Apr 24, 2012

What BEFORE WATCHMEN Will Actually Affect

The BEFORE WATCHMEN talk continues. Between Alan Moore admitting that his problems with DC are specific personal problems that pertain only to himself, and the DC camp making a bunch of excuses so they don't just come clean and admit they're doing it for money, between pro-Moore fans judging the morals and principles of the guys buying this project and what I can only call anti-Moore fans judging Moore and even with some saying "Alan Moore can go to hell" because "Lee Bermejo was born to draw Rorschach" (Google it, if you must) combined with all the talk about boycotting The Avengers for some reason, I have to actually wonder if anyone is actually still enjoying this hobby lately.

WATCHMEN ala Jack Kirby by Mark Lewis

Look, I'm going to leave it at this: What Alan Moore and DC have between them is up to them. None of us have ever seen the full details of that contract and we never will. It's a complicated situation and everyone who was involved in that will have to live with their decisions until the day they die. You can take sides, but quit judging the people who aren't on yours, all right?

All right?

Good. Now let's actually talk about WATCHMEN.

The one thing everyone seems to be in agreement on is that BEFORE WATCHMEN will not affect the original book. And it won't. The story will live on, and it will live on independently, and it will live on forever. I still love THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA, and I don't care what came before or what came after it. I love it.

But there is something else BEFORE WATCHMEN is actually going to affect. And that part bums me out

It's absolutely true of any genre, but it seems to me that superhero fans really prefer when things are spelled out for them. That's probably why origins are such a big thing. Novels and movies that don't involve superheroes don't really have to explain why every character is the way they are. They usually start with the characters already fully formed and they let the background and history creep in when necessary. As Neil Gaiman says:

"Begin with the story. Always begin with the story. (Unless you're Lud in the Mist.) The world is there for the story to happen in. Here and now, you don't need to tell the history of the world before you start telling a story that happened on the Isle of Man. You tell the story and let the background and the history creep in where it's needed. The same goes for worlds you've built yourself."

However, superhero fans like to start at the beginning of the story, and they tend to want every hole filled. I think it's a side effect of the fact that the main superhero universes are shared continuities, which, oddly, is also one of the strengths of those universes, when used properly. It's truly one of the things that make the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe unique.

One of the things that I and many other readers like about WATCHMEN is the fact that it really does stand out among superhero comics — especially superhero comics before then — as having that novelistic approach. For example, the Nostalgia perfume is seen only in the background — creeping in where it's needed — thus embedding itself into the readers' brains in a subtle manner.

So when Dan says it at the end, the effect is more powerful.

The series itself is full of bits that encourage healthy speculation and therefore discussion. For example, Rolf Muller is never actually revealed to be Hooded Justice. It's just very strongly hinted at, and it's very possible. But they don't come out and say it, and they don't confirm and deny it one way or another.

That's part of the beauty of WATCHMEN, because the whole point was to treat superheroes in a "realistic" manner. And more than grittiness, defecation, decapitation, and whatever else constitutes "realism" these days, I thought what really added to the realism was that we don't get full closure on anything. It's a very postmodern trope, and common, again, in other media. But that's part of what life is. We don't get full closure on anything, and we don't get all the answers. That, to me, really emphasized the point of WATCHMEN.

Further questions include why Sally Jupiter (Silk Spectre I) still engaged in sexual intercourse with Edward Blake (The Comedian), despite the fact the he attempted to rape her. This is a question that the narrative doesn't answer, and interestingly enough, when asked for explanations for these scenes, Moore himself would give very vague explanations, admitting that at that point in time, the characters had taken on lives of their own, and he was no longer dictating what they were doing so much as the other way around.

"I certainly wouldn't want to have to defend my thinking upon the character.
But it felt right, I suppose, is the only answer that I can give."
-Alan Moore on Sally Jupiter kissing Edward Blake's picture at the end of WATCHMEN
Excerpt from The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore

Why does Rorschach take off his mask the moment before he died? Does Ozymandias' plan work? What was up with Nite Owl and the Twilight Lady? What kind of life did Dr. Manhattan make afterward?

I don't know. But I can imagine. And that's part of the fun.

With healthy speculation comes discussion. Not all of us think of the same explanations; it doesn't work that way so it really encourages debate. It really makes us apply what we know of the human condition to these fictional characters.

At the end of it all, our answers end up saying more about us than about the work itself.

But that's part of what made WATCHMEN so good — that everyone had their own opinions, that it was so interactive. Now I know people say that if you don't want that to be ruined, you should just ignore BEFORE WATCHMEN, and I will (although, admittedly, some of that art is nice). I like the fact that I don't know all the answers, that I figure it out on my own, that you figure it out on your own, and that we can talk about it. I think it's better for the book, and I think it's better for me as a reader.

And that's really what bugs me about these prequels. Whatever questions they do answer, whatever holes they fill — and before you get on my case, I'm sure they won't answer everything — they're taking other people's interpretations and making them the official, canonical explanation.

