For fans of writer Alan Moore and purists upset Wednesday morning about DC's confirmation of Before Watchmen, you can at least take some level of comfort in the fact that you're not alone. While Dave Gibbons' approval appears in the press release announcing the seven weekly mini-series, co-creator Moore has a somewhat different take on the subject, telling the New York Times, "I don’t want money, [w]hat I want is for this not to happen," and going on to describe the project as "a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago." Dependent…? Maybe not, but certainly somewhat reverential towards. J. Michael Straczynski, who's writing Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan mini-series as part of the line, told the Hollywood Reporter that "The first time all of us got together in New York to solidify the storyline, we each had copies of Watchmen in hand and whenever a question was raised about what happened to whom and when, we’d flip through looking for the slightest clue. I joked at the time that it looked a lot like Saturday afternoon Bible Study."
Most Bible Study groups don't gather to write a Bible prequel, however. But Straczynski also calls the argument that the Watchmen characters should remain sealed in the original series forever and never be touched again, "absolutely understandable and deeply flawed":“Leaving aside the fact that the Watchmen characters were variations on pre-existing characters created for the Charleton Comics universe, Straczynski continued, “it should be pointed out that Alan has spent most of the last decade writing very good stories about characters created by other writers, including Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Wendy (from Peter Pan), as well as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde, and Professor Moriarty (used in the successful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I think one loses a little of the moral high ground to say, ‘I can write characters created by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Frank Baum, but it’s wrong for anyone else to write my characters.’” The potential for backlash even before the books have been released initially turned Darwyn Cooke, writer of Silk Spectre and writer/artist on Minutemen, off the project altogether. Cooke told the L.A. Times, "I said no out of hand because I couldn’t think of a story that would measure up to the original — and let’s face it, this material is going to be measured that way — and the other thing is, I frankly didn’t want the attention. This is going to generate a lot of a particular type of attention that’s really not my bag. But what happened is, months after I said no, the story elements all just came into my head one day; it was so exciting to me that, at that exact moment, I started seriously thinking about doing the book." Ultimately, he continued, "I don’t feel any more trepidation than Alan [Moore] did by refitting the Charlton characters. It feels like the right time and the right place and I think I have a strong idea." Brian Azzarello agrees. "I think the gut reaction is going to be, ‘Why?’ But then when the actual books come out, the answer will be, ‘Oh, that’s why,'" he told the New York Times, adding in a USA Today interview that the key to Before Watchmen is "that we all get in there and we tell the best possible stories we can and we reconnect these characters. It's 25 years later. Let's make them vital again." What to expect from Before Watchmen in terms of content remains a mystery, still - although Cooke teased a more optimistic tone for Silk Spectre at least when talking to Entertainment Weekly, saying, "I think the older you get, the more you look for hope or positive things. Maybe I’m just getting old."
But the writers of the books are determined not to tarnish the legacy of the original series, as Straczynski explained to Comic Book Resources: "Every writer and editor on this project is a massive fan of the original book, and of Alan's work. As the months passed, we e-mailed each other with the smallest question of continuity, determined to be excruciatingly faithful to the original book because we know what's at stake. We want to add to, not subtract from, the quality of what Alan and Dave created. We know we have a hell of a legacy to live up to, and we're determined to achieve that."
- DC Officially Confirms BEFORE WATCHMEN Prequel Series
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