Watchmen: Rebirth, Reboot, Reycle
by Blair Davis — DePaul University
February 10, 2017 – 23:40
The true origin of Watchmen’s heroes (and anti-heroes) doesn’t stem from the pages of DC Comics but rather one of their competitors – Charlton Comics, which went bust in 1986 after forty years, selling character rights to DC in 1983 as the end was nigh. Alan Moore initially planned to tell his story using Captain Atom, The Question, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Thunderbolt and The Peacemaker, but DC decided that Watchmen’s moral ambiguity and dark themes might complicate plans to fold them into their roster of more traditional superheroes. Instead, Moore created new characters loosely based on Charlton’s – Doctor Manhattan, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias and The Comedian.
Several of these Charlton characters were subsequently brought into DC’s regular continuity, enduring major changes along the way. Blue Beetle (AKA Ted Kord) died in 2006, replaced by a younger hero with a high-tech beetle-suit, Jaime Reyes. The Question (AKA Vic Sage) also died and was replaced by Gotham detective Renee Montoya.
The Charlton heroes were used in fits and starts over the years, with DC hitting the reset button on their narrative continuity in 2011 (New 52), rebooting many characters and their back-stories. Montoya was no longer The Question, while new versions of Kord and Sage emerged. Another reboot came in 2016’s Rebirth event, which revealed DC universe as apparently created by Doctor Manhattan (in the character’s 2012 Before Watchmen prequel series).
In turn, Watchmen’s characters are expected to soon infiltrate the DC universe, and the different permutations of Charlton’s heroes will surely meet. Moore, of course, would be appalled: “if you are a reader that just wanted your favorite characters on tap forever, and never cared about the creators, then actually you’re probably not the kind of reader that I was looking for” when he first wrote Watchmen, he said of the prequels. The comics industry has changed since 1986, with DC and Marvel now part of larger media conglomerates in which complex narrative continuities help sell transmedia storytelling efforts across multiple platforms, and infinite versions of the same character help sell more toys and t-shirts. Should this latest reboot fail and DC shout for Moore to save them, he will surely “look down, and whisper ‘No.’”