Thursday, 2 February 2012

Before, Before Watchmen

This week DC Comics announced a series of prequel mini-series to Watchmen.  According to DC's The Source blog the mini-series will be:

  • RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
  • MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
  • 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
  • SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner
I love Watchmen, I have a copy signed by David Gibbons with a sketch of Rorschach saying "Tom Huh?" in his threatening scary voice, which is probably the third thing I'd save if my house burnt down (first two are my sketch book and whatever friends/family are in the house with me, I'll leave it to your imagination to decide which order they're in).  

Anyway, before I wander too far off topic; I love Watchmen and I've enjoyed the work of all involved in Before Watchmen.  Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier is a masterpiece of comics storytelling which uses everything that's great about the DC Universe, Amanda Conner is one of comic's best cartoonists and manages to capture a range of facial expressions most beyond most artists, J Michael Straczynski's sadly unfinished Supreme Power, a brilliantly tense "realistic superhero story" was a triumph in long term suspense and Len Wein co-created Wolverine.   I can see why all of them were chosen for the job.  Having said that, I'm not excited about Before Watchmen.

I've already said how talented these creators are, but everyone involved in Before Watchmen could do the best work of their career and it would still seem redundant.  One of the original Watchmen's great triumphs (I hate that I'll have to refer to Moore and Gibbon's text as the original Watchmen) was it's tight plotting and razor sharp characterisation; everything was fully fleshed out and built to the conclusion, all of the characters had a clear motivation and the reader understood the reasoning behind every action they took.  Watchmen wasn't a story like Star Wars that exists in a universe where you could potentially tell thousands of exciting stories (I stress the word potentially).  Everything that mattered in Watchmen has already been fully explored.  Watchmen covered the entire lives of these characters, every emotional turning point or moment of character development has already been shown.  These mini-series cannot be anything other than redundant retreads of the flashbacks in the original, or diverge from Moore & Gibbons's work and so fail as an origin story.  

Why (other than the obvious answer of because it'll make a quick buck) assemble such a talented roster of creators and hamstring them with such a problematic assignment?  Any one of these creative teams could produce a classic graphic novel with a long lifespan as a collected edition that would win a shower of Eisner's. Cooke and Conner are a dream team, why waste them on a Silk Spectre origin story?  I'd love to read another period, political superhero book from Darwyn Cooke, or see Jae Lee draw a man slowly realising he has to become a supervillain to save the world.  But like the majority of DC's audience, I know how they'll end & that makes it all a bit pointless.  I can't imagine another project in comics with Before Watchmen's calibre of writers & artists being less inspiring.  DC already owns thousands of franchises and characters, why couldn't they leave Watchmen as something unique and special?

N.B. I haven't touched on the problems around why DC own the rights to watchmen rather than Alan Moore and David Gibbons, mostly because others have already done so, but needless to say DC acted shamefully.  

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