The Newly Announced <i>Before Watchmen</i> Is a Prime Example of What's Killing Mainstream Comics

There is a place for "mature content" in comics and it may even be in some of the more mainstream titles. And DC Comics certainly has the right to play around in theuniverse if they so choose.
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The big news this week was DC Comic's announcement of a seven-book prequel to Alan Moore's groundbreaking Watchmen series. Titled Before Watchmen (covers) the mini-series will involve the likes of Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, and J. Michael Straczynski with each of the seven chapters concerning a specific major character. I have no idea whether this project will be any good or not. But it sits as a shining example of the fundamental flaw that exists in the comic industry, especially within DC Comics. They spend most of their time chasing the readers that grew up with their iconic characters rather than attempting to attract new readers who are growing up right now.

Was there any 10 year-old comic book fan who was begging to see Hal Jordan return to the role of Green Lantern? Was there any young would-be superhero fan who was itching to see Jason Todd brought back from the dead 15 years after he was infamously killed off? And is there any new-found comic book reader that is going to race to their nearest comic book store because Jean Grey has been brought back from the dead for the 7,435th time or because Barry Allen is once again The Flash 25 years after he was killed off in a universe-rebooting event? Yet the stories that are being told, and the "big events" that unfold on an annual basis, are inherently targeted not at the younger readers that might grow up to be life-long comic book fans, but the people my age or older, those who got into comics in the 1980s or 1990s, perhaps drawn by the various film adaptations or cartoons. We older readers, gripped by our nostalgia for the "Modern Age" and our misunderstanding of its two defining works (Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, both of which were satires that were taken as literal gospel) have demanded stories that both return to the status quo that we remember (Poof! Jim Gordon is Commissioner again!) while delivering ever-more violent and sexual (translation -- misogynist) stories that all-but exclude the very audience that it should seek to be attracting.

There is a place for "mature content" in comics and it may even be in some of the more mainstream titles. And DC Comics certainly has the right to play around in the Watchmen universe if they so choose. But the constant desire to chase or replicate past glories while targeting not younger audiences but adults around my age, something that I've complained about before in regards to the film/television industry, is a prime problem with the current mainstream comic book industry. Yes, DC Comics has a strong line-up of books for the very youngest reader. But once they pass the age of eight or nine, there is literally nowhere left for them to go due to a mainstream set of books that are written for adults, and often sexually immature adults at that. Even when presented with the opportunity to bring new readers in the fold, as with the New 52 company-wide reboot of their existing characters, they botched it by catering to the stereotypical comic book reader: the under-sexed 30 year-old man still living in his parents basement who gets off on naked female superheroes and characters with their faces cut off. Would any of you encourage your kids, even older kids, to read such material? Even if they are old enough to handle the violent content, why would you want to expose them to such wanton and blatant sexism?

Obviously the "adult content" and the need to constantly return to the old at the expense of the new are two different issues. But the result is the same -- a comic book industry that seems to be actively trying to repel all but the conditioned and lifelong comic book reader at the expense of actually attracting new eyeballs.

For more on this topic, go HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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