Before Watchmen: Not Interested. Here’s Why

1 Feb

by Mike Hansen

Cover of "Watchmen"


It is what it says it is: Watchmen prequel stories not by the authors of Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

FromDC’s Source blog:


  • COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
  • NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
  • OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
  • SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner
Before Watchmen Comedian cover

Not Watchmen.

Each week, a new issue will be released, and will feature a two-page back-up story called CURSE OF THE CRIMSON CORSAIR, written by original series editor Len Wein and with art by original series colorist John Higgins. There will also be a single issue, BEFORE WATCHMEN: EPILOGUE, featuring the work of various writers and artists, and a CRIMSON CORSAIR story by Wein and Higgins.

“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,” said Dave Gibbons, WATCHMEN co-creator and original series artist.

“Comic books are perhaps the largest and longest running form of collaborative fiction,” said DiDio and Lee. “Collaborative storytelling is what keeps these fictional universes current and relevant.”

Because Watchmen isn’t a story, it’s a “universe”? And it’s not enough to be a Cold War-era metaphor; it needs to be “relevant”? Huh.

Before Watchmen Dr. Manhattan cover

Not Watchmen.

From Comics Alliance:

With the exceptions of Wein and Higgins, none of the creators involved in this initiative were involved in the original production of Watchmen. This announcement does clear up where quite a few popular creators, such as Jae Lee, J.G. Jones and Amanda Conner, have been working for the past year or so since ending other projects.

And Adam Hughes hasn’t drawn a published comics story since, what, Wildcats/X-Men? He was working on All Star Wonder Woman, but who knows if that’s still happening…

This explains why DC offered Alan Moore the Watchmen rights back only with the provision that these prequels could be published: because they were already being made by that point. (Moore refused.)

Before Watchmen Ozymandias cover

Not Watchmen.

I truly believe that the only reason that Len Wein and John Higgins were asked to be involved in this was because they worked on the original story (as DC staff editor and colorist, respectively). Wein is a comics legend, having co-created Swamp Thing and the New X-Men, among others, but – and I really, really do hate to say it, because of his enormous contributions to mainstream comics – he’s not the writer he once was. Reading his recent work is like reading new Stan Lee stories: the ideas are better than the execution. I’m convinced that Wein and Higgins were offered money by DC only because of their attachment to the real Watchmen, as if this somehow makes these prequels more authentic in some way. Personally, the only way these would be authentic to me would be if both Moore and Gibbons signed off on it, picked the creators themselves, and had control of the finished product – and DC knows this would never happen, so it has to do its best to fake it, with Wein and Higgins and the Gibbons quote in its P.R. (I hope that Gibbons is at least being paid a creator royalty for all of these projects; I would assume so, since DC has a reputation of being good about that sort of thing.)

Before Watchmen Nite Owl cover

Not Watchmen.

Here’s a list of links to the various news stories today – clearly, DC offered exclusive interviews with each of these news organizations to guarantee prominent story placement and hopefully get the public’s attention like it did with the New 52. I’m betting this strategy will work well for DC – New 52 titles are mostly selling ridiculously well compared to other publishers, especially given how few of them are all that great (Batwoman, Action Comics, uh… Batwoman).

Batwoman: Elegy
Batwoman Vol. 1: Hydrology
Superman – Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel

I’ll read anything by Darwyn Cooke, Adam Hughes, or Amanda Conner. But I’m not buying Before Watchmen. I’m sure that, with the deck stacked full of good-to-great talent, this will be in print for a while and can be found at my local library in a year or two. I can’t and won’t judge the actual work until I see it, but I will judge the concept – in a market that is so dependent on preorders, I have no problem with this.

Before Watchmen Silk Spectre cover

Not Watchmen.

I saw this comment in the Comics Alliance article: “In all seriousness, didn’t Watchmen already contain prequels for all these characters?” That’s the problem. There are likely no interesting or important stories to be told in these prequel comics. They’re junk food. Granted, the same could be argued for most of DC and Marvel’s output, but the fact that this is Watchmen is more annoying to me, as the manner in which DC has chosen to hold on its license is just one more thing in the list of unnecessarily bad ways it’s treated Alan Moore over the years.

