Initial Reactions to DC’s “Before Watchmen”

Today, the other shoe finally dropped. DC has announced 7 prequel miniseries to 1986’s seminal Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Under the “Before Watchmen” banner, these 7 miniseries will range in length of 4 to 6 issues. An epilogue issue will wrap up the series, bringing the total number of issues to 35. I’ve already weighed in on my opinion on the idea of Watchmen prequels here. Now that DC has come clean and revealed the prequels, as well as their creative teams, I’ll re-examine the matter and give my initial impressions of the project after the jump. You can check out the original story here at DC’s blog.

DC appropriately code-named this project “Panic Room”, because the internet is in an uproar. Basement dwellers the world round are calling foul on DC’s dilution of the original Watchmen. I’m not one of the people who considers Watchmen to be the comic book equivalent to the Bible. Also, while I definitely can sympathize for Moore in his dealings with DC, the company definitely dealt him a bad hand, I’m not of the mind that Watchmen can only be written by him. Here are some quotes from Moore in response to the Before Watchmen project, from a New York Times interview:

“I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they (DC) are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.”

“I don’t want money, 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.’ ”

I’ve spoken before about my opinion of Alan Moore’s complaint that DC is just recycling his old ideas rather than trying to create new ones. I can’t help but feel Moore is being extremely hypocritical, considering the original Watchmen was based on existing Charlton Comics characters. Even The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, one of Moore’s most recent works, borrows characters and ideas from Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and many other writers. Also, I think it’s extremely unfair for Moore to compare his work to that of Moby-Dick. It seems to me that Moore wants to have his cake and eat it too, to be able to borrow ideas from others but to let no one else touch or expand upon his own work. My reservations about the project have less to do with the supposed sullying of the Watchmen property than with the scope of the project.

As I mentioned earlier, this series will total at least 35 issues. That’s three times the length of the original Watchmen series. This brings me to recognize an issue with comics, especially event comics, that has become increasingly problematic; the problem of excess. Let’s look at DC’s recent Flashpoint event. The main series itself consisted of a mere five issues, but with that came sixteen miniseries, each three issues long, four one-shot issues, and four tie-in issues of Booster Gold. This leads to a total of 61 issues released over the course of four months. For me, this caused Flashpoint to feel extremely bloated and the large number of tie-ins diluted the effect of the main series. I can totally get behind the idea of a Watchmen prequel, but I’m afraid DC maybe over doing it a bit. I wonder if perhaps a single twelve issue miniseries, mirroring that of the original Watchmen, might be a little more palatable. There is however a precedent for long stories spread out over multiple miniseries. Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory was a maxiseries made up of seven minis each four issues long, as well as two bookend issues, for a total of 30 issues. I absolutely loved Seven Soldiers, and if the Before Watchmen architects can pull off something on that scale then I’m all for it.

It bears asking, what if DC were to attach this kind of talent and financial backing towards to creation of new properties? Could we get a modern-day Watchmen, rather than relying on past stories? I think it speaks volumes about the state of entertainment today that sequels and prequels are more lucrative than new intellectual properties. We are comfortable with what we know. I don’t think there is anything wrong with adding on to an existing body of work. However,  I think it’s great to have something like what Watchmen was, a singular work with a beginning and end. There aren’t many books like this in mainstream comics and it’s a little sad that Watchmen will no longer be that singular work. In the end, DC is a company that is out to make money. With the way things are going, I think it will be up to indie companies like Image and Dark Horse to publish the stories that will be our generation’s Watchmen.

With all that said, the question is “Do I think I’ll buy Before Watchmen?” The answer is probably definitely. I’m a comic book geek and this is going to be a huge deal. I’ll be there on day one to see if the books live up to the hype. There are some books I can’t wait to read and others I’m not nearly as excited about. Here are my initial impressions of the project, as well as the creative teams and covers for each book.

Rorschach – Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

This one is a bit of a no-brainer in my opinion. In my opinion, Rorschach is the darkest and most tragic character in the original Watchmen. Brian Azzarello is known for his dark and gritty story-telling and Lee Bermejo’s unique art style is perfect for a character like Rorschach. It would be really interesting to see some more stories of Rorschach set before the tragic “dog incident” depicted in the original series, but with this creative team I think it is likely the book will focus on the time between said incident and Watchmen proper.

