Once we got over our shock at the rumor that DC Comics may be planning a sequel to Watchmen, we started wondering: What would be the best way to go about it? And could it ever be worth it?
Here's the thing; even though Rich says his rumor was triple-sourced, it still seemed very unlikely to me - Watchmen, after all, isn't just a comic anymore, but an idealized platonic ideal of a comic that has come to mean more to people than it was probably intended to. Surely, I rationalized, DC are smart enough not to fuck with that legacy for short-term gain and a few dollars. I mean, that'd be like doing a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns or two unrelated sequels to Kingdom Come... Ah, crap.
But what would a Watchmen spin-off look like? Who could do it justice... or, for that matter, would be willing to try? Putting aside all ideas of potential disaster, here are what I think are the most likely scenarios.
Rumor has it that both prequel and sequel to Watchmen are being considered, and there're definitely arguments to be made for both. A prequel would allow creators the chance to show familiar characters in familiar situations, and play off both the "more innocent" earlier days and the dark undercurrent that ran beneath them. It would also allow for a more traditional superhero set-up, which may be what readers would want to see, whereas any sequel would either have to flesh out a post-squid world only hinted at in the original book (and come up with a new reason for the characters to come together that doesn't betray the end of the original), or else create something entirely new that somehow ties in with the original story.
If I had to choose where to set a spin-off, we'd go for the less popular option: Set it after Watchmen. Not only would a prequel... well, be a prequel, but Watchmen pretty much filled in all of the character beats from what went before, meaning that a prequel would either be a retread or adding unnecessary complications. Not only is the post-squid world of Watchmen open for invention, the book ends with a cliffhanger of sorts that would easily provide the main narrative for a sequel: What happened to Rorschach's journal?
(Also, doing a sequel set in the present day allows for the Black Freighter scenes to be replaced by some teenager torrenting manga scanslations, which amuses me for some reason. Sorry.)
The potential fan backlash for anyone working on a new Watchmen project is massive, and definitely big enough to scare off many potential creators - and that's ignoring the creators who wouldn't consider such a project out of support for Alan Moore and/or respect for the original book. That means that DC would be left with three potential groups to choose from, if the potential return of original artist Dave Gibbons as writer and artist didn't come to pass (There's historical precedent for that, by the way; Moore's artists on Skizz, Top 10 and Greyshirt all took over writing duties on sequels than Moore wasn't involved with): Those so desperate they'll do anything, those so big that they think they're backlash-proof, or those who just don't care. The name being bandied about most online falls squarely into the last two categories: Grant Morrison. We know that he's already working on a thematic follow-up to Watchmen, using the characters who were the inspiration for Moore and Gibbons; is it possible that project has become Watchmen 2 somewhere along the way?
A name that hasn't been talked about in connection with the project, but should be: Len Wein. Not only was he the editor of the original series - thereby potentially bypassing some of the "YOU WEREN'T THERE, MAN" backlash - but he also worked on new material for the Watchmen video games accompanying last year's movie and is currently back writing for DC Comics. If I were throwing out dream picks to write it, I'd suggest 20th Century Boys and Pluto's Naoki Urasawa, who has shown himself able to handle slowburn drama on both large and human scale in a way that's equal to, but owes nothing to, Moore's original.
Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should, Right?
Don't get me wrong, I still don't think that spinning off Watchmen is a good idea (As Marvel Comics writer Matt Fraction twittered, "in fairness, the only idea dumber than Watchmen sequels & spinoffs is doing Watchmen sequels & spinoffs a whole year after the movie bombed"). It's just that I've realized that it may not be enough of a bad idea to make it unworkable: The failure, both critically and commercially - although it's since gone through a "You just didn't understand it" reappraisal - of The Dark Knight Strikes Again hasn't really hurt The Dark Knight Returns at all, which may be enough to prove to DC and Warners that Watchmen's longterm prospects wouldn't be too hurt by a failed attempt at a sequel (And, after all, it's already survived last year's movie and merchandise onslaught), and, oddly enough, the backlash to the very idea of a spin-off could work in the project's favor by lowering expectations enough that anything other than the very worst comic book ever made seems like a slight win in comparison.
The real lesson from the backlash should, of course, be teaching is to leave Watchmen alone; the true value of the original is not its characters, story or franchise potential, but the book itself, the way that the story's told - The use and exploration of the medium and, to be blunt, the fact that it's a story complete in and of itself. If the impetus to create Watchmen 2 comes from the desire to have more books in DC's library that sell as strongly, and for such a long period of time, then the last thing to do should be to look backwards and think about continuing someone else's story. We already have a feast of characters whose stories go on and on. The way to get a new Watchmen is to try to create something new.
And now that I've written that, I await an official announcement of Watchmen 2 momentarily...