Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Before Watchmen; A Debate on Change

Comics: DG Editor Tony Nunes ponders the pros and cons of DC Comics recently announced Before Watchmen.

Nothing is sacred. 

But is that really a bad thing?

Everything throughout history has been or will be changed, adapted, prequelized, sequelized, spun-off, rebooted or remade and will continue to be for as long as we create. 

Create, you ask? 

Like it or not, all of the above manipulations to one work or another do indeed require creativity. Sometimes the creativity injects new life into a work (see Oceans 11). Sometimes it adds little to the original work (see The Hangover 2). Sometimes it discredits or strips the work of its original appeal (see Star Wars Episode 1-3). So which category then will prequels to the greatest comic work of all time fall into?

DC announced last week that a new prequel series will be released to preface the characters from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic masterwork Watchmen. Dubbed Before Watchmen, the series is set to be a 34 issue run of seven separate titles written and drawn by different artists. Watchmen, a work that I, along with scores of others consider the Citizen Kane of comics is a title with one of the most devout fan bases. Loyalists sneer at any threat to alter the Watchmen world Moore and Gibbons created some 26 years ago. When Zack Snyder adapted the series into a movie in 2009, many fans threw up their hands and gave a mighty "harumph." Now, with DC's announcement of Before Watchmen, the interwebs are in an uproar with commentary both for, but mostly against the new series. 

But again I ask; Is this really such a bad thing?

I'll say it right now, I'm a huge fan of the original Watchmen, but for curiosity's sake I'll read the new titles. I will say however that its a bit annoying having to now refer to Alan Moore's work as "the original Watchmen." This is the problem with what some might call, harshly or not, the bastardization of originality. We romanticize original works to the point of those works becoming cult icons in our lives. We memorize movie quotes, iconic comic panels, musical cadences only to have the original source of our obsession limited by the capitalist notion of selling out. Suddenly that movie we all cherished has been rebooted or sequelized, forcing the sacredness of that character or quote we all loved to wither away.

Case and point; who can look at Indiana Jones nowadays without the painful recollection of him surviving a nuclear blast from the inside of a refrigerator?

We call this "nuking the fridge." Once upon a time, the show "Happy Days" took a similar jump out of character sending The Fonz on a shark jumping water-ski incident. From that point on, whenever something was taken over the top people would say "it jumped the shark." Now, we can all say "it nuked the fridge."

Back to Before Watchmen. I know that these prequel titles, to be written by creative types like J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello and others, are original stories based on unoriginal characters. We hope they do their best to create compelling new stories about these characters we love, and understand that they'll get a lot of flack for it one way or the other. Its important that we understand this.

Prequels can be great. Who wasn't surprised by last years X-Men: First Class? Sequels (The Dark Knight), remakes (Carpenter's The Thing), and reboots (again, The Dark Knight) can be great too. Recreating a recreation however, now that can get you into murky waters (see 2011's remake of Carpenter's The Thing, or don't). But here's the thing, when you change or add to an already great character, story or world, every viewing of any incarnation of that world from that point on will have been changed as well. After reading Before Watchmen, readers will forever have the new back-story's in their minds while re-reading the original.

This changes our perception of the characters. A great example is Star Wars Episodes I-III. Not to pick on George Lucas again, well, fuck that, he's a repeat offender. Love them or hate them, the new trilogy has forever changed how you perceive the original trilogy. In fact, every bit of Star Wars TV, literature or video games that come out have the same affect on our memories of the originals. You can't look at Vader in all of his New Hope darkness without thinking back to that whiny teenager killing the art of acting in a field on Naboo. Frail and cutesy dementia-bound Yoda we all now remember as an agile CGI flippy warrior, not half as vulnerable as the Frank Oz puppet we all came to love in the 80's. 

See what I mean? 

So that's the problem I have with change. Its not that I dislike change, I just now have that Lucas driven fear of it forever ingrained in my soul. There's a point when change or addition to a work needs to stop indefinitely. We all love nostalgia, and its safe to say that this generation more than any other is driven by it, but there needs to be limits. I hope Before Watchmen in some way adds to my love of Alan Moore's masterwork. I enjoyed the movie version. But if it fails, lets not keep trying to rehash that magic and just call it a day.

Forever, things will be changed, added upon and reworked. We complain, but at the same time we love and cherish much of the change. Never will there come a time when all change is good or all change is bad. Nothing is that black and white, and in that sense, this is a futile debate. I can't love Empire Strikes Back and loathe The Phantom Menace without being a bit of a hypocrite. Its nobody, not even the original creators place to conclude that something is sacred and should never be changed. Nothing is sacred, not even the argument for or against change.

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