Interest Level-9/10

Minutemen – Darwyn Cooke

Of all the “Before Watchmen” books, Minutemen has the most legitimacy for existing. The background of the Minutemen was somewhat touched on in the original series, mostly through back-up material, but much was left open. There are any number of stories that could be told about the super-team in their glory days, or after. Darwyn Cooke is a perfect fit for this book, if his work on DC: The New Frontier is any indication. If I were to get only one of the Watchmen prequels, this would be the one.

Interest Level-10/10

Comedian – Brian Azzarello and J. G. Jones

I’m going to start out by saying I don’t like the Comedian. He’s pretty despicable. That said, there are a lot of interesting story opportunities considering everything we know about the character has been told through a few flashbacks. Again, DC wisely chose to have Brian Azzarello write one of the series’ grittiest characters. J. G. Jones is a spectacular artist whose work I haven’t seen since Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. While I love the creative team, I just can’t get behind the character. It’ll take a lot more information about the story to get me interested in this one. Oh, and that cover is super creepy.

Interest Level-3/10

Dr. Manhattan – J. M. Straczynski and Adam Hughes

Dr. Manhattan is one of the coolest characters to come out of the original Watchmen series, and the one with the greatest opportunity for unique story-telling. As a character that essentially exists in all moments in time and can be anywhere in an instant, the door of possibility is wide open. I must admit, I would much rather see a writer like Grant Morrison attached to this book. His abstract story-telling and zany creativity would be a perfect fit. J. M. Straczynski has a had a bit of a rocky track record with monthly series lately (he left his recent runs on Superman and Wonder Woman early, leaving Chris Roberson and Phil Hester to tidy up). However, if JMS doesn’t inspire confidence in the series, the fact the Adam Hughes is handling the interior art work should set the comic world aflame. Known primarily for his cover work and his female pin-ups, Adam Hughes is an industry legend who hasn’t done interior art on a series in a long, long time. I’ll definitely be giving this book a shot.

Interest Level-8/10

Nite Owl – J. M. Straczynski, Joe and Andy Kubert

The second book by JMS is Nite Owl, with art by Andy Kubert and his father, the legendary Joe Kubert. Again, JMS is a bit of a wild card, and I would prefer someone like Scott Snyder, who is currently killing it on Batman, to handle a character like Nite Owl. However, I’m a huge fan of Andy Kubert. This has some potential for some great super heroics, but I don’t see it having the complexity or depth of the original Watchmen series. I’m very interested, but I’m not expecting anything ground breaking.

Interest Level-6/10

Ozymandias – Len Wein and Jae Lee

Talk about coming out of left field. This book is perhaps one of the strangest combinations of concept, writer, and artist I’ve ever seen. Len Wein is another legend in the comic book industry, famous for creating characters like Wolverine and Swamp Thing. Jae Lee is an extremely talented artist who I’m most familiar with from his work on Marvel’s adaptations of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower.” Ozymandias is perhaps the most enigmatic of the characters from the original series and for that reason he is perhaps one of the best characters to be further explored in a prequel series. However, Wein’s recent work has felt a bit lacking and dated and I find him to be an odd choice to usher the character into the 21st century. After Minutemen, this is the series I’m most intrigued by.

Interest Level-8/10

Silk Spectre – Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner

This is another really interesting marriage of creative team and concept. Amanda Conner is one of the strongest female artists in the industry. Her art style is slightly more cartoony than I would expect to see in a Watchmen comic, so I’m really interested to see the tone the book strikes. As I’ve already mentioned, Darwyn Cooke is perfect for the Before Watchmen project and I expect him to make some unexpected choices in this story of Silk Spectre’s earlier years. I also expect the team to try and bring the character out from under the shadows of Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, and the Comedian, three important men in her life who defined her character in the original series.

Interest Level-7/10

Crimson Corsair – Len Wein and John Higgins

Each issue of “Before Watchmen” will feature a 2-page back up feature entitled “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair” by Len Wein and original Watchmen colorist John Higgins. I expect this back up story to parallel the Before Watchmen story in the same way that the Black Freighter comic paralleled the original Watchmen series. It’s also an interesting ploy to entice readers to pick up every mini-series. That’s pretty sly.

Interest Level- Ummmm….sure?

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