Considered by many to be the seminal story of the comics medium, and a work that singlehandedly changed the comics forever, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons has been a consistently successful story for over a quarter of a century. A complete deconstruction of the Superhero mythos using close facsimiles to classic Charleston Comics characters – Watchmen ushered in the grim and gritty narratives all to prevalent in comics today. Against the wishes of writer Alan Moore, but not by artist Dave Gibbons – Watchmen has spawned numerous merchandising opportunities and a Hollywood film in 2009 by director Zack Snyder. In just twelve issues, Gibbons and Moore constructed an intriguing world and very interesting characters, with back-stories largely untouched. Considering how widely revered the Watchmen comics are, the series has been considered a sacred cow of sorts, and its universe has for quite a while, not been expanded upon in anyway.
On February 1st, DC comics announced that they will be releasing several four to six issue miniseries set in the Watchmen universe, written and drawn by some of comic’s top creators.
USA Today reports:
Who watches the Watchmen? This summer, it will again be a legion of comic-book fans.
Under its DC Comics banner, DC Entertainment is reviving characters from the beloved and seminal graphic novel Watchmen for seven prequels collectively titled ‘Before Watchmen’.
The comics will feature all of the heroes — and anti-heroes — who writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons created in the 1986-87 Watchmen series, which was later collected as a graphic novel. Those characters will star in miniseries by some of the company’s top writers and artists, including:
•Rorschach by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo
•Comedian by Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones
•Minutemen by writer/artist Darwyn Cooke
•Silk Spectre by Cooke and artist Amanda Conner
•Nite Owl by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artists Joe and Andy Kubert
•Dr. Manhattan by Straczynski and artist Adam Hughes
•Ozymandias by writer & original editor Len Wein with art by Jae Lee
Issues will be released so that there will be a new one every week, and each will include two pages of a separate, continuing backup story, Curse of the Crimson Corsair, by Wein, with art by Watchmen colorist John Higgins. A single-issue Before Watchmen: Epilogue will also be a part of the prequel series, featuring several of the writers and artists involved.
According to the Guinness World Records, Watchmen is the best-selling graphic novel of all time, with more than 2 million copies sold. However, Azzarello first read the series when it came out monthly in the ’80s and was a huge fan 10 years before he broke into the industry.
Azzarello says he “dropped the phone” when DC co-publisher Dan DiDio called him last summer and asked if he’d write the fan-favorite character Rorschach, the vigilante clad in a mask with shifting ink blots who investigates the death of his old friend, The Comedian, in the original Watchmen story.
“He’s the face. The guy who covers his face is the face of the franchise,” Azzarello says. For the four-issue Rorschach series, he’s teaming again with Bermejo, the artist from his Joker graphic novel.
“You’re going to get the Rorschach that you know and want. It’s a very visceral story we’re going to be telling,” Azzarello says.
Set in a bleak version of 1980s America where Richard Nixon is still president and powered beings have changed the fabric of society but are now considered outlaws, Watchmen created a legion of fans with its rich storytelling and deconstruction of the superhero genre. The phrase “Who watches the Watchmen,” spray-painted on buildings in the original book, has become iconic.
Many of those readers view Watchmen as a sacred text that shouldn’t be touched. Moore himself publicly stated that he wanted nothing to do with the 2009 movie adaptation by director Zack Snyder, or any sequels or prequels.
Gibbons, who was an adviser on the movie, has given his blessing. “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,” he says in a statement.
That approval, however, isn’t as important as making sure all the Before Watchmen books work on their own, Azzarello says. What’s key is “that we all get in there and we tell the best possible stories we can and we reconnect these characters. It’s 25 years later. Let’s make them vital again.”
All around the tubes, nearly every forum, such as Bleeding Cool and those annoying hipsters over at comics alliance, are rife with comments of hot frothy hatred over the notion over such a blasphemy. Most comments are about how perfect the original series was and what not, and that no one is as brilliant as Alan Moore blah blah blah, you get the picture. A perfect example of how much people already hate this project is over at Topless Robot, but then again the folks over at Topless Robot epitomize the irrational bitter fan stereotype that never enjoy anything, regardless of how good it might actually be. One talking point is that somehow these prequels could possibly taint the experiences of the original, which is a logical farce. The “Star Wars” prequels are utter garbage, but that doesn’t sully the original trilogy in anyway, but if one were to continue to watch said prequels out of an obsessive need even though they hate them- that could make the experience sour. However, issues like that are less in the content and more in the viewer. It seems as though the negative fan will probably be the greater driving force though, as they will need to validate their judgments on how bad it sucks. Much like how Howard Stern rose to the top from having a great number of listeners who found him appalling and listened to field complaints as opposed to those who wanted to listen to naked lesbians on the radio,
Are these books a bright idea? Perhaps, perhaps not; however, the talent they have compiled for these projects rival some of the best in the business. Brian Azzarello is one of the greatest writers working in comic books today, and author of “100 Bullets”, a series I believe is the greatest of all time. Plus having artists such as Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner, Lee Bermejo, Jae Lee and J.G. Jones on these titles means they will also be some of the best looking comics this year. I personally don’t care about Watchmen prequels, since over time I have grown to dislike the original “Watchmen.” It’s slow, it’s rather derivative and isn’t entertaining- I appreciate what the work has done for comics as a whole, but just because it’s influential doesn’t mean I’m obligated to sing its praises. Just because I listen to The Police doesn’t mean I must listen to Bob Marley as well.
