Friday, February 3, 2012

No, Seriously: Who IS Watching the Watchmen?

I sometimes get asked who my second-favorite writer is.  (This is a complete lie: I have never once been asked that question.  But let's roll with it; it'll make this post easier for us both to get through.)  #1 is obviously Stephen King, right?  Right.

But who gets the silver medal in the Bryantlympics?

I sometimes answer Larry McMurtry, whose novel Lonesome Dove is probably my single favorite book, and who also wrote a number of other fine novels (among them: Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show, and Horseman, Pass By).  Lately, I've been answering Joe Hill, whose work has not only impressed me, it's flat-out floored me.

But I think the real answer is Alan Moore.  I forget about him sometimes, which seems like an odd thing to say about someone I'm holding up as a strong potential candidate for second-favorite-writer status.  It's true, though; I go stretches of time in which I think about Moore almost not at all.  The dude IS a magician ... maybe he occasionally casts a cloaking spell on himself or something, I dunno.

Recently, though, I started reading some Moore again (for the first time since the lead-up to the Watchmen movie from a few years ago), and I'm remembering something: this dude is the truth.

This was prompted by my reading a bunch of Scott Snyder comics -- I became aware of Snyder thanks to American Vampire, which Stephen King helped kick off (see how it all ends up coming back to Uncle Steve eventually?) -- including his excellent current run on Swamp Thing.  This made me remember that about ten years ago, I'd purchased the first three of the six volumes of The Saga of the Swamp Thing (in which Alan Moore revolutionized the character) ... but I'd never, somehow, managed to get around to reading them.  So, being in a Swamp Thing state of mind, I dusted off the Alan Moore Swamp Thing books and got to readin'.

And here's the thing: they're good.  They're really, really good.  In fact, they're GREAT.

As I was reading them, I remembered all the other Alan Moore books that I love: V for Vendetta and From Hell and Top 10 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea and Tomorrow Stories, etc.

And, most especially, Watchmen.

Watchmen is not only THE best comic book I've ever read, it's one of the best pieces of fiction of any kind that I've ever read.  Yeah, yeah, I know: some people think it's overrated.  They are welcome to that opinion, just as I am welcome to my opinion that they don't know shit from the fabled Shinola; in other words, these people don't know what the fuck they're talking about. Watchmen is monumentally great.  I've read it probably half a dozen times, and it bums me out every time it's over.

For this reason, I have to plead to a bit of hypocrisy when I start complaining about the fact that DC this week announced its plans to issue a series of Watchmen prequel comics this summer: I love Watchmen and wish there was more, and now there's more ... but it's more without Moore, and that's a problem.

It's old news in the comics world for characters to be bounced from writer to writer to writer, and from artist to artist to artist; that's the rule, generally speaking (at least within the realm of superhero comics).  I would imagine Superman and Batman have been written by more people than have read some comics.  Watchmen, however, has always managed to stand apart: it was -- is -- such a towering, singular work of art that it's previously been unthinkable that anyone would try and continue or augment Moore's story.  Heck, even artist and co-creator Dave Gibbons has no involvement in these prequels.

So, by all rights, I ought to be up in arms, shouting to the heavens that these prequels -- which have the on-the-nose title Before Watchmen (cue eyeroll) -- are an abomination.

And they are.  Let's have no misunderstanding about that.

But they're an intriguing abomination, because DC has at least had the sense to enlist some serious talent to bring these things to life.  J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, and several others are handling the scripting; amongst the artists is a name that will be familiar to some Stephen King fans: Jae Lee (the inaugural artist on the Dark Tower comics).  With talent like that working on the books, there is simply no way I can resist buying these comics.  I hate myself for it a little bit, because I'd like to be true to Alan Moore's wishes that the project not happen.  (And if you want to read a bit about the history of why Alan Moore is against the idea, here's a link for you.)

However, as Stephen King would say, it is the tale ... not he who tells it.  And while I'm a massive Alan Moore fan, I'm also a massive Watchmen fan ... and who knows, it might end up being good.  Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

Jae Lee's cover for the Ozymandias issue of Before Watchmen
This got me to thinking about something.

Once -- and let me be clear: I hope this doesn't happen for another thirty years, but it WILL happen eventually -- Stephen King reaches the clearing at the end of the path, there is almost certainly going to be interest in continuing his legacy in some way.  Some smart-aleck is going to want to write more Dark Tower novels, or a sequel to The Stand, or another Jack Sawyer adventure.  Under certain circumstances, I'd be okay with that: if it was Joe Hill or Owen King, for example, or Peter Straub, or even Scott Snyder.  Someone who had an actual connection to King.  I'd still be dubious, but I'd at least be interested to see what they did with the material.  And even if the writer is unconnected to King, but still a genuine talent, I'd try my best to give it a fair shot.

