In a number of recent interviews, Alan Moore has stated and repeated his impression that the American comics industry relies so heavily on its old work because it is populated by people unwilling or unable to conceive and develop new ideas of their own.
Many of his fans and defenders online are quick to point out that Moore is clearly using hyperbole for effect, but the frequency with which the veteran writer continues to use the same words in the same combination has many fans concerned that maybe one of comics’ greatest minds really has checked out of the industry so completely that he’s not aware of some of the great work going on all around him.
Well, with DC looking to shine a bright spotlight on Before Watchmen this weekend, it seemed a perfect time to step back and take stock of some of the best material to roll out of DC since Watchmen originally saw print–but more than that, these are works which are at least as original as was Watchmen. A derivative work that transcended its source material to create something new and different, Watchmen is an amazing work–but it’s hardly singular, and we’ll spend some time today looking at the best ideas the American comics industry has had since then.
Many ideas were left off the list only because, even though they were great, they were using existing DC properties from before Alan Moore’s time. Some others, such as Booster Gold, were totally original ideas created after Watchmen but were deemed too closely related to the existing DC Universe to really count (although, let’s be honest, the corporate pitchman superhero deserves an honorable mention on this list).
These are in no particular order. Most of them are Vertigo, meaning that DC themselves may not have come up with the ideas–but even if they were brought in by the creators, they’re great new ideas generated in the comics industry and printed by DC, after Watchmen. Feel free to chime in at the bottom of the page or on Facebook to let us know which ones we missed.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is widely considered one of the great works of American sequential art of all time, arguably eclipsing even Watchmen itself in the eyes of many.
A daring universe with its own complex relationships, rules and mythology, the Sandman epic sprawled out for over five years and grew tentacles that would sprout up as things like spinoff miniseries and original graphic novels.
Had Moore reacquired the rights to Watchmen in the ’80s, when he was at least potentially interested in revisiting the world of those characters again at some point, it’s possible that he may have built a world as complex and fully-formed as what Gaiman created in Sandman, but fans will never know.
The Golden Age/Starman
While these are, to varying degrees, work that merely continues the stories of DC’s franchise characters (something that hardly feels like an original idea), The Golden Age completely turns the history of its titular period in comics history on its head, setting the stage for a reinvention of the Justice Society as a viable commercial and artistic property at DC.
Meanwhile, while Starman may have the same powers as his dad, that’s more or less where the similarities stop. James Robinson spent the better part of the ’90s shaking up the superhero status quo, and Starman has become the model for a number of new or reinvented series which hope to use the touchstones of familiar names and properties in a new and exciting way (see also H-E-R-O, Manhunter, etc.)
…or pretty much any successful Vertigo series since Sandman. DC themselves may not have come up with these ideas, but they certainly enabled them and their mere existence flies in the face of the idea that comics is a community bereft of originality. None of the series mentioned above (or others, like Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys) are derivative of existing concepts and–this flies in the face of another claim that Moore has made, albeit less frequently–they were each conceived as stories with a complete arc–a beginning, middle and end–just like Watchmen was, and they’ve all been allowed to tell their stories and walk away from the table.
Part of writer Grant Morrison’s vast “hypersigil,” a concept that ties into his personal brand of magic discussion of which has drawn a number of parallels to be drawn between Morrison and Moore, The Invisibles is one step beyond the aforementioned Vertigo series that tell a long story well.
Its depth, density and sheer insanity at times has drawn comparisons to Watchmen and Sandman, and more has been written about The Invisibles than almost any other comic of the last thirty years–indeed, more than most works of fiction could hope to have written about them.
While the quality was sometimes uneven, it’s impossible to seriously claim that Morrison didn’t have at least ten big ideas going on in any given arc of this wild series.
While we’re on the subject of Morrison, let’s examine Flex Mentallo, shall we? Created as an original character for Morrison as part of his run on a corporate-owned title (Doom Patrol), Flex got his own miniseries in which Morrison used the notion of turning a loving parody of someone else’s character arguably better than Moore ever has.
While I love League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and admire the ambition of Lost Girls, there’s no single story told in any of those volumes that’s as compelling as the Flex Mentallo mini.
Whenever non-comics authors come into comics, it’s always likely to generate some mainstream attention. A History of Violence is notable as having been written as a one-off graphic novel and then continued in a series of novels and graphic novels (as well as adapted to film), essentially going the road of Watchmen’s vastly expanded universe except done at the behest and the hands of its original author, Max Allan Collins.
A loose reworking of Lone Wolf & Cub, it’s also one of only a handful of non-superhero films ever generated by a DC Comics property, joining Constantine, Jonah Hex and The Losers. It was, however, far better received than any of those films.
Launching the career of now-superstar Batman writer Scott Snyder in a big way, this creator-owned series is not only a new spin on vampire storytelling (at a time when the genre is so popular that a new perspective is hard to come by) but a story and set of characters so versatile that it’s already been expanded into spinoffs and taken a number of unusual twists and turns.
Attaching comics fan Stephen King to the first arc didn’t hurt, either; he not only added some polish but also presumably brought in a lot of eyes that would not otherwise have checked out a book by a relatively unknown writer.
A History of Violence
Like Road to Perdition, this was a crime thriller that was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie after the comic had been around for a while.
Unlike Road to Perdition, no further exploration of the characters or their world occurred after this book, meaning that the story stands on its own as a single unit.
A dark, moody story with a genuinely chilling cast of characters and a few nice twists along the way, just about any publisher would be proud to bring this story in front of readers’ eyes.
The twisted and eminently readable world of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth is as irresistible once you’ve started it as it is jarring when you’re first looking at the covers. Those who, like me, avoided this book for a while due to the sheer oddness and fantastical nature of the art are missing out in a big way.
The “Mad Max meets Bambi” comparison has been joked about often, but it’s one of the only ways to really make the complex and bizarre world of the series immediately understandable to non-readers.
Of which you shouldn’t be one–seriously, check this book out. It’s one of the best comics in print today.
Vertigo’s greatest post-Preacher success story, Fables does for fairy tales what League of Extraordinary Gentlemen does for Victorian literature–but Willingham does it monthly. Just like the League, it tends to change tone and sometimes even genre to suit the characters in any given arc of the book, which has a revolving cast, and the situations they find themselves in.
When this book launched, it seemed like such an awesome and obvious idea that it seemed bizarre nobody had really done it (or at least not in a big, mainstream, successful way) before now. Of course, now we’ve got both Grimm and Once Upon a Time doing remarkably similar things while Fables itself has spun of Jack of Fables and now Fairest.