Before Watchmen: Watchmen Babies or Watchmen 2 Electric Boogaloo

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So today was the day DC Comics finally got around to announcing their worst kept secret since their line wide relaunch: a prequel to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Thanks mostly to Bleeding Cool, we had been hearing about the development of this series for at least a year. We knew many of the key players. We’ve even seen some concept art. (Seriously DC – Your employees CANNOT keep a secret… Even your new logo design was a hint. Unless it was all leaked deliberately.) So here we are just months away from new Watchmen stories; an event so inevitable that it was parodied on the Simpsons years ago in the form of Watchmen Babies. And yet it has still proven to be controversial at the time of the announcement.

KevinMLD : I guess we should start out by talking about the general announcement:

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

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

SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

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

That’s seven miniseries. All prequels to the original 12 issue series. The entire project is being labeled “Before Watchmen.”

PTB: That’s a lot of stuff.

KevinMLD: That was my first reaction too.

PTB: Is all of it shipping at the same time?

KevinMLD: It’s not totally clear when they each ship. It’s definitely this summer, and they’re definitely tied into one another. Bleeding Cool indicated it was going to ship weekly somehow. Not sure what that will mean exactly.

PTB: It seems like overload.

KevinMLD: I don’t know. It’s 34 issues and it’s looking like this is basically DC’s summer event for 2012. The equivalent of Blackest Night or Flashpoint. So how are these 30 issues different from the huge number of tie-ins for those series or Civil War, Fear Itself and the rest? My count on the number of books tied to Flashpoint is 61.

PTB: I think that’s all overload too, but this is also about perspective. Those massive events are in line with what’s currently being published and selling. Part of the difficulty I have with comparing the scope of these prequels to other recent event series is that this is 34 issues of a book that has not shipped a new issue in 25 years.

KevinMLD: Yeah I guess that is a matter of perspective. You could just as easily say this is an event 25 years in the making.

PTB: That’s another way to spin it.

KevinMLD: The difference I see between those series and this one is that the creative teams behind Before Watchmen across the board are legitimately A-list talent.

With Blackest Night and the like we also got books like Teen Titans by JT Krul. I don’t even know if that book was any good, but here we’re getting Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke and Rorschach by Azzarello and Bermejo. That’s a huge difference in the level of talent involved to me.

PTB: Having great creative teams is a big plus, but 34 issues of anything on a compressed publishing schedule is a lot to me.

KevinMLD: I’m guessing it’ll run six or seven months. Considering that a few of the series are only four issues long and that the total number of books is roughly half of Flashpoint, that actually looks like restraint on the part of DC to me.

PTB: I get where you’re coming from, but for some reason I had the idea in my head that the 12-issue Watchmen series would be followed up by a comparably sized and organized series. In other words a single prequel or sequel maxi-series. I have no doubt that I would have been in for that, but I don’t know if this is something I’ll invest in.

KevinMLD: Yeah I get that. If you don’t see this as DC’s summer event, it’s way too many books. There’s definitely a danger of running the whole property into the ground immediately after launching new material.

PTB: Isn’t there a New 52 event on the horizon from DC? That could just be the result of speculation on the Pandora character that was turning up in the background of all the first issues.

KevinMLD: Not that has been announced yet. That’s obviously coming at some point, but I’m starting to think it’ll be further down the line.

PTB: Even if this is the only big event on DC’s publishing schedule for 2012, there are a number of questions that have been raised surrounding whether they should publish more Watchmen at all.

KevinMLD: That’s definitely an idea that keeps coming up. But what exactly are the questions about whether it should be published at all? That it’s unnecessary? Sure. Can’t argue against that. But how many great Batman or X-Men stories would have never been told if they had stopped when the original creator was done with the characters?

PTB: Obviously, I’m in full agreement on that point. However, revisiting Watchmen specifically seems to be a lightning rod for controversy.

KevinMLD: Well there’s this issue that Alan Moore is against it and that he feels he was misled into signing a bad contract in the 1980s. But seriously? I get being mad about a bad contract that was signed in the 1930s. Even the 1960s. But by the 1980s, it was pretty well established what corporate comics were all about. And that assumes you accept that he created these characters when Moore originally intended to use the Charlton characters already DC owned (The Question, Captain Atom, Phantom Lady etc.).

Mostly I can’t really feel that bad for the guy after hearing how he killed a reprint of his series 1963 that his co-creators on that series were working on. In their eyes basically depriving them of any residual income from their creator-owned work. This story really affected my ability to perceive Moore as a victim. He would choose to do the thing same with Watchmen, but because DC still owns the rights Len Wein (the original editor) and John Higgins (the original colorist) are getting work and I’m sure Dave Gibbons (the original artist) who put out a statement vaguely supporting the whole thing is getting a paycheck.

PTB: Aside from Moore’s rejection of the idea, there seem to be a number of creators that feel the same way. Warren Ellis recently shared an excerpt from Chip Zdarsky’s autobiography touching on (among other things) the stigma attached to creators choosing to be the ones to revisit Watchmen. I guess the names listed here are OK with that or maybe things are past that point altogether?

KevinMLD: Darwyn Cooke in particular has expressed downright disdain for modern superhero books. I know at least some of that is directed at Frank Miller but I would suspect Alan Moore as well for the impact their grim and gritty work has had on the industry. I think he thinks they ruined comics. That’s a major reason why I can’t wait to see his Minutemen. And supposedly he’s sort of executive producing the entire Before Watchmen project. Obviously, in the video I referenced above he’s specifically addressing All-Star Batman and Robin more than anything else.

Cooke’s New Frontier definitely feels like a reaction to gritty superhero books, so to see him jump into this universe is both interesting and exciting.

PTB: I don’t have an appreciation for New Frontier specifically but that take on things is interesting.

Watchmen has been touted as the “most celebrated graphic novel of all time” (although there is some controversy over which is the top-selling), so maybe there’s a huge market for all of this, but I think part of the original’s appeal is the fact that it’s finite.

KevinMLD: That there’s hopefully a huge market for more Watchmen is obviously the appeal of the project for DC and Warner Brothers.

I’ve always seen Watchmen just touted as the best… period. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but I do agree that part of the reason Watchmen and even The Dark Knight Returns are held in such high regard is because these are stories with distinct and relatively satisfying endings. That is a rare thing in mainstream comics.

So it looks like I’ve now written an unexpectedly spirited defense of the Watchmen prequels. That’s concept that I would have thought i was completely against yesterday. Weird.

Bring it on, I guess.

Never forget.

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