The Most Infamous Comic Book Prequels

<i>by <a href=http://www.twitter.com/graemem>Graeme McMillan, Newsarama Contributor</a></i> <p>The reaction to DC's <b>Before Watchmen</b> announcement would suggest that a nerve has been touched in the collective comics consciousness, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone involved. <p>But then, neither should the fact that DC would eventually want to tell the "untold stories" that led up to the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons classic, because the idea of the unexpected and, in many cases, unnecessary and ultimately unwanted prequel to stories fans know and love isn't a new one, as we're about to remind you. <p>Be warned: Bone claws, Goddamn Batmans and Aunt May having sex are all about to be discussed. Click "start here" in the upper-left countdown to relive the 10 Most Infamous Comic Book Prequels. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>

UNCANNY X-MEN #161

Midway through Chris Claremont's classic original run on the X-Men, he and artist Dave Cockrum took the opportunity of Professor Xavier's temporary coma-like existence to jump outside of the regular adventures of the team and back 20 years, to a time when Professor Xavier was a younger man still bald but able to walk who, along with his new friend Magnus (aka Magneto), fought a nascent Hydra made up of former Nazis. <p>It was similarly a masterstroke that further cemented the idea of Magneto as an honorable man gone down the wrong path as it was a strange and unexpected retcon about all manner of things: Xavier and Magneto fought Nazis together? Xavier had a history with traditional Captain America/S.H.I.E.L.D. villains Hydra? Xavier wore that much beige <i>all the time</i> when he was younger? To fans today, this is all ancient history and something that we've come to accept as the backstory of the characters, but at the time, this was a prequel to the X-Men that no-one could've seen coming, and one that still seems slightly out of place with everything else in the series.

BEFORE THE FANTASTIC FOUR

As Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created them, the Fantastic Four were four regular people well, "regular" by 1961 comic standards, so "genius who could build rockets" and "football hero" weren't entirely out of place who became extraordinary because of circumstances outside of their control. <p>By the year 2000, that wasn't the case anymore thanks to three miniseries about the pre-FF lives of the team that revealed that each of them were already veterans when it came to fantastic adventures long before they'd even thought of flying into space. <b>Before The Fantastic Four: Reed Richards</b> dropped the future Mr. Fantastic into his own Indiana Jones-style storyline (complete with Victor Von Doom as rival archaeologist), <b>Before The Fantastic Four: The Storms</b> saw Johnny and Sue as teenagers embroiled in attempts to resurrect Dracula (attempts that included zombies, demons and mystical amulets, no less) and <b>Before The Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm and Logan</b> teamed the eponymous heroes in a Cold War thriller thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury. <p>They weren't bad comics the <b>Reed Richards</b> series in particular is a lot of fun but they kind of entirely missed the point of the FF as a regular family whose lives were turned upside down by one freak accident.

FLASHBACK MONTH

May of 1997 saw Marvel Comics become weirdly interested in its own history. So interested, in fact, that the entire line was hijacked for the month cover-dated July for "Flashback Month," with every single title telling a one-shot story set <i>before</i> the first issue of the series (and, in many cases, before the Fantastic Four had launched on their fateful rocket flight). <p>This was more of a problem for some series than others, leading to a number of surprising additions to Marvel canon, whether it was seeing Peter Parker's parents in action as spies, a child abuse storyline for Flash Thompson, or discovering future X-Men villains eking out a living in carnivals across America. <p>Each issue had a Stan Lee introduction (or, at least, a Stan Lee character introducing the action) and a distinctly more 1960s retro vibe than was usual for Marvel in the late '90s. Looking back on it a decade later, Tom Brevoort <a href=http://fans.marvel.com/tom_brevoort/blog/2007/04/28/good_comics_pt_1>described the month as</a> "ill-advised," because in his words, "many readers don't really want an entire month of comics in which their favorite characters have no costumes or powers, and the #-1 numbering allowed many of them to simply skip over this month's issue without leaving a gap in their collections." Some of the creative choices made in order to provide excitement for the month possibly helped the decision to skip the books, as well.

GREEN LANTERN MOVIE PREQUELS

Do movie prequel comics really belong on this list, you may ask yourself? After all, they're not part of regular continuity, and they're generally special issues timed around the release of whatever big superhero movie they're tying into (Marvel has this worked out to an art these days, with this summer's big <i>Avengers</i> movie supported by not only a <i>Fury's Big Day</i> mini, but also a <i>Black Widow Strikes</i> series). <p>But, if we're talking about infamous prequels, last year's <b>Green Lantern</b> tie-in comics earn themselves a place on this list for their publication schedule alone. The first three of the prequels were released on time, but the fourth managed to be a month late, coming out three weeks after the movie had hit theaters and underwhelmed audiences. To make matters worse, the fifth and final prequel was delayed even further, eventually reaching stores in August two months after the release of the movie. If there was an upside, it's that it centered around Sinestro, the sole breakout character from the movie, but... a prequel comic released two months after its movie has already bombed in theaters? Somehow, it's difficult to imagine that many people were really waiting to read it by that point.

