Smiley Spot: Watchmen and the Need For More
Continuing the biggest comic book industry story of the year, the Watchmen prequels, I wanted to give some of my thoughts on the matter. We at the Uys Blogs reported the news the day these controversial books were announced and we’ve heard some great commentary about it by esteemed colleague and book-mate Aaron Feldman (Buy HardWear #2 at Paradise comics today! Product placed!). While I gave an initial editorial to the news, I wanted to expand my thoughts on the Before Watchmen news and why I not only think the books are a good idea, but are in retrospect essential.
This blog does come as a response to Alan Moore, the writer and Co-Creator of Watchmen, giving a new interview where he chose to not only rally against DC Comics, but also the creators involved as well as the industry in general. This is a consistent attack he’s waging, but it's become a bit more personal and more vilifying as the years have rolled on. I have no interests or negative things to say about who Alan Moore is as an individual, but he’s certainly crossed a line as a public figure to me. Anyone has control of how respectful or disrespectful they are in the public and I find Moore’s choices to be lacking. So looking at these Prequels coming up, I am no longer concerned about what he thinks about them. His boorishness will sell more issues than anything else. What really has me excited is that we are getting a challenge to Watchmen and its intended message.
You see, form and craft aside, Watchmen has an underlying message and code that I think are wrong. Couched in the ancient mantra of “Who Watches the Watchmen,” Watchmen asks an engaging question: do we really need heroes in our culture, and do we need superheroes in pop-culture. While this is an engaging question, the ultimate answer is "no" in the book. Every “Superhero” in the comic gives up, becomes a mass murderer, is killed in brutal ways and tries to end the Superhero archetype. Moore in subsequent interviews has stated that this is one of the preferred messages of the comic.
I bring this up because Watchmen only presents one side to its essential question. As someone who takes great joy and honour in the comic book superheroes (being one of the few creations of young Jewish immigrants as opposed to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen characters created by Christians in an exclusionary literary scene), I want to see the value of these superheroes. I want to read a comic that asks the Watchmen question but is willing to say that there is more than one side to what people with power can do. And because of Watchmen’s appeal and Moore’s refusal to acknowledge other comics as a possible avenue to discuss these questions, I commend DC for doing it in Watchmen. I commend the company for being able to say that, while it might be more profitable and safe not to do these things, it's more important to continue the discussion Watchmen raised.
There can be real bravery in the Before Watchmen stories and I hope these stories are challenging and do ask the other side of the question that Watchmen omits for whatever reason. Darwin Cooke, the writer of Watchmen’s only female characters, has been the bravest so far. Even if you love Watchmen, as I do, you cannot deny that it is terrible to women and shows the misogynistic trappings of the time. Cooke has announced that he wants to show Silk Specter, a character that is either shown raped, emotionally abused and the subject of male characters, having her own personality and being her own inspiration for women. That is the kind of bravery and thought-provoking subject matter that needs to be addressed and if Moore does not think that comic fans have to see these kinds of stories, then what better way to challenge his notions through the subject of Watchmen.
Through the catchy costumes and author’s legal issues, we forget that what made Watchmen great was that it was a book about ideas. Moore and Gibbons truly challenged the subjects superhero comics were allowed to discuss, and Before Watchmen can be a proud example of how other great writers can move the discussion forward. The first Watchmen did not have all the answers. It was a great book but we need a venue to look at those ideas and place new ideas into it. Lets give these guys a shot, because what they present might be an even better look into how we view our world.