I've long been an advocate of personal continuity in the stories I read. If I didn't like a story, it didn't "really" happen. SINS PAST never happened, of course, and Zenn-La never died. So frankly, ignoring these stories in terms of the original story and keeping the original story intact in my head will be easy enough. But what I will be sad about is that we will never be able to discuss WATCHMEN again without somebody going, "Well, as revealed in BEFORE WATCHMEN, this is the answer to question X."

Part of the beauty of WATCHMEN is that it encouraged thought and imagination, and now the people who will buy into BEFORE WATCHMEN may do that for BEFORE WATCHMEN, but they won't do that for WATCHMEN anymore. It doesn't change the original book, but it changes the dynamic of how people talk about the original book.

And that's what bums me out, because when it comes down to the original book, not only does it stand out because it has a novel-type approach, but when I talk about it with people, I really like the fact that it's all left entirely in our hands.

Having said all that, I still want to know when they're doing B FOR BLOOD FEUD.


Kid said...

I've always kind of thought that, in poetry, if the poem is open to personal interpretation, it's because the poet didn't have anything much worth writing about. Why should I do the work of making sense of it? That's the poet's job. I sometimes wonder if the same is true of writers of comicbooks. Same with quiz books. The fun is in seeing whether you got the answers right - not in being left dangling.

I read Watchmen at the time. Sort of enjoyed it, but found it underwhelming. (Couldn't remember much of it 'til I saw the movie.) Being underwhelming is hardly a recommendation for any comic.

In fact, I was so underwhelmed that I'm not even interested enough in the characters to want to read the new comics about them.

Duy Tano said...

I can't agree with that. I'm not saying one method is better than another on a general level, but I do like stuff that makes me have to work for it.

Paul C said...

Totally agree with this article. There are some gaps that don't need filling.


"...superhero fans like to start at the beginning of the story, and they tend to want every hole filled."

Superhero fans don't just like every hole filled (fnarr, fnarr) they want every hole filled RIGHT NOW! That was one of the things that bugged me about the New 52 complaints. People demanding to know "Why's this happened? What does that mean?" when the first issues hadn't even come out yet. I think some fans would actually rather read a Marvel Handbook or a DC Who's Who over an actual story.

Duy Tano said...

Thanks, Paul. I do get the vibe from a lot of fans that they don't really care what stories tend to be about; they just care about what happens next to which character. And statistics, for some reason.

Joe Jusko said...

LOVE that cover! :-)

Brian Skene said...

I had never really considered the new books from that perspective until I read this article and I have to admit, it makes me a little less excited at the prospect of reading them.

Duy, if the new books are well written, and manage to create even more questions while answering the old ones, would that make you less or more likely to read them? Are you too attached to the original nuances and subtleties to accept new ones in their place?

Now that you've brought all of this up, I'm starting to wonder if I'm in that boat.

Great article!

Duy Tano said...

Joe: Any chance we could see a painted Watchmen via Jusko? :D

Brian: I don't really want the old questions answered, as I do think the work is strong as it is. Plus as Paul pointed out to me in private, the unanswered questions are really trivial questions (e.g., What's up with Nite Owl and Twilight Lady) that don't really need answering. If I do end up reading Before Watchmen, I'm likely to ignore it as an official explanation and treat it perhaps as fan fiction, kind of like "Well, this is what Darwyn thought would fill this hole, but it could have gone in any direction."

But actually, truth be told, I've got a reading list a mile high so I wouldn't even get around to reading BEFORE WATCHMEN for a long long time anyway. :D

Thanks for the compliment!

Paradox said...

Kid said:

"I've always kind of thought that, in poetry, if the poem is open to personal interpretation, it's because the poet didn't have anything much worth writing about. Why should I do the work of making sense of it? That's the poet's job. "

You do realize you basically said "I don't understand poetry.", right? Poetry is about form far more than content. It's about using words in and of themselves. Its often about using them in a non-standard way to elicit imagery and emotion. Expecting poetry to be "spelled out" is much like expecting a pun or wordplay joke to be spelled out. If you do so, you destroy it.

Anonymous said...

Before it becomes impossible to view her this way, because of DC's imminent use of their awesome legal power to shape perception of all things WATCHMEN, The Twilight Lady is Lilith. You may do with this strange angle of thought what you wish.
And I shall do with BEFORE WATCHMEN what I wish, which is ignore, totally.

Duy Tano said...

All right, I know I've got a "No anonymous comments" rule, but I made an exception for that one because it was HILARIOUS.

Mattkind said...

All I know is I liked Before Watchmen

LaMar said...

First off, great article and commentary Doo.

I'm the kind of reader that when I take in anything, there has to be some sort of payoff for my time investment. I can stare at a piece of art for hours before moving on or go over word bubbles many times if something hits me as poignant.
As a personal choice in how I live my life, I don't like being pandered to. I just want great art and a great story. Filling in all the gaps just because I'm not sure about what may have happened in those gaps isn't necessary. And honestly if you look at things closely, the narrative at least shows the possibilities that the panels or dialogue doesn't.
Using my imagination as much a part of the experience as what's actually on the page, and I wouldn't trade it for a linear process.

Duy Tano said...

Mattkind, your blog is awesome.

(I just wanted to say that.)

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