DC recently incorporated the Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III creation, Promethea into their JLA title. This follows on the heels of their introduction of characters from Moore’s Watchmen in the greater DC universe, and plans to introduce Tom Strong in their new title, The Terrifics.
Hardcore fans of Moore’s work are enraged. Promethea co-creator Williams tweeted out that he wasn’t consulted, and only learned of the character’s new role through an article about the upcoming JLA issue.
Alan Moore’s problems with the big two publishers have been documented, though not fully, given the writer’s reticence to elaborate beyond an angry comment here or there. Regardless of how fans might feel about the use of these characters, DC’s handling of the situation is reminiscent of the not-so-good old days when publishers trampled creators’ rights however they saw fit.
When Alan Moore left DC over compensation disputes having to do with Watchmen, he swore he’d never work for the publisher again. After a couple of projects and stops along the way, he joined WildStorm, Jim Lee’s corner of the greater Image publishing empire. Lee had promised Moore he could launch his own line under WildStorm’s banner, and so the writer created ABC (America’s Best Comics) and brought along industry friends to fill out the talent roster. All well and good, until Lee sold his company to DC. Moore wanted to bolt immediately, but feeling responsible for the creators he’d brought into the venture, stayed long enough to get the books on a strong footing. Lee’s sale means DC has the legal right to use the ABC stable of characters however they see fit.
Nevertheless, should they?
Using Promethea in particular must rankle the writer. The title was arguably Moore’s most personal work: A meta-textual exploration of his esoteric beliefs around magic and religion, blended with his opinions on society. The book was as much a journey inside the writer’s brain as it was a story about making stories. It was sometimes an acid trip—and a guided one at that, as Moore often broke the fourth wall.
One of the distinctive narrative elements of the character is that she changes, depending upon the person creating her stories, because she’s actually an avatar of her creators—a unique twist and excellent commentary on the evolution of the industry. It could also be a great metaphor for what’s wrong with bringing her to the JLA. Fans can’t help but wonder if this new version should have dollar signs in her magical staff, instead of the intertwined snakes of the caduceus Moore and Williams designed for her.
There’s a bigger issue at play here; what rights should a creator keep in a work-for-hire agreement? Publishers take the big risks and invest their capital in launching intellectual properties, and that grants them the power to make final decisions. It makes sense. In most jobs, people understand that what they create is in their employer’s name. However, there’s a different level of intellectual and emotional investment in a personal creation, an inherent sense of ownership. Artists describe ideas as being born, not made, so they feel like a creator’s children; it hurts to lose them in the divorce because your ex has a pricier lawyer.
The Moore situation casts doubt on how far the industry has come. In the Golden Age, creators rarely got credit and they had no rights, save for a couple of rare examples, like Will Eisner who retained those to his creation The Spirit. Ironically enough, DC did give Bob Kane a creator credit back in ‘39—but failed to credit Bill Finger for co-creating Batman until 2015, in part because Kane didn’t want to share the credit—but that’s a story for another day, or a great documentary. If you truly want to dive down a rabbit hole with odd parallels to this situation, check out the curious case of Captain Marvel/Shazam…
Decades later, Alan Moore’s situation returns to haunt DC.
An angry Moore long ago cut ties with his unique creations at DC, going as far as asking that his name be removed from the credits, unable to stop the company’s directors from marketing and monetizing them as they’ve seen fit. However, Moore didn’t just leave behind his toys, he left the whole playroom; he created entire worlds—ones that exist independently of the greater DC universe. When DC retconned their disastrous New 52, they cast Moore’s character from Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan as the villain, a textbook example of adding insult to injury.
It’s a shame that instead of finally publishing The Complete Promethea Sideways Edition DC promised years ago so fans could enjoy the entire run as Moore and Williams originally intended, they’re going to shoehorn the character into an unrelated story… and in the process, piss off her fans and the artists who created her.
It’s just one more reason we’ll never see Alan Moore play with DC’s toys again.