‘Watchmen’ prequels: DC dares to expand on classic

Feb. 01, 2012 | 3:00 a.m.

The cover for "Minutemen," one of seven prequel miniseries comics based on "Watchmen." (DC Comics)

Darwyn Cooke will dig into the heroic past of "Watchmen" characters (DC Comics)

A panel from "Watchmen," drawn by Dave Gibbons and written by Alan Moore. (Dave Gibbons / DC Comics)

Darwyn Cooke made a mark with both "The New Frontier" and "Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter." (DC Comics; IDW Publishing)

Zack Snyder says any adaptation or expansion of "Watchmen" will face withering scrutiny. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II, and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach in the movie "Watchmen." (DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

Alan Moore, photographed near his home in Northamptonshire, UK, in 2001. (Graham Barclay / For the Times)

Alan Moore, photographed near his home in Northamptonshire, UK, in 2001. (Graham Barclay / For the Times)

“Watchmen” didn’t just make comic-book history in 1986 with its sprawling, subversive doomsday tale, it became something close to a holy text for comic-book fans. That’s why the publishing news out of New York today will make some purists feel like it’s the end of the world.

DC Comics is going back to the universe of “Watchmen” this summer by launching seven new prequel series that will collectively be referred to as “Before Watchmen,” marking the first time that characters such as Doctor Manhattan, Rorschach and the Comedian have appeared anywhere in comics since the original 12-issue series, which in a single-volume collection became the bestselling graphic novel of all time.

"Watchmen" cover. (DC Comics)

For some fans, the project will be viewed with deep cynicism because of the absence of the “Watchmen” creators, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, but others will be intrigued by the fact that the new titles feature some of today’s elite talents, among them J. Michael Straczynski, Darwyn Cooke and Brian Azzarello.

“The nature of the undertaking is going to polarize a lot of the readership,” said Cooke, the Canadian writer-artist whose six-issue “Before Watchmen” title is called “Minutemen.” “I think a lot of people will be excited about this and there are a lot of people that will be dead against it.”

DC has hopes that the new installments in the canon will be get a warm critical and commercial reception not unlike, say, a comic-book equivalent to “The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel,” which in November became the first Holmes novel sanctioned by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle since his death in the summer of 1930.

A big difference here is that Moore and Gibbons are still very much alive and working — but neither wanted to be part of this new enterprise. The iconoclastic Moore has been a bitter critic of DC Comics through the years. When DC’s parent company, Warner Bros., made the 2009 feature film version, he said he would be “spitting venom all over it for months to come.” Gibbons is measured when talking about the new initiative.

“The original series of ‘Watchmen’ is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell,” Gibbons said in a statement. “However, I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire.”

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II, and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach in the movie "Watchmen." (DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

“Watchmen” was a seismic moment in comic-book history, in part because of the ambition of its story and its intricate tapestry — set in alternative history, the tale spanned decades and was both sci-fi mystery and a complex commentary on superhero lore. The 416-page graphic novel has sold more than 2 million copies; it also made Time magazine’s 2005 list of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.”

“For comic-book fans, it’s the masterpiece, the classic that defines what you can do in a comic book, and you go back to it at your own risk,” Zack Snyder, director of the “Watchmen” film, said last year when asked about the rumored prequels. “To go back to it in any way is tough, and the challenge of adding to that story in any way is something that you need to get right or people are going to go nuts.”

In addition to Cooke’s six-issue “Minutemen,” “Before Watchmen” will include four-issue runs each of “Rorschach,” by Azzarello and Lee Bermejo; “Dr. Manhattan” by Straczynski and Adam Hughes; “Nite Owl” by Straczynski and the artist team of Andy and Joe Kubert; “Ozymandias” by Len Wein and Jae Lee; and “Silk Spectre” by Cooke and Amanda Conner.

Alan Moore, photographed near his home in Northamptonshire, UK, in 2001. (Graham Barclay / For the Times)

The comics will be released weekly, with more specific release information to come. A back-up series, “Curse of the Crimson Corsair,” will appear in two-page installments in each of the “Before Watchmen” titles and will be written by Len Wein (the editor of the original “Watchmen” series”) with art by John Higgins (the colorist on original series).

The view that “Watchmen” shouldn’t be placed in the hands of anyone but Moore and Gibbons would make sense in almost any other page-turning medium but it’s a rare situation in comic books. The entire history of comics is an exercise in inherited heroes and mythology by conference; literally hundreds of writers and artists have worked on, say, Batman or Superman through the decades.

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” DC Entertainment co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee said in a joint statement. “After 25 years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”

Some of the classic influences on "Watchmen" characters (Charlton)

“Watchmen” itself stood on the shoulders of the past: Moore used thinly veiled versions of classic Charlton Comics characters to populate his epic.

“I don’t feel any more trepidation than Alan [Moore] did by refitting the Charlton characters,” Cooke said. “It feels like the right time and the right place and I think I have a strong idea.”

