Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Story Behind the Watchmen

Most of the stuff is pretty common knowledge to Comic Book Fanboys out there, but for those who never read the original Watchmen, maybe this will be a nice little peek into this World.

Watchmen GN cover
Watchmen originally started out as a 12 issue comic book limited series by British writer Alan Moore & British artist Dave Gibbons, & published by DC Comics between 1986 to 1987.  When it fist came out it was something that was way over my head at the time so I didn't read it until many years later. Over the years reading various comic fanzines I learn the backstory behind the creation of the Watchmen.

Dick Giordano
It starts out sometime in 1983 or 1984 when DC Comics purchased the rights to Charlton Comics’s old "Action Heroes" as a "in house gift" for Editor Dick Giordano, who had edited the old Charlton line back in the Mid-1960s. He soon began searching for the right creative team to handle DC's new acquisitions.

Alan Moore
Marvelman
Around the same time DC was experiencing a new "British Invasion" of creative talent. One such talent was a writer named Alan Moore, who gain notice for revamping old unused British superhero named Marvelman (Miraclman in the US) & a strange new series about a anarchist called V for Vendetta. He just started on DC's revamped Swamp Thing title & was going over various ideas with DC,  like a Martian Manhunter story set in the Cold War 1950s or a new Challengers of the Unknown series, both turned down.

1960s Mighty Crusaders
Moore then had an idea of using old comic book superheroes who where no longer being published like MLJ/Archie Comics' Mighty Crusaders (who last appeared in 1967). The story Moore devised was a murder mystery plot which would begin with the discovery of the body of a character named the Shield in a harbor & having Jack Kirby's Pvt. Lancelot Strong drafted back into service to solve. As the mystery unraveled, we would be lead deeper & deeper into the real heart of this super-hero's world, & show a reality that was very different to the general public image of the super-hero.

Charlton Action Heroes
But when Moore heard of DC's new "purchase", he rewrote the story for the Charlton Heroes, retitling it "Who Killed the Peacemaker". Moore felt it didn't matter which set of characters he ultimately used, as long as the readers recognized them "so it would have the shock & surprise value when you saw what the reality of these characters was".
Giordano was receptive to the story, but suggested not using the Charlton heroes because the story left a lot of the Heroes unusable at the end. He then suggested to Moore create new characters instead.
 
At 1st Moore didn't think the story would work with new characters because he thought that he would lose all of the emotional resonance that the characters had for the reader, which he thought was an important part of the series. Eventually Moore realized that if he wrote the new characters well enough, so that they seemed familiar in a certain generic super-hero familiarity to the reader, it might work.

Dave Gibbons
So the search for artist for the new project began with Moore choosing fellow Brit Dave Gibbons, who he had work with on the British comic anthology 2000 A.D. (home of Judge Dredd).
MAD's Superduperman
Moore & Gibbons began working on the project, spending the time creating characters, crafting story details & discussing influences. The pair was particularly influenced by a Mad parody of Superman named "Superduperman". Moore said, "We wanted to take Superduperman 180 degrees—dramatic, instead of comedic". Moore said his intention was to create "a superhero Moby Dick, something that had that sort of weight, that sort of density".
Moore came up with the character names & descriptions, but left the specifics of how they looked to Gibbons.
 
Dave Gibbons early designs
Dave Gibbons early design
Moore's intention was to create some characters with radically opposing ways to view the world & give readers the privilege of determining which one was most morally comprehensible. Moore did not believe in cramming regurgitated morals down the readers' throats, but instead sought to show heroes in an ambivalent light. Moore wanted to show all of these people, warts & all. Show that even the worst of them had something going for them, & even the best of them had their flaws.
The first Character is the Comedian/Edward Blake.
The Comedian
The Comedian is 1 of 2 Government sanctioned superheroes left & is found dead when the story begins, his murder sets the plot in motion. His character appears in flashbacks & aspects of his personality are revealed by other characters. Described as ruthless, cynical, & nihilistic, & yet capable of deeper insights than the others into the role of the costumed hero.

