When the recent confirmation of Watchmen Part Deux hit the internet, I could barely manage disappointment. Despite DC Comics best efforts to keep their hands off of this blood-soaked property they rightfully own for 25 years now, it really was just a matter of time.
DC Comics, as a small subsidiary of Time-Warner, is a business and, like all businesses, whether they sell beans or computers or a sense of well-being, their real business is making money. If they make money, they win. If they lose money, they fail. Simple stuff.
I’ve been reading DC Comics since I learned to read. I was a DC kid. We moved around a lot during my childhood and so, in a real way, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern were more constant as “friends” in my life than people with whom I went to school. Like the weather, no matter where I went, there they were.
I was reading a lot of DC Comics when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen came out but I wasn’t interested in it. It didn’t have any of the characters I liked or had ever even heard of and, back in that particular day, that meant a lot. Like most unsuspecting Superman fans, I was emotionally scarred by Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and, for a number of years following, I refused to read any comics by this “Al Moore” fellow because [SPOILER WARNING] he killed Krypto and it made me cry. Fool me once…
But the time did come when I did start reading Alan Moore’s comics and what a time it was. Alan Moore made me want to write comics and, in time, that’s exactly what I did. I cherish his comics, his spoken word performances, his novels, his underground magazines…everything. As an author, he has earned my unconditional positive regard. Though I have never met the man, I have feelings regarding him and his work. Irrational? Probably but then most feelings are.
DC Comics’ position on Watchmen has made me uncomfortable for as long as I’ve understood the details. Yes, he signed a contract giving them certain rights (including apparently the right to create sequels or prequels or whatever) but, as has been well-documented, there was no reasonable expectation that these rights would extend unto perpetuity such as they have. Yes, what they are doing is legal. No, it is not fair and, in my judgment, it is also not right.
This cognitive dissonance between my favorite superhero comic publisher and my favorite writer of comics has simmered uneasily in my conscience for years but, honestly, my love for the material kept it from ever coming to a head as it has now. It was wrong of them to retain the rights but they continued to pay him the monies he was due and, as long as Moore was getting paid, that made it OK-er than it might have been.
It is no longer OK.
The problem with having allegiances to a business is that a business is not a person. You can’t reason with it. You can’t appeal to its sense of humanity because it hasn’t got one. Publishing and profitting from material based on concepts that someone created under the premise that he or she would own them someday against the expressed wishes of that creator is not OK. It’s shitty. Shittier than killing Krypto.
And so, I won’t be buying any of these Watchmens books.
But it’s also not enough.
Because, like DC, I’ve convinced myself that it was OK to do something odious under the premise that if something was legal even though it wasn’t right, it was excusable. It wasn’t excusable and, by continuing to support a company who would profit from this kind of questionable ethical practices, I’m became complicit in that in excusable behavior. I paid for the lawyers that kept Alan Moore from owning his work.
And so, until the day that some DC Comics’ representative with the legal authority to do so flies over to Northampton and tears up the contract that has kept Moore a hostage to his work, I will never buy a DC Comic again.
Not in print.
Not in book form.
It’s the last, least and only thing I can do.
— Rob Vollmar
Rob Vollmar is a writer of and about comics and manga. He is the co-author of two graphic novels with artist Pablo G Callejo (Castaways and Bluesman, both published by NBM) and one with mpMann (Inanna’s Tears, published by Archaia). He has written reviews and analysis for the Comics Journal and is an associate contributing editor for World Literature Today Magazine. He was a founding member of Comic Book Galaxy.