Friday, February 17, 2012

Fourth World Fridays: Mister Miracle #4--"The Closing Jaws of Death!"

Let’s talk about female characters in comics. If you’ve been reading superhero comics for any length of time, you’re familiar with the Women in Refrigerators syndrome...and if you’re not, a quick click on the link will fill you in. Short version: there’s an unfortunate tradition of sexism or outright misogyny in superhero stories, with female characters frequently being reduced to cheesecake, depowered, or, worst of all, killed off in a hackneyed attempt to motivate a male character. Obviously, this is an ongoing debate that’s not going to be resolved anytime soon, and the fact that we’re dealing with an entire genre, or even an entire medium, makes it hard to speak in generalities, but it certainly seems hard to argue that superheroes are dominated by the mindset of male geeks, and as such, frequently present a somewhat…skewed…vision of femininity.

What’s interesting about this whole trend, to me at least, is that in many ways this comics misogyny seems to increase as you get closer to the present. Some of the most powerful and interesting female comics characters, including the ur-superheroine, Wonder Woman, are products of the 30s and 40s. Sure, there’s always that streak of sexism native to the era—the infamous cover with Batgirl adjusting her makeup while Batman and Robin fight for their lives being somewhat typical—but back then, comics were actually written about girls and for girls, which necessitated a healthier viewpoint almost by default.

Which is not to say there weren’t issues. Most of the female characters Kirby himself created at Marvel were really, really bland—Susan Storm and Jean Grey were virtually made of cardboard in the early 60s—when they weren’t slightly offensive (Janet Van Dyne, like most early Marvel characters, had a single character trait, and hers was “boy-crazy”). By the time of the Fourth World, however, Kirby had a better handle on his female characters. Corny jokes about “Women’s libbers” aside (and believe me, there are plenty of them in the pages to come), the essentials of women’s empowerment seem to have penetrated Kirby’s worldview along with all that other counterculture stuff.

Which brings us to Big Barda, who makes her abrupt debut on the opening splash page, standing right behind Oberon as he frets about Scott. A rebellious member of Darkseid’s “female task force”, the Female Furies, Barda’s a gigantic lady even by Kirby’s standards, and her costume is one of the most bizarre he ever designed, being basically a cross between an Egyptian sarcophagus and a medieval crusader’s chainmail.

She’s also ungifted in social niceties, demolishing Oberon’s table just to get his attention, before resentfully declaring herself to be Scott’s friend and ally. Oberon takes an instant dislike to her, but nevertheless makes her a sandwich and milk. Geez, I guess the guy’s just stuck in permanent “servant mode”.

As you may remember, last time we saw Mr. Free he was being locked in a trunk and thrown off a balcony by the residents of an office building driven to homicidal madness by Doctor Bedlam’s Paranoid Pill. As soon as Oberon mentions this, Barda leaps up and teleports herself away to Chandler towers to help Scott, who we now cut to in media res, still tumbling through the air, as the crazed mob shoots at him. Barda beams in (the mob instantly declares her a witch) and sees the falling trunk: “Knowing Scott Free and his talent for trapping himself in strange places—I have the feeling that I’d better break the fall of this trunk!” Of course, after falling fifty stories, being “caught” isn’t really going to break his fall, but as it turns out, it’s a moot point. When Barda tears the box in half, it turns out to be empty—Scott is standing many floors above, having escaped under his own power. Obviously this makes sense—Scott gave his word that he’d escape without help, and besides, he wouldn’t be much of an escape artist if he couldn’t get out of traps himself—but it still kinda feels like Kirby wrote Barda in to come and save him and then suddenly realized it wouldn’t fit the story. Oh well. You can’t go wrong with having Big Barda show up in your comic for any reason.

