I’m always dubious about prequels or sequels to things that seem complete. The original Matrix, for example, was a good, solid movie. It didn’t need sequels. When I saw the 2nd movie, I vowed I would never see the third. From what I hear, I made the right decision.
Nevertheless, sometimes, a prequel or sequel comes along that enhances or even surpasses the original. The Hobbit is a charming children’s book, but The Lord of the Rings is an incredible extension of the world it was set in. I groaned at the idea of Toy Story 2, but I loved it, and I love Toy Story 3 even more! So I try to have a good open attitude about sequels and prequels, but it isn’t easy, especially when the project in question seems like such an unlikely one.
Thus it was with a healthy bit of cynicism that I approached the concept of “Before Watchmen”, a group of limited-series focusing on the characters from the Watchmen graphic novel before the events of that work. This seemed to be nothing but a play off of the popularity of the original, reawakened by the movie. I couldn’t see why, after all these years and almost certainly without the consent or approval of the original creator, there was a need for more Watchmen.
I had to admit I was intrigued by some of the creators who were getting connected to the project. I admire Darwyn Cooke’s work immensely, and a lot of the other artists and writers were names I knew…Len Wein, Adam Hughes, J. Michael Straczynski, J. G. Jones, Brian Azzarello, Andy & Joe Kubert…
When issue one of Before Watchmen: Minutemen came out, I figured, “What the heck. If I don’t like it, I can ignore all the others.” Steve, owner of The Outer Limits, my favorite local comic store, assured me it was good. And then I read it…
And holy crap, it was good.
Consider This Your Fair Warning
I can’t talk about these books without revealing some spoilers from the original Watchmen series. IF you haven’t ever read Watchmen, put this book down, go out, buy it, and read it. Yes, the ending is bizarre. It’s still brilliant.
Read it. Seminal piece of literature. Important. Go. Buy. Read.
The Minutemen Bear Watching
At the time of me writing this, I’ve read the first three issues of Minutemen, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next. This is the flagship title of the piece, and, for me, the best in terms of both art and writing. Like I said, I have a major admiration for Darwyn Cooke.
This book, as might be guessed, looks back at the days of the Minutemen, filling in some of the blanks. It’s told largely as a series of excerpts from Hollis Mason’s book “Under the Hood”, along with “live” moments of people reacting to the book. Not everyone’s happy that Hollis is writing about what they consider their private lives, and they’re trying to get him to drop the plan of publishing the book.
As much as I love the main character of Watchmen, this glimpse into the lives of their predecessors is absolutely fascinating. I’ve described Watchmen to people before as “a story of what it takes to be willing to put on a costume and a mask and go out nightly to beat the crap out of other people.” Before Watchmen is more of the same, but with a greater level of thoughtfulness and maturity than the original material.
One thing Minutemen is making me do is fall in love with the Silhouette. There’s very little information about this character in the original book, other than the fact that she’s gay, she had a particular interest in punishing child traffickers and pornographers, and she died a tragic death. We learn so much more in Before Watchmen, and the character has jumped to the top of my list of characters from this seminal piece of Superhero Literature.
The Other Books
It’s fascinating that, as I read the various series, the characters I was least interested to read are captivating me, and the characters I was most excited to read are, so far, not thrilling me that much.
Silk Spectre: I wasn’t too excited to learn more about Laurie Juspeczyk, but this book has been quite interesting so far. Setting young Ms. “Jupiter” against the counter-culture of the 60s seems like a brilliant move by the writers (Amanda Conner and, again, the brilliant Mr. Cooke). As Laurie plunges deeper into a web of strangeness, it’ll be intriguing to see how this experience transforms her from refusing to follow in her mother’s footsteps to embracing her heroic legacy.
Comedian: At first, I doubted my ability to care about Eddie Blake and his adventures. I had disliked the character intensely in the original book…but that’s part of the point of that character. He’s the in-your-face, dare-to-criticize-me bad-boy that you kind of love to hate. Eddie Blake is surprisingly compelling in his own book, which often deals with his affection and support for various historical figures and how they are systematically taken from him. I can see how he’d be taken down a dark and cynical path from a street punk little better than the criminals he faces to a man who’ll weep at the idea that his best friend is now a villain he’s fought many times in the past. This series is filling in the gaps fantastically.
