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MORE WATCHMEN TO WATCH?

WATCHMEN castDC Comics just can’t let well enough alone. After one mediocre attempt to expand the Watchmen universe by producing a “prequel” series about what Alan Moore’s superheroes did before the publication of the initial Watchmen, DC is apparently poised to try another approach to milking Moore’s sea-changing creation for all it’s worth. Apparently, saith Abraham Riesman at vulture.com, in this new incarnation, the Watchmen will cross-over to meet the superheroes of DC’s universe — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al.

It’s a project that could go very, very wrong, Riesman said. “Notice the lack of a ‘the’ in Moore’s title as it’s the key to understanding the potential disaster the story might turn out to be.”

At first glance, Riesman goes on, we may suppose that Moore’s book is about a team of superheroes called “the Watchmen.” But that team never shows up.

“There is no group by that name,” Riesman says. “The noun, as it turns out, is referring to Juvenal’s immortal question, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,’ one translation of which is, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’

“It’s a clever and disarming misdirect: instead of denoting the costumed crusaders in the novel, the title is critiquing them for their narcissistic decision to act as humanity’s unaccountable guardians — and critiquing us for our dreams about letting them do so. That’s sorta the whole point of Watchmen. Three decades after it debuted, it remains the gold standard for deconstructionist superhero stories, subverting the perverted power fantasies and harmful delusions of grandeur that we indulge in when we create or consume superhero fiction.”

DC is likely to miss that point, Riesman speculates, “treating the pointedly pathetic protagonists of Watchmen as just another super-team. In fact, it seems almost inevitable.”

And it will undercut and destroy the whole idea of Moore’s Watchmen, Riesman continues: “Moore ... [made] an epic that was free of the moralism and heroism of the mainstream DC universe. In the ecosystem of conventional superhero stories, the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and the moral gray areas are never that gray. That kind of approach is antithetical to the themes of Watchmen, in which the good guys are fuck-ups, sadists, and/or sociopaths whose personal failings wind up making them the bad guys. What’s more, their world mostly follows the laws and logic of our own, with only one character possessing actual superpowers — a fact that makes him horrifyingly pivotal in the fate of humanity.”

So what will happen when the “earnest do-gooders” of the DC universe meet “the tragic idiots? There are only two possibilities that I can imagine,” Riesman writes. “One is an extremely metatextual satire that finds humor in the eye-rolling notion of such an encounter. But that’s about as likely as Batman adding a tutu to his costume. Much more probable is a story that crassly capitalizes on 30 years of enthusiasm for and familiarity with Watchmen’s characters by throwing them into a serious, high-octane adventure alongside the kinds of figures they were designed to mock. The idea is perverse in its misguided, more-is-more shallowness.”

Riesman says he “struggles” to imagine “what anyone could do to make a worthwhile and respectful Watchmen tie-in. We should withhold critical judgment until the pudding is made, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.”

Riesman mentions DC’s recently launched Rebirth in which “creators were told to tweak the venerable mainstream-superhero pantheon so the characters could be their best selves.” It’s possible, I suppose, that “the” Watchmen could serve as a thematic foil, contrasting failed or flawed superheroism with successful “best selves” superheroism in the Rebirthed DC universe. Such a maneuver would give the Watchmen a serious (if not satirical) function. It would also perpetuate Moore’s theme.

That, however, is not likely to happen. DC is almost certainly simply using the fame of Moore’s Watchmen to hype sales of its titles, a sad but capitalistically sound tradition.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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