Those looking for Alan Moore’s name in the credits of HBO’s Watchmen series may be surprised to find he’s been left out - and even more so when they learn it’s due to the author's own wishes. The relationship between Moore and his most famous work of comic book writing has long been tenuous and - its adaptation history having reached a head with the 2009 release of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen - the legendarily curmudgeonly writer has given up entirely on playing nice with Hollywood.
It almost goes without saying that Moore doesn't want you to watch the Watchmen on HBO, or anywhere else - something showrunner Damon Lindelof readily accepts. That being said, the story goes a lot deeper than an author who's unsatisfied with the quality of his comics' adaptations, and gets to the rotten core of the entertainment industry in general - at least, according to Moore, who has taken every opportunity to share his strong opinions on the subject.
The reasons behind Alan Moore’s complicated feelings about the Watchmen property go back to his initial conception of the story. In his earliest drafts, Moore intended for the plot to follow the characters of the defunct Charlton Comics line recently purchased by DC Comics - but when the publisher decided against that, Moore instead based his tale around loosely adapted versions of the Charlton characters.
That led to a situation in which DC Comics owned the rights to Watchmen and its characters in their entirety - despite the fact that Moore and artist Dave Gibbons had more or less created them from scratch. At the time, this didn't seem to faze either creator - especially in the immediate wake of their series' unprecedented success - but over time they would come to see the situation very differently.
Moore's Watchmen may be considered a seminal work in the realm of superhero comics, but it's a genre he's rarely dabbled in since - and with good reason. Moore has some rather strong opinions on the state of superheroes and their impact on the modern culture, and none of them are positive.
I haven't read any superhero comics since I finished with Watchmen. I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their 9- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not 9 to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year-old men, usually men.
Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don’t think the superhero stands for anything good. I think it’s a rather alarming sign if we’ve got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of the 1950s.
As would become clear over the years, these views were not developed in spite of the success of Watchmen, but rather because of it.
Moore isn't afraid to get philosophical about why he believes superhero comics - a genre he helped to define and evolve - has been a negative for Western culture as a whole. In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Moore dug into what he perceives as the psyche of the modern comic book reader:
To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children's characters at their mid-20th-century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite "universes" presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.
Moore did much of his greatest work under the banner of DC Comics - including celebrated runs on Swamp Thing, Sandman, and Shade the Changing Man. He also wrote a handful of contained miniseries featuring popular DC characters, the most notable of which include The Killing Joke and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? His first work of historical importance, V for Vendetta, was also published under the imprint of DC's Vertigo Comics - but with the release of Watchmen in the late '80s, the relationship went south.
At the time, both Moore and artist Dave Gibbons believed they'd eventually be granted the rights to the characters, with Moore explaining the situation in a 1987 The Comics Journal panel:
Basically they're not ours, but if DC is working with the characters in our interests then they might as well be. On the other hand, if the characters have outlived their natural life span and DC doesn't want to do anything with them, then after a year we've got them and we can do what we want with them, which I'm perfectly happy with.
The unprecedented success of Watchmen, however, meant that the book never went out of print, and it soon begot an entire merchandising franchise from which DC - not Moore and Gibbons - would significantly profit. By 1989, Moore had had enough, telling DC, "Fair enough, you have managed to successfully swindle me, and so I will never work for you again."