Sunday, February 26, 2012

Alan Moore on Before Watchmen

At the start of the month the press that follows such matters was abuzz with talk about DC Comics's announcement of a slew of prequels to Watchmen - and the reaction of Alan Moore (who is not involved in the project) has been about what one would expect. In this piece from Blastr, the author criticizes Moore's objections, pointing out his use of other writers' creations in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and suggesting that this is exactly the same thing.

Moore's answer was that he "stole" the characters, rather than adapting them. The article is dismissive of this rationale, but I'm in complete agreement with Moore on this point, and see at least other distinctions between what Moore did and what DC proposes to do.

One is that the characters on which Moore drew for the League have been around for such a long time, and are so strongly established in Science Fiction Land, that they seem to belong to the "public domain" culturally as well as legally. Putting it bluntly, regardless of what Moore did with characters like Captain Nemo and Allan Quatermain, that treatment would not fundamentally alter how we see the original creations of Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard. Much as Watchmen is a classic of the comics medium, I doubt the same can be said for Dr. Manhattan and friends.

The other is the very real difference between the kind of ironic, anachronistic, self-aware use of Nemo, Quatermain and company we saw in League, and the invention of a "canonical" prequel to the stories which introduced them, such as Before Watchmen will be. In fact, a much more appropriate analogy for the idea is the penning of an "official" prequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

What this adds up to is that while one might have had reservations about a project like League, the stakes involved were fairly low for the cultural legacy on which it drew, a botch of the characters not having any real impact. This is not the case with the much newer Watchmen - though I do expect that it won't really be ruined even if the prequel were badly mishandled, any more than was the case with, for instance, Frank Herbert's Dune novels by the hackwork out of which his son has made a career.

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