Scott now reiterates that the wager is his alone to win or lose, as the mob grabs hold of him. They’ve now decided that he’s a vampire...apparently for the sole reason that he wears a cape. I guess he could be some kind of Ethiopian vampire… Anyway, they grab a wooden stake and a pipe to use as a hammer, but Scott’s too fast for them—in fact, he appears to literally vanish and reappear a few feet away. But as far as I can tell, he didn’t use any gadgets to escape. So…um…he got out of his ropes SO FAST that the mob didn’t even notice he was gone until the stake came down? “It takes a master to play it that close and cool!” Scott proclaims, humbly, and then he’s off again.

For the next two pages or so, he’s dodging the spray from fire hoses and sliding down banisters, and then something wonderful happens: he’s accosted by a guy in a medieval torturer’s costume, who lays him out by hitting his chest and producing a “BOK!” Here, see:

Yeah, I bet you were wondering what that cover was about, weren’t you? “Klieg lights!” gasps Scott. “Cameras! Good gravy! This is a movie studio! Of course! Galaxy broadcasting films its TV specials on this floor!” Yes, Scott has been captured by the cast and crew of one of those Spanish Inquisition TV dramas that were all the rage in 1971. You know, like Roots. Except with torturing. And Spanish people instead of African-Americans. This whole sequence is just a wonderful example of what makes Kirby Kirby. He’s got a killer premise, more than enough to keep him busy for another 12 pages, but he just can’t help going off on a completely random tangent. Come to that, the director and actors are behaving totally different than the rest of the mob: instead of just calling him a vampire or whatever, they’re determined to make him the real-life victim of their drama so they can win an Emmy (seriously, they say this). “A paranoid director and actors!” Thinks Scott. “How bad can things get?” Clearly, Scott has not spent much time in Hollywood. Come to think of it, maybe this has nothing to do with the paranoid pill at all, and these are just your usual early-70s filmmakers, doing a dry run for Apocalypse Now. I heard they killed, like, five superheroes on that set.

The hooded torturers drag Scott into their dungeon, spouting “thee”s and “thou”s and “varlet”s all the while. “The dialogue is terrible!” Thinks Scott. “But they mean every word of it!” Hey, that’s pretty much what I say whenever I read a Fourth World comic: the dialogue is terrible, but Kirby means every word of it. Mr. Miracle escapes from the fourth wall!

Scott is overwhelmed by the torturers, who shove him into a nearby iron maiden, bristling with spikes. Uh oh, it looks bad for our hero! Meanwhile, Barda is now finding herself confronted with more mob members, who didn’t get Bedlam’s memo about how this is just supposed to be about Scott. “I’ve no time to coddle your neuroses!” proclaims the Amazonian warrior, ripping a pillar from the wall and using it to beat back the hordes. Man, do I love Big Barda. She’s even more awesome than Big Bear. Basically, if anyone in the Fourth World has “big” in their name, they’re awesome. Though it was kinda cold to just flatten all those mob members like that. But then, there are probably dozens of casualties being caused by all this rampaging anyway, what with guns being discharged and railroad workers running amok and whatnot.

Anyway, Barda finds she can’t sit back and watch any longer—“I try not to worry about that wizard, Scott! But I can’t help myself!” This might be a good time to point out that Barda was, apparently, based on Kirby’s wife Roz, who made it her business to protect her husband from shysters and keep people from bothering him while he worked.

Barda uses her “Mega-Rod”, which is basically her own variation on a Mother Box, to blast her way up into the studio and subdue the crazed torturers. Again, though, Scott has managed to escape the trap set up for him. Now, for the first time, they have a chance to really talk—or rather, this being a Kirby comic, to exposition at each other—and they both remark on what a long, strange trip it’s been. As you may have guessed by now, both of them are former pupils of Granny Goodness, and Barda apparently helped Scott escape way back when, but she herself chose to remain. It’s not yet clear when she decided to switch teams, but it’s pretty obvious why she did it, judging from how she’s reduced to stuttering breathlessness every time Scott reveals that he’s still alive.