Peacemaker
 The Comedian was based on the Charlton character Peacemaker, with elements of the Marvel Comics spy character Nick Fury added & a bit of the Captain America super patriotic hero. Moore & Gibbons saw The Comedian as a kind of Gordon Liddy character (famous for the Watergate break-ins), only a much more bigger & tougher guy.
Nick Fury
Captain America
G. Gordon Liddy 1964
The second Character to appear is Rorschach/Watler Kovacs

Rorschach
Rorschach is the fedora hat, trench coat wearing vigilante with a white mask that contains constantly shifting ink blots who investigates the Comedian's death.

Based on the Charlton character the Question created by Steve Ditko (co-creator of Marvel Comics's  Spider-Man & Dr. Strange) & Ditko's own smallpress character Mister A (a more extreme version of the Question), Ditko freely expressed his own personal ideology based on Ayn Rand's Odjectivism views in the characters. Moore said he was trying to "come up with this quintessential Steve Ditko character, someone who's got a funny name, whose surname begins with a 'K,' who's got an oddly designed mask".

The Question
Mr. A
His world view is a set of black & white values that take many shapes but never mix into shades of gray, similar to the ink blot tests of his namesake. Rorschach sees existence as random & with this viewpoint he leaves free to scrawl his own design on a morally blank world.

Moore wanted to explore how an archtypical Batman-type character, a driven, vengeance-fueled, vigilante, would be like in the real world. His answer was "a NUTCASE".  Wizard Magazine named Rorschach the 6th greatest comic book character. 

The Third character to appear is the 2nd Nite Owl/Dan Dreiderg

Nite Owl
Dreiderg was a superhero who utilizes owl-themed gadgets. At the start of the story Dreiderg, like the other superheroes went into forced retirement, spending the last few years overweight & impotent (that sucks). The Nite Owl was based on the Ditko Ted Kord version of the Blue Beetle & similar to how Ted Kord had a predecessor, Moore also incorporated an earlier adventurer who used the name "Nite Owl", the retired crime fighter Hollis Mason, into Watchmen. While Moore devised character notes for Gibbons to work from, the artist provided a name and a costume design for Hollis Mason he had created when he was 12.
 
Blue Beetle
young Gibbons' Nite Owl design
But despite the character's Charlton Comics roots, Nite Owl has more in common with the DC Comics character Batman & his civilian form visually suggests a middle-aged Clark Kent.
Batman
Clark Kent
The fourth character is Dr. Manhattan/Dr. Jonathan Osterman.
Scientist Jon Osterman was caught in an "Intrinsic Field sub-tractor" in 1959, becoming the world's 1st Superpowered being, & starts working for the US Government, tipping the balance of the Cold War to the Americans. Dr. Manhattan was based upon Charlton's Captain Atom (also created by Steve Ditko), who in Moore's original proposal was surrounded by the shadow of nuclear threat. Moore saw the lack of scientific exploration of superheroes origins & thought he could do more with Manhattan as a "kind of a quantum super-hero" than he could have with Captain Atom, going into quantum physics to construct Dr. Manhattan. Moore believed that a character living in a quantum universe would not perceive time with a linear perspective, which would influence the character's perception of human affairs. Moore also wanted to avoid creating an emotionless character like Spock from Star Trek, so he sought for Dr. Manhattan to retain "human habits" and to grow away from them and humanity in general. Gibbons had made Dr. Manhattan's skin blue, having created the blue skinned character Rogue Trooper in 2000 A.D., he reused the blue skin motif but with a different shade. Moore incorporated the color into the story, & Gibbons noted the rest of the comic's color scheme made Manhattan more unique.
 
Captain Atom
The fifth character to appear is the 2nd Silk Spectre/Laurie Juspeczyk.
Silk Spectre
The daughter of the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter, whom she has a strained relationship with since she was pushed into the superhero life by her. She has since become Dr. Manhattan's live-in girlfriend when the story starts. The Silk Spectre started out based on Charlton character Nightshade, but Moore drew more inspiration from such superheroines as Black Canary & Phantom Lady. Moore made her the only strong female heroine surrounded by mostly male heroes, much like how the Superhero genre over the years was dominated by Mostly Male Superheroes with only a few Superheroines around.

