The Pandora’s Box of the Watchmen’s Rebirths
Some 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?
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.
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.
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.