Thursday, February 2, 2012

Watchmen Prequels

It might be outside the usual scope of this blog but how could I not talk about the Watchmen Prequels announced yesterday.

The news is everywhere on the web, too many places to link, but if you head to Bleeding Cool or the DC Source blog I am sure you will get some information. DC is releasing Watchmen prequels, character driven mini-series. Here are the solicitations:


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

These mini-series have been rumored to be coming out for the last several years and each time the rumbling would boil to the surface a bit, I said  the same thing.

"I won't buy them."

Like many comic fans, Watchmen holds a special place in my heart. I consider it the high water mark for comics in general. It is an easy benchmark for comics. "It's no Watchmen." is an easy way of labeling a book as lackluster. Watchmen is a dense, multi-layered, complete story with complex and flawed characters. I have reread the series so many times that I am on my third trade paperback. Each time I read it, I find something new to love about it.

And, as a result of that hallowed status, I didn't want to see it sullied with lackluster sequels or prequels.

"I won't buy them."

The thing is, when I look at these prequels, it is clear that DC decided to attach top flight talent to these books.

I mean Darwyn Cooke on the Minutemen? Cooke and Amanda Conner on Silk Spectre? Adam Hughes on Dr. Manhatten? Azzarello on Rorschach and The Comedian? I mean how can I, as a comic reader, not want to read those books.

So I think I am going to go against my prior thoughts, and buy some of these books.

Does that mean I am selling out? Have I lost my integrity?

Well, the first thing is that I have a track record of waffling on issues like this. So maybe I have some internal barometer that measures the level of  integrity I am willing to overlook. Maybe there are some works that I hold high enough that I don't want any taint of an inferior new project to detract.

I didn't read the Brian Herbert Dune books. I thought that story should have ended with Frank Herbert.

I didn't see the recent Thing prequel because the Carpenter movie is extremely beloved in my mind.

I did drop Doom Patrol after Grant Morrison left and Rachel Pollack came on board. But then I came back with Giffen wrote the latest version. Neither have changed my opinion about Morrison's run.

I did drop Swamp Thing when Rick Veitch took over for Alan Moore. But I have sampled other versions of Swampy since then, never sticking around long.

I dropped Miracleman when Neil Gaiman came on board. I have regretted it.

 I have puzzled this out all night and basically I have decided.

It's too big for me to figure out.

I can see both sides.

So maybe this is like the Batman in Dark Knight Returns. Like Commissioners Gordon and Yindel dealing with the Batman. This problem of artistic integrity, about sequels and prequels, about concerns of ruining a great work of art with a terrible follow-up, about the nature of these characters and their association with Alan Moore ... is simply too big an issue for me to figure out.

I think my initial worry about these books is that somehow if they were done wrong that it would detract from the original work. Could a lousy prequel ruin the original?

And I think the answer is maybe. But I don't think these books, given the names attached, will be fall that short. Man, I am being wishy-washy about this.

I still enjoy Sean Connery's James Bond despite hating Roger Moore's movies. I hated the Loeb/Joe Kelly Supergirl. That didn't detract from the prior Supergirl stories I loved. I hated the Matrix movie sequels but I still can enjoy the first movie.

But this is different. This is the Watchmen we are talking about. We aren't talking about Moonraker vs. Goldfinger. We are talking about *the* comic book, the big thing.

Well, going back to my first point, I think the talent attached to these books makes a difference. I trust that Azzarello is going to treat Rorschach and the Comedian the right way. I don't think I would buy a Rob Liefeld Comedian book. I wouldn't buy an Ed Benes Silk Spectre book.  I wouldn't read a Judd Winnick Ozymandias book. Heck, I am staying away from the JMS Nite Owl book because I haven't particularly liked a JMS book in some time. (Hughes' art trumps my dislike of JMS on the Manhatten book.) I would stay away from any Watchmen that did not bring a high caliber of talent to the table.

Do I think it is lousy that Moore has gotten something of a raw deal by DC when it comes to Watchmen. Yes.

Do I think that these books will not achieve the high level that Watchmen has in my mind. Yes. It is the high water mark for a reason.

But do I think these particular books are going to be good books worth reading? I think that answer is yes too. I trust Cooke. I trust Azzarello. I love Conner and Bermejo and Hughes and JG Jones.

All that said, I am worried about the upcoming Blade Runner prequel because the original Blade Runner movie is absolutely beloved by me. 

Plus ... this is the Watchmen!

And will these stories add anything to these characters that I need to know?

But does Moore get to be so haughty about these characters when he has been using other people's characters in Lost Girls and Extraordinary Gentlemen?

It's too big.

Watchmen is too big.


Gerry said...

I agree with everything you say here and am glad you are able to see both sides. I will add that Watchmen itself is an instance of Moore playing with someone else's characters. I think if anything has come close to ruining Watchmen for me, it's Moore's attitude.

Dave Mullen said...

