In 1999, author Joyce Maynard (To Die For) auctioned off a series of letters written to her by revered Catcher in the Rye author and notorious recluse J.D. Salinger. The auction was won by an art collector named Peter Norton who announced he would return the letters to Salinger or destroy them, whatever the author wished, and he was regarded as a hero while Maynard endured a public shaming on par with Hester Prynne’s in The Scarlet Letter.
What everyone seemed to overlook in this scenario is that the letters were Maynard’s property and she was free to do with them as she pleased. That’s how letters work. They’re not library books. She wasn’t holding them hostage while Salinger skulked around his New Hampshire home, fretting over what might happen to them. But fan loyalty overrode common sense, such was the love people had for an elderly writer that, if history is any indication, likely resented them for their adoration.
What Catcher in the Rye did for Salinger, so, too, did Watchmen do for its author Alan Moore. His 1986 miniseries became one of history’s most celebrated “graphic novels” (a phrase Moore loathes) and, in the process, earned him a rather loyal following. Though his writing was reason enough to warrant adulation, a certain us-versus-them solidarity formed between creator and audience after DC very famously screwed Moore over in his Watchmen contract.
Much of the outrage over the recently-announced prequels to Watchmen seem to have a lot to do with protecting Moore’s vision, which, if internet message boards are to be believed, can only be diluted by putting the material into the hands of writers who aren’t Moore. DC has wisely acknowledged that not everyone’s going to be pleased, while some are saying maybe it won’t be so bad and others are saying that Moore needs to get over it.
And, in a way, they’re right: Watchmen, like it or lump it, is DC property. There’s not much Moore (or we) can do about it, and complaining isn’t going to change the fact that these books are being released. Unlike Joyce Maynard, however, DC is not a financially struggling single mother trying to find a way to put her kids through college; it’s a highly-lucrative company that’s trying to maximize its profits by milking a successful franchise for all it’s worth, otherwise there’s no reason for Before Watchmen to exist.
The wise Mike Hansen makes some excellent points over at All Day Comics, but here’s the number-one reason I don’t think these books will be any good:
Have you read the fascinating sequel to Nabakov’s Lolita?
No? Surely you’ve seen the acclaimed second installment of the Donnie Darko saga?
Okay, what about the completely necessary follow-up to Gotham by Gaslight?
Never heard of it?!? What do you mean?!?