Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Sacrilege Of "After Watchmen"


It took less than a year before Alan Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen was first mentioned in the pages of a story set in the DCU. In 1988's The Question #17, Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan had shown Vic Sage reading a copy of the graphic novel and pondering Rorschach's psychopathic approach to problem solving. Yet the first, and perhaps only, crossover between Moore and Gibbon's Charlton analogues and the DCU appeared in the little-known and repeatedly delightful Hero Hotline, a 1989 mini-series which featured a team of minor-league super-people working for hire in order to pay their everyday bills.

The fifth issue of writer Bob Rozakis and artist Stephen De Stefano's short run featured a scene set in the apartment of the mysterious "Coordinator" who owned the Hero Hotline business. An obviously well-connected figure in the super-heroic community, he would have been revealed to be the Americommando had the series survived. The walls of his home were shown to be hung with a variety of photographs of super-friends and enemies alike, and each of the four decades of DC's existence up until that point was referenced there. It was a smart way of emphasising both the Coordinator's status as a significant player in the DCU and the remarkable length of his crime-fighting career.

The worrying thing about the figure of Mr Mind at top-right is that it appears to be moving. At first, it looks like a macabre memento from a run-in with the Captain Marvel nemesis. But unless the frame he's resting on is itself shaking, that Mr Mind is - gosh! - alive and spying on Hero Hotline!
At the bottom left-hand side of the panel which showed all of this was a signed and framed photograph starring a smiling post-Crisis Captain Atom and a joyless Dr Manhattan. It's a touch of playful meta, of course, since both are revamps of the original Steve Ditko version of Captain Atom from the Sixties. But since there's absolutely no sense that the Coordinator's anything other than an entirely-sincere and well-respected individual, it's highly unlikely that the photograph is a fake. Not only did Atom and Manhattan actually meet, therefore, but they even hung around to pose for a snapshot afterwards. As such, it seems to me that this has a good case for being the only legitimate crossover between the characters of the Watchmenverse and the DCU.

I've little doubt that there's a 60-issue Event to be spun out of it.


  1. Wonderful stuff! Hero Hotline was such a wonderful series, horribly overlooked. I'd love a collection of it and the same team's sublime 'Mazing Man.

    1. Hello Martin:- Thank you!

      It's so easy to forget how highly 'Mazing Man was regarded in its day. A collected edition would indeed be welcome.

      As for the regretably forgotten Hero Hotline, I'd love to see it all behind one cover. But then, I always wanted a DC/Marvel crossover featuring Damage Control and Hero Hotline.

      I just got the Amazing Heroes issue which featured the team. As in, it arrived this morning. Wonderful cover, terrific interview; I'll be putting the former up on the TooBusy Thumblr.

  2. Wait. Have they announced an After Watchmen series? Or set of series? Not that I would be surprised . . . well, surprised that I missed the announcement, but not that it'd happen.

    1. Hello Osvaldo:- No, but the Captain Atom/Dr Manhattan team-up qualifies as an After Watchmen adventure, doesn't it?

      However, I have NO doubt that "After Watchmen" will arrive within the next few years.

    2. I'd like to think that the obvious problems with following on from the ending to Watchmen will trump any desire to milk the book to that extent...

      I wouldn't rule out a Watchmen reboot of some kind, though. Brrrr...

      Incidentally, Dr. Manhattan has hung out with some interesting people over the years:

    3. Hello Neil:- Great pic! It's absurdly cheering to see the good Dr smiling :)

      I have an awful idea that it might be possible to spin out After Watchmen even without a Crisis crossover with the N52. Manhattan unconsciously returns Rorscarch to life, while his memoirs become public ... Gawd help me, but as Before Watchmen shows, a hive-mind of corporate functionaires can create nothing from something and charge a fortune for it too.

