With just two issues published (and the third arriving Tuesday), the DC Comics expansion of the “Watchmen” mythology is still a Rorschach test — people look into its ink and find shapes that suit their own imported opinion, hope, outlook or agenda.
The passion and debate stirred up DC’s “Before Watchmen” prequels is the subject of the fifth episode of “Hero Complex: The Show,” which is a special on-stage edition featuring my interview with DC Comics co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio at the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
“Before Watchmen” may end up as the biggest story of the year in comics, but so far there’s more to say than to see. The “Before Watchmen” plan is a major mosaic with 35 pieces to it (that’s 34 issues spread across seven separate titles and then the single-issue coda of “Before Watchmen: Epilogue”), so only one small corner of over picture is even visible yet.
For some people, the image under the curtain doesn’t really matter — they view the entire endeavor as an insulting exploitation of the original opus, “Watchmen,” the 12-issue limited series that, after being collected into a single-volume collection, would become the best-selling graphic novel of all time. It was also adapted into the 2009 Warner Bros. film “Watchmen,” with a cast led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jackie Earle Haley, Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson.
That film (which was screened at the Festival of Books right after this interview with Lee and DiDio) actually lit the fuse that led to “Before Watchmen.” The sales of the namesake graphic novel surged as the film’s release approached and DC executives found themselves asking how they could leave this dynamic commercial force sitting on the shelf when the entire comics industry was struggling with marketplace challenges.
Lee and DiDio, who are on a wild ride with the prequels project. Lee said that the controversy is welcome considering the DC leadership team’s motto of “No fear.”
It’s not in this particular video clip, but a little later during the discussion DiDio added that once work was underway all the creative teams involved in the project brought dog-eared, oft-read and annotated copies of the “Watchmen” to the meetings as holy texts.
“It was bible study,” DiDio said.
Well, if that’s so, then God lives in England and he’s angry. That deity would be Alan Moore, writer of the original “Watchmen,” who spoke out against “Before Watchmen” — and the writers and artists working on it — in a lengthy interview with Seraphemera Books:
“I can see why the people concerned are involved, having either never created anything original themselves or they did, but it wasn’t good enough to get DC out of their current hole. It strikes me that, yes, I can understand why they took on ‘Before Watchmen.’ It will probably be the only opportunity they get in their careers to actually be attached to a project that anybody outside of comics has ever heard of. So, I can see how that would be a great lure. I don’t think I would have done it, though, because to go down in history as the people who did the lame rewrites and prequels to ‘Watchmen’ — well, that’s not for me…”
Moore added: “You see, part of the problem with all this — and the reason why ‘Watchmen’ was such an extraordinary book during its time — was that it was constructed upon literary lines. It had a beginning, it had a middle, and it had an end. It wasn’t constructed as an endless soap opera that would run until everybody ran out of interest in it. It was deliberately meant to show what comics could do if you applied some of those quite ordinary literary values to them. Like I’ve said, this was the one book that elevated the comics medium, the comics industry, above the point where it had previously been languishing.”
The first thread of the “Before Watchmen” tapestry began with “Minute Men” No. 1 by Darwyn Cooke, the second started last week with “Silk Spectre” No. 1 by Cooke and Amanda Conner. Arriving Tuesday: “Comedian” No. 1, from Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones, which follows the trail of a story that leads to a grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963.
— Geoff Boucher
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