Noah Berlatsky offers this essay, published on Slate magazine, regarding the upcoming release of Before Watchmen, a prequel to perhaps one of the most famous comic book series ever created and how author/creator of Watchmen Alan Moore is right to detest the whole concept:
Mr. Berlatsky offers a pretty good run-down of how Watchmen, the original series, came to be such a sore spot for Alan Moore. The fact is that the contract Mr. Moore signed for the book made certain assumptions on his part, specifically the idea that the property of the book, once out of print, would revert to Mr. Moore. But because the book was so popular, DC Comics used that to keep the book printed in (so far) perpetuity and the characters in their clutches (so to speak). Now, some twenty five years later, going ahead with “new” material based on the original story, much to Mr. Moore’s chagrin.
Let me say this: I was a BIG fan of Mr. Moore’s writing almost from the very, very beginning. Indeed, I was one of the very few people actually buying the original Saga of the Swamp Thing issues as they arrived on newstands that first introduced America to the talents of Alan Moore. This was, by the way, pure luck as a friend of mine at the time suggested I give the book another try when issue #16 came out. I was a fan of the original Len Wein/Berni Wrightson incarnation of the character but gave up this new series after a handful of the original issues. When Mr. Moore took over with issue #20, things got real interesting real fast.
Mr. Moore did a fantastic job. His writing blew me away, and I sought out whatever old material of his there was to be had. I purchased every copy of the old Warrior Magazine I could find and found, to my delight, the first appearances of Alan Moore’s Marvel Man (later retitled Miracle Man) and the equally incredible V for Vendetta. Anything by Alan Moore was worth buying, in my opinion, and I was rarely disappointed.
Mr. Moore, an unknown when his first couple of issues of Swamp Thing hit newstands, became a well known and much admired writer. By the time Watchmen was released, I most certainly wasn’t one of the lone fans of his work. Not anymore. Everyone was eager to see what he was up to and the series was a big success.
Soon after, however, Alan Moore soured on his relationship with DC Comics and left them, vowing never to return. As a fan of Mr. Moore, it was a really tough thing to take. I was eager to see Mr. Moore take on other characters in the DC stable, from Superman to Batman to whomever he fancied. I most certainly would have been there to read the works, but it was not to be.
From that point on, Mr. Moore started working for Image comics and wrote issues of Supreme, a thinly veiled “homage” to Superman (that’s what they said, but I would say the character was an out and out rip off of the character). I found it curious that Mr. Moore, who at the time was complaining in interviews about the fact that he didn’t “own” his DC creations would have no difficulties working on rip-off versions of other well established characters.
This made me realize that Mr. Moore, as great a writer as he was, was not one to create original characters/stories, but was at his very best when putting his own unique spin on other established characters. The fact was that Marvel Man was not his creation, but a thinly veiled rip off of the Shazam! version of Captain Marvel that was originally published in England. Swamp Thing, as mentioned before, had already gained quite a bit of success in its original incarnation by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson. V For Vendetta, while certainly not based on any established comic books, was a comic book version of 1984 and other anti-totalitarian works. And Watchmen, as great of a series as it was, was originally intended to feature the then acquired by DC characters of Charlton Comics. Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, for example, was Charlton Comic’s Captain Atom. Rorschach was The Question. The Comedian was a thinly veiled version of The Peacemaker. And so on.
Even to my younger fanboy self, there was more than a little wiff of hypocrisy in the protestations coming from Mr. Moore. This was further exacerbated when he would go on to write his “America’s Best Comics” series which featured such characters as Promethea (his version of a Wonder Woman-like character) and Tom Strong (his version of a Doc Savage/Tarzan-like character). This use of other author’s ideas drifted from homage to outright use with the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The characters within this series included, among others, The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyl, etc. Mr. Moore could use them without worry because the characters, by that time, had lost their copyright status and were available.
And that’s not all! Mr. Moore would go on to create Lost Girls, a graphic novel featuring the following trio of characters: Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. You get all those characters together in…a pornographic story?! One wonders what the original authors of those particular works, which have also lapsed out of copyright, would think about the use of their characters by Mr. Moore in a pornographic story.
Let me emphasize this once again: We’re talking about a man who bemoans the fact that others have control over characters and concepts he created…yet has no apparent problem appropriating and doing what he wants with characters others have created, whether in thinly veiled “homages” or in the outright use of copyright expired characters.
As a fan of much of Mr. Moore’s works, it pains me to say this, but I just don’t get him. I can certainly sympathize with someone whose prized works are not under his control and being used in ways he’s not happy with. But on the other hand, how is it different for DC Comics to use his creations for the Before Watchmen series versus Mr. Moore using others’ creations for his own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls?
How is this not hypocrisy on his part?