      A Watchmen reboot. The New52 Watchmen? I wouldn't put it past them :-(

  3. That is most likely a Mr. Mind "Bobble Head" replica. Mr Mind is not amused.

    1. Hello Teresa:- The wrath of Mr Mind is, obviously, not to be messed with.

      Always thought he was a wonderfully absurd, and strangely disturbing, antagonist myself.

  4. Great image. Nice little acknowledgement of Dr Manhatten's 'Rock family tree'.

    My readthrough of DC 1 Million has taken me to the 80 page giant which followed it up (but I haven't written it up yet.) There's an Owlwoman there in a Morrison-written story who owes much more to Gibbons' distinctive Nite-Owl design than to the Crime Syndicat's Owlman. But I guess it's just a little nod to a great comic rather than a demeaning and shameful cash-grab.

    Speaking of Morrison, have you seen the previews of Quitely's pencils of Morrison's Multiversity? Absolutely to-die-for, as the Sloans used to say. (IMHO)

    Using the Charlton characters as analogues of their own analogues is such an elegant approach. Can't wait to read it. Knowing Morrison, though, and seeing as its only, I think, a 40 page comic, I'd have to wonder how satisfying it will be 'as its own thing'.

    1. Hello Figserello:- I very much enjoyed just about all of the DC 1 000 000 crossover, but my memory fails me where that Owlwoman story is concern. Yet it does indeed sound like a fond nod of the head rather than anything less heartening. It may even have been a reference to Owlman, who arrived as an evil ol'thing in the second JLA/JSA team-up

      I'd kept meaning to check out the Quitely pencils, but never quite did so. Thank you for the nudge. They do look splendid. To be honest, I wish the Charltonverse had never been folded in the DCU. I remember the brief scenes set on it in 1985/6's Crisis and thinking how interesting it all looked. I look forward to seeing them all back on their own Earth again. (A different one, obviously, but you know what I mean :))

      Yes, I'm with you; definitely looking forward to this, and yet hoping it will work in its own context too. Fingers crossed!

  5. I don't have much to ad for comments other than to say that's an impressively effective and clever bit of snark there. And you manage to pay tribute to what's worthwhile in comics too.

    1. Hello Adam - I hadn't thought of it as snark, but I suspect that's because I take my contempt for Before Watchmen for granted. But you're right, snarkishness is most certainly present in the above.

      Ah, well, I'm glad it also transmitted my fondness for a different tradition of superbook to the Before Watchmen titles. That I did always consciously intend to be in the post :-)

  6. Hi Colin:

    Has there ever been a comics project more cursed by the whims of fate than the folding of the Charlton heroes into the DCU?

    I mean, DC made very solid, sensible choices in rolling out Captain Atom, Blue Beetle and The Question. Gerry Conway, Len Wein and Denny O'Neil were the cream of the early Bronze Age talents. All had solid track records in building useful casts around Silver Age-y protagonists. Pat Broderick, Paris Cullens and Denys Cowan were talented, up-and-coming talents. All of the books were solid.

    Sadly, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had already placed them all firmly behind the times by the time they saw print. O'Neil and Cowan were doing such personal work that THE QUESTION endured as solo book for awhile, but neither of the others did. Poor Nightshade never even got out of the proverbial on-deck circle.

    1. Hello Dean:- You're right, the adding of the Charlton heroes was an ill-fated one. As you say, Watchmen made them seem out-dated, and DC made the ill-judged decision to try to make them fit in with the DCU as a whole. Unable to match Watchmen's drama and innovation, the likes of Blue Beetle became competentl-produced and yet essentially inter-changable. Bates, Wein and O'Neill produced able work, and O'Neill produced some of the best work of his career. But who needs Captain Atom when you've Green Lantern, Blue Beetle if you've Batman and Robin, and so on.

      Solid books just couldn't compete with marquee characters with decades worth of fans and big-name creators. Yet I can't help but suspect that if the Charlton heroes had been left on their own Earth, they might have gathered a small but loyal audience. A range of low-level heroes with a single super-bloke amongst them could have been a quirky line. But then, that was the Impact line, wasn't it, and that too died a death, despite some good comics such as the Fly and the Jaguar.