Cooke has taken on daunting legacy work before. He earned rave reviews for his revival of Will Eisner’s “The Spirit,” and his “Richard Stark’s Parker” comics, based on the hard-boiled crime classics, have been hailed as well.

A panel from "Watchmen," drawn by Dave Gibbons and written by Alan Moore. ( DC Comics)

Still, Cooke turned down the first “Before Watchmen” overture from DC.

“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,” Cooke said this week. “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.”

Cooke declined to reveal too much about that story — there’s no upside to that at this early date — but he said that in going back to the original epic, he decided to push away from the bleak, dystopian aura of Moore’s tale for “Minutemen,” which will be set in the 1940s and 1950s.

“My instincts tell me that I should be bringing what I’m capable of bringing to this party,” Cooke said. “There’s a part of the characters that is heroic or they wouldn’t be together in this way. I know there’s a lot of self-interest involved but there’s got to be a heroic level to each of them. I realized that’s the part of the story I can tell, that side of it.”

— Geoff Boucher


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25 Responses to ‘Watchmen’ prequels: DC dares to expand on classic

  1. kevin delaney says:

    I think I’m going to throw up…”make sure all of our characters stay relevant”…

    These aren’t some throwaway superman villains that someone came up with in an afternoon.

    This is going to be the same rationalization they use for casting the vampire from twilight as batman in the future.

    • DrCruel says:

      They may not have started out as some throwaway characters. But if that's where the money is, then guess what's gonna happen.

      And DC Comics will never be out of ideas, so long as there are talented artists who are having trouble paying their rent. Welcome to the real world, kiddies.

  2. supaburger says:


  3. Mike says:

    DC Comics is officially out of ideas.

  4. richard says:

    This is wrong. It is a crime similar to what was done to Siegel and Schuster who created Superman
    but had their character taken by DC when they thought they were only selling a one shot story.

    Alan Moore was made promises and was rightfully angry when they broke those promises.
    They sold toys and called them promotional items, thus depriving him and Gibbons their
    royalties. Making deals with media companies is always hard to do when they will spend a
    large fortune to minimize your share (mainly as a way to discourage others from even trying.)

  5. Miguel Sanchez says:

    If I may steal a sports analogy, talent alone does not win championships. Ask the Miami Heat. Yeah, the names behind the series are some of the best in the biz but, what is the purpose of this series? Are there really any untold stories that were not covered by the original? Gotta say I'm intrigued but i agree, this totally reeks of a cash grab.

  6. Brett says:

    Moore and Gibbons took characters that had been created by others at Charlton which were subsequently acquired by DC. Yes, they crafted a terrific and groundbreaking story with a clunker ending, but this is not some blasphemy. If the creative talent at work on these new series is good, then I think they should be given a chance. If Moore wanted moral rights in the work (the authority to veto such a series, or to veto a film adaptation), he should have negotiated that into the contract before agreeing to write the series.

    • jnnx says:

      I don't think u understand things weren't like that back then. It is only because of the groundwork artists like Alan (and others) laid down, that creator rights even started to be taken seriously in the first place…

  7. Andy Rodriguez says:

    I feel for you Alan Moore.

    FX network and Marvel are using an original superhero character I created named RetroGirl in a new tv series without my permission. I can PROVE I had almost a year of worldwide DVD sales of her adventures BEFORE they came up with their version. That's Hollywood…steal your idea and then you have to fight their army of lawyers to protect what's rightfully yours.

    I'm going to fight them in court anyway. Best of luck to you Mr. Moore.

    Andy Rodriguez

  8. Gmaster says:

    I like Richard's post—always the money-freaks with no creative talent other than ripping off someone else push their small agendas.. Sometimes an iconic idea should stay pure and untouched. And no offense,some of the crew involved is talented–but they are not the original creators. Whore your own work,not steal from others and ruin the sweet gestalt of the loyal fans.

  9. Maluspeior says:

    I'm actually excited for this. I loved these characters, and it'll be interesting to see someone else put their own spin on them. There is no way of telling yet if this will be a bad move or a good one, but until we see the final result, I have no reason to think the worst of it.

  10. Alek Samm says:

    @Andy Rodriguez:

    I’m not sure if you know this but the source material Powers (the comic book from which Retro Girl is from) has been out since at least the mid-90s.

    On topic: DC has far passed the point of being bankrupt of ideas. By doing this, they prove Alan right time and time again.

  11. Mike says:

    Sounds stale. DC needs to stop pulling stunts and work on producing good solid work. It's hard to believe the company that produced amazing work in the 1990's like Starman, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Transmetropolitan, Preacher and Grant Morrison's JLA would be reduced to ripping off a 25 year old graphic novel for stories and using top tier talent to do it.

    I'll patiently wait for the next Parker adaption from Cooke and skip this mess.

