Watching ‘Before Watchmen’: Analyzing The ‘Watchmen’ Prequel Comic Book Event
By Hunter Camp
Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 at 12:00 pm
Earlier today, my overlord and master Empress Eve posted an article telling all of you about the “it’s really happening, isn’t it?” Watchmen prequel comics miniseries collection entitled Before Watchmen coming this Summer from DC Comics.
Well folks, I have been tasked to bring you my opinions on the creative teams and titles and to put it shortly, this whole thing is hilarious to me.
First and foremost let’s talk about the whole idea of a Watchmen prequel comic. Does it need to happen? Absolutely not. Thinking back on the multiple times that I’ve read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal work, I can’t recall feeling like I really needed to know anything about their time prior to the events in the comic. In fact, I’m pretty sure that we saw the majority of the characters’ histories prior to the main story of Watchmen with flashbacks that took place in the book. If you doubt that, you’re wrong. We were given everything we needed to enjoy the comic within the issues that were released. So, again, in no way do we need to see prequel comics. Now, you may ask yourself, “Is there at least something good to find about these prequel comics?” Well, yes. Absolutely. And the best way to approach this is to go through each comic book miniseries in the Before Watchmen (with new cover art from each series!) and take a look at what we might expect.
Minutemen (6 Issues): Darwyn Cooke will be writing and drawing this Minutemen comic that focuses on the team that predates the team that we know in Watchmen. This was the era that saw characters like the original Silk Spectre, the original Nite Owl, The Comedian and the rest of the misfits that either get murdered, kill themselves, or go insane. Will Darwyn Cooke just approach the comic as a nostalgia piece a la the Justice Society of America or more accurately The New Frontier, or will he go all in and show us some of the dementia that Moore explored in these characters within Watchmen? This is an aspect of the comic that is really appealing to me and genuinely make me want to read this comic. The Minutemen were the only aspect of Watchmen that I wanted to see explored, and I’m glad that Cooke will be the one to take the reins.
Silk Spectre (4 Issues): Also, Darwyn Cooke will be writing the Silk Spectre comic that features artwork from Amanda Conner, who I absolutely love. Cooke stated that he’s going to be taking a lighter, more positive note with Silk Spectre the second, and with Conner’s artwork, I totally expect that to be the case. Conner’s art style is very cartoonish in the best way imaginable as it comes off with a bit of sexiness with a smile or wink. It’s like her drawings are inked with humor, and it always works to the artist’s benefit. So, with Cooke and Conner, I have no doubt that I’ll be picking this comic up and enjoying each issue. But my main question regarding this comic is, “When will this take place?” If I had to venture to guess, it would be shortly after Dr. Manhattan and Laurie meet. So, I assume that we’ll see more of her actually fighting crime, but if that’s the case, it will bleed all over the other comics considering that’s when the team was together is when the majority of crime (political or otherwise) fighting took place. If this takes place at any other time, I’d have to assume that it would be right before we’re introduced to her in Watchmen, but if that were the case, a crumbling love story about a nuclear man and a woman in which neither can truly please the other would be far from positive and fun, it would be the most depressing comic book ever created. So, I expect the time when she and Dr. Manhattan first meet. Will it be good? Considering the creative team, I’ll bite.
Rorschach (4 Issues): Here’s where things get horribly disturbing and interesting. Brian Azzarello, one of the most gifted and demented creators in comics, will be taking the helm of the Rorschach mini-series. And you know who’s coming with him on art? Lee Bermejo. This team has worked together previously, most notably within the pages of the Joker original graphic novel, so we’ve seen how they work together. They work together well, but their approach is far from glamorous or even sanitary. They’re style is gritty, dirty, and flat out disturbing in some cases. So, really? They’re one of the best creative teams to take on a Rorschach comic. To me, though, I’ve had my fill of Rorschach. His character was approached with the perfect sentiment from beginning to end, and while many related to him, I can’t see a lot of variety in nuance within the character that would allow itself to a 4-issue mini-series. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. But I have a feeling that I won’t be. Either way, if there’s one creative team that can pull this off, it’s Azzarello and Bermejo.
