Op/Ed: BEFORE WATCHMEN is a Great Move!

Op/Ed: BEFORE WATCHMEN is a Great Move!

Arguably the comic book industry's ultimate "sacred cow," Watchmen, is getting not one but seven new stories to expand on the original. Through prequels that focus on the team of Minutemen and the individual heroes in their early, peak days, the Watchmen property will see its first new material in two and a half decades this year.

And I couldn't be more excited.

Now, some people are less than enthused. People talk about how great Watchmen was, and how it stood on its own for a reason. Even the original artist, Dave Gibbons, said "The original series of Watchmen is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell." That makes a lot of sense, and is a good thing. No matter what happens, that original series exists, in several printings, and can stand on its own. The movie didn't make the original series magically change or disappear, and the prequels won't do that either.

The first reason this is such a good idea is the creative teams involved. All the writers, from Darwyn Cooke to Brian Azzarello to JMS and Len Wein, are known for their experience (and deftness) with pulp or Golden Age style comics and characters. Reaching back in time, and using creators who know how to do that, is the right way to expand on the story. No one wants to see what happens in the world post-squid, but what about these heroes heyday? Accompanying these writers are artists like Amanda Conner and Adam Hughes, amongst other top-tier talent. I'd be hard pressed to find a superhero story I wouldn't want to read by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner.

With teams like those, the announcement immediately gives cause for optimism. There's no guarantee that they'll all be great or even good stories. But what people don't seem to want to acknowledge is that there's no guarantee they'll be terrible either. I'd rather be optimistic that a Darwyn Cooke written and drawn Minutemen book is going to kick all sorts of ass, personally.

And if one of these mini-series doesn't work, or isn't something I wind up enjoying, how does that do anything to my enjoyment of the original (or any of its fellow spin-offs here)? It doesn't. The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Frank Miller's critically-reviled follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns, did nothing to the original. It didn't make every copy of the original around the world explode. It didn't mind wipe humanity. Neither did the writer/artist saying the All Star Batman was the same continuity. The Dark Knight Returns is still its own product, and still rocks.

DC Entertainment is also quite simply making a good business decision. In an age when the comic book industry is not at its finest, every comic book company should do all they can to exploit (I mean that in the literal definition, not the negative context it often bares) their properties. Some may think a 25 year-old property is a strange one to go with, but with the Watchmen film still fresh in the general public's mind, a digital version of the book being available on the Kindle Fire, and 25 being a pretty nice round number to work with for the anniversary angle, it seems perfect. Don't forget, most of the Charlton characters that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' story borrowed and altered slightly hadn't been used much in, oh, about 25 years at that point either. Ultimately, comics are a business, and business is about making money, and this project, like it or not, will make money.

Some will point to Alan Moore's lack of "approval" or involvement as a bad thing, but that's one of the best parts in my eyes. It's good to see new creators taking on these characters. it's good to have fresh voices reaching into these characters. If a character is compelling, there should always be more stories to tell. Moore's assessment that DC is relying on his "ideas from 25 years ago" is ludicrous and insulting to the talented people working on these books. He didn't write prequels, they're writing them. It's like saying all of his use of public domain characters is him relying on other peoples' ideas from 100 years ago: he can't have it both ways.

Before Watchmen is offering readers who enjoyed the book 25 years ago, or 4 years ago, or yesterday, or tomorrow, a different look at these characters. It's offering a look at a brighter time for characters we thus far only know as tortured, and it's offering us all a new story, a new adventure, a new comic book to love or hate, but at the very least to experience. Bravo, DC. Can't wait to see what these talented folks have in store.

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