Editor’s Note: If DC Comics still had letter columns, I would surely send this one in, scans and all. Sadly, that’s one tradition they’ve abandoned, and Daredevil has kept.

I’m reading one of the Before Watchmen comics.

I know, I know, you don’t want anyone to support this obvious corporate groping for more money. You were promised that you could create some characters that you would have complete control over, whose lives you could begin and end.

Ed Brubaker talks about this aspect very well in an interview between Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter. He does a much more elaborate job than I could ever do.

Well, sorry, Alan Moore, it doesn’t work that way. Characters created are for us to use, DC Comics has now said. While one could paint it as selfish of Alan Moore to keep these characters all to himself, he was told by contemporary editor in chief that these were his own creations, that as soon as they characters were created and the initial printing of the book sold out without another print in three years, DC would decline to republish the book, reverting the book’s rights to its creators.

Turns out they always found someone new to sell the book to.

It never went out of print, and the promised rule of new characters reverting to their own creator was never upheld.

See, other comics had been popular as trade paperbacks Before Watchmen (TM), but none of them were creator owned characters. Turns out those graphic novels didn’t sell well, the initial market told DC.

So Paul Levitz made that promise to Alan Moore as a thank you for reinvigorating Swamp Thing, and for unintentionally creating the best selling Vertigo line of comics.

And then someone else took his place.

And Alan Moore has claimed mistreatment ever since, and has retreated into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, otherwise known as a comic made from other people’s inventions, but published by a completely hands free editorial ideology.

Create characters for the public’s imagination, Alan Moore. Not for your own personal gain. At least, that’s how I feel. It’s allright to call DC foul for reneging on their employee’s promise. In fact, they are just a couple shades better than Marvel (who is the most despicable for creator’s rights behind Archie Comics and Disney, who now owns Marvel Comics), and have never really gone out of their way to treat creators well that haven’t formed a little celebrity and buying power of their own. Vertigo on the other hand, they have forged some of the most unique voices in comics today, on which threshold this Before Watchmen series stands.

There is only one of the mini-series that I could be caught dead reading: Ozymandias. Whereas the rest do not seem to have any purpose other than milking money from unintelligent people who enjoy an old comic. Darwyn Cooke’s retro Minutemen is already very well rendered in photographs, dialogue, and occasional flashbacks, and The Comedian’s absurd grit and Rorschach’s righteous grit were practically the initial series’ main themes. Do The Silk Spectre and Nite Owl need any more Romance than the awkward but fulfilling moments in the original???? I think not. I’d rather hear the life story of the kid at the newsstand, or, heck, the manager of the newsstand. People whose lives have not already been rendered impeccably.

Ozymandias, though, this one sheds some light on these characters that Alan Moore did not already shine. See, Len Wein, the author this book, was the editor of the original Watchmen series. And the one thing he disagreed with was Ozymandias’ final decision at the ending of the series;

“I had a problem with Alan’s intended ending to the series, specifically that the ending was almost verbatim the ending of a wonderful episode of the classic SF series, The Outer Limits, called “The Architects of Fear”. When I argued with Alan that he had to change his ending because it had already been done, Alan’s reply was simply, “Well, it hasn’t been done by me.” To this day, the redundant ending of Watchmen mars all of the book’s other magnificent qualities for me.”

that’s from his personal blog’s announcement of the Before Watchmen (TM) series.

He says other things like they’re finally going to explore some great new characters. While I think that the exploration of the other characters was done well enough in the original series, Ozymandias was a character with little development in the main series. As the architect behind the entire book, he presented a false facade as uninvolved with the apocalyptic yawns as everyone else.

And he mostly succeeded.

Succeeded at making the smartest move in the history of superheroics, one that rendered them all thankfully obsolete. At least, for a short time being.

In this comic, though, he has not yet grasped that ego-less intelligence, and must convince everyone else that he is the smartest man alive. The character’s immediate analogue is Batman, and boy does Len Wein outdo himself in that regard. With daily exercise routines from a genetically modified (and very beautiful) beast, and a couple clever moments of maintaining his corporate empire, he resembles the CEO, although he never lets on a simple playboy disguise.

As a superhero, though, the second issue’s takedown of a warehouse full of muscle deserves its purchase for its page’s brilliant design and perfectly paced storytelling alone.

The analogues are deeper than that, though. Ozymandias is a victim of a force which he must submit very young, and that trauma scars him. Told by all his classmates that he is impossibly smart, and that he must have cheated on tests and such, he is forced to hide his smartness. Which makes him need to express that smartness in later, violent ways. This is a prim and neat schoolboy disarming bullies and principals alike after suffering their slings for so long.

The same way Batman studied to attack the night criminals that so resembled his parents’ murderer every night.

And the wanderings of Ozymandias from issue one perfectly exaggerate the Batman narrative. Instead of seeing a bat as something to relate to, he saw something human: Alexander The Great. Instead of burying himself in the image of him, however, he quickly discovered something even greater that the idol: the magic that the idol was a part of. Simply put, the Egyptian pharoahs whose technique Alexander The Great used.

Alan Moore himself has almost stopped writing comics altogether in order to practice magic with his wife, Linda Gebbie. He sees both as springing forth from the same source, as his last sustained epic, Promethea, talked about.

And so by the end of the first issue, Len Wein has already invented an origin for Ozymandias’ character into a Batman archetype, and then wrote Alan Moore’s character into Ozymandias. It’s an interesting triangle.

The second issue makes the Alan Moore comparisons even more prevalent, with the arising attitudes of The Comedian. A more violent man concerned with truth and jokes above all else, he is the punk superhero. While Ozymandias looks into the past, the silver age for inspiration, as Alan Moore was with his Superman stories, and his soon following Supreme and America’s Best Comics stories, he is interrupted by the violence on their mutual search for the truth.

It is a violence which Alan Moore helped cultivate, with the almost senseless character death of Barbara Gordon in Batman: A Killing Joke [often lauded for its realism, I prefer her rehabilitation in the pages of Suicide Squad where she becomes an electronic wizard, The Oracle]. It is a violence which he later felt gravely sorry for, hence the quest to save the world. Ozymandias is vicious in these pages, demanding people call him the smartest man in the world, refusing to give them his name, and calling almost everyone an asshole. He is not above killing, a distinction between him and Batman.

And it is an important rule to break. There’s a devil may care attitude here, perfectly rendered by Jae Lee, one of the most impressive artists whenever he has the patience for a superhero book. Who can do realism just real enough to fool you, and can pull your eye into an image.

Jae Lee’s cover to Wolverine 8.

Let the good comics roll, I say. Just, please, DC, don’t act like this is a creative achievement and not your big summer event.

-ptr

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