The fantastic Michael Avon Oeming tweeted it best:
Oeming hit the nail on the head: comics are not scripture, they’re fictional, the stuff that happens between the pages of these books never actually happened. Things like Canon and Continuity are bullshit, nothing is truly official or unofficial in the land of make believe. Adding to the universe that Moore and Gibbons created does not in any way, change the story or anything about the original Watchmen. Any of these prequel comics can be as official or fan fictional as you, as the reader want them to be – if you don’t like them, forget about them and read the original all over again, and enjoy it for what it is. If you believe that there is absolutely no goddamn chance you could even fathom liking these prequels, then just don’t read them! It’s that simple, don’t piss and moan and then buy all of them anyways just so you can break down and nitpick every single minutia of things you hate about them, just ignore them. Some very talented people with bills and families are getting paid possibly the best money they’ll ever see in their careers to tackle these projects and perhaps, put enough money aside to not worry about expenses for a while to make a completely original property that might even be more significant than Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and Hellboy combined, they don’t need you belittling them over trying to make an honest living.
Of course Alan Moore, who hates everything involving other creators involved in his works told the New York Times, “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.”
Moore, Author of such works as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which stars characters like Bram Stoker’s Mina Harker, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Batman: The Killing Joke featuring characters made by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, is no stranger to using the ideas of others to craft stories. Alan Moore also received his breaks from his runs on “Marvelman” a character created by Mick Anglo, and “Swamp-Thing” a character co-created by Lenn Wein for DC Comics, who at the time was roommates with Gerry Conway, one of the collaborators whom created Man-Thing, a similar character at Marvel comics who premiered prior to Swamp Thing.
In addition, “Watchmen” wasn’t originally going to star original characters. Moore and Gibbons originally wanted to use characters such as The Question, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom, who were properties recently acquired by DC Comics form the defunct Charleston Comics. DC comics decided they would rather integrate the Charleston universe into their soon to be rebooted comics universe (sound familiar?) leaving Moore and Gibbons to create thinly veiled analogues of their initial idea. Had Moore and Gibbons been able to use the Charleston Characters like they originally intended- Moore wouldn’t have an argumentative leg to stand on. To be fair, DC could have easily done these miniseries with the Charleston Characters, but due to the success of “Watchmen,” the new analogues are more recognizable to audiences than the Charleston originals. While it’s certain that these prequels will go against what Moore’s artistic vision of “Watchmen” should be, Moore himself has done the same with a multitude of properties in his career, granted many have been public domain and he can do with them as he pleases. However, in one of his most recent stories League of Extraordinary Gentleman: 1969, Moore has written a scene where a Wizard named Tom who’s “ . . .middle name is a marvel and my last name is a conundrum” in an effort to use the character without violating any copyrights, sexually assaults Mina Harker in a scene. This is certainly not something that JK Rowling would have envisioned even her most heinous of villains to do in her successful series of children to young adult novels. Of course, the other collaborator- the artist, who is always the more important creator (it is a visual medium, and artists typically get a majority of the royalties) Dave Gibbons, has given his consent to DC comics to make these prequels.
Seemingly, all Moore’s opinions of his work gives off the impression that he feels as though he is some sort of creative zenith, that no one could ever craft a story as well as he. Moore lambastes every film adaptation of his work, or in the case of the Watchmen film adaptation, refusing to even see the film or acknowledge it in any way. One of my very first articles I had published at the website of the great Armenian flake, I wrote of how I felt the ending of the Watchmen film was actually better than the source material. Without spoiling anything, the movie ending ties in better with the core themes of distrust and paranoia rather than the random ploy used in the books. Alan Moore will never see this, thus he will never have to concede that others can perhaps, craft a better story with his own ideas than he could. Instead of denying the chance, it would be bolder to see these adaptations as a challenge for both the author and his colleagues to do better. Batman: Year One is one of the greatest batman stories ever told, but one of its sequel series that is based on Miller and Mazzucchelli’s story is Batman: The Long Halloween, is a superior story made by an entirely different creative team, and the original creator makes neither. Ego is one of the greatest hindrances in the realm of fiction.
However, from a moral standpoint- DC comics should have never been in the position to create Watchmen prequels in the first place. Even though Nite-Owl, Dr. Manhattan and the rest or the cast is analogous to Charleston Properties, they are in fact original characters because of this. The legends say Gibbons and Moore had a contract that specified that Watchmen would be a work for hire project, meaning they were compensated up front to create the book, instead of creating the book at their own expense: which would have made Watchmen creator owned. However, DC comics also stipulated that once Watchmen was no longer in print by DC, the copyrights would revert to Gibbons and Moore.
Watchmen has also continually been reprinted in trade paperback since 1987, thus preventing Gibbons and Moore from ever receiving ownership of their work. Thanks to dirty pool, DC has taken the control of Watchmen from Gibbons and Moore, and ensured they will never have it. Watchmen will never cease to be reprinted; it’s for too influential and lucrative for DC to ever want to let it go, so in essence, any support of any Watchmen related material aids in DC Comics’ theft of Watchmen from two very talented individuals. Eric Stephenson, publisher over at Image Comics, wrote an article for ‘It Sparkles’ that I insist you read because it perfectly illustrates what DC did wrong and the plight of the comic book creators.
Whether or not you’re enthused or incensed about Before Watchmen, it really matters not, since DC is going to make them regardless, there’s money to be had and they’ll get every little bit they can from Watchmen until they’re blue in the face and run around with their weenies exposed. However, what does matter is whether you buy them, it won’t stop these projects, but it can stop or continue any other Watchmen related projects in the future. Regardless, at least these books have top talent on them; DC could do much worse: