201202011418.jpgWhether you think the original WATCHMEN is akin to Moby Dick—as Alan Moore opined—or the Bible, as J. Michael Straczynski thought, it is definitely something—DC’s bestselling graphic novel of all time[*], a beloved classic taught in schools, one of Time’s Best 100 novels of the last 100 years, the book that defined grim and gritty. You name it. Like all great works, it’s multifaceted.

So doing a “Scarlett” on it brings up every argument over whether comics are literature or licensing. You wouldn’t get much argument that WATCHMEN is literature and Moore is a literary figure. But there’s also the obsessive need of devotees to get MORE—there’s a reason why 12 volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s jumbled, confused notes, and scribblings were published as hardcover books. Once you enter a beloved fictional world, you don’t want to leave—even if your hosts are yawning and looking longingly at their pajamas.

Complicating matters is an irony that gives the entire affair a level of meaning that Alan Moore himself could have scripted: although it’s being published strictly against its author’s wishes, BEFORE WATCHMEN is a work very much in the vein of the bulk of Alan Moore’s most acclaimed work—from SWAMP THING toLOST GIRLS, Moore has excelled at just that kind of literary reinvention. His most ambitious truly original work, BIG NUMBERS, never got off the launchpad. PROMOTHEA and the rest of the ABC line remain as his originals, but still pastiches of existing tropes.

As you know, prequel writers Brian Azzarello, JMS, Darwyn Cooke and Len Wein have been doing a press tour this morning. Unsurprisingly, JMS has been the most talkative and most willing to give away the “behind the scenes”, such as an account of the super-secret summit where the writers hashed out the story—and decided that everyone had to do his own thing instead of a closely plotted “event.” Thank GOD for that! As he told CBR, JMS also came up with the thematic thread for the prequels:

In the course of that conversation, I mentioned my belief that there are five kinds of truth: the truth you tell to casual acquaintances, the truth you tell to you family and close friends, the truth you tell to only a very few people in your life, the truth you tell yourself and the truth you don’t admit, even to yourself. I was basically just blathering on, as I tend to do, but Dan seized on the last two of those truths as being the thematic core of the books. Darwyn did a whole discussion about this in one of his uploads, further formalizing this as the core of our story. In the end, the miniseries about the points and shadings between what we think we know about these characters, and the truth — what that says about them, and what it says about us.

Which all sounds pretty good—if you are going to write a follow-up to one of the best written graphic novels of all time, you’d better have some subtext thrown in there for flav. Elsewhere, the more taciturn Brian Azzarello merely promises more of what you want:

“He’s the face. The guy who covers his face is the face of the franchise,” Azzarello says. For the four-issue Rorschach series, he’s teaming again with Bermejo, the artist from his Joker graphic novel. “You’re going to get the Rorschach that you know and want. It’s a very visceral story we’re going to be telling,” Azzarello says.

At HuffPo, Len Wein shows that the team has embraced the “relevant” buzzword with some gusto:

The challenge is to make the stories modern and relevant to 2012 and to show what can be done with respect and consideration for the source material that has inspired so many people over the years. By adding to the mythos and not to detract from it,” he said. “‘The Watchmen’ had such an influence on graphic storytelling since it first appeared and is a timeless classic. If we can create a new set of stories that can be enjoyed 25 years on, that would be an achievement and a reward in itself.”

Over at Hero Complex, Darwyn Cooke was originally, quite sensibly, daunted but then….temptation crept in:

“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 tells EW that he was looking for a different message than Moore:

While Cooke believes Watchmen was “note perfect” for its time, “I’d consider it a masterpiece if it had been able to have found what I would refer to as a hopeful note. … Again, it’s not hard to understand [where Alan was coming from], and that sort of storytelling does have an allure for young people. [But] I think the older you get, the more you look for hope or positive things. Maybe I’m just getting old.” With that in mind, Cooke says Silk Spectre “is probably going to be the most hopeful of all the books.”

Finally, JMS uses the occasion at THR to deliver an Eric Stephenson-style smackdown of other publishers’ plans:

Ever since Dan DiDio was handed the reins (along with Jim Lee) over at DC, he’s been making bold, innovative moves that might have scared the hell out of anyone else. At a time in the industry when big events tend to be “Okay, we had Team A fight Team B last year, so this year we’re gonna have Team B fight team C!” Dan has chosen to revitalize lines, reinvent worlds and come at Watchmen head-on. It was, I think, about two years ago that he first mentioned that he was considering the idea, and he’s to be commended for fighting to make this happen.

And again, he explains just why we HAD to go there:

The whole point of having great characters is the opportunity to explore them more deeply with time, re-interpreting them for each new age. DC allowed these characters sit on a shelf for over two decades as a show of respect, and that is salutary, but there comes a time when good characters have to re-enter the world to teach us something about ourselves in the present. Alan’s original work spoke profoundly to readers in the 1980s who came through Nixon and Vietnam and the various social movements of the age. The question now becomes, what can those characters illuminate for us now, in 2012? So I think the hope is that by reviving them and peering through their eyes with a contemporary perspective, we can create stories that will entertain and illuminate. All of us involved in this want to do more than just show these guys and gals in action. We want the stories to be about something that’s worth a reader’s time and money to buy.


