Well folks, the hammer finally dropped. It looks as if DC comics has finally decided to unleash the prequels for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal classic Watchmen under the uninspired banner-title of “Before Watchmen.” We’ve been hearing rumors about this for quite some time and while initially it seemed like a bad joke, last year BleedingCool started running supposed concept art for the project that started getting yanked down at the request of DC, adding legitimacy to the ruView postmor and fanning the fires of speculation. The speculation has finally ended and the truth has come out.
Neither Alan Moore nor Dave Gibbons will be involved creatively in the project, with several mini-series being handled by a cadre of talent that ranges from exciting to unsettling. Alan Moore could probably care less about the development, as his feelings on the matter are pretty well established even if he did speak them in a magical language that only Alan Moore himself understands. Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons however gave a comment to DC’s The Source which broke the news today saying:
“The original series of WATCHMEN is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell. However, I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire[.]”
So what can we look forward to in this little prequel installment? Here’s the rundown of all the titles:
RORSCHACH, a 4-issue miniseries by writer Brian Azzarello with art by Lee Bermejo
MINUTEMEN, a 6-issue miniseries with writing and art handled by Darwyn Cooke
COMEDIAN, a 6-issue miniseries by writer Brian Azzarello with art by J.G. Jones
DR. MANHATTAN, a 4-issue miniseries by writer J. Michael Straczynski with art by Adam Hughes
NITE OWL, a 4- issue miniseries by writer J. Michael Straczynski with art by Joe and Andy Kubert
OZYMANDIAS, a 6 -issue miniseries by writer Len Wein with art by Jae Lee
SILK SPECTRE, a 4-issue miniseries by writer Darwyn Cook with art by Amanda Conner
So how do I feel about all this?
Let’s be honest. Watchmen is an amazing book. It’s a classic and its importance to the world of graphic literature cannot be understated. It represents a shift in the way comics were written and understood and that does not change just because we’re getting more books with those characters by other creators down the line. The characters were hobbled from the Charleston universe and twisted into their own place by Alan Moore in the eighties. So while there is a standalone universe to Watchmen it isn’t necessarily an original invention. Getting angry that someone else wants to play in that sandbox when the entire medium is predicated on people further developing the ideas of others (at least in the mainstream superhero industry) just doesn’t work.
Let’s look at the lineup for the talent on this project for a bit. Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, and Amanda Conner are all folks who pretty much guarantee that I’ll pick up their work sight unseen because their track record is pretty stellar. I can tell you that I am indeed interested in Rorschach, Minutemen, Comedian and Silk Spectre based off of their involvement alone. I think they’re all talented writers and artists who could do something really interesting with these particular characters. Now, the x-factor here is Stracynski. He can be a phenomenal writer when he’s on top of his game. I loved his run on Thor and while he may have made some decisions I didn’t agree with over the course of his career many of those can be attributed to editorial meddling and I won’t delve into that quagmire here. Given the characters that he’s handling, I think Dr. Manhattan is certainly something he could mine some good material out of. Especially if he hits the same notes he was while writing Thor. Nite Owl is a little trickier. If I’d had my way I would have had someone like Greg Rucka on that particular title. But I’m not in charge and at this point all I can do is speculate about how all of this is going to turn out.
As I’ve said, my main issue here isn’t with the fact that we’re getting prequels. It’s not inheritly a bad thing. What I am afraid of is that the stories they are going to tell won’t match up with what has been brewing in the fan culture’s subconscious for several decades and that the whole project will flounder as a result. I can’t help but draw parallels to the Star Wars prequels which saw a great deal of hype only to be cut down by fanboys who didn’t like the direction the franchise took. But at least in that instance the fans could point the finger at George Lucas and say he ruined his own creation. This time around we have the added buffer zone of it being separated from the original creators. If people don’t like it they will try to say that it’s not “canon” or that it “doesn’t matter.” Which is, in a way, a double edged sword. It lacks the legitimacy of having the original creators involved and that is either a great thing or a horrible thing depending on which way you look at it. I mean, Frank Miller himself handled the followup for The Dark Knight Returns and that was absolute garbage. I know we put Alan Moore on a pedestal sometimes but I think in this instance the talent involved is enough to warrant the community keeping an open mind.