But what if it's just some Joe Blow type, some mook with good intentions but an insufficient talent level?  Would I be okay with it then?  Probably not; with Before Watchmen, it's the significant talent level involved that's keeping me from setting up some sort of mental Occupy DC camp to protest the whole thing.

The thing is, I don't know exactly why any of this should bother me.  If the worst-case scenario happens, and Stephen King were to die five years from now and somehow Stephenie Meyer were to get ahold of the rights to The Dark Tower and then rewrite the whole series, it would undoubtedly suck ... but so what?  It would infuriate me, but should it?  After all, nobody would be forcing me to read it, and it's not like my copies of the real books would disappear.

I had to think about all of this for a while before I finally figured it out: it makes me mad because I know that WHATEVER it ended up being, I'd still read it!  It's not that I wouldn't want to: I would want to not want to, but I'd still, despite my own potential distaste for it, read it.  I've got DVD copies of Creepshow III and The Mangler Reborn to prove it, sadly.

Because of these contradictory impulses, this summer I will be forking over hard-earned money for Before Watchmen.  I'll grumble about it a bit, and if it is anything less than awesome, I'll grumble about it some more ... but DC will get my money either way.  If it's good, they'll get my money a second time, because I'll want the inevitable collected hardback.  And if -- miracle of miracles -- it should somehow end up being great, there's no telling how many times they'll get my money, as increasingly swankier editions are released over the years.

But even if it's utter garbage, DC will get my money once.  I mean, Phantom Menace-level awful, or Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror-level awful, DC is getting some bucks from me for Before Watchmen; quality is irrelevant in this equation.

Why, you might ask?

The answer is that when it comes to the stories I truly, madly, deeply love, I'm an addict.  They are stronger than I am, and at the end of the argument, if what it takes for me to get that richly-desired hit is for me to perform the consumer-integrity equivalent of debasing myself in an alley for a few bucks to buy enough to get me through ... well, that's what I'll do.  I'll want to NOT do it; but I'll go ahead and do it anyways.

Stephen King was right: it really IS the story, not he who tells it.

But sometimes, I wish it weren't so ... because today it's Before Watchmen: tomorrow it may well be The Stand 2: The Wrath of Flagg, as written by whoever's been writing Tom Clancy's novels lately.


I leave you with a sample from Watchmen, and if you've never read that book, do yourself a favor and make it a top priority.


  1. I know what you mean here...I remember reading that last hitchhikers guide to the galaxy book...and another thing, knowing it would be awful...or at least not as good as the Douglas Adams originals. It was awful by the way, i still have it on my book shelf directly after mostly harmless mind you...

    1. Yeah, them's the perils of being a fan of a brand as much as you are of an individual author.

      I remember the reviews for that particular book. They mostly seemed to consist of eyerolls and middle fingers, as I recall!

  2. I dread to think what would happen if George rr Martin pegs it anytime soon!

    Not sure where you stand on Doctor Who (it's my big 'thing')...but the recent novelization of one of Douglas Adams episodes, Shada, was amazing, pitched just right, like a tribute to the man and his writing. Not sure why that was so successful yet the H2G2 one sucked so bad.

    I'm currently on a massive rewatch of all classic Doctor Who episodes from the beginning...50 years worth! Just about to start on the 6th doctor...I know he's not universally liked, but it's when I started watching the show so I'm excited to get into it...


    1. Good lord, I hadn't even considered the possibility of somebody else writing Martin's books for him. What a horrifying thought that is!

      I consider myself a "Doctor Who" fan, but I'm guessing a lot of "Doctor Who" fans would want to throw me out of the group, because it so often seems like I end up disliking the actual episodes. For example, I thought the recent season premiere was kind of awful. I liked Capaldi a lot, and there were some good scenes, but boy, am I tired of Vastra, Strax, and Jenny. Really, I'm just tired of Steven Moffat.

      I've watched a decent amount of classic Who, and I'd say that even during times when the series isn't very good, I can typically get some enjoyment out of it due to liking the actors who play the Doctor. What I've seen of the Colin Baker era did not much please me, but I liked him as the Doctor just fine.

      Eventually, I'll do exactly what you're doing and watch the entire series, top to bottom. I'd like to track down the many Big Finish stories, too, as what I've heard of them is terrific.

      Have fun!

    2. It sounds to me like you'd be perfect as a Doctor Who fan...on the forums it seems like half the "fans" don't even like the show...always bitching at each other over which cyberman design was the best, getting into heated arguments over why the Dalek colour is now wrong etc.

      I have to admit that i loved the new episode and though Capaldi was great (I'm Scottish, so i loved all that bit about the accent and them landing in Glasgow, my home town. I live i the US now so that was cool for me.

      I also really love The Moff (also Scottish!) I know he uses the Daleks and Cybermen waaaay too much (I think Tom Baker only meets the Dalek's twice and Cybermen once in 7 seasons!) But the Moff did give us the Weeping Angels, The Silence and The Whisper Men...all really cool in my opinion!

