Saturday, February 4, 2012

Before Before Watchmen, Some Thoughts

Since Nathaniel is busy um, Harry Pottering this weekend, I'll be in charge of the ol' blog. Good for me, not so good for clear-thinking individuals the world over.

Today's topic of conversation? What else? Before Watchmen.

DC's announcement this week that they will be publishing brand new prequels to the most critically acclaimed comics work of all time has the entire Internet ablaze with overreaction, under reaction, and, well, more overreaction.

Which has me thinking--with Internet fervor the way it is, would the original Watchmen have seen this kind of scrutiny when it was coming out had there been such a forum? What about Dark Knight Returns, for that matter? One of the most heralded Batman stories ever, seemingly loved by everyone who comes across it. Would Dark Knight have been blasted for its weird, old-guy version of Bruce Wayne?

I'm gonna bet it would have been.

So, fine, let's discredit the most vociferous of Internet hostilities towards Before Watchmen, because, frankly, who cares what a crazy person online has to say about anything? Personally, I think it's fine that DC has decided to go this route--looking at it from a strictly business perspective, it makes sense.

Watchmen is one of DC's most profitable properties; milking it for all it's worth is only natural, especially in the current publishing landscape. And if I know anything, I know the current publishing landscape. Publishers the world over are much more interested in the "safe bet" than they are in the new and the different.

That's one of the reasons I left the industry--safe bets are great for the short term, but in the long run it's the big, new ideas that make a difference. And, not to mention, fortunes.

But I can't fault DC for going back to the well here. Frankly, I'm shocked it took them this long to do it. Before Watchmen is going to make money--lots of it. Even the weaker books in the series will do well, just because comics fans can't help themselves. Even if they voice an opinion to the contrary, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that the loudest critics of the series will be there to pick it up when it launches.

Why? Because we're comics fans; we have to know.

I'm interested in three or four of the titles, and I plan on giving them a shot. Do I wish maybe DC had gone another direction in their publishing plans? Sure; new titles with new characters doing new things would be great. But also risky.

Too risky for this current economy.

Further, I'd much rather see new creators emerge in the industry than have publishers continually go back to the (seemingly) 20 or so creators that generate the most product in comics today.

Part of the initial attraction of DC's New 52 was the promise that there would be new blood injected in lots of classic titles. I've said it before, but it's an evergreen argument: The comics industry is notorious for not allowing new members into the clubhouse.

We see it all the time, but it's hard to argue against going with a creator who has a proven track record of sales.

Like I said, this isn't restricted to comics--it's all over publishing, and television, and the movies. In comics, certain titles with certain creators have a known number of sales, even before the book is solicited. Like all publishers, projected numbers are the most important part in getting something green lit.

Sure, sometimes there's something so revolutionary that even the tightest suit in the room will agree to go forward, even if there's not the promise of a huge financial return. But for the most part, safe is best.

Unfortunately, though, years from now no one will be talking about the great business sense of publishers. However, they will still be talking about the editor who signed Harry Potter from an unknown woman with crazy ideas.

I wish it were the other way around, though. I wish we could all learn the names of all the editors who passed up that book when it came across their slush piles (you know, the ones they're too busy to read?).

On that note, I can just hear Frank Miller's Dark Knight pitch meeting, had it taken place two months ago rather than 20 years ago:

Editor: "So, um. Cool concept, Frank. But, can we make him look like Batman?"

Frank: "Meaning...?"

Editor: "Meaning, he's all...old...and stuff. Can't make toys of an old Batman, ya know."

Frank: "Good point. How about we make him really young, and really crazy? He can kidnap Robin and yell at him!"

Editor: "Brilliant!"

Frank: "Also, can there be dinosaurs?"

Editor: "Funny you should mention that..."

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