Watchmen prequels

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 Comics

<i>Watchmen</i> prequels

So everyone’s up in arms and conflicted (including Jonathan Lethem) about DC Comics’ plans to release various Watchmen prequels. Alan Moore told the New York Times that the idea is “completely shameless” and pointed out that there were no sequels to Moby Dick (which I think is a bit much, but that’s the way he expresses himself). And of course he’s correct, but, at the same time, I can’t pretend I won’t avidly read the new stuff.

There’s a genuine issue here: it’s the same dilemma David Fincher faced (and talked about) when he agreed to make Alien 3.

On the one hand, the thing probably shouldn’t exist. There’s certainly no reason for it to exist…the audience wasn’t asking for it, and the original creators are indifferent at best and hostile at worst. So probably the best thing would be to just forget it, and leave the original alone.

On the other hand, once you accept that it WILL exist, and you’re actually facing the challenge of making it, suddenly things get interesting, because the near-impossible creative challenge might result in something very good. (Or, as Fincher said about Alien 3, “It could be cool. Don’t you think it could be cool?”) (Most people don’t think that Alien 3 turned out well, but I think that was because of studio meddling and Fincher—because it was his debut feature—not being given enough freedom to do it the way he wanted.)

Neil Gaiman’s “Golden Age” follow-up to Moore’s Miracleman faced the same problem. The “Miracleman” story was perfectly complete, and there was absolutely no internal or formal reason to continue. I, personally, thought that going forward with the story (after Moore’s amazing ending) was going to completely ruin the whole project. But Gaiman somehow managed to turn his “Miracleman” sequel into something incredible. It was a tour-de-force act of writing: just like Fincher, he had to go back to a well that had already run dry and somehow get water from it…and he pulled it off.

The obvious difference is that Alan Moore wanted this to happen—wanted Gaiman to continue the story—and formally handed over the reins. But this is an “external” difference, not an “internal” one. Clearly, Moore went ahead and finished “Miracleman” without the slightest attempt to leave anything left over; he wrote just as uncompromising an ending as he provided for “Watchmen.” He didn’t do anything to make it easier for Gaiman…he just “endorsed” Gaiman’s follow-up.

So that’s the situation with “Watchmen”: on the one hand, it’s over and there’s absolutely no need to add to it (and lots of reasons not to). But, once you accept the concept of it happening (as a hypothetical abstraction) it becomes a very interesting logic puzzle and a great writer’s challenge…and that’s why I’ll definitely read this stuff.