Before Watchmen? Here’s Why…

In 2000,newly appointed Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada made a bold (and controversial) move to tell the origin of Wolverine.

Many pointed to the mysterious origin of the character as being his strength and that telling the origin would ruin the character.

…and yet, here we are in 2012.  One origin and a horrible movie later, and Wolverine is still quite popular.

Which brings me to the news that DC Entertainment will be publishing a series of “Before Watchmen” comic books, a move that I would argue is bolder (and more controversial) than their decision to reboot the DCU with the “New 52.”

The Watchmen: The 12 Issues And The Collected Edition

Consider that The Watchmen was published in 1986 as a 12 issue mini-series which was later collected and has been in print ever since.*

The Watchmen and its creators have a total of 5 Eisner Awards since it was first published and the collected edition remains one of the most successful comic book collections of all time.  (as of last year, it was still in the Top 100 graphic novels that DC Entertainment publishes)

Those 12 issues are some of my favorite comic books of all time.  I hold them up as ‘sacred’ (whatever that means) and read it every year as if it was the Talmud.

Why “Before Watchmen?”

Corporations, like DC Entertainment, have to serve two audiences; the consumer who is buying the product and the stockholders who want to see profit every quarter.

It is not surprising that DC Entertainment feels that they are “leaving money on the table” by limiting The Watchmen to the collected edition.

Right or wrong, DC Entertainment looks at its library of characters as intellectual properties, and it needs to leverage these properties to both give customers what they want and appease the stockholders by turning a profit.

See the statement above about this being one of their most successful comic book collections of all time.

And yet, those characters are “trapped” inside those 12 issues whereas Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. are all quite “portable” and “travel” very well across any number of media.

My Perspective On “Before Watchmen”

Those 12 issues, as a collected edition, will be available forever in the same way they were when I first purchased them as a kid.**  Days, weeks, months, years  from now I can give that to friends to read and they’ll hopefully enjoy it just the same way that I did (and do).

One of the reasons The Watchmen has held its revered status is that it is one of the few super hero comic books that was not handed to a new creative team once it was completed.

Which is exactly the point.

The Watchmen has transcended its peer comic books.  It has moved beyond Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.  It’s moved into the realm of the works of Jane Austen or Shakespeare and become bulletproof in a sense.

Think about how many people have stolen (and continue to steal) from Austen and Shakespeare; and yet, the reputation and the quality of the originals are unharmed.

How about the number of derivatives that have been published based on the source materials?  Bridget Jones’s Diary, West Side Story, Pride Prejudice and Zombies.  Some of them are actually quite great, and yet none of them diminish the source material.  Quite the opposite, they often boost the appeal for the source material.

Exhibit A: the recent spike in The Watchmen collected edition sales was due to the run up to the film.  We know how the film turned out.  And yet, the collected edition remains a best seller long after the movie has faded away.

Whatever “Before Watchmen” brings, it will only help the original collection.  It can not, and will not diminish the original.

A Tale Of Two Franchises

My favorite quote from a retailer was in the Bleeding Cool article, “Retailers Talk Before Watchmen:”

I love DC. I love money. I approve this comic.

Ryan Higgins
Comics Conspiracy
Sunnyvale, CA

Think about Star Wars.  Many of us forget that before the Star Wars prequels, there was a limited amount of Star Wars to be had.

I’m currently watching The People Vs. George Lucas, and they try to explain this in the film but I think that it’s really lost on many people how little there was.

Comics, novelizations, toys and a few video games here and there.  And that’s about it. The scope of Star Wars was contained inside those 3 films.

Lucas Films is a corporation.  Privately held, but they are still a corporation who like to make money.

The Star Wars prequels did three things:

  1. They made a lot of money.
  2. They made a lot of money.
  3. They made a lot of money.

The Star Wars prequels built a franchise that has continued to grow into the multi-million dollar Star Wars industry that has pushed itself into the new millenium.

Would my nephews know what Star Wars was without the prequels?  Probably.  Do they know now what it is?  Of course.

Parents are able to share Star Wars with their kids in large part because there is more to share.  The cartoon series.  The video games.  The comic books.  The toys, etc.

It all feeds back to those original three movies.  The source material.

Or take Star Trek, where Paramount have had their ups and downs with maintaining the quality of their franchise.

They had some successes (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and some failures (Star Trek: Nemesis) but one of the biggest successes to date has been the re-imagining of the original series by JJ Abrams.

The 2009 film did more to open Star Trek up to new audiences than perhaps anything they’ve done since The Next Generation and yet the Trek faithful (like myself) love it all even more.

For the first time since watching Battlestar Galactica have I felt the desire to go back and watch some of the old series.

And let’s repeat after me: none of these things have diluted the original source material.**

That Said, Will They Be Good? 

We’ll see.

What I will say is that this is an opportunity for DC Entertainment and for retailers to expand the audience of the collected edition.

And, to their credit, DC Entertainment is treating this with more respect than many other projects.  The list of creators working on these titles are some of the top writers and artists in the industry.  Between the group of them they have over 15 Eisner awards and two of them are members of the Hall of Fame.

DC Entertainment is investing a lot of time/effort/talent to ensure the  intersection of giving consumers what they want and turning a profit for shareholders goes properly here.

Franchising characters, be it into more comic books or into merchandise is a part of the business.  It’s what often funds the comic books that I enjoy.

I buy what I like.  I don’t buy what I don’t like.  To that point, any sort of franchising/licensing that I don’t like…it doesn’t bother me.

I will pick these titles up.  I’ll either enjoy them.  Or I won’t.  But it won’t have any impact on my love for the collected edition.

There are plenty of things both in the world and in the industry to get upset about.  This is not one of them.

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* for an expert analysis on the contract issues between DC and Moore/Gibbons, I would point you to Josh Flanagan’s blog post on iFanboy.  He also hits a number of the same points I made in this post.  My feeling on this is that there are two versions to this story, and then there’s the truth that we’ll never know.  

** colorist John Higgins updated the coloring of The Watchmen to take advantage of modern printing techniques and higher quality paper.  In Watching The Watchmen, he documents this process and the coloring remains true to the original.  It is akin to a painting restoration and helped make the trade paperbacks that many consumers purchased during the run up to the film look so good.  

***I’m not going to get into an argument about the recuts of the Star Wars prequel films.  That’s not the point…  But yes, Han shot first.

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