DC Needs To Stop Messing With 'Watchmen's Legacy
The last thing Dr. Manhattan says in Watchmen is "Nothing ever ends" -- which is evidence that his future-seeing powers extend to the real world, because DC just refuses to let this franchise die. This week, 35 years after the end of what was supposed to be a limited 12-issue series with no sequels and definitely no crossover events where the characters are (in the exact words of artist/co-creator Dave Gibbons in 1986) "crossing over with Batman or something like that," DC has began publishing a new series where the characters are crossing over with Batman ... or something like that. Flashpoint Beyond is both a follow up to Watchmen and to Flashpoint, the 2011 comic that serves as the basis for the upcoming Flash movie starring Ezra Miller, or whoever Warner Bros. deepfakes on top of Miller's face before the film is released, anyway (a CGI-revived Christopher Plummer, maybe?).
In Flashpoint Beyond #0, Batman somehow gets two criminals from the Watchmen universe to take him to a mysterious hatch containing a bunch of objects from their original world (a broken watch, a snow globe), which are now, for some reason, items of cosmic importance. Not content with basing entire storylines on throwaway lines from 25-year-old Alan Moore comics, DC is now even mining his old work for everyday objects with crossover event potential.
This is only the latest of many Watchmen spin-offs created with the explicit disapproval of at least one of the comic's original creators, including eight prequel miniseries, a sequel where the characters travel to the DC Universe, and of course the live action HBO series, whose showrunner, when told Alan Moore didn't approve of the show, said "F--- you, I'm doing it anyway." More recently, DC published a Rorschach solo series that bizarrely featured real-life writer/artist Frank Miller and a thinly disguised version of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko as mentally unbalanced Rorschach copycats who try to murder a presidential candidate, presumably as part of an experiment to see how many comics legends they can disrespect in one issue.
With these projects, not only is DC pissing off the original writer (who, by the way, only agreed to write Watchmen in the first place because they led him to believe that he'd own the rights within a couple of years), they're also seriously harming the comic's legacy. Younger comic book fans probably can't grasp how mythical Watchmen felt when it was just twelve issues and one collection -- the closest thing to spin-offs were a bunch of long out-of-print RPG handbooks for uber-nerds. The fact that there was nothing else encouraged reading the issues over and over and uncovering the hundreds of hidden details and motifs Moore and Gibbons snuck in there, because it's a comic that was intentionally created with posterity in mind (Moore was aiming for "a superhero Moby Dick; something that had that sort of weight, that sort of density"). In the absence of further Watchmen stories, fans imagined secret narratives going on in the background of the comic, some of which made shocking amounts of sense.
In 2005, Watchmen was included in Time's list of the 100 greatest novels written since 1923. Not graphic novels, actual novels. It was the only comic in the list. Back then, those who read Watchmen and thought "Man, I want more of this" went off to discover a variety of other adult-oriented comics, from an Holocaust memoir with anthropomorphic mice to a 40-year-old and counting real-time, genre-defying saga about aging punk rockets. But those who read it today are intentionally trapped in a loop of other, objectively inferior Watchmen products leading to other DC series that eventually lead back to the latest tease for even more Watchmen products. In Moore's ever humble words:
"Watchmen was something that stood on its own and it had the integrity of a literary work. What they've decided now is, 'So, let's change it to a regular comic that can run indefinitely and have spin-offs.' and 'Let's make it as unexceptional as possible.'"
As Moore predicted, Watchmen is well on its way to becoming just another DC property; Dr. Manhattan's main importance is no longer in what he symbolizes about the human condition but in how his powers could Change The DC Universe Forever™. If there's any consolation for long-time fans lamenting the way DC has stripped the greatest superhero comic ever from its unique mystique, it's that at least they haven't let Kevin Smith write a comic revealing that every Watchmen character was peeing their pants in the most pivotal scenes ... yet.
Top image: Warner Bros. Pictures