Alan Moore is literally no more. Well, not so much literally as literarily. In 2016, Moore revealed to The Guardian that he intended to retire from writing comic books with the end of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And that last issue was published July 17, 2019. The end.
I hate to have to do this, but I must challenge comic book legend Alan Moore to a wizard’s duel. If you don’t know who Alan Moore (age 66) is, then I shall tell you: He’s a mad man who really looks like Charlie Manson’s brother. But he also just so happens to be the towering British comic book visionary and revolutionary that wrote Miracleman, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, a run on Swamp Thing, Batman: The Killing Joke, and many other enduring classics of the medium. He was part of the comic book British invasion where a group of UK writers (Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, etc) rose to prominence in the mid to late 1980s (mostly due to DC Comics recruiting). He’s a practicing magician, he wears an assortment of large rings, and his unassuming Northampton home was likened to an “occult bookshop under permanent renovation.” Basically, Moore is like what if Rasputin (the mad Russian monk) and Iron Man villain The Mandarin had a baby together.
In 1989, a mere three years after the publication of Watchmen, Moore resigned from DC Comics (and effectively The Big Two, which are Marvel and DC) forever. In a 2016 interview, Moore said, “I no longer own copies of [my DC] books and . . . I have no wish to see them or even to think of them.” He continued, “As I would hope should be obvious, to separate emotionally from work that you were previously very proud of is quite a painful experience and is not undertaken lightly.” He acknowledged that people think he is the very personification of “grouchiness” and “cantankerousness.”
In that same interview, Moore said, “I see [the] task and indeed the responsibility of modern magicians/artists to be the reassembly of the fractured world, the fractured worldviews and the fractured psychologies that presently surround us.” He said that magic is a “phenomenon inextricably bound up with language, art and consciousness.” So I, now a self-styled magician, shall use language to help Moore regain consciousness of the fact that he has a fractured worldview and fractured psychology as it relates to the “comics industry” (particularly DC Comics).
Comic Book Resources (CBR) in 2017 did a fantastic article on the Moore-DC feud. Moore and Gibbons’ 1985/1986 contract with DC for Watchmen included a reversion clause (not unusual in the industry at the time!) that would return ownership to Moore and Gibbons if the characters were not used or printed for a year, and DC paid them “a substantial amount of money” (Gibbons’ own words in Moore’s very presence that Moore seemed to agree with) to retain the rights until such reversion. Then the worst happened, a terrible tragedy struck: Watchmen was very successful (both critically and commercially). And as CBR put it, “DC was not going to — and almost certainly will not ever — put the book out of print.” Even worse for Moore was that he earned a royalty from Watchmen sales, meaning its great decades-long success made Moore a lot of money (this on top of the “substantial” contract sum).
Moore’s talent had thwarted himself! He thwarted his own best laid plans. As CBR noted, “When he agreed to the [reversion] terms, Moore could have very reasonably expected to regain control of Watchmen by the early ’90s.” So, it’s not like Moore was tricked by DC’s old predatory “work-for-hire” games like with Superman’s creators Siegel and Shuster (in fact, the Watchmen contract clearly stated it was not work-for-hire). No, what happened was that Moore thought he could magically see Watchmen’s future in his crystal ball and low and behold, he was wrong. He ended up on the losing side of his bet with DC. Recounting his 1989 DC resignation to the New York Times in 2006, Moore recalled telling DC, “I said, ‘Fair enough, you have managed to successfully swindle me, and so I will never work for you again.’” Swindling, my ass!
