmen, I’d strongly campaign to see this version given greater form:
What say you? Are you in favour or against Watchmen prequels/sequels?