The PopCulteer
February 3, 2012

We have some cool stuff in The PopCulteer this week, from cool local events to a big comc book controversy. So let’s jump right into the thick of things.

The Belle of Amherst

The Contemporary Youth Arts Company is presenting a show that’s a bit of a departure for them beginning this weekend. Last night saw the opening of The Belle of Amherst, a one woman show about Emily Dickinson. This 1976 Broadway play written by William Luce is a tour de force performance by George Washington High School senior, and CYAC veteran, Mandy Harper, who plays the poet, along with fourteen other characters.

We’ve been watching Mandy grow as a performer with CYAC over the last two years and she has been consistently impressive. We’re really looking forward to seeing what she does with this play. You can see the play at 8:00 PM tonight and tomorrow and from February 9 – 11 at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers Street. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. Your PopCulteer is planning to attend Saturday night’s performance.

Ease On Down Abbey Road

Charleston’s own Beatles tribute band, Rubber Soul, returns to action Friday and Saturday night at 8 PM at the Alban Theater, 65 Olde Main Street, St. Albans, with a live performance of the classic Beatles album, Abbey Road. The seven member group, led by Mark Scarpelli, will be joined by a string quartet, brass, and woodwinds.

In addition to the Abbey Road album, the ninety minute show will also include performances of other Beatles tunes with full orchestrations. Tickets are $10, with half the proceeds going to the American Heart Association. Surprise guest artists and giveaways are also promised for the event, which is sponsored by Brooks Run Mining.

Last year Rubber Soul performed the White Album at the Alban Theater and people are still talking about how incredible those shows were. You won’t want to miss Rubber Soul’s Abbey Road Live.

Hot Piping Ska

Friday night in St. Albans at 10 PM, conveniently just after the Rubber Soul show, peoples can stroll across the street to the VIP Lounge and indulge in the ska madness of The Tom McGees. These punk/ska veterans, many of them from the band 69 Fingers, will be skanking up the joint with three sets of high energy mod beat toasting. Five dollars gets you in the door if you’re eighteen or older.

RFC 2012

You may have noticed its been a few weeks since the last episode of Radio Free Charleston. We are hard at work on our very special 150th episode, which will be a special tribute to the late lamented LiveMix Studio. But after that, the floodgates will open as Radio Free Charleston spills forth into the new year with music from Karma To Burn, The Pepper Fandango Band, Miniature Giant, along with several bands that we have yet to record. With any luck, 2012 will see the RFC debuts of Marium Bria, Breedlove, Scooter Scuderi, and a whole bunch more local bands that we have on our wish list.

After we deliver episode 150, you can expect either a new episode or a re-mastered version of one of our old episodes coming your way every week. We have decided to go back and remaster the early episodes of our show, with some missing elements restored, to take advantage of the higher quality video available on YouTube now. You can still find every episode of Radio Free Charleston scattered among the RFC Archives at MySpace, Vimeo, and YouTube, but our goal is to gather them all in one place so that they can be more conveniently ignored.

Winding Up Watchmen

There’s been a lot of controversy this week as DC Comics announced one of the worst-kept secrets in comics, their plans to release “Before Watchmen”, a collection of mini-series that will explore the characters and the comic universe of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons classic “Watchmen”. This is controversial because it’s being done against the wishes of the series co-creator, Alan Moore. If you don’t know the history of Moore’s relationship with DC Comics, it’s easy to take his side and condemn DC for proceeding with these new books.

However, it’s not that simple. Alan Moore had a major falling out with DC Comics after the completion of the “Watchmen” maxi-series in 1986. He became so soured on the company that he has taken the extreme action of refusing to accept any money from movies based on his works that DC Comics owns and complaining at every turn about how he wishes his work would be returned to him. The problem with this is that Moore was a full grown, intelligent adult with full knowledge of the history of comic book contract law when he signed his deal with DC to create the Watchmen with artist Dave Gibbons.

Moore is a genius. I’ve been a fan of his work for over thirty years, going back to the original “Marvelman” and “V For Vendetta” in the British comics magazine, Warrior. However, he’s been a pretty cranky genius for some time now, with a legacy of burned bridges that matches his legacy of great comics work. He told the New York Times that the “Before Watchmen” project was “completely shameless” and went on to say, “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.” The irony of this statement will become apparent.

Originally, the series that became the Watchmen was supposed to tell the story of a group of superheroes that DC Comics had recently purchased from the Charlton Comics group. DC’s publisher at the time, Dick Giordano, on seeing how monumental and innovative Moore’s story was, urged him to create brand new characters to tell his story, in the process causing Moore and Gibbons to receive much more money and higher royalties on ancillary products than they would have otherwise.

It’s still pretty easy to see which characters in the Watchmen were based on which Charlton characters. Doctor Manhattan is clearly based on Captain Atom. Nite Owl is a modified version of the Blue Beetle, even down to having the same type of flying ship. Steve Ditko’s creation, The Question, became Rorschach and The Comedian was a revamp of The Peacemaker. The new deal that Moore and Gibbons signed with DC for the creation of the Watchmen would reportedly return control of the characters to the creators five years after the book goes out of print.