Comedian (6 Issues): I am honestly terrified by this comic book series. It’s written by Brian Azzarello, a man that has a tendency to push the envelope as far as what’s considered acceptable in mainstream comics and the art is by J.G. Jones, a man that has the tendency to draw things exactly like you’d expect to see in real life. His artwork is hyper-realistic and considering what Watchmen readers know about The Comedian, there’s a lot things in his past that I could go my whole life without seeing. The Comedian was portrayed as a racist, fascist, rapist, and basically a government-appointed murderer. Sure comics are fantasy, but I really don’t need to see what happens in a comic with a man in a fetish mask smoking a cigar on the cover, especially when it’s presented with the gorgeously realistic art style of J.G. Jones. So, I’ll probably be sparing myself the tears and nightmares that will accompany the pages of Comedian, but the real question is, will it be good? Again, considering the creators, I absolutely believe that this will be an amazing comic that will blow people away. Azzarello has been dominating the comics scene recently with comics like Wonder Woman, Spaceman, and Batman: Knight of Vengeance, so I expect him to come out full force on this comic, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen interiors from J.G. Jones, so I expect him to make it worth the wait.
Ozymandias (6 Issues): I’m a little less than enthusiastic about this title, honestly. But I don’t really know why. Len Wein and Jae Lee are both incredibly gifted at their respective crafts, but something about this just isn’t grabbing. Maybe it’s because we already know exactly what’s going to happen with him so there’s no mystery within the character? I feel like we’ve already seen all that we need to about Veidt, and I don’t really see the point in attempting to tell this story because almost everything I can come up with would either be a lame team up era story, or the creation of his media empire, both of which would feel entirely shoe-horned to fit the idea that all of the main players from Watchmen should get minis. I don’t know, I mean I’m not a comic book writer, but I just don’t really see the point in this. I will, however, give Wein and Lee the benefit of the doubt because they are both insanely talented. So, I’ll be picking the first issue of this comic up to see if it’s impressive. If not, I’ll understand that it’s just not a situation that is easy to work with. The only way I could honestly see myself enjoying this if it takes place 35 minutes in the past from all of the other comics. Or if that’s like his catchphrase or something and Wein and Lee just accept the total insanity of the circumstance. It does help that Wein was an editor on the original series.
Nite Owl (4 Issues): Yeah, for issues I can totally see this comic. It’s basically going to be a Batman book about a dark avian-themed vigilante that fights crime using technology, so the appearance of Andy and Joe Kubert is not at all surprising to me. I’m down with that, sort of. But what I don’t understand is J. Michael Straczynski on this book. It’s not usually his style, but whatever. This should mostly be harmless since we never saw Nite Owl fighting street crime in New York City, so there’s potential for a decent comic here. Will it be, though? Eh, I’m not so sure. Like I said, it should be harmless, but the harmless approach is far less appealing as a part of a big Watchmen-themed event, so I expect JMS to go bonkers or something to make it crazy and big feeling, which gives me a bit of an apprehension because I’m not so sure that would work for Nite Owl. But what do I know?
Dr. Manhattan (4 Issues): This comic has me the most conflicted. Firstly, I’m not the biggest Straczynski fan. I’m not saying that he’s a bad writer, and he’s even written some things that I truly enjoy, but overall his work tends to fall flat with me as a reader. So, that’s a minus in my eyes. However, Adam Hughes does not normally do interior artwork anymore, so it will be an absolute pleasure to see his artwork in sequential form again. So, that alone is really making me want to read this comic. But I’m not so sure, because my other problem with this title is that I kind of hate Dr. Manhattan. You’re supposed to, right? Dr. Manhattan is almost a chore to read because he is such an enormous dick (re-read that, please), so he’s not a fun guy at all. Everything truly interesting about the character was done within Watchmen, specifically on Mars. He’s a pretentious a-hole that cares nothing about humanity at all. He’s overpowered and out of touch with the American people. Well, he could always walk across the country….