Nite Owl: I was thrilled to read about further exploits of Nite Owl and what he might be like as a person. He was one of my favorite characters in the original, especially as a chubby superhero. I have to admit that, so far, the series isn’t thrilling me. I haven’t seen much of it yet, so I’m hoping that will change.
Ozymandius: Okay, so I’ll readily admit I have a soft spot for villains. That said, I wasn’t too interested in Ozymandius. And yes, following the trend of the other books, this is one that is fascinating me. The evolution of a person who is so completely self-possessed and self-absorbed is fascinating. I can clearly see how this young man will eventually develop an idea to save the world by sacrificing millions. It’s incredibly well-done, and the action sequences are top-notch, for my money.
Rorschach & Dr. Manhattan: I’m just going to say that, with only one issue of Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan under my belt, I don’t feel qualified to talk about either one much yet. I liked Rorschach very much, and I didn‘t much care for Dr. Manhattan, but I feel it’s very much going to depend on the overall arcs to determine what I end up thinking of either.
We also have a 2 issue limited series featuring Moloch, a character I’m fascinated to see more of, and an Epilogue issue to look forward to. And I *am* looking forward to both.
The Creators of the Original Speak
Dave Gibbons, the original artist, went on record saying that he appreciated DC’s reasons for making prequels, and he appreciated that these writers and artists wanted to pay tribute to the original. He wished that the new books would “have the success they desire.”
Not shockingly, Alan Moore had nothing good to say about the project. In the New York Times, he called the decision to make prequels “completely shameless” and mocked DC for being “dependant on ideas I had 25 years ago.”
So here’s my take on Mr. Moore. He’s a brilliant writer, and no one should ever dispute the quality of his work. Having said this, I find his statement laughable. Watchmen originally started as a proposal to take the Charlton characters that DC had recently acquired and work with them. Does this mean that Mr. Moore was dependent on the Charlton writers when he conceived of this project? Mr. Moore’s brilliant “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” takes characters from British literature and combines them in interesting new ways. Should we mock him for being dependent on the original British writers who inspired him?
From what I’ve read of Alan Moore’s interviews, he would rather that anything he created remain sacrosanct, with no one ever touching it, adapting it, or doing anything else with it. While I’d be the first to agree that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie totally lost touch with what was wonderful about the original, the movies of V for Vendetta and Watchmen were both excellent adaptations. I would even go so far as to say that I vastly prefer the movie of V for Vendetta to the graphic novel, and that the movie of Watchmen improved on the muddled mess that was the ending of the graphic novel.
A company like DC is in the business of making money, and Watchmen, while certainly a work of art, is also a property they own, and a very popular one at that. So I can’t fault them for wanting to find a way to make money on their property. If they’d done a slap-dash, crappy job, clearly written and drawn by people with no love for the original, I’d be right there with Mr. Moore in my criticism. But they didn’t. The Before Watchmen series are clearly loving homages to the original, while seeking to tread original ground. I don’t even know if Mr. Moore honestly thinks that no one but he is fit to author works about the characters he adapted from the Charlton books. I think he’s complained about adaptations of his work so many times now that, even if he thought they were brilliant, he wouldn’t be able to say so publicly. Might he be miffed? Yes. Should he get over it if he is? Also a yes.
If no author had ever touched Superman, for example, after the original Siegel & Schuster comics, then we never would’ve had brilliant works like John Byrne’s “Man of Steel”, Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale’s “Superman for All Seasons”, or…oh, hey…Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything”.
If you’ve never read the original Watchmen comic, or you’re Alan Moore, then the Before Watchmen comics might not be for you. If you’re a fan of the original piece, however, you’re likely to find a lot in these series to love. I particularly recommend Minutemen, even if you don’t look at any of the other books.
Have you read any of the books? Did you like them, and why or why not? Am I off-base on my comments about Alan Moore? Let us all know.