4 Feb 2010

Thought Balloon: Watchmen 2? "Just a matter of time, I suppose."

By Matt C

If the rumours at Bleeding Cool are true, the unthinkable has happened and someone up high at DC has decided now is the time to milk their Watchmen property. How (or if) that decision will manifest itself isn't entirely clear at this point, but it wouldn't be a stretch to expect something in the way of a prequel or sequel. How has this come to pass, and why now? Paul Levitz, who's been the President and Publisher for a good many years, has left the role to return to writing following Warner Bros' restructuring of the DC 'chain of command' last year. Although the relationship between Levitz and Watchmen scribe Alan Moore soured considerably during the years following its initial publication, he has apparently steadfastly refused to allow any exploitation of the material. Now he's no longer in charge, Dan Didio (and I'll stress that this is all coming from Rich Johnston's 'sources', there's no hard evidence as yet) allegedly wants to spearhead the launch of new Watchmen comics into the public domain.

You can imagine the cries of "No!" ringing out from fanboys bedrooms across the globe, and understandably so. Since it's debut in 1986, Watchmen has been the untouchable masterpiece of the medium, one that has thrilled and inspired generations of new readers. It was groundbreaking and industry-changing at the time, and none of its power has been diminished. Part of that enduring power is down to the fact that it's remained a complete story - there's no ongoing soap-opera continuity or other books that need to be read to get the complete picture. Everything you need to know is right there in there in those pages.

The arguable success of last year's movie adaptation could have swayed the 'powers that be' into thinking new Watchmen comics would be a good idea seeing as how the original trade paperback started selling in huge numbers on the run up to the film's release (even taking into account it's perennial position as a yearly bestseller, it was selling more than it had done in years).

Honestly though, I can't see how anybody can be too surprised by this news. It was inevitable that, sooner or later, something like this was going to happen. From a business perspective, Watchmen is too much of a money-spinner for a company like Warner Bros to not want to exploit it to its fullest. The real surprise is that it's taken this long. People will bitch and moan, and they have every right to, but in the end its an unavoidable situation. Even if these rumours turn out to be just that - rumours - at some point in the future, we are liable to see new stories set in the Watchmen universe.

So, if we are to presume that the question is no longer "Will there ever be further Watchmen stories?" then it must now be "What kind of Watchmen stories will we see?" My answer to that would be, "Hopefully great stories from great creative talent." That's a hell of a big ask though. It'll be a brave man (or woman) who'll pick up the pen to write a prequel/sequel/whatever to Watchmen because, really, nothing less than pure brilliance will suffice. That's the first real stumbling block right there, finding someone willing to risk a barrage of criticism for diluting Moore's sacred text. The only real possibility at this point, the only real choice that might appease most fans as far as I can see, is Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons. Gibbons has been increasingly focusing on his writing in recent years, and while he's hardly in the same league as Moore for wordsmithery, it would probably be the wisest choice to offer him the gig first (and probably the only one that would ever meet with Moore's approval). I honestly can't think of any other creator I'd like to see playing with the Watchmen universe, bar maybe Darwyn Cooke doing something with the original 1940s Minutemen.
The setting of any further Watchmen tales will be a contentious issue (once you get past the even more contentious issue of there actually being further Watchmen tales, obviously!). Sequel? Prequel? Or maybe an entirely new tale with some familiar characters? Or perhaps an entirely new tale with new characters, set in the shared universe? Going for a sequel will probably be the most foolish option, as the beauty of the original ending is that while it drops hints regarding what might have occurred next, it never commits to anything, instead allowing the reader to imagine and speculate on the events that follow. Anything set post-Watchmen would have to give a concrete explanation of the aftermath of Ozymandias' plan and I can't see how that could do anything but ruin the brilliance of that ending. My feeling is that only tales set in the past would really work, preferably something original rather than expanding on any flashbacks we've already been shown, but my gut says that the most likely option is just that though: filling out episodes we've already seen in brief. If DC want to 'cash in' on Moore and Gibbons' series they're liable to spin something directly out of it, using characters we already know. The worst-case scenario would be applying various comic book genre conventions to any further tales i.e. resurrecting fan-favourite Rorschach for new adventures. I'd like to think DC are smart enough not to go down that route, but who knows what will happen if they see dollar signs flashing in front of their eyes!

This is all speculation on my part though as there hasn't been any official announcement and this is all based on rumour alone at present. I'm not keen on the idea but as long-serving fan of the genre I'm well aware that the big publishers will attempt milk successful projects as soon as they get the opportunity. You never know, something mind-blowingly wonderful may end up on the stands at some point in the future, but as a note of caution it's worth remembering the fuss preceding the sequel to that other seminal work of 1980s comic book fiction, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. The reaction once The Dark Night Strikes Again was released could hardly be considered euphoric, and while it had its fans it was largely considered a disappointment (and that was with the original writer/artist at the helm). On the flip side of that coin, the sequel failed to diminish the power of the original.

We'll just have to wait see how - and if - all this pans out over the coming months. It’ll be interesting, to put it mildly.


Anonymous said...

It goes without saying that except in the unlikely event of Alan Moore writing it, I won't be buying any sequel/prequel/spin off to Watchmen. The sticking point here is a point of principle in my opinion. Watchmen is Alan Moore's creation, and if he doesn't want a sequel, then there shouldn't be a sequel. Sadly, the comic book industry rarely respects a creator's wishes (though cudos to Levitz for doing so), and in that it differs from the book industry. You couldn't imagine, for example, J K Rowling's publisher telling her that if she wasn't going to write any more Harry Potter books, that they'd hire a hack fantasy writer to do so instead.

I'm sure a Watchmen sequel will make a lot of money in the short term, but there will be people like myself who will subsequently have a very low opinion of any scab writer/artist (with the obvious exception of anyone who worked on the original book) who chooses to associate himself with it. From a moral and ethical point of view, you don't disrespect a fellow writer like that, no matter what the money men at Warners might want.

- Rob N

Matt T said...

I think this was being rumoured ever since the actor's divulged a sequel clause in thier contracts, but that's virtually a default in all Hollywood contracts now. I don't know how respectful the movie bigwigs are of the angry geek, but with all the new fans created by the movie they'll doubtless see more dollars to be made.
Any ridiculous retcons to the narrative would be ill-advised at the least, and would reflect badly on any poor sod forced to act in it.
I'm sure Warner would be hit so hard in the wallet by people not even wanting to entertain the concept of a prequel/sequel that they'd think twice about pouring too much cash into it with little hope of a return. After all, Warner have form in that department...