I won't be buying them no but that has as much to do with the fact I don't quite love the Watchmen characters as much as so many apparently do. Let us make a distiction here and recognise that this isn't a Watchmen prequel or sequel rather it's a bunch of quick stand alone cash ins on the CHARACTERS involved, and really how many of these characters were/are really interesting and bear closer scrutiny? Rorshach maybe...? They were there to service the overaarching story, not be the story.

I have no great investment in Alan Moore's output generally but I still think it deeply shameful that to this very day Marvel and especially DC comics have never stopped milking his name like a dairy cow, despite the authors clear friction and strong objections with the company and despite the relatively small body of work he did for them.

DC do themselves no credit at all with this move. Why not try for something new and innovative in this new '52' instead of the constant reheating of old long fossilised ideas like this, Omac, or Night Force...?

Anj said...

DC do themselves no credit at all with this move. Why not try for something new and innovative in this new '52' instead of the constant reheating of old long fossilised ideas like this, Omac, or Night Force...?

Thanks for the post.

I think this is a great point. As I said, it is the talent that is bringing me to these books, not the characters.

I would read pretty much anything Darwyn Cooke does whether it be Sgt Rock or Silk Spectre or any other character.

Yes, it's a money grab. But isn't the whole relaunch. Isn't Avengers vs Xmen? Or Xmen Schism?

Aren't they all based on making money?

I just want good stories. That's all. I hope these are good stories. But the nature of them being Watchmen based just makes them fodder for conversation.

Anj said...

I will add that Watchmen itself is an instance of Moore playing with someone else's characters. I think if anything has come close to ruining Watchmen for me, it's Moore's attitude.

Thanks for the post.

I understand this argument too.

Dave Mullen said...

I understand this argument too.

Well if this is a reference to Moore's usage of public domain characters for projects like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I don't agree. All he's doing is using out of copyright characters that anyone (even me or you) can use. The creators of Mr Hyde, Dracula, Quartermain and Nemo are long long dead, over a hundred years dead in most cases, there is no one to offend and no one who is losing out in any way if he or I use them.
The Watchmen situation is completely different as not only are the creators still with us and still working but the understanding Moore wrote the work under, and the objection he has, is both current and (partially at the very least) Valid.
As I said Watchmen is just one facet of Moore's irate point of view, the fact is the relatively small body of work he did for DC in the 80s has not only been kept in print in one form or another but revisited on very regular basis - even those Green Lantern tidbits he did as back-ups and filler have been mined for all they're worth, Mogo, Sodam Yat, the White Lobe, Bophunga...

I do wonder if the reason the man gets so much vicious rants sent his way online is not due to the fact he has some very valid (and uncomfortable to some) points and a legitimate complaint.

Anonymous said...

But you see, Watchmen aren't really his characters either, are they?
They are (mostly) the Charlton comics heroes, thenly disguised.

Landry Walker said...

Yes, Moore drew direct inspiration for the characters from Watchmen from Charlton. Inspiration almost isn't the word really. Yes, Moore has worked on characters created by others. However...

I feel that there is a difference between using the same character and using the same story. The world and perspective that Watchmen takes place in is the star of the book. It's a unique creation examining the world as it might be if affected by superheroes, and how these iconic heroes might fare. You could plug in any set of heroes you want and have the same effect.

To put it another way: Rorschach and Nite-Owl and the rest are absolutely immaterial to Watchmen. Watchmen wasn't even originally going to reflect the Charlton characters, but instead the old Archie heroes. It would have been the same story, because the details of the characters were irrelevant to the overall idea being told.

So use Watchmen characters? Sure. Use the Watchmen story? No.

To be clear: I wouldn't mind seeing new comics with the characters from Watchmen - I'm just not interested in seeing new material meant to fill in the gaps in a story where no gaps were present. Maybe these books will do it right. Maybe the content will be as unrelated to the narrative Watchmen as the 1960's Blue Beetle comics are.


In the meantime, I already have the prequels to Watchmen. The Charlton comics.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments.

As my whole post states, I am pretty conflicted about this whole thing.

In the end, I guess I was most excited about the creators DC got to do the projects rather than the project itself. Meaning, I was excited to get a Cooke/Conner book more than I was excited to get a Silk Spectre book.

And Landry, I am jealous you have the old Charlton books. That is definitely a hole in my comic collection.

Landry Walker said...

The Charlton books I have are pretty much the stars of my comics collection - particularly Mysterious Suspense, as it's the only pre-DC Comics full issue Question story.

The individual issues have gotten a bit pricey - last I checked anyway. But DC did release them in hardcover form under "Action Heroes".

Another great one is Charlton Bullseye #5. My friend Dylan gave me his copy years ago. Nowhere else can you get an Alex Toth Question story.

Anj said...

Wow. Who knew Toth did a Question story. I love the Question.

And I love Toth. The only comic (not trade or recollection) I have with his art is a Black Canary 2 parter in the Supergirl adventure run. Slick!