Addressing one of the more frequent reactions to his involvement in DC Comics’ newly announced Before Watchmen project, J. Michael Straczynski has tackled the question, “How would you feel if Babylon 5 was being done without your permission?” His answer is, well, a little complicated.
The writer, who’s penning Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl for the sprawling prequel to the acclaimed 1986 miniseries by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, drew some criticism yesterday when he told Comic Book Resources, “A lot of folks feel that these characters shouldn’t be touched by anyone other than Alan, and while that’s absolutely understandable on an emotional level, it’s deeply flawed on a logical level. Based on durability and recognition, one could make the argument that Superman is the greatest comics character ever created. But neither Alan nor anyone else has ever suggested that no one other than Shuster and Siegel should ever be allowed to write Superman. Alan didn’t pass on being brought on to write Swamp Thing, a seminal comics character created by Len Wein, and he did a terrific job. He didn’t say ‘No, no, I can’t, that’s Len’s character.’ Nor should he have.”
That of course led more than a few people to ask how Straczynski, who created the 1990s space opera Babylon 5, would feel if someone else were to develop a sequel, or prequel — “Babylon 4”? — to the television series (a revival has been long hoped for by fans, but the writer denied rumors as recently as August that he’s in negotiations with Warner Bros.). To answer the question, which he characterizes as “How would you feel if Babylon 5 was being done without your permission?,” Straczynski took to his Facebook page last night, writing, “It’s a fair question, and it needs to be fairly answered … but it has to be an honest comparison, apples to apples, not apples to pomegranates.”
“First, we have to take the word ‘permission’ off the table. Warner Bros. owns Babylon 5 lock, stock and phased-plasma guns, just as DC owns the Watchmen characters. […] But I get that we’re talking about the emotional aspect of all this, not the legal stuff, which is pretty cut and dry,” he wrote. “So again: apples to apples. How would I feel if Babylon 5 were being made and I were shut out of anything to do with it, despite my desire to be involved? I’d feel pretty crummy about it. But as it happens, that has absolutely nothing to do with this situation in any way, manner, shape or form.”
Referring to repeated unsuccessful attempts by DC to convince Moore to revisit Watchmen — the most recent was in 2010, when the publisher offered to relinquish the rights to the comic if the writer “would agree to some dopey prequels and sequels” — Straczynski said, “He declined at every point. Fair enough. It’s his choice, and it’s his right to make it.”
“So now – apples to apples – let’s make the B5 comparison,” he continued. “Let’s say Warner Bros. came to me and said, ‘we want to do more Babylon 5, and we want you to run the whole thing. We’ll pay you anything you want, give you a proper budget, and you will have complete creative freedom.’ […] So let’s say that Warners makes that offer, and I said, ‘No, I don’t want it, take your accursed money, your big budget and your complete creative freedom and begone, get thee behind me Satan!’ Let’s say they came back and said ‘Okay, then how about we pay you vast sums of money just to consult? How about that?’ […] ‘What if we sweeten the deal? What if we offer to give you full ownership of Babylon 5, legally and contractually, so you own it? How about that?’
“If Warners offered me creative freedom, money and a budget to do the show the way I wanted, up to and including my completely owning the show, and I said no to that deal, and if after Warners waited TWENTY FIVE YEARS for me to change my mind they finally decided to go ahead and make B5 without me … then I would have absolutely zero right to complain about it,” Straczynski wrote. “Because it was my choice to remove myself from the process, it wasn’t something foisted upon me by anybody else.”
He went on to address other related topics, such as the supposed “sacredness” and one-off nature of the characters, before concluding this morning in a separate post that, “At this point, quite honestly the work needs to stand on its own. So with equal appreciation for both the kind words and the hard questions, and having said pretty much everything I can think of to say on the subject, I think it’s appropriate for me to recede a bit now into the shadows. As the books come out I hope that everyone who spoke out here, pro and con, will reconvene to continue the conversation and express their thoughts with the same clarity and precision they have demonstrated today.”
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