The hallways have suddenly gone quiet, and the reason becomes clear a moment later, as the pair are confronted by the disembodied spirit of Bedlam. He accuses Scott of cheating, given that Barda is helping him, and in retaliation he unleashes “every monster that has haunted every nightmare since time began” to rile up the rampaging mob. Um…wait…weren’t they already pretty riled up? I’m not sure how a few hallucinations are going to make people who had mistaken Scott for Bela Lugosi a few moments ago act MORE insane.

And apparently we’re not really going to find out, because we now cut to Oberon, sitting at home, fretting about Scott, wondering what he can do to help. Suddenly, he’s struck by a brilliant notion: call the police! Of course! It’s so obvious! I mean, it literally is the most obvious thing anyone would think of! And it kind of makes Oberon look stupid that he didn’t think of it before this! But never mind, because Mr. Miracle and Barda suddenly appear in a crackle of energy, and tell Obie that the cops are already at the scene. Again, nice job, Obie.

The rest of the comic is given over to Oberon’s continued bickering with Barda—one might say he seems a little jealous of her—and to a flashback recap of how Scott made all his wondrous escapes. We started this recap with one of my favourite things about the Mister Miracle comic—Big Barda—so it seems appropriate we should end it with a discussion of one of my least favourite things. That would be the way we tend to cut away from a dramatic escape to see the aftermath, and then get Scott’s summary of how he did it. Actually, this wouldn’t be so bad, except that the answer, without fail, is always, “I used a convenient gadget that I had on me and that you may or may not ever have seen before.” In this particular case, Scott plays coy about revealing his secrets (to his own assistant?) but says it’s OK to “do some supposing”:

SCOTT: Now, you take that trunk in which Mister Miracle was bound—falling to certain death—fifty floors below! It was indeed a time to panic! But was Mister Miracle that type? Suppose he wasn’t!

Whoa, whoa, hold on there, Scott! You’re totally blowing my mind!!!

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that he has a miraculous device called a “multi-cube”—not to be confused with Mother Box or that “cocoon spinner” he used in the first issue—that fired a laser to get him out of the trunk and fired a cable that he used to haul himself up. Then later he used it to squirt a corrosive spray to destroy the rear of the iron maiden, and finally, it produced an “electro-sonic signal which blanketed the brain of every paranoid in the building” thereby rendering them all unconscious.


Scott had a device that could have rendered everyone in the building unconscious…and he didn’t think to use it until he was almost out?!? GIVE ME A BREAK. Hopefully it’s clear why I don’t like this “deus ex machina” approach to Scott’s escapes anyway, but this takes it to a whole new level of sloppiness. Gah. Let’s not dwell on it, and hope Kirby improves in later issues.

Fortunately, that’s not where the issue ends. As Oberon is voicing his concerns about Barda to Scott, and Scott’s dismissing her as “A child, you know! A powerful, deadly child—playing soldier!” Barda enters in the outfit she wears when she’s not in uniform—basically, a jazzy red bikini kinda thing and a headband. She announces that she’s starving, Scott and Oberon do a double take and make some “That’s our Barda!” cracks as the audience applauds and the closing credits roll.

What was I saying about sexism, again?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141--"Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?"

(Note: Jimmy Olsen #140 isn't included in the omnibus, as for some reason it was a reprint issue, not drawn by Kirby, and with nothing to do with the Fourth World. Hence the skipped issue.)

I’ve been defending Kirby’s writing on this series since the very beginning, but it wasn’t that I thought he was unreservedly talented as a prose stylist so much as I thought he was about on par with a lot of the hacks writing comics at the time. If I’m totally honest, I find what few early-70s Roy Thomas and Steve Engelhart comics I’ve read to be really verbose, and they tended towards fanboy pedantry rather than the demented imagination Kirby brought to his work. If I have to read an awkwardly-written, pretentious comic, I know which of the two I’d choose.

