The recent announcements of DC's Before Watchmen series and a new Rocketeer miniseries from IDW have yielded mixed results from fans and creators. Whether or not you agree with the idea of these beloved comics finding new life with new creators, the idea of completely disregarding the upcoming works before they even see print isn't warranted, in my humble opinion. For me, like so many others, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen series was a turning point in how I viewed comics' potential. Suddenly there were deeper things that could be included in this medium, even when capes and cowls were involved. I'm one of those readers who still think of Moore as one of my favorite writers. Between Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and even more recent works like Tom Strong, Top Ten, The Birth Caul and Snakes and Ladders, he's produced some of the industry's greatest hallmarks. Yet, unlike so many others, I'm not all that surprised or offended by DC's decision to allow newer creators an opportunity to delve further into the histories of these characters.
If you can look past the idea that DC is largely approaching these new stories from a strictly business standpoint, we can at the very least take solace in the fact that they didn't allow some of the lesser DC 52 creators to be a part of this venture. Can you imagine Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld being a part of Before Watchmen? If you're a fan of these two creators, I don't mean any disrespect. They're certainly smart businessmen who have left an indelible mark on the industry. That said, these new books would've suffered if they would've been involved. Can't we at least be a little happy that they let creators like Darwyn Cooke and Adam Hughes be a part of Before Watchmen? Cooke and Hughes both display a great deal of respect for comics' history, and both are proficient at their craft. Can we really be upset when creators of their caliber are working hard to add further levels to an existing masterpiece?
It's probably better that these books were left alone, and I can understand that on some level. However, I don't think that Cooke or Hughes or any of the other creators attached to Before Watchmen really think their contributions are going to add to the impact of Moore and Gibbons' timeless work. Let's turn to IDW's recent announcement of a new Rocketeer miniseries. This week they're releasing their second volume of Rocketeer Adventures, their anthology series that features some of the industry's best telling short stories featuring the highly regarded creation of the late, great Dave Stevens. The announcement of the miniseries in particular has riled up some creators. Rocketeer is my all time favorite character and design. I regard it higher than I do most any other comic property. I also don't think anyone could come close to achieving half of what Stevens did with his work on the character. Yet, as with Before Watchmen, I'm not upset or offended by the idea of other creators adding their own stories to the Rocketeer mythology.
If these books give new, younger readers an opportunity to go back and discover Stevens' Rocketeer, can we really get upset? Imagine being in a store and seeing a high school or college student and buying an issue of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Rocketeer miniseries. Imagine them buying subsequent issues and then realizing these aren't even being done by the guy who created the character. Then they go back and find Stevens' work and discover a whole new part of comics that will inevitably change the way they see the entire medium.
At the end of the day, these new books draw a line in the sand for comics fans. Older readers who revere the originals might bristle at the thought of new stories by creators who had no part in the original books. Newer readers might only have a tangential understanding of the originals, and might buy the new books regardless of any desire to go back and pick up the original books. We can hope, at the very least, that the new works will shepherd new readers to the originals. And even if that doesn't happen, it's worth taking a little solace in the idea that many of the creators involved in these new projects are operating out of a great sense of reverence, and probably aren't looking to cash in on these timeless properties. If anything, they're probably all too familiar with the reality that they're walking on hallowed ground.
Sometimes, though that yields great results. Just look at Ryan Sook's contribution to Rocketeer Adventures. In an effort which he wrote and illustrated (and maybe even colored and lettered), you see a younger creator paying homage and operating out of a great sense of respect for the genius of Dave Stevens. It's homage, yet it's also a young artist reminding us of the persevering relevance of a character whose stories take place over sixty years ago. This is a continuing reality of comics. Had Spider-man ended with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, would we be any better off for having not seen John Romita's work on the character? Had Batman ended before the 1980's, would comics be any better for having not witnessed David Mazzucchelli's Year One? Comics can't always capture the kernel of their original genius, but does that mean we should stunt the possibility of new creators adding their own mark to history? Nothing beats the originals, nothing captures the greatness that initially captured our imaginations. Nothing is supposed to really do that. Let's just give earnest creators a chance. The wheat will separate from the chaff in the long run, and if the new work really stands up over time, it will do so on its own terms. And even if Before Watchmen or the new Rocketeer stories are still being talked about a decade from now, will anyone ever really put them on a pedestal over the likes of Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons or Dave Stevens? Absolutely not.