      Have you ever seen The Thick Of It? Capaldi's big show pre-Who...its amazing, how he didn't win Emmy's every year for that i don't know...its from the same writer who does Veep now...and its the same idea, set in the UK government with Capaldi as a sweary spin-doctor...amazing, and much better than Veep (which i also think is great mind you!) I highly recommend that one, for a better understanding of Capaldi, and perhaps the direction his Doctor might take...

      Its been really interesting to watch the Doctor from the beginning right the way through Davison era...from Hartnell wanting to kill a caveman with a rock, for having a bit of a sore leg and slowing them down a wee bit in the Unearthly Davison not wanting to kill the Sea Devils & Silurians in Warriors Of The Deep..even though they are seconds away from destroying all life on Earth!

      I have heard a few Big Finish stories, and really liked them, that something i would like to get further into..maybe i'll tackle those next...either that or i may start at the beginning of the classic season of Star Trek, go through all the movies and various TV seasons right up to Into Darkness...I see they are now all on Netflix, with the exception of Star Trek V for some reason! My wife loves me!!

    3. I bet she does! I did that with Trek a few years ago, by the way, leading up to the first Abrams movie.

      I have not seen "The Thick of It," or "In the Loop" either; I've heard they are both exceptional. The only other things I know Capaldi from, I think, are his small role in "World War Z" and his large role in "Torchwood." He seems like a great choice for the role so far.

      My problem with "Deep Breath" was that I felt like the tone was just all over the place. Most of last season was like that, too: a lot of running around and yelling and being goofy on a near-Three-Stooges level of goofiness, followed by a lot of unearned deeply-emotional resolution. I can handle goofiness, and I can handle deep emotion; they don't necessarily sit well together, though. It CAN be done, though, and I'd point to "Guardians of the Galaxy" as a great example of what I think Moffat is trying to do with "Deep Breath."

      It was still an entertaining episode, though; it just feels to me like the series is capable of better. And the tone obviously works perfectly for a great many people, so maybe I'm just missing something. It certainly wouldn't be the first time!

      I did love that scene in the alley with the wino, though. If every Capaldi episode ends up being something like that, that'd be fine by me!

      What did you think of "An Adventure in Time and Space"? I loved that. I wish Moffat would write a First Doctor/12th Doctor crossover and just hire David Bradley to play the First Doctor.

  3. Did you know the wino in the alley was played by Elisabeth Sladen's that was added coolness for me! Loved that scene too...and at the start when he comes out the Tardis for the first time..

    Love, love loved the Adventure in Time & Space...did you see the picture with David Bradley dressed as Hartnell, Reece Shearsmith as Troughton and Mark Gatiss as Pertwee...apparently Gatiss just turned up the last day dressed as Pertwee and didn't tell anyone he was going to do...loved that William Russel and Carole Ann Ford were also able to appear in at..a little nod to the fans that one. I also liked the Matt Smith cameo at the end...i know that some fans didn't like that bit...but it worked for me..

    Oh..did you see the "Five(Ish) Doctors Reboot" that came out at the same time? Davison, C Baker, McCoy, McGann (Plus cameos from T Baker, Tennant and Smith - and a whole load of others..including Ian McKellan, Peter Jackson, RTD and Moffat...) It was a little 30 mins comedy thing about the 4 ex doctors trying to get a part in the 50th Anniversary Special episode...its coming out on DVD/Blu Ray soon, but can still be found easily online..i'll not tell you if they succeed or not!

    Did you know that in World War Z..Capaldi's character was listed in the closing credits as "WHO Doctor"...hmmm...

    1. Oh...and did the Half Faced Man jump...or was he pushed???

    2. I tend to think he jumped; the Doctor pushing him would (mostly) be very un-Doctor-like. But, then again, this is a new Doctor, so all bets are off.

      I did not know that about "World War Z." That is too funny.

      I did see "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot" and thought it was terrific. Pretty much all of the stuff for the 50th was terrific, I thought. I might be down on Moffat currently, but he did a very good job with all of that stuff. I could have used more Paul McGann, I guess, but hey, ya can't have everything.

      The Matt Smith cameo in "Adventure" worked for me, too. I have not seen that photo of "the three Doctors," I'll have to look it up.

      And finally, I had no clue that the bum was Elisabeth Sladen's husband! That's cool. Lucky bastard...

  4. I think he pushed him...or maybe i'm still picturing Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker...Tucker would DEFINITELY have pushed him...and then shout "i'll fuck you harder than Ron Jeremy..only with less warmth!"

    WHO Doctor stands for World Health Organization Doctor by the way!

    1. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Capaldi had already been cast as the Doctor, albeit not publicly, and that that was a little super-inside inside joke of a credit. If so, they get a thumbs-up from me.