Still, though…after two issues of Superman vs. Don Rickles, I’m prepared to throw in my lot with the conventional wisdom. Kirby really did seem to have trouble with the English language this early in his career as a writer. Here’s a few samples from the first three pages of Jimmy Olsen #141:

“…A strange galaxy never before seen by man! – That is, until Superman, in his guise as Clark Kent, has been hurled into the unknown—trapped in a bizarre space craft!!”

“…Clark Kent gazes helplessly as he drifts past awesome wonders that stagger all imagination!”

“But the unknown says nothing! It glides by—a silent, shimmering animal – tense – and waiting for the kill!

That last one’s my favourite. Only Kirby would describe the void of space as a shimmering animal, tensing up to pounce on the “helpless” Clark Kent. Who, just in case you’ve forgotten, is Superman. He can fly through space and move planets. But apparently he’s helpless in the face of mixed metaphors.

The situation, in case you’ve forgotten, or deliberately repressed it, is this: in the previous issue, Jimmy and Clark put two and two together and realized that their new boss, Morgan Edge, had made an attempt on their life. They marched up to his office to confront him, but gave up when Edge’s secretary Miss Conway told him Edge wasn’t in, and gave them a new assignment. Which they went on. And which turned out to be another attempt on their life. Wotta couple of schlemiels.

Clark Kent was trapped in a spacecraft that instantly transported him to Shimmering Animal Space. Meanwhile, Jimmy, the Golden Guardian, and a (sigh) Don Rickles impersonator in a superhero suit named Goody Rickels were kidnapped by Intergang, forced to eat food laced with an explosive chemical that would cause them to combust within 24 hours, and thrown out on the curb.

Makes sense to me!

Superman drifts through deep, uncharted space, as represented by another one of Kirby’s patented, and patently weird, photographic montages (to which he’s added some colour this time!) It quickly becomes clear exactly where Clark’s been extradited to when he spots “two giant planets!—One, brightly green and beautiful – the other, in its shadow…” and then spots a human comet coming his way, one immediately recognizable as our friend Lightray. Clark’s inner monologue describes him as “hardly the kind you’d meet at the office!” Well, I dunno, Clark, depends on where you work. If you were a gymnast or a ballet dancer, maybe…

But enough of this “interesting” stuff, let’s get back to Jimmy! And the Guardian! And fucking Goody Rickels! They’re busy expositing away about how doomed they are, despite how unbelievably unthreatening and pointlessly complex the method of their destruction has turned out to me. I mean, if I were in that situation, the first thing I’d be wondering is, “Why did Intergang just go to such lengths not to kill me?” I don’t think I’d even believe there was such a thing as “pyro-granulate”, but even if I did, the hospital is probably nearby, and I’ve got 24 frickin’ hours. But then, I’m not a crack cub reporter or a superhero, because *their* first idea is to go after the RV from which they were ejected in search of a cure…while Jimmy and Goody go to Morgan Edge for help.

…Wait, what? No, I must have misread that. Carrying on…

The Guardian gets into his new role as a rooftop-jumpin’ protector of the innocent pretty quickly, using his implanted knowledge of the city in which his predecessor was born and raised (which, again, is now Metropolis, not Manhattan). “Life at the D.N.A. Experimental Project never gave me this sense of freedom!” he monologues. Yeah, you’d think so, Jim, seeing as how the Project kept you in a giant glass jar.

Back at the Galaxy Broadcasting System, Miss Conway is freaking out over the impending arrival of the real Don Rickles, and so, in short order, is everyone else. Simply walking through the office, Rickles is assaulted from all corners by rabid fans begging for autographs, and amourous secretaries who demand to be insulted. Was Rickles really *that* big at the time? I mean, I know he was popular, but Kirby’s treating him like it’s 1963 and he’s all four Beatles rolled into one.

I mean, not that I’m denying he’s a sexy, sexy man and all.