Here is what Moore won’t tell you about his reversion clause losing wager with DC: He was greedy. You see, assuming Moore actually fully read the contract, Moore could have put his foot down and refused the reversion clause’s inclusion. In other words, he could have refused to gamble on Watchmen’s future ownership. But he likely knew he then risked one of two outcomes, 1) that DC would very reasonably then reduce the pay (So we DC get less rights over the material? Ok, well then you Alan get less pay for said material) or 2) that DC would walk away entirely and *gasp* Moore would have to publish Watchmen elsewhere (with Marvel or a smaller or overseas publisher) where he’d likely have greater contract leverage given his existing talent and budding reputation. But Moore must have felt he definitely wanted DC (who just so happened to possess the financial muscle to pay Moore large sums for comic books) and he must have felt he wanted all the money he could get outta dear old DC, so Alan traded away ownership rights certainty for “the green” (I mean money, not the mystical elemental realm that Moore’s Swamp Thing is the protector of). He allowed the reversion clause and *gasp* signed the contract of his own free will and with eyes open, which is why Moore can’t get a U.S. court to side with him.
Moore apparently believes he’s the star hero of some grand pro-union pro-labor film like 1954’s On the Waterfront or 1978’s F.I.S.T. because he dismisses and swats away his “non-unionised” critics. “The only active position that is left to me is to disown the works in question,” he explained. What does he mean by “active” I wonder? Does that word possibly suggest he still thinks after thirty freakin’ years that he shall break DC’s resolve like labor unions broke employers? I don’t know, but if so, then he’s as mad as a hatter.
What is sad is that Moore has spent 30 years in denial of his own fault. Moore confessed to the New York Times, “I was kind of a selfish child, who always wanted things his way, and I’ve kind of taken that over into my relationship with the world.” Isn’t that a fractured psychology in need of reassembly? Alan, you, as an adult, lost a very avoidable contractual gamble with DC, and you selfishly and irrationally want them to give you a huge, costly, and market-defying pass? As CBR correctly noted, “For long time afterward DC bent over backwards to respect [Moore’s] wishes as they related to Watchmen.” They didn’t use the characters for a long ass time, no films or shows for a long ass time, they cancelled anniversaries and action figure lines because of friction with Moore, etc.
Did you know that Moore said DC even offered the rights back to Moore on the mere condition he write more for the Watchmen universe (which was something Moore always planned to do by the way)? You know, maybe DC thought Alan could write something that King Alan would mercifully permit DC to *gasp* actually own for itself maybe as *gasp* compensation for recruiting Alan to the US comics market and publishing his work under their well-established brand? Spoiler alert: Moore refused the offer. Do you know how extremely rare such an offer by DC would be? Practically the only thing DC felt it couldn’t reasonably do was stop publishing Watchmen, one of the most critically acclaimed, enduring, important, and top selling graphic novels of all damn time.
I think I wrote this article because some of some little nagging It’s a Wonderful Life “what if” wondering about what might have been if the pacifist Moore hadn’t declared eternal war on DC Comics and the rest of the industry. What if Moore wasn’t self-deluded and insane and instead kept writing traditional main superheroes? But I shouldn’t risk fooling myself like Moore. Because it’s entirely possible that, with his rebellious and seemingly mercurial temperament, Moore’s career might not have wound up much different than it has turned out to be. He still wrote some superhero stuff afterwards. And I would say The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was at least a superhero-adjacent series.
Still, perhaps like Grant Morrison, Moore might have written stories or runs for more DC or Marvel heroes. I’m pretty sure he would have. But thanks to Moore’s irrational childishness, those comic stories definitely did not and will not happen. Thanks to Moore’s childishness, DC still has the rights to Watchmen (because Moore refused to even try to earn them back) and thus DC has been allowed to thoroughly embarrass themselves with the disgraceful crap they’ve done with it like the cash-grab Before Watchmen prequels, Zach Snyder’s perhaps somewhat well-intentioned but soulless artless 2009 action film (hey Zach, Watchmen was not supposed to be a big loud Matrix-like action film), and this new dull clumsy unconvincing HBO show.
Alan Moore is not a Watchmen villain. It wasn’t thirty-five minutes ago that Alan Moore defeated himself and the world. No, Moore did it thirty years ago. So suck on that Ozymandias.