BEFORE WATCHMEN: First Thoughts on the WATCHMEN Prequel

by     Posted 2 years, 63 days ago

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Is it possible (and/or right) to continue Watchmen without Alan Moore?  The question is so oft posed and the resulting criticisms so well documented, it almost feels tiresome to repeat.  Art vs. commerce and yadda, yadda, yadda… I have nothing new to add to the ol’ Moore vs. DC debate.  I love Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen.  On general reflex, I considered a prequel without their involvement at best foolhardy.  But also understand that from a market standpoint, Watchmen prequels are good business and an inevitability with or without the creators.  And so here we are with Before Watchmen – a prequel nobody really asked for, but one everyone still wants to read regardless (myself included).

This past week, I was invited to DC headquarters to sample the initial issues from the seven runs of Before Watchmen (each run focusing on an individual character or group: e.g. The Comedian, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan and Minutemen).  I’ve been sworn to secrecy on plot points and narrative spoilers, but allowed to share general thoughts (I think) on whether or not you should pre-hate this comic you’re probably still going to buy anyways.  For more thoughts (some of which surprised myself), hit the jump.

before-watchmen-dr-manhattanBefore Watchmen is good. Let’s get that out of the way up front.  Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke and J. Michael Straczynski (among many others) have done a more than worthy approximation of Moore’s magnum opus.  But therein lies the problem.  So beholden to the original text it’s impossible to separate these new iterations from that which begat them. And in any comparison to Moore’s original – they’re going to come up lacking, either by being second out of the gate or from prejudices of the reader.

I look at the new edition Rorschach and think – ‘Azzarello’s really nailed Moore’s tone and voice.  Hell – this is a pretty damn good imitation of Rorschach.’  But that’s all it is: an imitation. It talks the same, acts the same, looks the same – but it’s not Moore’s Rorschach.  Just a copy.  And I can’t shake the feeling that Moore’s already told this story and this character in the best manner possible; so any emulation just seems repetitive no matter how good.  Are these biases fair?  I would argue that a majority of these new editions are so entrenched to the original and Moore’s vision of the characters that comparisons are unavoidable.  The prequels actively invite such thought. Before Watchmen is of one with Watchmen – and as such it will always live in its shadow for better or for worse.

The best of the comics takes a different stance or tweaks Moore’s beloved characters.  Ironically enough, Azzarello’s other contribution to the series, The Comedian, differs most from its origin, presenting a more stoic and dare-I-say naïve version of the character.  Watching The Comedian slowly shift to the hardened and disillusioned version of Moore’s becomes surprisingly poignant and sad.  The Comedian edition also seems the most entrenched in the real world politics of the 1960s.  There is a certain check-mark quality to having the Comedian interact with [Famous 1960s Political Figure A] or [1960s Movie Star B] or [1960s Heavyweight Champion C] – but the interactions also ground the comic in the past and helps to separate it from it’s predecessor’s 1980’s Cold War hysteria.

before-watchmen-rorschachSimilarly Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner’s Silk Spectre edition (and to a lesser extent Len Wein’s Ozymandias) deviate from their original counterparts.  Silk Spectre focusing on the young adolescent years of the character as she comes of age; Ozymandias – on the inherent difficulties of being a “boy wonder” when you’re, well, a boy.  Conversely – Rorschach, Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan – all, at first glance, present exact replicas of the themes and characteristics of Moore’s version.  As such, they fail to stand out as their own individual creations.

Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen (which has been a favorite among many of the other early reviews) holds promise – but the one issue I read was mostly set up – it could become the best run of the bunch or the worst.  Hard to quite get a feel for where the series is headed. And much of the thematic issues at play (the monetization of heroics, anti-corporate satire) feel lifted directly from the source.

The best aspect of the prequels, without question, is the artwork. J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo, Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner, Jae Lee, Adam Hughes and Andy & Joe Kubert all do exceptional work that doesn’t feel beholden to Gibbon’s original work but at the same time is of one with Watchmen.  Having different artists on each series gives the comics their own unique style and identity, whether it be the gritty dark palette of Bermejo’s Rorschach or the bright playful colors of Conner’s Silk Spectre.  A special mention must be given to Jae Lee’s Ozymandias – whose artwork seems directly transported from the Renaissance reflecting its anti-hero’s own infatuation with the Classics and Humanist beliefs.

Rereading this review, it strikes me as much more negative than I had originally intended.  To reiterate – Before Watchmen is good. But is ‘good’ enough?  I still remain skeptical as to the validity of these comics or whether a prequel is or was ever a good idea in the first place (other than making a lot of money for DC) – but I do know that regardless, I’ll continue to read and finish out this new series… And I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that.

The first of Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 hits stands June 6th.

