Everybody go out and start smashing flags!
So you’re all basically aware of Herbie Popnecker, right?
Did you know he started the trend of epic superhero crossover battles a full 20 years before DC decided to horn in on the action?
It all starts with one sinister, metatextual mad scientist named Roderick…
I think every failed self-published superhero series was born out of that exact chain of logic. Anyway, he goes off and invents a machine that makes superheroes, because in the Herbieverse all it takes to create sentient life from nothing is a trip to the hardware store and a weekend of hammering random things together.
Naturally it can only crank out horrifying abominations and misshapen parodies of God’s creation.
HALF MY BODY IS TRAPPED IN A HELLISH VOID DIMENSION vs MY HEAD IS A FOOD PRODUCT, which is worse? Wonder how long it takes for Pizzaman’s head to become soggy and collapse in on itself. These terrifying distortions of everything that is human embark on a crime wave which includes stealing a diaper (which is labeled DIAPER) from a baby, a beard from a Santa Claus (possibly the enchanted beard of the True Claus?) and also drinking a lady’s soda. That was back when soda was serious business.
Thus the call is sent forth across the multiverse! WORLDS WILL LIVE, WORLDS WILL DIE, AND NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME! I assume this is a metaphor, right? They don’t actually live inside of giant versions of their own comic books? And why does Nemesis have an hourglass on his shirt? Did he buy it at the used costume store? Was he not wearing a shirt when the call came and he had to borrow some other hero’s shirt? SO MANY QUESTIONS
Long story short, they show up at the evil Roderick’s house to put a stop to his teratomorphic army and manage to get their asses captured and frozen in about a minute. Looks like somebody will have to save them, but WHO WILL ANSWER THE CHALLENGE?
YOU JUST MESSED WITH THE WRONG SOAP, PAL. Yes, that is the legendary patriarch of the Popnecker family, who commands the fierce loyalty of the indomitable Herbie Popnecker. Herbie wastes zero time in getting into his superhero identity as the Fat Fury, and frees Nemesis and Magicman from their icy prison. Naturally they mistake him for a bad guy and they fight, because that’s just what superheroes do.
After they work things out they make short work of the pitiful half-men who didn’t know any better.
Don’t worry, Halfman is used to pain. He lives in a state of constant agony. And oh, if only you could see what his other half sees, stuck in an unimaginable nightmare dimension. Oh, such wonderful horrors he could show you…
No-one can escape Herbie, even when he’s covered in marshmallow. LA LA LA FREE FREE FREE all you want, pal.
No, wait, they… do… live in giant versions of their own comic books? Which stand in the middle of featureless wastelands? They live in comic books inside comic books, people, this is some advanced hyperdimensional shit. And that’s the story of how Herbie saved the multiverse, and that’s why all superhero comics now take place on Earth-H.
The superhero genre is an inherently utopian one. At its most primal basic level the tale of the superhero is a tale of an avatar of good who fights for justice, always beats the bad guys, and even if they die, they always come back. Even Batman, most inherently pessimistic of the archetypal supers, will at least temporarily be able to lock the Joker away in Arkham, and he’ll do it over and over again forever. The superhero world is a world of eternal hope, where gods watch over the mortals and keep them from harm.
This anti-reality is unbounded from the rules of our world. Superheroes transcend biology, physics, logic itself in their escape from the gravity of the real. The best of the old comics have a boundless freedom. Infinite possibilities spill forth from the mighty id to be barely contained in pen and ink. The standard punctuation of this world is the exclamation mark! Suddenly! The bolt of shazam! The gamma bomb!
When comics grew older and more respectable they pitted the real against the utopian. Peter Parker had amazing powers that defied the laws of physics but the laws of physics still killed his girl. Superman can fight giant robots all day long but he can’t fight the evils of society.
But even the most degraded and dystopian superhero reality is based off of a utopian core. The superhero dystopia isn’t just the opposite of utopia, it’s a utopia turned in against itself and all that boundless energy and light harnessed for the basest purposes. They could have cities in the sky and instead they kill each other with dead psychic squids. Seeing these avatars of infinite good chained down to mortal flesh creates a perverse tension. The real and the impossible pushing against each other.
Doesn’t good always win? That depends on which world comes out on top.
On the one hand: sure, maybe it is a little disingenuous for Alan Moore to complain about other people repurposing his work, when he’s made a career out of reworking other peoples’ characters.
But on the other hand. The only reason that this is happening is because this isn’t his work, he doesn’t own it, because he and Gibbons signed a contract in good faith with DC, with every expectation that the rights would be returned to him a year after they stopped printing Watchmen and DC decided maybe it’d be better to just never stop printing Watchmen so they could take all the profits forever. And then never even really make an attempt at making things right, because why repay some crazy beard man when you could just make endless hollow knockoffs of his work?
My question is, what do they think they’re going to add? Watchmen‘s already a perfectly structured complete world presented in 12 issues. All these characters histories and fates are laid out already. All the interesting parts. And now DC’s saying, hey, if you liked that, here’s 34 more issues of irrelevant backstory! That’s THREE TIMES AS LONG as the original. And if it sells well you bet your ass they’re going to make more.
Now some of these creative teams look OK (well, 50% ok and 50% awful), but I’d much rather see them actually try out something new instead of strip-mining the past forever. I realize that repurposing the past is what superhero comics are based on, but the good ones always iterate one step ahead. The bad ones just rehash the same stories over and over, because if you love something once you’ll love it again in a slightly different form right?
Maybe it’ll be alright, maybe it won’t, it’s kind of too early to pass judgment on whether something’s good until, you know, it’s actually out. But here’s a thought: you’d probably be morally justified in downloading all the issues illegally, and then not paying DC back until a year after they leave print.