My fellow Robot 6 contributor Tom Bondurant's regular "Grumpy Old Fan" column addresses this week's Topic A in the comics industry, and in the process of talking about DC's decision to exploit Watchmen's singular vision, he refers to other DC books whose popularity and success are similarly dependent on singular visions:
Starman was one of the rare series where one writer introduced a character (Jack Knight) and took him through a series of adventures, until that character reached the natural endpoint of his life’s particular phase. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman preceded it, and Garth Ennis’ Hitman followed.
Robinson hasn’t returned to the character of Jack Knight since Starman ended, although he used a few Starman characters in his Justice League work(and I’m pretty sure one of the supporting cast showed up in the year-long Trinity miniseries, with which Robinson was not involved) — but more to the point, no new creative team has explored what Jack, or Sandman’s Morpheus, or Hitman’s Tommy Monaghan, has done since their various series ended. There is a firewall around these characters, if not their unique milieux, apparently reinforced only by friendly agreement.If DC will go ahead with more Watchmen, of all things, and, more importantly, if it succeeds—and I've read a lot of troubling comics and at least one very troubling piece from someone who covers the comics industry that suggest DC's audience isn't as unanimously dead-set against the endeavor as I assumed most comics readers, creators and care-ers about would be—does that mean we'll see a Gaiman-free Sandman relaunch of some sort next?
I don't think there's much danger of a Hitman revival, or even a Starman one—certainly not as long as Robinson and DC seem to be working together as nicely as they have been the last few years—but Sandman seems like the obvious next sacred cow to slaughter when they're done with Watchmen.
DC and Vertigo were extremely cool to Gaiman in letting him end his story, and Neil Gaiman has been extremely generous with DC and Vertigo for allowing them to exploit the world he created out of some of their dustier old trademarks, which they did rather extensively in the ongoing series The Dreaming and I forget how man character-specific spin-off one-shots and miniseries. Even the examples Bondurant mentioned, with Morrison using Daniel in JLA or Cornell using Death in Action, Gaiman was consulted with (I'm not sure if he was regarding Daniel and Sandman-appropriated characters showing up in Robinson, Goyer and Johns' JSA comics, though).
If DC will do sequels to Watchmen, what else will they do? Or, put another way, what won't they do?
I don't know the exact agreement the involved creators had with DC/Vertigo after Sandman—I suppose I could look it up online, but I've got a couple of paid writing-about-comics-pieces to get to tonight yet, so I'm trying to keep this short and alarmist—so maybe (hopefully) there can't be any more Transmetropolitan or Preacher or 100 Bullets, but a chill ran up and down my spine reading Bondurant's post as such possibilities occurred to me.
With all of the examples he mentioned, and the other creator-specific Vertigo series I can think of, the appeal of those series wasn't simply the characters, but the characters as defined by their creators, and the story told by those creators featuring them. That's what readers and fans liked and, conceivably, might want more of, not simply to see Morpheus show up for 20 pages a month indefinitely.
Of course, that held and holds true for Watchmen too. I don't believe there are many people who are fans of Rorshach or Nite Owl as intellectual properties (And, if there are, there are plenty of other, better violent masked fedora and trenchcoat-clad vigilantes and gadget-wielding superheroes dressed up like creatures of the night for fans of those IPs to choose from). Those fans are actually just fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen.
But, well, we're getting "Before Watchmen" anyway. As depressing as that is, here's a more depressing thought: What comes after "Before Watchmen"...?