Monday, April 11, 2005

They Didn't Watch the Watchmen Very Carefully.

Next September will mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of Watchmen. That means that we've had a little less than 19 years of stories that have been influenced by Moore and Gibbons' magnum opus (as well as the Dark Knight Returns). The trail of work that has most closely followed in its wake almost universally share the same cumulative trait; not understanding what made Watchmen work so well.

This seems like an especially timely thing to talk about given how DC and Marvel's recent event comics have swung back towards the grim 'n' gritty elements that were in vogue in the years immediately following Watchmen and Dark Knight's release. ADD has even taken to calling them "Hack Watchmen" comics. I can't go that far, simply because I can't bring myself to call a writer a hack, but I do think his underlying point is sound; that these are comics obviously influenced by Watchmen which feature surface elements in common with it but lack what really made it a revolutionary story.

Beyond the stunning craft on display, I think there's one element that's always going to dash attempts to graft Watchmen's sensibilities on to the Justice League or the Avengers against the rocks; the fact that you can't follow the consequences through the way Moore could in Watchmen. Not just because Moore was working with analogs and stories like Identity Crisis and Avengers Disassembeled are using characters whose fate can turn on a dime depending on licensing deals. And not just because of the unsuitability of those characters for darker stories.

No, I think the main thing that dooms these stories is that they can't have endings. Mainstream superhero comics are all about the illusion of chance and maintaining the status quo, while Watchmen was the opposite. It completely inverted all of the conventions of the genre. One way it did this was by being a completely self contained story with a beginning, middle, and ending. Identity Crisis and Avengers Disassembeled try to graft beginnings on to their stories via retcons, but since they partially exist to create spinoffs, they don't really have endings, and probably never will. And you're never going to be able to translate what worked about Watchmen to stories that are all middle.

1 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

Chuck Austen's a hack! There, I said it! Ha-ha-ha!

Actually, the interesting thing about Watchmen is that, at the end, we're supposed to believe it DOESN'T invert the status quo - everything will go back to normal once Rorschach's journal is published. You have a valid point though, and it's why I wish we could have more creator-owned, self-contained stories (i.e. Preacher, Sandman, Hitman, Starman ... hmmm, all DC titles) instead of the recycling of the same old same old.

4/13/2005 12:05:00 AM  

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