Recently, Geoff Johns announced that he would be returning to comics with a vague hint alluding to it being a Watchmen project. This is no surprise to comic fans as the characters from Alan Moore’s seminal work have been slowly coming out of the shadows since DC’s massive company relaunch, #DCRebirth.
The characters of Watchmen have been a topic of debate since their inception. Alan Moore initially created a story surrounding the then-recently acquired Charleton characters. DC editorial gave the initial go-ahead but then decided he could do the story only with original characters due to the dark direction into which Moore intended to take the characters. He, of course, went on to create some of the greatest characters in comics featured in arguably the greatest comic story ever told.
Aside from a recent event, #DC has pretty much left the original characters alone until the Rebirth 80-page giant which poses a question. Should the characters have been included in the comic universe reboot? I’ve weighed the pros and cons.
First: The Pros
The great thing about the Watchmen characters was their originality. They were carbon copies of existing heroes to be sure, however, they were able to go outside the comfort zone of the original heroes. The Question would never have been able to murder a child molester nor would Peacemaker have been seen murdering a Vietnamese woman carrying his unborn child. The jury is out on whether we would have been witness to Captain Atom’s chrome dork. The beauty of Watchmen was in the fact that #AlanMoore and artist Dave Gibbons were able to push boundaries.
The comic industry has perfected the art of creating new characters to tell controversial stories that may not be accepted if other canonical characters are involved. Apollo and Midnighter were created so that a storyline could be explored in which Batman and Superman were in a homosexual relationship, for example. The Squadron Supreme was created at Marvel so that Mark Gruenwald could tell a story in which the JLA effectively take over the world. While these types of characters are initially created for a singular task, there’s no reason that they can't continue to push the boundaries and tell other stories.
Now: The Cons
The major downside of using characters as unique as the Watchmen is that they lose some of that originality with each use. Part of what makes them special is that they were only used once and put away. Much like taking a film meant to be told as a standalone story and creating sequel after sequel simply because it makes money tarnishes the integrity of it. Certainly, an original product will always stand on its own merit, but with each new entry into a series, the further away the audience gets from the greatness of the original.
From a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense to want lightning to strike twice and if the story can grow organically, I’m all for it. But it doesn't always work: Director Peter Jackson (and more accurately, Warner Bros.) tried to recapture the magic of his #LordoftheRings movies when he made the Hobbit trilogy. Lord of the Rings is largely considered the greatest fantasy trilogy of all time, partly because there was a wealth of source material to adapt. But #TheHobbit trilogy was based on one short novel stretched into three movies and the films suffered for it. The Watchmen certainly have enough ground to explore outside of the original series. People are still finding Easter Eggs three decades after its initial release. But should it be explored further in live-action? Or should it be left alone and allow fans to speculate and create their own answers?
The idea of Dr. Manhattan being the reason for the New 52 (or "Nu52") does offer an interesting reason for the poor reception of the doomed universe. Of course this is simply the corporate side of comics trying to justify another cash grab and it does so at the risk of taking away one of the character growth arcs of one of its bigger superheroes. The Nu52 came to fruition because Barry Allen tried to go back and save his mother which caused major consequences for the whole DCU. To take it that way, stating that Dr. Manhattan fiddled with the timeline indicates that it was okay for him to screw up.
As of this writing, #GeoffJohns has not announced his comic project, so this speculation could all be for naught. If anyone in the industry (other than the retired Alan Moore) could pull off a successful revisitation of the characters, it’s certainly Johns. It’d be pretty ballsy for them to establish the Watchmen as official alternate versions of the Charleton characters, but that's something Geoff Johns is known for. The man redeemed Hal Jordan (twice!) and brought back Barry Allen — two feats that seemed near impossible.
What it all boils down to is this: Why create characters just to tell one story? Characters should be versatile enough to tell pretty much any story you want. And in comics, especially #DC, there is literally a multiverse created so that you can have alternate versions of all of your characters. Until an announcement is made we will simply have to speculate.
Should the Watchmen be brought into the DCU proper?
Have an alternate opinion that I didn't cover? Sound off in the comments below!