DC has proven it can reinvent its old properties, from back when creators had no other choice than to give up all of their rights just to get work – but Watchmen comes from a different era, one in which creators can and should be treated better.

Speaking of Alan Moore,

“I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago…I don’t want money,” he said. “What I want is for this not to happen. As far as I know, there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to ‘Moby-Dick.’”

Before Watchmen Minutemen cover

Not Watchmen.

(It’s not just DC’s comics that are still borrowing from Moore instead of coming up with something original and daring: I picked up the Green Lantern: Emerald Knights DVD cheap secondhand recently, and half the stories are Alan Moore short-story adaptations. The cartoon was okay, for kids’ superhero material, but the original comics were better. I’ll give it to a relative’s kid when I get the chance.)

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights [Blu-ray]

Even the format of these prequels seems rather similar to Alan Moore’s work creating and writing Wildstorm’s America’s Best Comics line (now also owned by DC) – a number of connected series (like, say, Tom Strong or Promethea) with an occasional special by various creators (like Tomorrow Stories or the various ABC specials).

Tom Strong (Book 1)
Promethea (Book 1)
America’s Best Comics Primer

Am I angry about this? Well no – life’s too short. DC’s got the legal right to do it. I just don’t see a worthy creative goal here. As much as DC wants to paint this as a project that will split fandom, I’m not going to play that game. I’m not a “fan” of Watchmen – I don’t go playing Watchmen in the street, I don’t want T-shirts and videogames. I enjoy and appreciate the work as a milestone of creative literature, one that continues to both entertain and inspire me. And that’s enough.

Before Watchmen Rorschach cover

Not Watchmen.

Really, Watchmen is complete unto itself. Trying to change it into a “universe” is totally unnecessary. That was one of the things that made it so radical when I first read it 20 or so years ago: it had an ending. Like, y’know, a real book. Sure, it’s an open-ended ending, but the story has everything it needed: no more, no less. And by the time it was finished, it was intended to be done. By creating these prequels, DC is trying to change not just the perception of Watchmen from “story” to “universe,” but it’s trying to transform more comics readers into fanboys (and -girls) who think that every story needs to be a franchise. It’s bullshit Hollywood thinking, and despite the short-term gain it’s going to lead to long-term disillusionment and spiraling sales, just like what’s been happening to movies over the last several years.

Don’t get me wrong: I get it. Ever-aging fanboys still drive a good chunk of the comics singles market. These are people who grew up expecting comics stories and characters to be owned and controlled by publishers, with changing writer and artist teams. DC’s injected new life into this segment of the Nerd Market with the New 52, and it works well for them. DC and Marvel really are like the Hollywood studios of comics, offering more money in exchange for little-to-no rights or control, telling endless stories about the same characters.

Me, I’m just not interested. I prefer the albums market over the singles market these days: you know, the one with million-sellers like The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Bone, and other superior titles. I’m sure a lot of people will get excited over this, but I don’t believe the hype. I’d rather see these creators doing their own thing than helping DC strip-mine Alan Moore’s 25-year-old ideas again. Hopefully, there will be a lot of new readers exposed to these creators, who will then seek out more material by them.

Before Watchmen Crimson Corsair cover

Not Watchmen. Maybe Pirates of the Caribbean?

Instead of buying Before Watchmen, I’ll go re-read Rising Stars, Midnight Nation, Parker, 100 Bullets, The Pro, Wanted… Now, those are not only a good time, but the creators have total control over the final product.

Rising Stars : Born In Fire (Vol. 1)
J. Michael Straczynski’s Midnight Nation, Vol. 1
Richard Stark’s Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter
100 Bullets Vol. 1: First Shot, Last Call

Oh, yeah: and Watchmen. (The real one.)


4 Responses to “Before Watchmen: Not Interested. Here’s Why”

  1. The Hook February 14, 2012 at 05:45 #

    A LOT of readers share your concerns, but many more will gobble this up, I think!


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