The majority of the creative forces on these comics are highly talented and have the potential to tell incredibly well done stories whether they’re tied to Moore and Gibbons’ work or not. So, in general from a basic reading standpoint, should this comic get made? Yeah. I mean, think about it this way, some of the best comic book creators in the world are joining forces to tell a combined story. That’s huge. And it’s obviously not designed to just sell, because if it was, then we’d see Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Grant Morrison and a host of other names tied to the books that would be guaranteed draws. So it looks like, in part, that from a creative standpoint, they’re genuinely trying to tell a good story. Again, that’s from a creative standpoint. There’s no doubt in my mind that from a corporate standpoint, DC Comics is totally taking one of the most valuable and popular comic book properties of all time to milk it for whatever it’s worth. No doubt about that. But that also beckons the question, do they have the right to do that? Technically, yes.
One of the main complaints about this comic is that it’s sodomizing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beautiful work of art without giving it the proper retirement that it absolutely deserves. And it’s not like a disagree with that really, I mean it is an absolutely fantastic that comic that in my opinion doesn’t need further exploration to tell a good story. Watchmen is a layered, fantastic read that lends itself well to multiple readings, but really… DC can do whatever they want with this comic. If we’re being honest with each other, to me Alan Moore’s Watchmen means just as much as any other amazing writer that has created incredible stories and characters that went beyond their initial runs. If you have a problem with the Watchmen prequels, then you better have a problem with any interpretation of Superman after Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. You better be furious that anybody but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had their hands in The Fantastic Four! Now, that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I’m all about creators’ rights, but when you’re working with a major publishing company and your characters are based on pre-existing characters, then there’s no way I feel, on a moral level, that your characters should never be touched again. Like I said, do I think that Watchmen will still be remembered for the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons story and do I think it should always stay that way? Yeah, there’s no way these comics will affect my interpretation of that story, and I sincerely doubt that these comics will be anywhere near the quality of Watchmen.
So what am I least pleased about with this comic? Because you just know that something about this is driving me absolutely insane. There’s no way I would write this much without getting to something I hated that would hold bad feelings towards the entire project. The crime? That sin against humanity? The utterly, horribly though out, stupid-as-Hell name: Before Watchmen. Before Watchmen? Really? Really? Really? That is the absolute laziest thing that anyone could ever have thought up. Think about it, seriously, think about the conversation with these creators and corporate heads. This is how I imagine it going down:
Geoff Johns: “So, we’re doing the Watchmen prequel comic. It’s been a long time coming, and I think it’s time to pull the trigger.”
Dan Didio: “Are you serious, bro?”
Jim Lee: “Dan, you’ve got to stop watching wrestling so much. It’s affected your job performance.”
Dan Didio: “Best in the world!!!”
Geoff Johns: “Anyway, so we’re doing this comic, right?”
Jim Lee: “What should we call it?”
Geoff Johns: “I don’t know. I’m having a really hard time coming up with something that captures the essence of the story we’re trying to tell, you know?”
Jim Lee: “Yeah, I hear ya. It took me like 6 months to come up with ‘WildCATS’. Well, what’s the main goal of the story we’re trying to tell?”
Geoff Johns: “Well, we’re trying to tell the story of what happened before Watchmen.”
Dan Didio: “By jove, I think I’ve got it! BEFORE WATCHMEN!”
Johns and Lee: “BRILLIANT!!!! (in faux British accent)”
All exit and go watch Dr. Who together.
Now, that’s just a dramatization, but that’s how I see it going down. Seriously, it’s the worst comic book title I could possibly conceive. Most unoriginal… RARGH! Want me to try to do better? Okay, I will. Here: Watchmen – Blind Justice. That doesn’t even make sense, but’s a thousand times better than Before Watchmen. What’s next? Before The New York Four? Horrible. But what’s in a name? It’s usually a non-issue, but when you go with something this obvious and seemingly thoughtless and thrown together, it makes me believe that’s how you perceive the entire project. And if you’re just throwing together Watchmen prequels, well then… that’s certainly not a good thing.
Anyway, there’s a lot that could be great about this comic and plenty that could go wrong. I just really hope they change that awful name that makes me sick to my stomach.