In the grand history of superhero comics, there are plenty of almost-rans. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories about characters and books that might have been but never were. Curating an untidy magpie nest of such facts and tidbits is the bread and butter of the comics critic.
For example, there is an alternate reality where Watchmen was about the Peacemaker. And that’s how I would explain Peacemaker to my coworkers in the lead up to The Suicide Squad and the Peacemaker series.
- Yes, that is his costume from the comics.
- Yes, his tagline really is “A man who loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it!”
- The the only time he has ever been interesting is when he was almost the title character of Watchmen.
You see, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ initial pitch for Watchmen was to use a set of action heroes DC had acquired from the shuttered Charlton Comics as a murder mystery cast. But, as the story goes, DC (and former Charlton) editor Dick Giordano wanted to bring the characters into the DC Universe instead.
So, Moore and Gibbons used the Charlton characters as loose inspiration for their story that opened with the violent murder of a retired government killer, the Comedian. This also meant that the original name of their pitch no longer applied. And so DC Comics almost, but never actually, made a book called Death of the Peacemaker.
The trousers of time
It’s interesting to explore this alternate universe: With the huge success of Death of the Peacemaker, the Charlton characters never make it to the DCU except in the occasional weird event comic. This probably doesn’t mean much for most folks, but it will sorely disappoint everyone who loved the Question in Justice League Unlimited, fans of the superhero duo of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, and ... uh, well, I guess someone out there must like Captain Atom. I guess.
And who knows, without original characters in the mix, maybe Moore would have signed a standard work-for-hire contract for the book and would never have had a falling out with the mainstream American comics industry. The co-creator of The Killing Joke, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” John Constantine, and Mogo the Living Planet Who Is Also A Green Lantern would have lent his inventive talents to the world of superheroes a little longer.
But it would also be a world in which the Peacemaker is a nihilistic sociopath. And it is with some measure of surprise that I must admit that I would miss the Peacemaker of James Gunn’s Peacemaker. The Comedian was always my “favorite” character in Watchmen, insofar as I had one among its intentionally unlikable cast — but only because I disliked the others more for their pretensions of heroism.
Moore and Gibbons put the Comedian together for a story about the end of the world, built to reflect very real contemporary fears of armageddon. The parallels to the 2020s are not difficult to grasp. But if I had to pick one, I’d leave the Comedian’s total mental collapse in the face of the Big Squid Lie at the door.
Give me John Cena’s Christopher Smith. I like the way he dances and plays the piano. I like his eagle and his coworkers. I like that he’s loutish jerk fed garbage ideas his entire life who learns to make a handful of real personal connections and sorta do the right thing sometimes. Something the Peacemaker did is finally more interesting than something he didn’t.