The Pandora’s Box of the Watchmen’s Rebirths

watchmenSome monster news was leaked about Rebirth this past weekend. The item that is getting the most spec interest is the introduction of the Watchmen into the DCU, at least that is what is believed for now. Let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the Watchmen. When I returned to collecting a few years ago, I was shocked by how often issues of this monumental series could be found cheaply in back issue bins. I assumed this to be due to the story being so readily available in TPB format. Honestly, I think these books have been undervalued for a long time. We witnessed a similar situation these past few years with the other DC classic that was published around the same time: The Dark Knight Returns. That being said, investing in books like Watchmen #1, the complete Watchmen run, or DC Spotlight #1 (mentioned previously in a few articles on this site) seems like a reasonable investment. I would think of this as more of a market correction than instant spec. I do not recommend investing in any of the other Watchmen spec books because I am personally not sold that it is a good idea for the Watchmen to join the DCU.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been a fan of the Watchmen for a long time. When I started getting serious about collecting and investing in comics, the Watchmen was a topic I spent quite some time researching. The Watchmen were created by the great Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in 1986. The series was met with great acclaim and is still considered one of the greatest comic stories ever. It has even appeared on several lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century. On paper, what is not to like about these characters being “Rebirthed” into the DCU? Who doesn’t want to see Rorschach team up with Batman?

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Part of an Arthur Adams illustration of a piece for a Wizard article

However, when you look a little deeper into the creation of the Watchmen, some interesting questions arise. When Moore originally submitted the idea of the Watchmen to his editors, he wanted to tell the story using the recently acquired Charlton Comics characters. The editors did not want Moore to use these characters as it may have prevented DC from utilizing some of these characters in the future. So Moore created characters inspired by the Charlton stable of characters.

For those of you not familiar with Charlton Comics, they published comics from 1945 until 1986. I could devote an entire article to the wild history of this publisher. Charlton published a wide line of comics throughout the late forties and early fifties. In the mid-fifties, they purchased rights to characters from several defunct publishers; the most significant being Fawcett Publications who was responsible for the original Captain Marvel aka Shazam. That, however, is a story for another day.

In the 60s, Charlton had managed to put together a lineup of hero-based comics to go along with their strong horror and war comic lines . Many of these characters were created by the great Steve Ditko, who had chosen to return to Charlton after becoming disenchanted working with Marvel and his Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee. Many of these characters did not have long runs or appeared only sporadically over the years they were published. If you want to challenge yourself, try and find high-grade copies of some of these Charlton books. The paper quality was notoriously bad and finding them in any grade is tough as many of these non-mainstream characters were not considered collectible at the time. Add to this that most of the 1st appearances of these characters are buried in the middle of runs of random series. Charlton Comics ultimately folded in 1986 and sold its character rights to DC.

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As mentioned, Moore crafted his story utilizing representations of these characters. Dr. Manhattan was based upon Captain Atom (Space Adventures #33) as a man who gains the power of the atom after a nuclear incident. It’s interesting to note that when DC brought Captain Atom into the DCU in 1987, his appearance was changed to more closely match Dr. Manhattan. The Nite Owl was based on Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle (Captain Atom Vol 1 #83), with a touch of Batman. The rest of the characters fall in as follows: Rorschach / The Question (Blue Beetle Vol 2 #1), Silk Spectre / Nightshade (Captain Atom Vol 1 #82), The Comedian / The Peacemaker (Fightin’ Five #40), and Ozymandias / Peter Cannon (Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt #1). Moore added and modified some of the characteristics of these characters, but the basic design was birthed from these Charlton heroes.

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So now what happens to the characters that inspired Moore’s Watchmen? Are they now gone from the DCU? If so, will they really be missed ? The Question occasionally gets used for a story arc here and there. Captain Atom has had a few running titles and sometimes is part of the Justice League. I assume Ted Kord will remain deceased and only mentioned as it relates to the current Blue Beetle. Most of the others are rarely or never utilized. So to remove them from continuity is likely not a catastrophic change. However, it begs the question: should we be excited to see the Watchmen in the DCU? Similar characters have already existed in the DCU for over 30 years and have never found a real place to thrive. Will the Watchmen fare any better?