There follows several pages of what can be charitably described as corny schtick. I’ll confess, right here and now, that I’ve never heard Rickles’ act, except in movies like X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes and, um, Toy Story. Sure, he’s pure Borscht Belt, but he always seemed relatively funny to me. I’d like to think that, at his peak, his material was at least a little bit stronger than the stuff Kirby has him spouting, much of which isn’t really “funny” in any sense…just kind of sarcastic and shticky. He meets the wave of adulation with “Relax, you cockamamies! You’re liberated! The Nazis are gone!” Then, after they tear his clothing and are scared off by Edge: “Savages! I’ll send you thirty pounds of raw meat tomorrow morning! And may the Gods rain on your memos!” Then he exhorts a delighted Miss Conway to “get yourself a bikini and start a chain of heart attacks at a garden party!” and refers to Edge as “Mister Smoothie on the outside—‘Mac the Knife’ on the inside!”

I dunno, maybe it loses something on the page.

Meanwhile, we’re getting the historic meeting between Superman and Lightray, out in space. “I was in this sector – and curious to see what sort of specimen was on its way to Apokolips!” declares our merry funster. Lightray, I mean. “You speak my language!” Exclaims Superman. “Are you able to communicate by probing one’s mind?” Wow, a more astute observation than I was expecting. Not that Lightray evinces the ability to read minds anywhere else. And…hmm, he actually kinda brushes Superman off, saying, “You haven’t time for small talk!” Wait, does that mean Kirby was trying to conceal some kind of secret about the New Gods’ language? Is it to do with my hair-brained theories that the New Gods are the descendants of a parallel universe, specifically Marvel’s, and thus have a store of human knowledge? I’m going to pretend it is!

Anyway, the thing Lightray’s concerned about is the fact that they’re looming closer and closer to Apokolips, which Superman remembers hearing about from the Forever People. “They also mentioned a name--Darkseid!!!” Yes, Superman, they mentioned that name right before you met and fought him. I guess it’s possible that Superman is trying to cover his secret identity here…though why he would bother with a cosmic being on the other side of the universe from Earth, I don’t know. And besides, he’s pretty blasé about mentioning that he knows the Forever People. Lightray generously offers to save him from the Parademons rising to intercept the craft, and Clark accepts. Again, I’m gonna hope that was a secret identity thing. I mean, Superman has a tendency to forget his powers, but I don’t think he’s ever gone so far as to forget that he’s Superman and doesn’t really need other superheroes to help him, unless Kryptonite or red suns are involved.

Nevertheless, this B-plot is infinitely more involving than the main story, to which we’re now forced to return. Oh look, Jimmy and Goody are riding the subway. Goody is complaining. Ha ha. Actually, I have to say I appreciate everyone on the subway yelling at Goody to shut up. Also, Goody starts steaming and is about to die. Ha ha!

Seriously, let’s just move on to the Guardian, who’s caught up with the mobile home and comes crashing down through the top hatch, only to be met by Ugly Mannheim and his goon squad. “The pastry’s all gone! – But we’re servin’ plenty of ammo!” You mean, the ammo you could have used to kill Jimmy and the Guardian back when you had the chance? That ammo? Oh, don’t mind me, I’m living in a non-Comics-Code-approved reality. The long and the short of it is, we get this issue’s de rigeur Kirby stompfest as the Guardian beats the antidote out of them.

Meanwhile, the moment none of you have been waiting for, as Jimmy and Goody come face to face with the real Don Rickles. Can you stand the excitement? Bursting into Edge’s office, where he and Rickles are still thrashing out some kind of deal that Kirby never sees fit to explain properly, Goody proclaims, “I’m back, Mister Edge! And, now that I’m dying, I can find the nerve to really tell you what I think of--” and then, for no reason except that it makes for a funny…I mean cool…I mean intensely predictable panel, the real Rickles then repeats his dialogue exactly. Which makes no sense, in the context of the conversation they were just having. I mean, the real Rickles just said he was dying. Despite the fact that he’s still alive and well almost 40 years later. Then we get have a page of “HUH? B-but…you’re me!!!” type reactions, Edge starts blustering, Goody begins to smoke, and Jimmy…begs him for help.