Deep breath.

Many of the creators working on these books are friends of mine—several, I would characterize as dear friends. They all have bodies of work behind them that show they could easily go out and create their own masterpieces—in fact…they all have. In particular, it’s hard not to see MINUTEMEN as the flip side of Cooke’s own THE NEW FRONTIER, another exploration of the mid-century vibe that permeates his work.

And Azzarello and Bermejo on Rorschach? And JG Jones on Comedian? Conner on Silk Spectre? Great casting.

But do you really think any of these creators stayed up at night for years wishing they could have a crack at Watchmen 2? Do Moby Dick or The Bible need an update to stay “relevant”? And how are books set in the past of the ’80s relevant to today anyway? Poor Len Wein (who qualifies as a dear friend, in case you are wondering) gets caught up in all the confusion with his statement to Wired:

“As far as I know there are no plans for more books after this, but 25 years ago there were no plans for these books, so who truly knows?” asked Wein. “I think reboots are almost mandatory in an industry that has existed for over three-fourths of a century now. The need to inject new blood, new ideas, new approaches, is the only thing that keeps our readers coming back for more.”

Actually maybe not Poor Len Wein. I think he nailed it: it is totally mandatory to freshen up the superhero comics industry by rebooting and prequelizing existing ideas instead of coming up with new ones!

For all the talk of staying “relevant”, you might substitute the word “solvent.” Just as The New 52 was the Hail Mary pass/adrenaline to the heart that DC desperately needed to prop up a failing direct market, WATCHMEN 2 is the other guaranteed cash grab. It’s DC’s Eros Comix. While we may find the idea of WATCHMEN prequels repugnant on some level, the level of talent attached is guaranteed to “Make us look!” even if the idea itself is still so unnecessary. Licensing is after all a by-product of consumerism—it’s as if all that WATCHMEN movie merch wasn’t enough and we need one more hit.

MEANWHILE, elsewhere on the internet, the Twittersphere went ballistic this morning. Before WATCHMEN was trending worldwide for several hours this morning. Here’s a couple of our favorites:
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Marvel tweeters didn’t hold back their derision, with Dan Slott taking point:
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But he also got caught up in the “literature/licensing” battle:
Look, pastiche and homage can still have high literary value: Don Quixote did for the romances of the 17th century what WATCHMEN did for superheroes of the 20th. Jane Austen’s Northhanger Abbey was a take-off on gothic novels as cogent today as then. A lot of smarter comics folks have admired Jay Cantor’s Krazy Kat, a literary reinvention of Herriman’s classic comic strip

Whether you think more WATCHMEN is the equivalent of more Slaughterhouse Five or more Sherlock Holmes, it’s definitely going to fulfill its real purpose: sell a lot of comics books. Let’s hope they are as good as the creators involved can make them.

[*]WATCHMEN is not the “best selling GN of all time”, as many stories put it. ONE PIECE alone has sold 2 million copies of a single volume in 4 days. Asterix & Obelix and surely Tintin have also sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. WATCHMEN may be the best selling AMERICAN GN ever (if you don’t count Wimpy Kid or Ook and Gluk.) It’s surely DC’s —hence our characterizing it that way.


  1. While Cooke believes Watchmen was “note perfect” for its time, “I’d consider it a masterpiece if it had been able to have found what I would refer to as a hopeful note. … Again, it’s not hard to understand [where Alan was coming from], and that sort of storytelling does have an allure for young people. [But] I think the older you get, the more you look for hope or positive things. Maybe I’m just getting old.” With that in mind, Cooke says Silk Spectre “is probably going to be the most hopeful of all the books.”

    I really like Cooke’s work and I thought I’ve pretty much bought everything he’s done but that read likes “now watch as I do it right!”

  2. The thing about Watchmen is that the story is told. In fact, I can’t think of any comics story that I would consider to be more complete, given the depth added by the prose back matter, the fact that every character’s origin (with the possible exception of Silk Spectre II) has been told exhaustively, and the ending.

    So, OK, these are comic book superheroes…can’t they just go on and on, like The Flash? Sure, that’s natural, and something Moore touched on very well in an issue of Supreme.

    But that only works if people care about these characters AS CHARACTERS. I just don’t think that’s the case. Maybe there are people out there who are just really into Nite Owl, but I doubt it. The story was the selling point, and the story is done.

  3. You guys and Dan Slott have touched on it, but yeah, what JMS and those guys are missing is that Watchmen is a complete narrative. Using Spidey or James Bond again and again is appropriate, because they are designed to have continuing adventures.

  4. That two million is only since the movie trailer pushed it. It probably sold another two million in the twenty years before that.

    But yeah. Each Asterix sells more.

  5. “But do you really think any of these creators stayed up at night for years wishing they could have a crack at Watchmen 2? Do Moby Dick or The Bible need an update to stay “relevant”? And how are books set in the past of the 80s relevant to today anyway?”