The Watchmen storyline is not great because of the characters. It would have been just as great if Moore had gotten to use the Charlton cast instead. If it was published a few years later, it could have just as easily been a masterful Elseworlds story using Batman and Superman (Elseworlds was not launched until 1989 with Gotham by Gaslight). I do believe that Geoff and crew will be able to tell one epic tale with the Watchmen. However, I am not convinced that in the longer term there will be a place for the Watchmen in the DCU. The transition of Geoff to the movie side of DC makes this move even more bothersome. I did not read the Before Watchmen books but I do not recall reading any significant praise for those stories. Is it ultimately worth diluting the brand further? The Watchmen have a special place in comic history and maybe we should leave it as Alan Moore intended their story to end.

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CIVIL WAR II (2016) #6

Kim Jung Gi Connecting Cover

NM+ 9.6 … $5.00

X-MEN GOLD (2017) #3

J. Scott Campbell 1:25 Variant

NM+ 9.6 … $24.00

CURSE WORDS (2017) #1

Gold Foil 1:Store Variant

NM+ 9.6 … $10.00

ACTION COMICS (1938) #813

NM 9.4 … $5.00

7 comments

  • Brilliant article. Thank you for all the Charlton key information.
    I agree with everything you said here 100%. A big problem I have with speculating is being too emotionally invested in certain books, like Watchmen. It keeps me from being properly objective. I can’t separate my my personal feelings about this spec. I’m gonna leave it be.

  • Batman

    I feel like this will kill the Watchmen’s reputation.. it better be good, beaucause it could tear down one of the most brillant novel of all time

  • Can you do a list of comic publishers bought by other publishers or a list of comic imprints ?

  • Paul Levitz bought the Charlton Action Heroes line as a present for Publisher Dick Giordano, who was the original Charlton editor of the line. DC owns all the Charlton characters with the exception of Peter Cannon Thunderbolt. TBolt is still creator owned by the estate of Pete Morrissey (PAM) and has been leased and published since by both DC & Dynamite to limited success.

  • david unlikely

    Worthwhile article. Not a correction, but it is worth noting that Ted Kord was the second Blue Beetle. Blue Beetle I (Dan Garrett) originally appeared in Mystery Men Comics #1 (1939) from Fox, and then was brought over to Charlton in Nature Boy #3 (first issue) (1956) and Blue Beetle Vol. 2, #1 (1964). Garrett was used by DC as a Golden-Age Blue Beetle in the 1980s Blue Beetle II series and again in the 2000s Blue Beetle III (Jaime Reyes) series.

    Also, I understand some fans of Watchmen intentionally avoiding the Before Watchmen titles, but I can recommend Joe Straczynski & Adam Hughes’ Dr. Manhattan, which plays with a number of the storytelling tricks from Moore and Gibbons, and Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen, which balances dark and charming beautifully.

  • I really appreciate all of the info given here on the original heroes and their first appearances. That said, I could not disagree with the final conclusion more. I do not believe that attempts to create new stories for the Watchmen will dilute the original. When a book (or series) reaches these heights of idolatry, it does not devalue. If anything, should newer material be found wanting, the fans will simply differentiate between Watchmen proper and that which followed…exactly as they do now. From a speculative point of view, I would argue that the more Watchmen material that is created, the more valuable the original series becomes, regardless of how successful anything else that follows may or may not be. In short, I find this reasoning illogical.

    More importantly, I would confess that I am amongst the unwashed masses who is not a Mooreite purist. While I respect what they had acheived with Watchmen, I do not grant sainthood to Moore and/or Gibbons, nor do I consider the series holy scripture that is immutable and closed to further exploration, interpretation or development. I want to see a good Watchmen series…to hell with the pretentious egomaniac that is Alan Moore…and the more I think about it, I am tempted to throw in my lot with those who think that Geoff Johns might be the man for the job. Moore is not infallible, and I tend to think that there are some out there who can do it justice with the right time and effort.

    My two shillings.

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