OK, WHAT??!? Jimmy, you idiot, you know Edge was trying to kill you! You got into this mess because of an assignment he sent you on! He’s obviously the one trying to have you killed, even if it is in the most Rube Goldbergian way possible! I mean, we’ve long known that you, Lois, and Clark are all terrible, terrible reporters, but you’d think you’d be able to put the extremely obvious pieces together in order to save your own life!

The story just gets dumber from there, with Jimmy and Goody beginning to glow and then catch on fire--the art making them look like they’re virtually going supernova, as Jimmy remarks, “Strange! I don’t feel any heat!” Edge shoves Rickles out the door—literally shoves him out like an uninvited guest—and tells him to read a magazine. Then he calls the bomb disposal squad. Then the Guardian comes crashing through the window (sure, why not?) and Rickles comes back into the office. Then something explodes—no, not Jimmy or Goody, because next time we see them they’re safe and sound, sipping the antidote Guardian was able to procure. (“It’s not unlike cheap wine!” announces Goody, approvingly.) There’s literally nothing about this sequence that makes any sense at all in terms of internal or external logic, and the obnoxiously lame shtick from the two Rickles—seriously, they’re pretty much equally unfunny at this point—just makes it all the more painful.

Rickles yammers weakly while Edge fumes via thought balloons, wondering how this brilliant, completely foolproof scheme could possibly have failed. Then a Boom Tube materializes in the office, depositing Clark and unceremoniously blasting Rickles out of his chair. The look on his face in this panel is the one mildly amusing moment in this comic:

There, I saved you ten minutes. Except…I guess it probably took you that long to read this recap. But not as long as it took me to write it! Seriously, this is time we all could have spent curing cancer or something, and now it’s gone. Thanks a lot, Kirby.

But wait! There’s a page left! Surely there must be some hacky komedy cliché that hasn’t been milked yet!

Of course! Comical insanity! The bomb disposal squad arrives, Edge proclaims that the bomb threat has been neutralized, and the now-insane Rickles contradicts him: “I’m the bomb! And I’m primed to blow! Get me outta here! Stop me from killing! Tick-tick-tick-tick--”

Poor guy!” Mutters one of the disposal guys, “With your routine—this had to happen!”

Seriously, is it just me, or do like 50% of all dumb humour comics end this way? With a character who’s experienced some mild weirdness being dragged away to the insane asylum “hilariously”? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say, as we bid a blessed adieu to both Rickles, that comedy is something Kirby ought to have steered clear of. Forever.

Rickles wasn’t the bomb. The bomb was this comic. Handle it with care.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

So: the Watchmen Thing.

I think it’s important to note that there are several different issues at play here. Let me break them down for you so I can explain why DC making up a series of Watchmen prequels makes me so angry. So very very angry.

First off, there’s the actual quality, context aside, of the books. I notice people, no matter how critical they are of this, are already saying “well, I’m sure some of the books will be quite good, with those creative teams,” but even this seems a little generous. I mean, the artists involved range from good to great, but look at the writing lineup: You’ve got Len Wein, whose presence is at least explainable as a guy who was involved in the original book, and who was a decent writer back in the day, but what little I’ve seen of his recent work hasn’t exactly been earth-shattering. I don’t want to sound dismissive of the guy who co-created Wolverine, but I think of Wein as one of those old school journeymen of the Bronze Age, a reliable writer who could pump out fun comics but never really aspired to anything more; a “company man”, as it were. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

Then you’ve got Darwyn Cooke, who’s obviously a spectacular talent as an artist and as a storyteller, but who I’m not convinced of as a writer, per se. He works in a certain mode that suits him but doesn’t really fit well with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ dense, idea-packed storytelling. I mean, the last time the guy tried to put his own spin on a classic comic, the result was The Spirit, which was a solid comic but really didn’t live up to expectations, and certainly didn’t do justice to Will Eisner’s vision. I doubt he’ll be able to do better with Watchmen.

