Super-Fly Fandimonium by Max Lake – Do We Need Before Watchmen? An Op/Ed

A sequel to Watchmen was announced this week, but is that a good thing?

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand this past week, you’ve probably heard or read about DC’s announcement of their Before Watchmen project.  With leaked pieces of art surfacing on the internet during the holidays, this was all but confirmed, but now that it’s official it’s pretty crazy news indeed!

Clearly, this will be controversial as Alan Moore says he would rather not see the project produced. Moore has gone on to comment that this is confirmation that DC is dependent on his 25 year old ideas.  Even Dave Gibbons has worded his approval for the project carefully saying that Watchmen was a “complete story” and that DC and the artists and writers involved are wishing to “pay tribute to our work.”  Said Gibbons:

“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 writing for more Watchmen was on the wall a couple years back when there were rumblings about such a project which stirred up some controversy, and DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee said something along the lines of that DC would only do a Watchmen sequel or prequel if they had top notch talent comparable to Alan Moore or Dave Gibbons to do it.  Although I feel it’s hard for any creator to probably claim they’re of Alan Moore ability, the creators DC has assembled for Before Watchmen are quite admirable: Darwyn Cooke, J.G. Jones, Brian Azzarello, J. Michael Straczynski, Joe Kubert, Adam Hughes, Len Wein, Amanda Conner, Andy Kubert, Lee Bermejo, Jae Lee and John Higgins.  One wonders why this high amount of high caliber of talent isn’t being seen in their monthly books (except for obvious reasons such as Hughes, Bermejo and Conner are wonderful artists but slow as molasses in January).

Still, does Watchmen require prequels?  Probably not, but I will say that I’ve wanted more Watchmen since I was a little boy.  And this is going to sound crazy… Long before I read Watchmen.

It was simply a matter of being young and not understanding how a comics story could just end.  I was a big DC Comics freak of a lad growing up in the 1980s, but hadn’t read Watchmen—I was far too young to.  I had heard about the Watchmen through the neat DC Comics RPG I had just got (as they had their own module), and wondered why there weren’t any more comics with them.  I asked someone at my local comic book store, Dark Star Books in Yellow Springs, the store that would eventually spawn Super-Fly Comics.

“Why aren’t there any more Watchmen comics?  Did they all die?” I asked.

The clerk looked at me confused.

“It was a 12 issue limited series,” he said.  “Now it’s over.  It ended.  There is no more.”

I think I accepted this, but it bothered me.  They looked like cool characters.  Why get rid of them?

Of course, when I read the book at age 18 thanks to a friend across the hall in my dorm, I understood how “there is no more,” and how it didn’t need any more.  It was a complete story.  It really couldn’t have gone on without degrading from the overall work.  However, now we have the Before Watchmen project ready to take the comics world by storm, whether it’s ready or not.

I have to ask, is it really all that surprising?  We live in a comics world where once upon a time, Bucky was never going to come back, and neither was Barry Allen.  Both are alive in well in their respective companies’ comic books now however.  There are no sacred cows anymore.  Yes Before Watchmen is almost certainly a mad dash for cash, but isn’t what this industry needs?  The industry has been on life support and got a big shot in the arm from DC’s New 52—wouldn’t another newsmaking event help the industry too?  I do gotta say, a 35 issue weekly Before Watchmen seven mini-series extravaganza doesn’t look too much better to me than Marvel’s massive crossover event Avengers Vs. X-Men from a financial standpoint, but it may get more people into comic stores.  A lot of people have read Watchmen, more people than your average comics reader.  Sure, some of them probably think revisiting the best graphic novel ever is unnecessary, but some of them will be curious—curious enough to buy some new Watchmen material.

Color me one of them.  With the talent on hand, I’ll definitely read these sometime, maybe waiting and seeing until the collections come out (most assuredly in hardcover first) or at least reading them hanging out around Super-Fly.  I’m interested to see and buy Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen at the very least, and who wouldn’t want to see Amanda Connor draw Silk Spectre?  Plus, if someone was going to write a new Rorschach story, isn’t Brian Azzarello a great choice for that?  Of course they aren’t Alan Moore or Dave Gibbons, but couldn’t it be a lot worse than it is shaping up to be?

As for Alan Moore talking about his 25 year old ideas being used, a few other comic creators (JMS for one, who is working on Before Watchmen) have pointed out that Alan’s Watchmen characters are based on the Charlton characters DC acquired in the 80s, and that Alan has used other literary giants’ characters to his own ends in such works as Lost Girls and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—certainly in ways that the original authors would not approve of (such as in the straight up erotica of Lost Girls featuring beloved storybook characters Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz and Wendy from Peter Pan).  While I think Alan Moore has a point about DC needing to use his old ideas to a degree, I also think he is also a pot calling the kettle black a bit.  Certainly, Moore added quite a lot to the Charlton characters to make them the Watchmen, but after reading a good chunk of the Charlton material recently, the basic arc types and DNA for the characters was already clearly in place in the Charlton comics.

In the Before Watchmen announcement, DiDio and Lee point out that “Comic books are perhaps the largest and longest running form of collaborative fiction,” and that it is this “collaborative storytelling that keeps the fictional universes current and relevant. ” It’s an excellent point, as how would comics look today if only the creators of a character were allowed to work on a franchise?  The comics industry thrives on various artists and writers interpreting and re-interpreting characters all the time.  No one restricted anyone from writing Superman after Siegel and Shuster, nor stopped anyone from writing Spider-Man after Stan Lee and Steve Ditko moved on, it just wouldn’t make sense.  Watchmen is absolutely different than characters appearing in monthly serialized adventures, true, but DC held out on doing anything with them for 25 years, and even reached out to Alan Moore several times in an effort to generate new material.  Moore certainly had every right to refuse, but DC equally has the right to pursue new stories with characters they own after being stymied by Moore several times over.

Even if Before Watchmen is terrible, it won’t tarnish the original book.  Like Gibbons said, Watchmen is a complete story.  The spin off prequels will be seen as just that.  All the creators and editors are reportedly being incredibly faithful to the original work, and are treating this as a work of passion.  However, if they fail it won’t reflect on the original Watchmen at all.  Nor will the original be modified in any way as a result of this—it will remain the same classic story it always was and people can take or leave Before Watchmen as they see fit.  As it is now, we just have the announcement and some cover images.

Watchmen didn’t need any more, but the little kid in me kind of wants to see more of the story.  Or at least DC make an attempt at it anyway.  Love it or hate it, I’m at least going to check it out first.  Not everyone is going to agree with me, but although I’m a bit skeptical, I want to see these before I pass judgement.

At least it should be better than having Watchmen as a Saturday Morning Cartoon!

That’s just my opinion.  For the rest of the Super-Fly gang’s thoughts, check out the Super-Fly podcast where it will surely come up next time around.  And you can count on Super-Fly Comics & Games being your one-stop shop for all things Before Watchmen this summer!