Nobody expected that twenty five years later, having sold four million copies and spawning a movie, that Watchmen would still be selling well enough to remain in the Top Twenty graphic novels sales list each year. It’s unlikely to ever go out of print. However, while Alan Moore refused to accept money for the Watchmen movie, instructing DC to pay his share to the artist, Dave Gibbons, he has not turned down royalties from the continued sale of the Watchmen trade paperback. So it’s not like he’s getting screwed out of any money here. He’s turned down a lot, but it was offered to him.

Moore famously started refusing to accept money for movies based on his work after the producers of “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen” settled out of court with a person who charged that the idea for the movie was stolen from an idea that he had pitched to them…five years after the comic book co-created by Moore had been published. After seeing the poor job done adapting that book and his Jack the Ripper opus, “From Hell,” the settlement was the last straw. Moore could not block the movies based on “V For Vendetta” or “Watchmen,” but he would not let them use his name on the films, and refused any money for them.

The truth is, DC Comics has spent years begging him to consider writing these prequel stories himself. They even offered him a huge check to simply approve of them and he turned it down. They have bent over backwards to try and involve him in this further exploitation of the characters that he created at the request of the company twenty five years ago. There are reports that he even turned down a deal that would have completely given him ownership of the characters, if he would just come back and oversee a follow up series. His co-creator, Dave Gibbons, cannot be happy about that.

Having exhausted every effort to appease Moore, DC has finally decided to exploit this very commercial property with a thirty-five week event that will feature some of the comics world’s top creators doing their take on Moore and Gibbons’ creations.

Before anyone declares it sacrilegious that DC dare to explore the world of the Watchmen outside of the events of the graphic novel, it should be noted that before his falling out with DC Comics, Moore himself was enthusiastically talking about how much he wanted to do another twelve issue maxi-series that would tell the adventures of The Minutemen (The group of superheroes that were the predecessors of The Watchmen) during World War II.

The falling out between Moore and DC initially was over the royalties on a promotional item. DC Comics authorized a company to produce a limited edition wristwatch with the Watchmen smiley face logo on it. Because this was such a limited edition, DC only charged a token fee for the company to produce these watches. As such, there wasn’t really any licensing money left over to pay Moore and Gibbons what would have been their normal merchandising share. Moore complained about this so loudly that DC Comics offered him ten thousand dollars to make up for what he felt he deserved. But by that point, Moore was too upset to continue working with the company. He finished the Batman graphic novel, “The Killing Joke,” and vowed never to work for DC Comics again.

Which is totally his right. After leaving DC, Moore co-created “From Hell,” “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and an entire line of retro comics, “America’s Best Comics,” which, ironically, wound up being published by DC when DC Comics purchased Wildstorm, Moore’s publishing partner. After a few tense years, Moore once again severed ties with DC.

Which brings us back to “Before Watchmen.” The event will encompass seven mini-series with a unified back-up strip and a one-shot epilogue. One book will be released each week. The books, and their impressive creative teams, are:

RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

The issues will be released weekly, with each featuring a two-page back-up story called CURSE OF THE CRIMSON CORSAIR, written by Wein wih art by original series colorist John Higgins. It’s not clear if the books will be released one series at a time,or if they’ll alternate weeks.

The writers are some of the best in the business. Azzarello has a string of incredible works behind him. Cooke wrote and drew the amazing “The New Frontier” series. Straczynski created Babylon 5, and has written tons of hit comics for Marvel and DC. Wein was the editor of the original Watchmen series, and co-created Swamp Thing, along with spending time writing every major character at both Marvel and DC over the last 40 years.

The artists are all stars in their own right. Joe Kubert is a legend and his son, Andy, a major name. Jae Lee is primarily known for his Marvel work, but has a huge following. Adam Hughes is considered one of the best artists in the business when it comes to drawing the female form. Amanda Conner is just amazing. I’ve raved about her work on Power Girl in PopCult before. Cooke is a unique talent, who has yet to falter. Bermejo and Jones are also top-flight creators. Higgens is going to be the real surprise here. His art is not that well-kmown in America.

The question stirring up the controversy is, “Is it okay for other creators to muck around with the characters created by Moore?”

The answer…yep. He knew what he was doing when he signed the contract. He’s been very well-paid over the years. He was offered the chance to do this himself and turned it down. And, he’s not exactly an innocent when it comes to mucking around with other people’s creations.

Moore first made a name for himself mucking around with “Marvelman,” a British knock-off of Captain Marvel that was created to fill the void when Captain Marvel ceased publishing in the US. It remains one of the most brilliant and shocking things ever done in comics. Moore’s American debut was a drastic revamp of Len Wein’s Swamp Thing. The Watchmen themselves were based on the Charlton Action Heroes. Heck, except for “V For Vendetta” and “Top Ten,” almost everything he’s done has been based on, or an homage to, somebody else’s creations.

I don’t think Moore bothered to get permission from the creators of Allan Quartermain, Mina Harker, Dr. Jeckll or The Invisible Man before he included them in “The League of Extraodinary Gentlemen.”

The important question, yet to be answered, is, “Will these be any good?”

I’m curious to see the answer myself. I have pretty high expectations.

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. Keep your browsers tuned to this blog for all the breaking news.