If ‘Watchmen’ is a bible, then are the prequels heresy?

June 18, 2012 | 12:38 p.m.

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.

silks cv1 ds1 If ‘Watchmen’ is a bible, then are the prequels heresy?

The cover for “Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” No. 1. (Amanda Conner / DC Comics)

“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:

alanmoore If ‘Watchmen’ is a bible, then are the prequels heresy?

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

“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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15 Responses to If ‘Watchmen’ is a bible, then are the prequels heresy?

  1. ed, a comics fan says:

    WATCHMEN is a complete story experience told that was told in 12 chapters of a monthly comic series.

    BEFORE WATCHMEN is a collection of 36 issues to expand the backstories of the characters that were ALREADY TOLD the pages of the original.

    WATCHMEN came out in '85, selling those 12 issues for $1.50 apiece; BEFORE WATCHMEN's 36 issues will cost $3.99 each, for a total of $140. This is nothing but a blatant and desperate cash grab attempt by DC mining one of their corporate "intellectual properties".

    And— for all "artistic" merits of the BEFORE WATCHMEN teams, the fact that other, better-known Comics Writers and Artists are not involved with the project is quite telling. It indicates to me that those who ARE involved were willing to cross Alan Moore's philosophical 'picket line'… and do some work-for-hire for the company.

    In my view, the BEFORE WATCHMEN teams are nothing but Comics *scabs* working for DC.

    • fanboycrybaby says:

      let it all out….let the hurt out

      • ed, a comics fan says:

        DC apologist says what?

        Shell out your $140 for these BEFORE WATCHMEN issues— and then tell me how good they are.

        If only all the pro-BW, anti-Moore DC supporters will ACTUALLY BUY the comics in this unnecessary project, DC will have a genuine hit on their hands to celebrate; though it's still to be proven IF there is a market for these even among the "DC Diehards" who're already buying their New 52 comics.

        And even more so with the regular, decidedly miniscule, Comics-buying population. DC is gambling that other, MARVEL/IMAGE/ DARK HORSE/FANTAGRAPHICS/DRAWN + QUARTERLY fans will try out their
        line of BW comics…

        But why would they?

        Total sales numbers for BEFORE WATCHMEN should be interesting.

    • Bertt says:

      The price differential is irrelevant. If we buy your argument, then whether these new books cost $1.50 apiece or $3.99 apiece makes no difference. Either way, it's "mining a corporate enterprise." "Watchmen" began its life as an attempt by Moore and Gibbons to do a riff on obscure Charlton Comics characters that had been acquired by DC. Your argument about "better known Comics Writers and Artists" not being involved is specious, given that acclaimed writer-artist Darwyn Cooke plays a big part in these series. Adam Hughes is drawing one of the books. Amanda Conner is drawing another of the books. Moore thinks "Watchmen" is some kind of holy relic. Frankly, his talent doesn't justify this kind of pomposity. He wrote an interesting book with a fall-flat ending (which the film version of "Watchmen" mercifully corrected).

  2. lanceschaubert says:

    I understand the flak, but the analogy is bankrupt. The Bible doesn't start in media res. Watchmen does–it assumes backstory. I'd be more apt to ask, "If Watchmen is Star Wars, will the prequels have a Jar Jar?"

  3. @tusk1113 says:

    The question isn't (or rather, shouldn't be) Moore's philosophy, which is sound, or the money grubbing that DC is doing, which it is (though, given the price escalation in comic books, the $3.99 issues are actually a bargain compared to the $1.50 issues in '85), but whether or not the books are any good.

    I can tell you this. The first two were not. Minutemen was just a series of vignettes that added nothing to the story, and Silk Spectre was like an issue of Archie with a bit of added violence. These creators (not second stringers like some would have you believe, but established comic book professionals in their own right) have done nothing to add to the story.

    Sure, some folks will like these books, and that is their right. So, a more apt comparison would be this. If Watchmen is Lord of the Rings, then Before Watchmen is Twilight. Which is just sad.

  4. richard says:

    Of course it is very tempting to do work like this. I remember when a UK punk group called "The Sex Pistols" came out with an album after the group had finished. At least they had the decency to call it, "Flogging a Dead Horse". But this is slightly different in that The Watchmen did begin in media res and there was a fantastic background full of characters. A bit like a mining company, knowing there is a seam of gold ore waiting to be dug out, small and difficult to get to, but all they have, DC have looked at this and made the decision to mine the $%^& out of it.

  5. david g swanger says:

    "No fear"? More like "No shame".

  6. Joe says:

    Moore had no moral qualms about creating prequel material for role playing games back in the day.

    Nor was he averse to writing a prequel himself.

    Moore stated in 1985 that if the limited series was well-received, he and Gibbons would possibly create a 12-issue prequel series called Minutemen featuring the 1940s superhero group from the story

  7. fight club says:


    If they do any more as bad as Before Watchmen: Comedian then I will cry heresy. I loved the original and I was skeptical about further Watchmen stories, especially with out Moore's involvement. However I decided to not judge until I gave it a shot. This issue made me feel like a fool.

    Wow … did any of the guys behind this comic actually read the original Watchmen? Comedian best friends with JFK? Playing touch foot ball with JFK? Jackie Kennedy asking Comedian to kill Monroe? Moloch and Comedian sharing a bottle of whiskey while crying over JFK's assassination? What?

    First off, it was very much so implied in the original that Comedian killed JFK through orders by Nixon. In the movie they directly show him to be the assassin. Why would Comedian even be friends with JFK? Comedian is a loner and really doesn't have or care to have friends. Also JFK and Comedian share totally opposing views politically, morally, and pretty much in every way. In many ways, JFK represents everything that the Comedian seems to hate.

    Secondly, though the original took liberties with certain historical events, Moore never went so far as to totally disrespect someone like this comic did with Jackie Kennedy. Having Nixon asking Comedian to kill JFK works because Nixon was already a bastard and so you can't really sink him any lower.

    Also Moloch crying over JFK is just stupid. If anything, Moloch would view JFK as an enemy probably. I just didn't expect Before Watchmen to be this bad. I thought that they would put some effort into preserving continuity and character identity but apparently not.

  8. Peter G. says:

    I'm happy with the original 12 issue comic book. Before Watchmen does not appeal to me.

  9. Batman says:

    Jar Jar is a friendly stoner who is both misunderstood and keeps getting into trouble because of it. The Trade Federation is the CCP elite and their Western Mega Corporation/Big Bank cronies.

  10. Batman says:

    I know what to call the Olympics. Advertisement complex. Are the All Drug Olympics far off? Or are they already here? The two are certainly connected and considering that fact, probably not.

  11. Mike says:

    The real problem seems to be that DC is having an enormous problem publishing comics that people want to read. Alan Moore is exactly right when he says literary values can be applied to comics successfully. Why can't DC publish graphic novels that stand alone? I look at crap like WWIII and I can't believe geoff Johns and Dan Didio felt that was worthy of publishing when so many great independent talents have to go begging for meetings.

  12. Of course it is very tempting to do work like this. I remember when a UK punk group called "The Sex Pistols" came out with an album after the group had finished. At least they had the decency to call it, "Flogging a Dead Horse". But this is slightly different in that The Watchmen did begin in media res and there was a fantastic background full of characters. A bit like a mining company, knowing there is a seam of gold ore waiting to be dug out, small and difficult to get to, but all they have, DC have looked at this and made the decision to mine the $%^& out of it.

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