Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 1985 series Watchmen is without a doubt one of the best and greatest comic series ever published. Describing an alternate earth with similar but different timelines, this serious and adult series was one of the first comic book series to be viewed as literature instead of comics. Watchmen also has a serious and controversial backstory involving legal ownership rights which resulted in the permanent dissolution of Alan Moore’s working relationship with DC Comics. If you’ve read into the matter, you may better understand Alan Moore’s distance from modern comic companies such as Marvel and DC and why he wants nothing to do with any of the modern adaptations based on his work; his distaste for such matters includes his insistence that his royalties go to support his fellow co-creators instead of himself. But like an old prospector who can’t help returning to the well until his supply is exhausted, DC Comics continues to return to the Watchmen series. Previously they had their Before Watchmen series in 2012 which elaborated on origins and backstories of main characters before the main series which debuted to mixed results from fans and creators alike. Recently DC Comics has incorporated the Watchmen character into their mainstream DC Universe in their DC Rebirth relaunch. Now with the unauthorized sequel to Watchmen titled Doomsday Clock slowly being published this year and an HBO produced series taking place in the Watchmen universe, we must ask but one question: Are these really stories that need to be produced and/or published?
When the Watchmen movie came out in 2009, I had never read the book before seeing the movie. While most of the comic literate world would cry foul, I still found the movie to be a decent and faithful adaptation despite the limitations that you would expect from a Zack Snyder directed movie. I even read in a magazine that even the articulate and ever distant Alan Moore thought it was “okay” which coming from him is a big compliment. When one reads Watchmen, the content is so rich and complex that you get the sense that not only do you understand and follow the story but by the end, you feel like you understood the entire world you just read within the thick manuscript of its pages. There is this sensation that all the loose ends were tied, and anything left dangling you didn’t need to question because some of it was good storytelling and the rest common sense. You knew that Dr. Manhattan was still out there among the universes, the cover-up about the “alien” attack had resulted in world peace instead of nuclear war, and that Rorschach’s journal detailing the entire incident would continue the deceased vigilante’s quest for justice without compromise. That was all you needed to know and that was fine.
Last year they announced the HBO Watchmen series was in the works and people debated whether it would be an adaptation or a sequel to the original series. When producer Damon Lindelof revealed actors and actresses cast in the project, he also elaborated on the writers approach to the show. “We have no desire to adapt the twelve issues Mr. Moore and Gibbons created 30 years ago. Those issues are sacred ground and they will not be retread nor recreated nor rebooted. They will however be remixed.” He compares the process in the writer’s room to sampling beats to create new music or comparing the original Watchmen and this new series to the Old and New Testament by saying the New Testament didn’t erase what the Old had established but continued the stories. While those are some creative metaphors, that kind of high praise leaves me feeling anxious and inquistive instead of relieved and ready to put the matter to bed. They want to pay tribute to the original source material but tell their own stories with it which is what most if not all comic book movies have been doing since their introduction to the silver screen. But what more could they tell that wasn’t elaborated on in that dense and literate Bible they’ve put on a pedestal? They want to tell these stories in a contemporary context meaning the series will happen after the events depicted in the original Watchmen series but in the modern day. So this is a sequel but not really? In essence how is this any different than the current Doomsday Clock series except that our mystery characters won’t be interacting with characters like Batman, Joker, or Lex Luthor ( at this time anyway)?
I understand Lindelof’s desire to “ask new questions and explore the world through new lens” and with a cast consisting of Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Loui Gossett Jr and other actors’ familiar with comic book storytelling and adaptation, they certainly have the tools and the potential to do so. But I recall Lindelof’s involvement with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus which served as a not-prequel to the Alien franchise which attempted to do something similar to mixed results from fans and critics alike. Because sometimes in telling more of a story you lose the appreciation for the mystery and imagination the story left behind with its ending. This is a dangerous balancing act because in wanting to be vague and not spoil what is to come, you create unrealistic expectations and demands for something that wasn’t in demand in the first place. Sure the project has talented creators and people involved but so did the Before Watchmen series in 2012 and I can’t tell you how many of those back issues with the yellow and black lettering I’ve seen untouched in comic book outlets over the years. If the public does not want it, the ratings and attention will speak for them. I remember Alan Moore, when speaking out against DC’s 2008 Blackest Night series which he felt had been inspired by some of his earlier Tales of the Green Lantern comics, said “these days, I increasingly get the sense of the comic book industry going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night.” While I don’t always agree with some of what Alan Moore says, I do believe that DC Comics should leave the world of Watchmen alone and continue to concentrate on telling exciting and fresh stories instead of revisiting projects that feel less creative and more cash cow. I don’t have high hopes for this series but I’m open to be proven wrong. Maybe in the end it’ll all be some kind of grand joke. Everybody laughs. Roll on the snare drum. Curtains.
On another note, I would definitely be down to watch something like this.