      Even playing a supporting role in Suicide Squad - one of the best of the era's titles, as I know you agree - didn't save Nightshade. There's alot of lessons to be learned from Crisis and its aftermath, and to be frank, having seen the New52, they not been been studied by anyone with their hands on the wheel.

    2. As you now must suspect, DC has my heart and others (Silver Age Marvel, 3rd way publishers of the 80s, etc.) have my head. That leads me to spend a shocking amount of time thinking about the editorial missteps of DC Comics.

      The great misfortune of the New 52 is almost certainly their uncritical view of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. For every win, there was an off-setting loss. The post-COIE DCU was wonderful for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It was a disaster for LoSH and the New Teen Titans. Many of the problems could have been avoided with more systematic thinking.

      Regarding the Charlton heroes, bad luck played a major role. I doubt that anyone could have foreseen WATCHMEN becoming what it is.

      Still, it seems as though some more systematic thinking could have gone into how the Charlton heroes fit into the DC line. The producer of the Justice League cartoon found a nice solution for The Question as a sort of Right-Wing answer to Green Arrow. That put Batman conveniently in the center. There is no particular reason that Captain Atom could not have taken a position on Superman's Right and moved the Man of Steel to the Left (where he is more interesting). Similarly, Nightshade might have been contrasted with Wonder Woman and Black Canary.

      Dear old Ted Kord is trickier. He is a wonderful character that splits the difference between the Silver Age Batman and Spider-Man. Sadly, that confines him to the B-list in the DCU. I am all for diversity, but bumping him off to make way a Latino character that splits the difference between Spider-Man and Iron Man missed the point.

    3. Hello Dean:- You? Fond of DC's characters? Well ... I'm amazed .... :-)

      You're so right to point out that New 52 swallowed the myth of Crisis, a revolution which hit the wall within just a few years and was constantly needing to be reworked and reworked all over again. Of course, the New 52 went further and destroyed many if not all of the connections with what went before. But then, Didio's regime did that so badly that they needn't have bothered. (A 5 year-long superheroic past? O-f course ...)

      You're right to say that no-one foresaw Watchmen's success. To read the likes of the Amazing Heroes Preview Special which first mentioned it is to realise what an unexpected breakthrough it was.

      I am with you that brilliant reworkings might have saved the characters from Charlton. The problem is that such brilliance is all-too-rare, and it can't be created by editorial fiat. The JLU's recasting of the Question is indeed a brilliant one, and the DCU has sacrificed much by pursuing diversity at the expense of a concept that works. But then, I can't see why there can't be several Questions, one male and a conspiracy nut, one female and not. The contrast between their backgrounds - journalist and policewoman, conspiracy-nut and rationalist, male and female, straight and grey - would surely have made for some fascinating stories.

      But then, given how different the two Blue Beetles were, I again can't see how the introduction of one necessitated the doing away of the other.

    4. Hi Colin:

      My affection for DC's characters is a problem, since it keeps me from cutting the cord on their uniformly repulsive new content. Gail Simone is a thin reed in a tidal wave of gore and reactionary politics.

      To me, the great virtue of the superhero genre is that it forces the inside of a character out. Inside a mench, like Clark Kent, is a strong and noble White Knight. Inside a milksop like Bruce Banner is a raging anger. All it takes to turn the inside of a person out is contact with a little magic. It doesn't really matter whether the magic is radiation, or nanotechnology, or heightened evolution. It just needs a whiff of faint plausibility by the standards of contemporary pop culture.

      Maybe I am wrong, but the unguessed depths of the straight white man have pretty well explored in the superhero genre. There has been a wide diversity of class, political orientation and cultural background. If you want to write about an upper-middle class technophile, then Ted Kord exists. If you want to write about an upper middle class man on a spiritual journey, then Dr. Strange is readily available.

