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DC Entertainment owns Watchmen, and here’s why that’s controversial

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Considered a great American novel, but its creators don’t own it

In this week’s Issue at Hand, Polygon’s show about the strange world of comics, hosted by me, Susana Polo, we’re wrapping up a two-part series on Watchmen, the highly influential graphic novel.

And any discussion of Watchmen would incomplete without talking about who owns the rights to its characters — i.e., not Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the artists who created them. But if Moore and Gibbons signed a contract giving up those rights, why is the ownership of Watchmen such a controversial notion?

It all has to do with the revolution in marketing, printing and audience that was happening in American comics in the mid-’80s. And it’s about whether a company whose characters are all about obeying a higher notion of justice should let the spirit of a contract rule over the letter of its law.

That’s just one of the reasons why a person might have been skeptical of Watchmen’s characters being used in a DC Universe story like Doomsday Clock. So imagine my bewilderment and frustration when the first issue actually turned out to be pretty good.