This article was published at Bleeding Cool at the beginning of December last year, under the title The Ethics Of Watchmen 2. Due to popular request, it is being reprinted on the front page today.
Whoever is involved, whenever it is scheduled, DC Comics do seem to be continuing with the production of a series of Watchmen prequel comics by a variety of talented writers and artists. But should they? Here are a few thoughts worth considering.
Alan Moore definitely argues the ethics behind the original contract he signed with DC Comics over the rights to the publication of Watchmen and V For Vendetta. They allowed the company to publish the work for a reasonable amount of time while it stayed in print. Which allowed for the series, and a possible collection if DC wanted to publish one. At the time, however, no trade paperback of any comic book work had remained in print, and none was expected to. Alongside The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and V For Vendetta spearheaded that movement in the US market of keeping collections in print. And soon it was decided that this is what would happen, the books would stay in print, DC would control the multi-media rights that went along with that and they were not interested in renegotiating the contract given the new market conditions.
When DVD and the internet came along, Hollywood writers were able to strike in order to get the studios and broadcasters to negotiate rights that would reflect new markets. Alan Moore was not in a union, there is no union that represents comics writers, so he began a one man strike against DC Comics. When Neil Gaiman wanted to negotiate the Sandman deal, DC relented, giving him a share of a previously existing DC trademark. Possibly because they didn't want a repeat performance. Indeed many creators, including those who will be working on Watchmen 2, have benefited from Moore's stance.
That they can even work on Watchmen 2 is because DC refused to renegotiate the Watchmen contract back in the day.
The Principle Of Prequels
Some consider Watchmen such a holy icon of comic book storytelling, that any sequel or prequel is a blasphemous anathema. Its existence will sully the original, it is not necessary when you have the original, and it will turn a work of art into a franchise. And it is utterly against authorial intent.
Except, originally, Alan Moore had entertained the idea of prequels to Watchmen, specifically a Minutemen series. One could argue that this would just be an extension of that expressed possibility.
However, it is interesting to note that, while he was Alan Moore's antagonist for many years, ex-President/Publisher of DC Comics, Paul Levitz was the one who stood in the way of a number of attempts to spinoff Watchmen, citing the authorial intent of keeping the comic as it was. Levitz seems to have taken on a preservation role regarding many projects - he seemed to want to protect Watchmen not only from exploitation by money men or overkeen creators... but also from Alan Moore himself.
There Are Two People In This Marriage
Watchmen was created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. While the prequelisation may be against Alan Moore's wishes, it may not necessarily be against Dave Gibbons wishes. And surely they both have the right for their views to be respected? It was this kind of issue, the refusal of Alan Moore for Marvel US to reprint his Captain Britain work after Marvel launched their Marvelman lawsuit that saw his artistic partner Alan Davis, who believed a timely reprint of Captain Britain might help Davis' burgeoning US career, to break up a partnership that was blossoming. Dave Gibbons hasn't made his view clear on prequels, though I understand that he's not objecting to their existence.
The Dissonance Of The Inner Fanboy
I find myself torn. I enjoy and respect the original Watchmen, especially the variety of storytelling devices that opened up all sorts of possibilities that the comic book medium could exploit for emotional and intellectual impact. I've even tried to use a few and innovate a few of my own as a direct result of reading that comic. Combine that with a sense of outrage over the contractual issues regarding this book and given the choice, I'd rather it not exist.
Yet I know, in my heart of hearts, if it did actually exist I would buy it. Because I do want more Watchmen, even if only on a surface level, and with names like Andy and Joe Kubert and JG Jones attached, I'd be excited to read it. I know I will buy it and I know I'll enjoy reading it, even if my stomach is rotting away. Will I receive, like cheap pornography, the thrill of the instant only to feel sullied myself by the whole experience, sitting there alone, slightly ashamed, a read Watchmen prequel cooling in my hands?
It seems my only fate. And I think it will be the fate of many. What do you say? I get the feeling we'll have to make a choice fairly soon...
Rich Johnston wrote the comic Watchmensch. He is currently considering a sequel.