      Straight white women are represented, but less so and generally under-developed. Wonder Woman has had to stretch to become many different, often unrelated things over the years.

      Racial minorities and gays were nearly nonexistent, or highly coded, until the late Bronze Age. It is nice (I suppose) that J'Onn J'Onzz stood in for all non-white people in the original JLA, but the era in which that is remotely progressive is long past. I do not understand why placing a non-white and/or non-straight person into a legacy role is so very much better. It metaphorically implies that their internal life is all about being assimilated into the dominant culture. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a very narrow (and slightly patronizing) way of viewing diversity. It always disappoints me when ostensible liberals advance it, since it suggests a 19th Century mind-set.

      Regarding brilliance and editorial fiat, I am sure that they are not entirely mutually exclusive. It is just that I cannot think of an example of them co-existing post-1972. Editors did just fine as the principal authors of Silver Age comics. Stan Lee (of course), Mort Weisinger, Bob Kaninger and Julie Schwartz each had styles that were both personal and entertaining. Once Marvel moved the primary authorial voice to the creative team, editors became virtuous primarily in their invisibility.

      In hindsight, that is probably what went wrong with the Charlton heroes. They needed a strong, unifying author to establish them in the DCU. Conway, Wein and O'Neil were reliable pros working independently. None of them could (or would) apply their stamp on the whole collection. Dick Giordano enabled the greatest period of creativity at DC with a light editorial hand and the Charlton heroes were his babies. As a result, no one was really steering the ship.

      It is a shame, but at least they have fared better than the Marvel Family.

    5. Hello Dean:- As always, your comments are a pleasure to read.

      I can only agree with you about Gail Simone's work. I wish there more new writers entering the profession who promised to develop her degree of passion, purpose and control.

      We must swap our responses when the Morrison/Quitely Charlton book comes out towards the end of the year. I've only a seen a few black and white pages - as recommended by Figserello in his comment above - but it does look at the very intriguing.

      I would agree with you than the broad idea of the white bloke in the superhero comic has been played out. A recognisable white member of ANY social community would be a different matter. Yet I rarely see any strata of society convincingly portrayed in the superbook. Instead, we have this floating class of white super-blokes who seem to exist largely untouched by the world. It's a dead end, and indeed a dead end that's been smashed into. I just don't want to see anymore super-rich - or effectively so - white folks in fabulous HQs anymore. Even the Baxter Building is starting to feel like a bastion of privilege these days.

      Yet if most super-book writers can't raise the wit to describe a sub-section of white society, there's not much hope that they'll be able to reach outside that to the wonderful richness of society beyond. Of course, the usual exceptions excepted; Aaron, Cornell, Gillen, Simone etc etc. But it's all too small a number of folks, and I'm so bored of whitebread, priviliged superpeople. Reading the Death Of The Family conclusion, it sruck me that we had yet another cadre of white super-people who can have any material want satisfied as long as they fight off the latest super-baddie. Fine if only a small number of super-people are like that, but so many of them aren't ...

      The truth is, we're looking for expert editors who know a huge amount about storytelling and who can respect creator's freedom too, who have the power to say "do that again" and the people skills to make a creator want to improve. Sadly, none of that is likely with a few notable exceptions today.

      The Marvel Family? Oh dear. Has any company's heroes prospered after being swallowed up the DCU? I don't think so. Quality, Fawcett, Charlton, the "Impact" heroes ... It's never worked, and that never stops DC trying.

  7. Ah, Colin, someone else remembers the "Impact" (!mpact?) line. At times I start to believe that I hallucinated the whole thing. The Shield may be the first patriotic hero, but the character could not withstand 3 incarnations in 16 issues.

    1. Hello Rabbi Joe:- It was something of a disaster, wasn't it? Still, Mike Parobeck's art on The Fly was charming, and some if strangely not all of WML's scripting for The Jaguar was splendid too.

      But on the whole, a disappointment, I fear ...