Why Dr. Manhattan Wears No Pants
Guess what? With the new Watchmen comics coming out, the door is also open for another Watchmen sequel now! I’ll explain why, and at the end, I answer the biggest question everybody kept asking me about the first movie (yeah, that “no pants” thing in the title).
The first issue of “Before Watchmen” hits the sales stands on June 6. Just about every comic book fan knows what this is all about, so you guys in the know can skip the next couple of sentences, but for those of you who are just passing through: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created a award-winning comic series called Watchmen back in 1986, and made a significant impact on the entire comic book industry. “Before Watchmen” is a number of “prequel mini-series” to that work, meaning that seven different mini-series will be coming out, all of them taking place chronologically before the events in the original Watchmen series.
Interested watchers will be checking out these mini-series to measure how much commercial and/or critical acclaim they will earn in the new few months, but I’m watching for the possibility of something else, just a little further down the road: the prospect of a movie sequel. Watchmen was made into a movie and released in 2009. At the time, it didn’t fare very well. The production budget cost more than the movie made, and I cheerfully predicted at the time that there would be no sequel. The first question any studio asks before committing to a movie sequel is always about the money. At the time, the box office data was in, and nobody was clamoring for a sequel. Also, Paul Levitz was still the President and Publisher of DC Comics. The rumor-mill has long granted credit to Paul Levitz for respecting the talents of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and maintaining a veto on any suggestion of doing additional comic treatments of the Watchmen characters. But then the rumors started, and then the news confirmed it…
Paul Levitz stepped down as President and Publisher in September of 2009. His duties were distributed among different people, with Diane Nelson becoming the new President of DC Entertainment, while Jim Lee and Dan DiDio were named Co-Publishers of DC Comics. Within a few months, there were rumors of a “Watchmen 2” project. Does anyone still think Levitz stepping down at that moment in time was just a coincidence? We now know that “Watchmen 2” = “Before Watchmen.” What does this mean for movie-land?
It means anything is possible again, for better or worse. It is standard practice for movie studios to draft contracts that allow for the option of additional treatments, and yes, there was one for Watchmen. The single biggest obstacle to doing anything more with the Watchmen property and/or characters has always been the position of Paul Levitz as the gatekeeper. With Levitz out of that position of authority (he has returned to monthly comic-writing duties), DC has been pretty up front about heir need to revitalize existing characters and breathe new life into them. The biggest booster for all of this has been Dan Didio.
It would be fair to call “Before Watchmen” Dan Didio’s pet project. With no in-house defenders left, Dido’s voice is the loudest. Didio is a product man, meaning he knows he needs to churn out product people are willing to buy in order to keep his own paycheck flowing. He is also familiar with the common perception that taking a chance on new ideas is generally risky, and failure-prone in the comic industry. Somehow, Didio is convinced that the existing popularity of Watchmen is strong enough that they can churn out tons of new product, and he’s basically thrown his entire weight behind the project. There’s something that nobody else has noticed yet: Didio doesn’t want to stop with just this set of mini -series.
Dan Didio holds the belief that the Watchmen characters can be a source of continual storytelling into the future. This is just Step One in his plan, and if it sales well, there will be a slew on new Watchmen content after this. Okay, granted, it’s not guaranteed. But if it works, it opens the door to movie talk, and Didio will be on the front lines asking for it. The fact that the movie increased the awareness of Watchmen was actually used as a supporting argument for starting “Before Watchmen.” If he can get enough sales, the snake will start devouring its own head, and Didio will start arguing that the success of the comics means they should give the big screen another try.
If I was Dr. Manhattan, I would be able to tell you right now if the set of mini-series will do well enough to enable the next phase that leads down the path to another movie. I’m not that good with seeing through all of time, but it does remind me of the one thing that I was asked numerous times when the Watchmen movie came out: “How come Dr. Manhattan doesn’t wear any pants?”
Everyone at work knows I’m a comic fan, so when the movie came out, they sought me out to talk about it. Almost 100% of them asked me about the lack of pants. The simple truth is, as soon as Jon Osterman became Dr. Manhattan, his knowledge of how the universe works was fundamentally changed. He became unencumbered by the restraints of normal human knowledge, and later became unencumbered by the constraints of normal societal conventions.
Not at first, of course! At first, Jon goes around doing a lot of “human” things out of habit, including wearing clothes. The thing is, nothing can really hurt him, and he no longer feels the effects of weather or any other outside events. So all the protection that clothes offer to humans? He has no need of that. Modesty? He has no need for that; he just no longer has those limited concerns. It’s fun to notice the details that Moore and Gibbons put into his history of clothing usage, though. Whenever there is a formal function or a government-directed activity, Dr. Manhattan wears clothes. Fancy suit to a funeral? Check. Suit and tie for a television interview? Certainly. But when he’s alone, it’s all-commando, all the time.
If you follow the timeline, Dr. Manhattan wears fewer and fewer clothes as the decades progress. His official introduction to America has him almost in a super-hero uniform (although he did put his foot down about wearing the helmet). By the mid-60s, he’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts. In the ‘70s, during Vietnam, he’s down to nothing but a scanty swimsuit. Fast-forward to the ‘80s, and he’s just given up on clothing all together. It’s those fun elements that remind you of how cool Watchmen was, and how much thought and detail Moore and Gibbons put into each facet of their creation.
As a side note, it’s interesting to note how different the censorship restrictions vary when you go from comics to film. There is no frontal male nudity allowed in comics, so everything is covered up, and the “worst” that you can see is his nude form from behind. In the film industry, though, an ‘R’ rating allows for frontal male nudity as long as it is not sexual in nature, so director Zack Snyder took advantage of that fact to display Dr. Manhattan’s, um, attributes, although I think everyone could tell there was considerable CGI enhancement…
Anyway, time will tell if Didio gets subsequent Watchmen comic series, and from then, it would take a few more years to finish production on a movie sequel. In the meantime, who wants to take bets on how much clothing Dr. Manhattan wears in his prequel mini-series?
tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can’t seem to stop.