Alan Moore’s Watchmen is generally regarded as one of the accomplished works in all of comics, a title that is often held up as proof that the medium is capable of stories as fully realized as any novel. However, did you also know that it has superheroes in it that could maybe fight other bad guys? That’s a realization that’s been slowly reached over at DC Comics, which has just confirmed years of rumors (and preemptive backlash to those rumors) by announcing Before Watchmen, a prequel series unfolding this summer that will delve into the back-stories of some of the most highly protected characters in all of comicdom.
Claiming in the press release that new issues of Watchmen will be “as highly anticipated as they are controversial”—and right now they are certainly one of those things—DC has attempted to shore up the former claim by attaching some accomplished names to the project, in addition to original series editor Len Wein, whose presence will hopefully will make you go, “Oh…. All right.” That line-up, with their respective story arcs and past credits. (Click on the title to see the cover.)
Rorschach (four issues): Writer: Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets). Artist: Lee Bermejo (Joker)
Dr. Manhattan (four issues) — Writer: J. Michael Straczynski (Superman: Earth One). Artist: Adam Hughes (Catwoman)
Nite Owl (four issues) — Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert (Flashpoint, Sgt. Rock)
After rolling out across the summer, the series will culminate in the single-issue Before Watchmen: Epilogue with work from various artists and writers, while each issue will also feature a two-page back-up story titled Curse Of The Crimson Corsair from Wein and original Watchmen colorist John Higgins. And naturally, this whole project raises a question: Will there be a cover where it looks like Dr. Manhattan is doing Silk Spectre from behind? And yes, there totally will be. But perhaps even more importantly than that, what do original Watchmen creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons think of all this?
Thanks for asking. Well, Gibbons, for one, sounds slightly passive-aggressive in his accompanying statement, first declaring, “The original series of Watchmen is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell,” before essentially throwing up his hands and saying, “However, I appreciate DC's reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work”—with “if that’s really what they want” more or less implied there. Moore was slightly less appreciative, calling the whole idea “completely shameless” in an interview with the New York Times, and summing up his feelings with, “As far as I know, there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to Moby-Dick.” (Nope. Just one.)
Moore also couldn’t resist getting in a good dig at DC—and the modern comic industry as a whole—saying, “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.” However, he said he wouldn’t bother fighting the project (Except with interviews like these, probably until he's dead!) or pursuing any legal action, lest he be met with “a infinite battery of lawyers.” And in related news, DC has just announced its new maxi-series Infinite Battery Of Lawyers.
Of course, while Moore and his many acolytes certainly have the right to feel protective of his work, as participating writer J. Michael Straczynski points out in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Moore himself has spent much of his career building on characters he didn’t create either—including Swamp Thing, Batman, everyone in Lost Girls and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and even the characters that the Watchmen themselves were originally based on—so yes, maybe he does, as Straczynski asserts, “lose a little of the moral high ground.” Granted, that still doesn’t mean this idea isn’t wholly unnecessary, likely doomed to take what was fascinating in context and subtext and render it redundant and pedestrian by isolating it and spelling it out, and above all, offer yet more evidence that every industry would prefer to cannibalize an older good idea than take a risk on a new one. And yet, on the other hand, you don’t have to read them.