Watchmen is a 1986 comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Now, 25 years and a movie with a naked blue guy later, DC Comics is putting out Before Watchmen prequels that are not written by Alan Moore. The prequelizers include Darwyn Cooke from The New Frontier, Brian Azzarello from 100 Bullets, and J. Michael Straczysnki, the Babylon 5 guy.
Here is DC's official news about the whole thing.
Here's a big list of reactions from comic book creators.
And here are quotes from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and the people working on the prequels. Spoiler alert: Alan Moore says "I want this not to happen."
The Internet went all Rorschach at the end of issue 12 on it.
We assembled some of our top nerds, Mark Finn, Jayme Blaschke, Joe Crowe, Matt Cowger, Jason Myers, Gary Mitchel, and Sarah Arnold, to make sense of this thing:
Mark Finn: Thank God someone had the good sense to fill in such an obvious gap in the story. I'm surprised such a glaring omission took this long to get corrected.
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Jayme Blaschke: I longed to see the Minutemen story Alan Moore talked about doing once upon a time, but DC/ WB forever destroyed those chances with their heavy-handed tactics toward Moore. Yes, Moore is cranky and downright strange, but geez Louise, you learn how to handle people like that for everyone's best interests rather than go out of your way to antagonize them. Which is what DC/WB have done for the better part of two decades.
Now, instead of Minutemen, we get Before Watchmen, which is quite possibly as uninspired as any title could be. Len Wein's one writer. He was editor on the original Watchmen and wrote video game spinoffs of it, so I guess that gives DC some small degree of cover. But honestly, does anyone view this as anything other than another stunt from DC editor Dan Didio's stunt factory? Or that Wein will get fed up with random editorial mandates and the need to tie-in with the company-wide crossover Terminal Crisis: All Titles To Be Reset to #1 Again! and quit, only to be replaced by Judd Winick?
Who came up with the idea? Did Wein go to DC? Or did DC approach Wein? I suspect the latter. And if Wein had said "No," would DC have shelved the project, saying "That's that, then"? No, they'd go down the list until they found someone to write it. It could suck, it could win the Pultizer. Doesn't matter. As long as it makes money, the corporate masters are happy.
Joe Crowe: I'm in. I've bought comics that were worse than this might be, but were made for better reasons. So I'm not going to disqualify this on those grounds. I like Watchmen, so I'll give it a shot. But if it stinks, I reserve the right to unleash nerd hell on it.
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Matt Cowger: For me it depends on the character. I wouldn't mind seeing some Nite Owl/ Rorschach cleaning up the gangs action. Silk Spectre 2? Not so much. There is some "going back to the well for easy dollars" on this one, but otherwise I'm not as in hate with the idea as I've read from some others.
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Sarah Arnold: In the comic book creators reaction I'm disappointed I didn't get any ramblings from Warren Ellis, but maybe there would've been too many curse words.
The Terry Moore quote struck a strong chord with me. If the creator is still around and publicly states that he doesn't want this to happen; I would hope we could respect his wishes. But when has business ever been about respecting the artist?
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Jason Myers: I've stayed away from spin-offs of The Sandman such as Lucifer and The Dreaming, because I revere The Sandman the way many comic fans revere Watchmen. For me, Sandman is the ultimate comic book experience, whose ideas and characters should not be diluted by anything not created by Neil Gaiman.
On the other hand, characters such as Batman, Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula owe their enduring power not only to their original creators, but also to those who have revisioned, revised, reinterpreted and reinvented them.
I like Image editor Eric Stephenson's comment about Before Watchmen: "I'm sure it will be perfectly serviceable fan fiction." That's how I feel about Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The second volume of League felt more on the side of slash fiction.
It is hard to overstate the irony of the creator of Lost Girls and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen thinking that a project shouldn't go forward just because it's not what the original creator intended. Granted, the creators of the characters Moore appropriated for his own fun and profit are dead, and hence unable to complain about his often juvenile reimagining of them.
Still, it would feel almost like poetic justice if Before Watchmen chronicled, for example, the secret love between Nite-Owl and Hollis Mason, or, heaven forfend, turned The Comedian and Rorshach and Ozymandias into rounder and more sympathetic characters than Moore originally intended.
That said, should Moore be angry? Probably. Is Before Watchmen a bad idea? Probably. Will I buy it? Maybe if some issues turn up in the 25 cent bin of my comic shop 5 years from now, which is, I am sure, not the enthusiastic response the DC bean-counters are longing for.
Likely, the best we can hope for out of Before Watchmen is what I would hope for out of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That readers of the derivative work will be inspired to hunt up the far superior works that inspired it.
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Can DC do this? Yes. Should they do this? Personally, I lean towards "no, they shouldn't". Will they do it well? My gut says maybe. Here's hoping they surprise us. This is a terrible idea,, as it feels like it's just an attempt by the DC management to squeeze more cash out of Watchmen. The upper management are right bastards for making a contract with Moore that the characters would revert to him once Watchmen was out of print, then always making sure to crank out a new printing with a new cover every five years like clockwork. It's a great business decision, but a morally reprehensible one.
But Watchmen is a revamp of old Charlton superheroes, so it's not like DC is doing something with original characters that Moore created. I agree with everyone else on how it's kinda weird that Moore is blasting DC for borrowing his 25 year old ideas when some of his stuff has been reinventing/ using characters and ideas far older than that.
But DC has picked the right creators to do this. I can't think of anyone better for Minutemen than the Darwyn Cooke. Or for Dr. Manhattan than Straczynski. If I was going to have anyone tell tales of Rorschach and Comedian, Brian Azzarello would be my first choice. So I am curious enough that I'd flip through the book in the comic store.
What I really want to know is: can these creators capture the feel of the world of Watchmen? I expect Cooke will absolutely nail this aspect for Minutemen. But will they be able to hit that slightly-off vibe of their respective eras, especially that doomed 80s vibe? Will the artists match yet update Gibbon's visuals? Because on that front, the Gimp Hood Comedian mask on his cover worries me.
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And for the last word, Kevin Bolk's Watchmen Babies.