Before Watchmen: They Did It 35 Minutes Ago

The news is official: DC will be publishing Before Watchmen, seven prequel mini-series to what is widely regarded as the greatest superhero comic book series of all time (well, so far), the only comic book to make Time’s list of 100 Best Novels. Twenty-five years after the original series was published does seem a little tardy …

The internet has reacted as expected – Comics Alliance collects some of the best tweets and Topless Robot has my favourite headline – and there have been reasoned responses (such as Graeme McMillan at Blog@Newsarama [EDIT: sadly, broken link) and extreme reactions (such as Alan David Doane’s post ‘List of Disgraced Watchmen 2 Scabs Revealed’ on Trouble With Comics).

I know I haven’t blogged regularly here, but I felt that Before Watchmen had to be commented on, even if what I have to say is not different to the many other reactions on the internet. Watchmen is one of the most pivotal books in my comic book reading; I read it on a regular basis and get something new out of it every time, and it changed the way I thought about comic books and what I wanted out of them. If I were to appear on Desert Island Discs (I won’t), it would be my book choice. In other words, I feel rather attached to it. So how am I supposed to feel about this announcement of a bunch of prequels that has nothing to do with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons?

I won’t be reading the comics. I won’t be boycotting them or signing petitions against them or decrying DC for being a company that wants to make money. I have no interest in stories that are set before the narrative told in Watchmen because the story was complete. Yes, the creative teams are impressive (Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello, Adam Hughes, Jae Lee, Amanda Conner are definitely A-list talent) – I like Hughes’ cover I’ve posted (you can see the rest of the covers at The Source), despite the slightly dubious nature of the composition, and it would be great to see four full comics of interior art done by him – but the reviews for the series would have to be phenomenal before I would pay to see for myself. What’s the point (in the creative sense)? What is there to say? Where is the originality?

Comics has an obsession with its own past – how many times have we seen the origins of Superman and Batman, etc.? – but this seems a bizarre choice. The original series was in 1986; yes, the film was a few years ago, but why is this happening now? The people who are into comics now won’t care about prequel stories about something that’s so old? I didn’t think that Watchmen had that kind of pulling power to sell new comic books, when the only things that sell well are the famous franchises in crossovers that supposedly mean something or are considered important. Other revivals of old stories haven’t done well (First Wave, newuniverse, the Red Circle characters, etc.) so I can’t see why this is considered a successful proposition. Not only that, it’s a huge number of comics to publish in a short time; are they expecting people who are interested to buy them all? I guess this is why I don’t run a comic book company …

I understand Alan Moore’s reaction to this news (although it has to be remembered that Watchmen originated from a proposal by Moore to revive the Charlton characters for DC, who baulked at what he came up with the characters they had just bought, so he came up with thinly veiled versions of the same characters and, hey presto, comic book history changes) but commerce and art have always been uneasy bedfellows, and that’s not something that’s going to change soon. I shall to continue to read the comics I want and ignore the ones I don’t – feel free to do the same.

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