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  • Christian

    Here’s the problem: we never needed prequels. Moore told a whole story and I feel adding anything will damage the whole. It’s not that nothing new can be added, but nothing new needs to be added. Who cares about these characters before Watchmen. We were given what we needed to know in the original.

    Also, I am an artist and hope to write my own comic one day. I have a great fear of people tampering with my work, which to me is sacred. I can respect an adaptation into a different medium (the movie), but modifying – adding onto a story is the biggest sin in my eyes. It shows complete disrespect to the original artist. It sucks that this all boils down to money.

    I love Jim Lee, but when I saw him talk about how this was to get new readers into the series and comics in general, I lost a lot of the respect I had for him. You don’t do comics for the money. You do it because you have passion. Once you see the green you might as well get out of the game if you’re going to let it fuel you.

  • Gizmo

    That’s it isn’t it – Moore slowly revealed bits and pieces of the Watchmen characters origins, informing how they got to the place they were, without spelling it out. It’s such a complete story and so well written that it doesn’t need or really lend itself to becoming an expanded universe. And I say that despite Snyder’s film adaptation being so faithful (some would say to it’s detriment but I loved it) and looked so good it left me with a tinge of regret that there could not be another installment.

    I know I’ll probably get the first issues despite my concerns as I’m a nosey bugger and the artwork alone does pique my interest despite my reservations!

  • RoboDouche

    Bring it on I cant wait

  • tainies
  • THATguy

    I will never read this because I have absolutely no interest in this blatant cash grab. Nice try D.C. but you’re not fooling me.

  • Me

    All Comics are a Blatant Cash Grab! If people can’t see that, then there is a problem. Sure, the artists and companies may have a passion for it and love it, but it is still about the money. Otherwise, the artists/writers, would be doing it for free. Also, the companies need to go where the money is, or else they will go out of business.

    • Goop

      Just because someone loves something doesn’t mean that they should do it for free. Nor does it mean they would be able to do it for free. The premise of your statement is completely ridiculous.

  • dedpool

    Had this been done half-heartedly and with a bunch of random “it” writers of the day I would go along with the blatant cash grab theory. ANd I’m sure making money is one of the first things thought about when this came up, I mean it IS a business after all. But that being said I don’t anyone would;ve let this go forward without a certain amount of love and care put into this project. You can’t get creators of this calliber to just jump on a project just cause of the name. I mean most would shy away from possibly messing with Moore’s work. These guys are at the top of their game, are industries legends in their own right with great and much loved bodies of work on their own.

  • enzofloc

    So it sounds like the problem isn’t art vs commerce as much as imagination vs imitation. Like Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen was a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Any attempts to subsequently revive it, even by the original author himself, will disappoint and even anger its fan base. Maybe I’m just a bitter modernist, but I think there’s a kind of purity and perfection in such inspired works from artists in their youthful prime that should be left untouched. Moore, in the mid 80′s, was at his peak. His works embraced everything from the political to the existential to the metaphysical. Any attempts to exploit it will fail if it is too concerned about being faithful to the original tone. It needs to take some daring, imaginative risks. A couple hits of acid at the brainstorming stage might have helped.

  • Ch3

    People, STOP bitchin about this series. Watchmen is not sacred. The same way Batman is not sacred, or Superman. Hell there are sci-fi/anime versions of Seven Samurai, Romeo and Juliet & The Count of Monte Cristo works of art that far surpass Watchmen. @enzofloc: You mention that Watchmen is like The Dark Knight Return a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Well TDKR was written 47 years after the creation of Batman. How do you know Moore’s version of Watchmen is the best that will ever be written. How could you possibly know that maybe in 40-50 years an artist as good or better than Mr. Moore won’t write a sequel/spin-off to Watchmen that will be better than the original. You can’t and the only way for it to happen is to let writers try. God knows there are awful adaptations of Batman but when people like Miller or even Mr. Moore have tackled the character classics have been created. The same can happen with any property out there.

    • enzofloc

      The genius of an original and enlightened piece of work is almost always tainted by copies, spin-offs, sequels, etc. If there had been no sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it would easily be regarded as the best adventure movie ever made even to this day. But because of the relative crap that followed the original, it’s difficult to see the superior original with a fresh perspective. There are only a few exceptional occasions when follow-ups matched or surpassed the source. @Ch3, I’m not bitching, merely sighing.

  • SkaOreo

    This really is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. As this review states, it’s good but relies too much on the source-material to be anything more than imitation; however, if DC had strayed too far from the tone of the original comic-books, DC would have caught hell for it–regardless of how good those changes were.

    Of course, the easy answer would have been for DC to never have made these prequels–but we can’t do anything about that now, can we?

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  • Roger M

    Why read it and support it with your $ if you don’t think it’s a good idea? You are just part of the problem.

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