And then there’s Azzarello, whose work I’m only passingly familiar with, but what I have read strikes me as solid but unremarkable; and J. Michael Straczynski, who, I’m sorry, is just a flat-out hack.

Maybe being called upon to write a Watchmen story will make these guys step up to the plate and really push themselves to deliver something spectacular, but colour me skeptical. Watchmen isn’t just a great comic, it’s a remarkable, multilayered achievement, dense, intelligent, and packed with ideas. Even at their best, these writers strike me more as the kind who can deliver solidly on one level, delivering stories that you read once and enjoy but don’t return to over and over again. I’d love it if they proved me wrong, but as it is the impression you get is that DC editorial literally just randomly pulled names out of a hat to “keep the franchise going”.

Which is another issue, and it’s where I start to get really steamed. Before Watchmen is clearly, unequivocably, being driven by profit. Well, you might say, of course it is, DC isn’t a charity. But working in a creative field, being a company that produces art in any form, there’s a way to balance profit and achievement in an honest way. The ideal way is that a writer, artist, or other creator approaches editorial with a story they want to tell, the publisher decides to go for it, and the result is a success, a genuine artistic accomplishment that provides entertainment and makes stacks of cash. Even if one or two of these elements doesn’t come to pass, the point is that creativity is driving the product. What isn’t a good sign is when a company decides that it needs to milk more money out of one of its properties and assigns a bunch of journeymen to churn out product…which is obviously what’s happening here.

In a weird way, if this had come from a creator marching into DC HQ and announcing, “I wanna do a bunch of Watchmen sequels!”, even if said creator was possessed of Mark Millar-level arrogance, and even if the result blew chunks all over the industry, I would have less of a problem with it on this level. Because at least the motivating factor would have been someone with a story that they wanted to tell, an actual spark of creativity. Not just a soulless money-generating machine.

Now, I’ve already heard people shrugging this off, or, God help them, defending this nonsense, by pointing out all the times existing characters have been tackled by other creators, or needlessly sequelized. Moore himself, of course, invites criticism by virtue of the fact that he’s been writing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics for over a decade now, starring hordes of classic characters. And while Moore’s own statements about this project are problematic for this reason, I think my comments in the above two paragraphs are still valid: there’s a world of difference between a creator deciding to use, say, Dracula in a story, and a corporation that owns a property and has the ability to give it the mark of validity deciding to “extend the brand.”

And this is what truly pisses me off about this: for over 25 years, Watchmen has occupied a place of reverence in the comic book world; now that’s being cast aside for a quick buck. All sacred cows eventually get slaughtered, of course; that’s the nature of culture, and it’s both healthy and necessary for people to puncture any air of self-importance that starts to build up around a work, no matter how well-earned. But this isn’t being done by some punk-rock rabble-rouser who wants to cause trouble, and thereby enrich comics; it’s being done by a soulless corporation that views this great work merely as grist for the mill. It’s one thing for someone to paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa, as Marcel Duchamp did; it’s another thing to use the Mona Lisa as toilet paper because there wasn’t anything else handy. The former is challenging. The latter points towards a world where art has no value, except in a purely utilitarian sense.

By doing this the way they’re doing it, DC is announcing to the world that Watchmen has no value to them except as a source of money. Yes, the original work is in no danger of being damaged, and will survive long after these misbegotten prequels (I want to remain open-minded, but come on, how likely is it that these will be any better than “OK?”) are forgotten. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the comics industry is in a place where its willing to sacrifice the standard bearer for the idea that comics can be more than cheap time-killers and content farms on the altar of commerce. I don’t care about what this bodes for Watchmen; I care about what it bodes for the industry that would do such a thing.

Further reading: David Brothers has some intelligent thoughts on the subject, and the hordes of annoying fans who are already coming to this project's defense.