  12. David Kilmer says:

    "The view that “Watchmen” shouldn’t be placed in the hands of anyone but Moore and Gibbons would make sense in almost any other page-turning medium but it’s a rare situation in comic books. The entire history of comics is an exercise in inherited heroes and mythology by conference; literally hundreds of writers and artists have worked on, say, Batman or Superman through the decades."

    It's not mentioned in this article, but many people know that the Watchmen case is different than cases such as the Batman and Superman ones cited in this passage because Moore's and Gibbon's contract stated that the rights would revert back to them when the book went out of print. When the series was a big hit, DC saw to it that it never went out of print. DC played by the letter, but not the spirit of the contract. (Of course, DC is not the only corporation to do this sort of thing.)

    • Geoff Boucher says:

      I was referring to the emotional reaction of the audience to the revival of "Watchmen," not the contractural agreement between the creators and the company.

  13. tbplayer59 says:

    Moore didn't "create" these characters in the first place. As referenced in the article, they're his version of Charlton characters that DC bought. I'm all for this. The regular DC characters are played out and tired, as evidenced by their recent reboot in the New 52.

    The Watchmen are characters with all kinds of potential for good story telling.

    Moore's not the only good writer in the world.

    • Frank says:

      The Watchmen characters are different enough to the Charlston characters for them to be different. Moore and Gibbons used the Charlston characters as a template not unlike every other artist who uses his own influences to create something new, like how one of George Lucas’s influences for Darth Vader was Dr. Doom who like very similar.

  14. Frank says:

    I’m torn between my intense loyalty for Watchmen and my want as a fan for more of these amazing characters. The cynicism comes from DC’s shameless greed, the thought that DC has no new ideas, and that the prequels will be awful messes that will tarnish the legacy of Watchmen.

    The prequels are happening whether we want them to or not, so we can only hope they’re great stories.

  15. Phil says:

    Legally DC has every right to do prequels. But Moore is right on about one thing. Why bother? The thing I can’t stand about prequels is you know what’s going to happen. There’s no drama. This is a gimmick just like the new 52. Creators must create. Killing off heroes and going back to a 25 year old story line shows that the long underwear heroes have worn out their ideas.

  16. Lemzilla says:

    The Watchmen was 12 months of my life, not the collected graphic novel. When I read the last words on the last page, I was satisfied that I had just read one of the greatest stories ever and happy to have invested the time in following it. At the time, it was indeed as Moore proclaimed, it was impossible to film.

    I didn't think Zack Snyders Watchmen was heresy, it was the Watchmen in another medium and compromises are always made in transit. But this is a money grab, pure and simple. If someone hands me a prequel copy, I'll read it but I'm not buying any. And I'd be wary of Alan Moore coming out of his cave and torching the DC offices. He REALLY didn't like your Watchmen movie. Irony is Moore writing Dr. Manhattan's good-bye "Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."

  17. Gort 2012 says:

    I started reading Comics in 1960 or so at age 6. Watchmen effected me like nothing else. I stopped collecting and reading them at about 17, so I didn't get familiar with Watchmen until I heard about the movie, which is one of the few movies I've felt were worth buying to keep Forever. I'm really looking forward to the Talents, like the Kuberts For God's sake, working on this Great Idea! Zack did an Absolutely Fantastic job of bringing the Novel to life and as far as I'm concerned, it's Tragic that Alan didn't get involved; Zack did him a Great Honor !!!

  18. Kent says:

    The film due to time had to change too much. Where was my giant octopus alien thing. The whole movie for me was not that great due to changing elements of the master plan. Should of cut it into two movies. Much prefer the motion comic where the one guy does all the voices. His female voice sounds like an 80year old she male. If u have watched it you know what I'm talking about.

    Prequel hmmmmm not sure what to think. The original was great for me because of its context and political statements it really told us a lot about the alternative world where the cold war was bringing the world to the brink. I think the new stories could miss this out but if they developed upon it and showed us how the world came to be this way (and how Ragon came to serve another term) then I probably would be sold. The character origins and beginings that r not already known could also be looked into.

    If its just a bunch of stories about heroes beating up the villans then what a waste. However, I think DC and the writers have more sense than that and will give us back story into the wider world and the cold war as well as other historical events changed somewhat due to a world with heroes. Also Watchmen was at heart a murder mystery. Will there be elements of that within the prequels. Decide soon cause u will prob need to pre order to ensure u don't miss issues. And the biggest question bout the prequels has to be…. will we get Blue Dong? I rekon no, but if we do I hypothesize it will be bigger.

  19. Tyler says:

    Call a spade a spade…it's a money grab. DC had 25 years to pull this crap and now…when they are trying to "liven up" their "universe"…they pull this. I was previously a DC loyalist…but this just leaves a bad taste. You can use the excuses "they own the characters", "the fans requested it", and "it's a business" all you want…but what it all comes down to is either the New DC is being run to churn out exploitative product to turn a profit and/or they have no respect for the idea that comics are an art form.

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