Nightshade
Black Canary
Phantom Lady
The Sixth character to appear is Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt.
Ozymandias
Drawing inspiration from Alexander the Great, Veidt was once the superhero Ozymandias (which was the Greek name for Ramses 2nd), but has since retired to devote his attention to the running of his own enterprises. Veidt is believed to be one of the smartest men on the planet. Ozymandias was directly based on Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, whom Moore had admired for using his full brain capacity as well as possessing full physical and mental control. The Charlton character was created by a moonlighting NY Policeman named Pete A. Morisi in 1966 who signed his work with his initials P.A.M. to keep secret his comic book career from his main Employer. He based the symmetrically divided, red & blue costume on the 1940s Lev Gleason Publications Daredevil, whom Morisi tried to purchase the rights from in the early 1960s.
Peter Cannon
Golden Age Daredevil
Moore at first wanted to tell the story of what superheroes would be like "in a credible, real world". But as the story got more complex it became about "power & about the idea of the superman manifest within society." Moore later stated while writing Watchmen he was able to purge himself of his nostalgia for superheroes, & instead found an interest in real human beings. It was "not anti-Americanism, but anti-Reaganism”, much like Moore’s V for Vendetta was Anti-Thatcher. Commenting on what 1985 America was like & the fear of being Nuked.
Moore & Gibbons designed Watchmen to showcase the unique designed Watchmen to showcase the unique qualities of the comics medium & to highlight its particular strengths. Moore said, "What I'd like to explore is the areas that comics succeed in where no other media is capable of operating", & emphasized this by stressing the differences between comics & film. Moore said that Watchmen was designed to be read "4 or 5 times," with some links & allusions only becoming apparent to the reader after several readings. Gibbons described the series as "a comic about comics".
 
Page from within the Watchmen
Moore named William S. Burroughs as one of his main influences during the conception, admiring Burroughs' use of "repeated symbols that would become laden with meaning" in Burroughs' only comic strip, "The Unspeakable Mr. Hart", which appeared in the British underground magazine Cyclops.

One such repeated symbol was the smiley face image which 1st turns up as the Comedian’s the blood-stained badge.

 In a book of the craters & boulders of Mars, Gibbons discovered a photograph of the Galle crater, which resembles a happy face, which they worked into an issue.

Galle Crater
Near the end of the project, Moore realized that the story bore some similarity to "The Architects of Fear," an episode of 1960s the Outer Limits TV series. The writer & Editor Wein argued over changing the ending; Moore won, but acknowledged the episode by referencing it in the series' last issue.

Creature from the Outer Limits
Squid in the Watchmen
When 1st issue hit the comic shops it was a Big Hit, winning a number of literary awards such a Hugo Award in 1988 in "the Other Forms" category.

In 1999, The Comics Journal ranked Watchmen at number 91 on its list of the Top 100 English-Language Comics of the 20th Century.


Watchmen was the only graphic novel to appear on Time's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present".
 
Time critic Lev Grossman described the story as "a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read & a watershed in the evolution of a young medium."
 
In 2008, Entertainment Weekly placed it at number 13 on its list of the best 50 novels printed in the last 25 years, describing it as "The greatest superhero story ever told & proof that comics are capable of smart, emotionally resonant narratives worthy of the label literature."
 
The Minutemen
Moore stated in 1985 that if the limited series were well-received, he & Gibbons would possibly create a 12-issue prequel series called Minutemen featuring the 1940s superhero group from the story. DC offered Moore & Gibbons chances to publish prequels to the series, such as Rorschach's Journal or The Comedian's Vietnam War Diary. Neither man felt the stories would have gone anywhere. Gibbons was more attracted to the idea of a Minutemen series, because it would have "paid homage to the simplicity & unsophisticated nature of Golden Age comic books with the added dramatic interest that it would be a story whose conclusion is already known. It would be, perhaps, interesting to see how we got to the conclusion."

But disagreements about the ownership of the Watchmen & his V for Vendetta series with artist David Lloyd story led Alan Moore to sever ties with DC Comics in 1989, vowing to never work for them again.

2 comments:

  1. Very beautifully written, Sir. I had heard most of this before from various sources, and it's cool to see all of this information compiled right there in one place.
    Something I thought I'd mention...
    Some of the Minutemen retain the designs that are inspired by the MLJ/Archie Comics characters. Mothman resembles The Fly, Hooded Justice resembles Hangman, and it's no stretch to say that Captain Metropolis is The Shield.

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  2. I had heard that, I didn't look too much into the history of the Minutemen as they didn't play large portion to the overall plot of the story, but it might be interesting to go back and research some of them as well. I've always wanted to put together a piece on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as well.

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