THE WORLD OF SMALLVILLE

After John Byrne relaunched Superman in 1986's <em>The Man of Steel</em>, he turned his attention to Superman's backstory and supporting characters in three mini-series, <i>The World of Krypton</i>, <b>The World of Smallville</b> and <i>The World of Metropolis</i>. <p>While the first and third series had enough interest inherent in their concepts (An alien culture rocketing, unknown, towards destruction! A bustling city filled with hard-nosed reporters and corrupt businessmen/mad scientists!) to be enjoyable, the same couldn't be said for a series based in a newly Superboy-less Smallville... which is why Byrne attempted to inject some excitement via some rewritten history, including the addition of Ma Kent's first husband and an alien race of killer robots invading the town and manipulating the town's children so that they'd one day become a mindless army for the <em>Millennium</em> crossover. Because, when anybody thinks of "sleepy midwestern farm town in the 1950s through 1970s," the first thing they think of is hidden group of killer robots turning children into obedient automatons.

ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER

Quite why <b>All Star Batman and Robin</b> isn't held in as much disdain as <i>Before Watchmen</i> isn't exactly clear. Is it that Frank Miller wrote this prequel to <i>The Dark Knight Returns</i>? Is it because that landmark series had already had its reputation (slightly) tarnished by the controversial <i>DK2: The Dark Knight Strikes Again</i>? <p>Or was it that <b>All Star Batman and Robin</b> was, despite or, perhaps, because of its more unique elements (a crotchety, slightly crazy Batman, the none-more-noir self-mocking narration, the parodying of other superheroes without the need for pretending they weren't the iconic characters), a bizarrely enjoyable, weird guilty pleasure of a comic? <p>Likely, a mix of all of the above, but there's also the fact that it was only officially acknowledged as a <i>Dark Knight</i> prequel after the fact. As different in look and tone from <i>DKR</i> as it may be possible to get, <b>All Star Batman and Robin</b> had more than its fair share of detractors, but can you imagine what the reaction would've been like had it originally been sold as a prequel to what may be the most well-loved Batman story of all?

THE KINGDOM

The idea of doing a <i>Kingdom Come</i> prequel turned out to be a potent one, spawning not only an abandoned collaboration between KC creators Alex Ross and Mark Waid, but also Ross and Geoff Johns' <i>Justice Society of America</i> story arc "Thy Kingdom Come" and this 1999 event by Waid and a host of other artists that was simultaneously prequel/sequel and introduction to the almost immediately forgotten concept of "Hypertime" as a multiversal structure. <p>An event that is less than the sum of its parts there are some great comics as part of this, including the <i>Offspring</i> one-shot by Waid and Frank Quitely this event ultimately falls prey to the problem of many prequels and sequels: Explaining things that you really didn't need explained (in this case, the origin of Magog) and focusing on background characters that you didn't really have that much interest in in the first place. <p>Decried by fans and disowned by its creators, <b>The Kingdom</b> is a comic that just seems to have been a mishandled opportunity more than anything else.

WOLVERINE: ORIGIN

For years, the idea of delving deep into the history of Marvel's most mysterious mutant had been considered off limits, with creators uncertain as to whether not knowing exactly where Logan came from, who he was, and whether or not "Logan" was a first or last name was such a core part of his appeal that revealing everything would make him a less interesting character. <p>As Marvel pulled itself out of bankruptcy under the leadership of Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada, however, such concerns paled next to the potential to draw attention and dollars with a series that promised to reveal all, and so <b>Origin</b> was created... and almost immediately proved the original worries to be well-founded. Discarding almost everything fans expected Where was the Weapon X program? Where is Alpha Flight? Where is the 20th century? Jemas, Quesada, Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert constructed a story that revealed that Wolverine was originally a 19th century Candadian Charlie Brown; an unfortunate loser in love with a red-haired girl who doesn't understand his affections - and that his lost memory was a result of his healing power after witnessing the death of his father, and... oh, I can't go on. <p>Suffice to say, this historical/horror mash-up wasn't exactly what fans were expecting, and despite Wolverine's memory returning as a result of <i>House of M</i>, has remained pretty much unreferenced since it saw print.

TROUBLE

Unlike <i>Wolverine: Origin</i>, <b>Trouble</b> was an attempt to answer a question that no one even knew was a question, namely, "Who were Peter Parker's parents?" <p>A flashback series starring a young Uncle Ben and Aunt May, as well as Richard and Mary Parker, <b>Trouble</b> included the surprise revelation that Peter Parker is, in fact, May's son, the result of an affair she had had with Richard. <p>Luckily for Spider-purists, this revelation never made it as far as any actual Spider-Man comics, as according to Tom Brevoort plans changed in regards to whether or not the story, presented as a miniseries launching Marvel's short-lived Epic imprint revival, was in mainstream Marvel continuity or not during the series' creation and publication. <P>Good thing, too not only is little gained from retroactively making Spider-Man's Aunt his secret mother, but the soap operatic potential time bomb that would've inserted into the series was one level of melodrama too many. Just imagine Aunt May's latest heart-attack scare that would've resulted from the story becoming public!

BEFORE WATCHMEN

Even before anyone had had a chance to read any of the <b>Before Watchmen</b> projects, this was already comics' most controversial return to the scene of the crime, thanks to the sainted nature of the original project and complicated situation in regards to the rights ownership and disapproval of Alan Moore. <p>Whether or not any of the comics will be any good almost seems beside the point although, with creators including Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner and Adam Hughes, it's likely there'll be a certain level of quality on show because minds, it seems, are already made up about whether or not the project should exist at all, regardless of the actual comics themselves. <p>One thing is for sure, however; the first issues, at the very least, are likely to be the most talked about comics of the year - and potentially the biggest sellers, too.

The Most Infamous Comic Book Prequels

Date: 23 February 2012 Time: 08:47 PM ET