DC Announces Watchmen Prequel: Before Watchmen

DC Comics announced today that it is moving forward with a prequel — well, eight prequels to be exact — to Watchmen, the greatest comics story ever told. The project will be called Before Watchmen, and it will consist of individual miniseries starring each of the seven members of the team, and a one-shot wrap-up called…er, Before Watchmen: Epilogue. (Even though what comes after Before Watchmen should be Watchmen, right?) The idea of a prequel with its own epilogue… um, certainly thinking outside the creative box.

All together: “NNNNNOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

And you thought DC ruining its logo was a bad idea…

Not surprisingly, co-creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are not involved, However, Gibbons was quoted in USA Today as giving a lukewarm 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.”

The N.Y. Times  got in touch with Moore, who called the project “completely shameless,” adding:

“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. What I want is for this not to happen. As far as I know,” he said, “there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to ‘Moby-Dick.”

I think this idea is an abomination, and I wish it were not happening. It is completely and utterly unneeded, and one of the worst ideas possible. However, it is happening, so I hope all eight parts of the project will be very, very good — no, every single issue has to be absolutely SPECTACULAR — or the memory of Watchmen will be forever tainted. The prequel project will trail behind the parent series like an albatross, weighing it down.

It’s really no surprise that DC has finally decided to tap this popular property again — but it is a surprise that the company has waited this long to do it, leaving so much money on the table.

And make no mistake: Money is the only possible motivation for embarking on this project. Watchmen, as written by Moore and illustrated by Gibbons, was perfect. It was a complete story, with a clear beginning, middle and end. It was a fully formed, closed-ended universe. Nothing more remained to be said.  It’s no wonder Moore has so steadfastly resisted even speculating about any more Watchmen stories. He’s said all that was needed.

But DC’s parent company, Time Warner, apparently had something to say. Word is, Time Warner insisted that DC squeeze every last dime out of any and all properties it owns. Co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee issued this statement:

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant. After twenty-five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”

Translation: $$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$. And then there was $$$$$$$ $$ $$$$$$$$ $ to consider.

I’m not sure how publishing prequel adventures by different creators 25 years later keeps these characters “relevant” to fans or the world at large, but it certainly keeps them earning money, and that’s clearly relevant to the corporate overlords.

It may appear that the creative side of the project would be an afterthought, but the one thing DC is doing correctly is putting high-powered talent on these series. I cannot hold a grudge against these creators for taking the gigs because they have mouths to feed and rent to pay, and if they have good contracts, Before Watchmen should generate a ton of royalties.

Here’s the creative lineup:

RORSCHACH (4 issues): Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo

MINUTEMEN (6 issues): Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

COMEDIAN (6 issues): Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones

DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues): Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes

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

New issues will be released each week, and each issue will feature a two-page back-up called “Curse of the Crimson Corsair,” written by Wein and drawn by Higgins.

The first issues are all but guaranteed to sell out as folks look to get in the “investment” game on the ground floor. But will subsequent issues sell to anyone besides speculators? It depends on how good the series are.  (And how convincingly the marketing department can convince people that Rorschach is the next Wolverine.) There must be solid stories and great art, or this thing will tank.

Which brings us to the “Why now?” question. It probably would have made more sense to launch the prequel in the wake of the Watchmen movie — but that production didn’t really capture the general public’s imagination, so the corporate thinking was probably to distance the prequels from the flick.

And I wouldn’t expect things to end here. If Before Watchmen makes money, look for… I don’t know, “L’il Watchmen,” “Dark Watchmen,” “Watchmen 3000,” and anything else DC can pump out.

I am officially against this project. There is no valid artistic reason to dig up the corpse of Watchmen and molest it. To paraphrase the series’ driving question: “Who watches out for the Watchmen?”

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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