    “Do Batman and Superman need an update to stay ‘relevant’? And how are books set in the past of the 1930s relevant to today anyway?”

    Fixed it for you.

  6. “Also, how do you think JMS would react to Warners making Babylon Four when he didn;t want it?”

    Well given that JMS told the story of Babylon 4……

  7. They should probably go for more truth-in-advertising, and umbrella call these works WATCH MEN MAKE YET ANOTHER CYNICAL CASH GRAB AND PRETEND IT’S SOMETHING ELSE.

  8. It’ll probably sell a lot of copies, but I’m not much interested although some talented people are working on the different books. I wonder how DC decided which series deserved 4 issues & which deserved 6? Maybe when the books are released I’ll re-read Watchmen.

  9. “Watchmen is overrated.”

    Right. Millions of copies sold. Defined a generation. Broke the mold. But it’s overrated because YOU didn’t like it. If we were gushing over Secret Wars II, then you have the right to say it’s being overrated. Watchmen has proved itself over and over. Thanks.

    As to this comment: “But do you really think any of these creators stayed up at night for years wishing they could have a crack at Watchmen 2?” – well why don’t you ASK them? Especially since you stated: “Many of the creators working on these books are friends of mine — several, I would characterize as dear friends”. In other words, you can’t throw out such a generalized statement and see that as some kind of talking point to further your argument. Maybe they did wish they could play with those characters. Maybe they didn’t want to say no. DC is good at paying their creators well with royalties and such – why begrudge someone the chance to make money WHILE telling a kick ass story?

  10. You know, if there’d been an Internet in the old days, it would have split apart when Steve Ditko left Marvel. People would have said that Spider-Man was untouchable after he left because it was such a personal work. Yet somehow, here we are decades later after Ditko left and Stan Lee left (mostly), and Dan Slott and a bunch of other people are making a comfortable living off Spider-Man.

    “Watchmen” has become this sacred volume and any idea of continuing stories in that universe is considered anathema. Consider, fans felt burned twice when Frank Miller returned to tell more stories about Batman. Why invite another possible disaster? I mean, they put both JMS and Adam Hughes on one book together? Really? I hope DC gets all those pages in before they publish that one…

    The ones I’ll be putting my money behind are the ones with Darwyn Cooke’s name. You know why? Because I trust him to get his work in, I enjoy his voice, and he’s promised a different look at a character that might have deserved a little better. That’s something he did in New Frontier, and both Hal Jordan and Barry Allen took off like rockets after that.

    JMS got some good points in by reminding everyone that Alan Moore got far by playing with other people’s toys. Well, now we get to see what other people do with the Charlton characters he played with. Sure, this could be the next “Scarlet”, but it could also be the next “Seven Percent Solution” and that wouldn’t be too bad.

  11. I think Slott and commenter Sam got it exactly right, but here’s another thing: People wanted MORE Hobbit/LOTR stories, at least I did, which is why I read those jumbled and confusing note complications. But did anyone read Watchmen and think :I really wish I could read MORE adventures of the Watchmen”? I really don’t think so.

  12. “Right. Millions of copies sold. Defined a generation. Broke the mold.”

    You realize your defense of it in this manner is actually evidence for why some people consider it overrated, right? Obviously it’s his opinion that it’s overrated, he said it.

    He has just as much right to his opinion to think its overrated as you do to think its not. That’s what makes opinions so great. Neither one of you is any more right or wrong then the other. It’s a subjective term.

  13. I’m not saying it isn’t good, i’m saying it’s overrated because the fans of superhero comic-books (mainly 40 year old men in 9 y.o mindsets) don’t know any better… and like Mr. Moore himself mentioned, still cling to old ideas :P

  14. @Steven Stwalley

    Yeah, I’m with you…this is mostly just boring. It’s sure as Hell not going to appeal to people who aren’t already in the fold as comic readers. I’m not exactly sure what audience they’re going for here.

    I’m sitting out for ethical reasons…but to those who want this? You and I will never see eye to eye, so enjoy.

  15. I wonder how JMS would feel if he had to stand by and watch someone else make a prequel (or reboot) of Babylon-5. I’m sure he’d be talking about “re-interpreting” characters “for each new age” while someone else was putting words in HIS character’s mouths. (Yeah right)

    I’m so disappointed that so many of our industry heavy-hitters have become a bunch of self-aggrandizing ego maniacs since the bigshots at Marvel and DC left the funny book business and became film makers.

    I hope this embarrasses everyone involved.

  16. All this brings to mind something Tom DeFalco told me back in 1988 when I wondered why it is that in the music business, fans followed the artists, but in comics, fans followed publishers.

    In comics, he said (paraphrasing), what fans care about more than anything are the characters. To most fans, the artists and writers are largely cyphers, just names in a credits box. Which of course is why publishers attach such great importance to owning the characters.

    At the time I thought he was being overly cynical, but through the yeas since then I’ve seen the depressing truth to his comment.

  17. Not to quibble, but is Watchmen DC’s best selling graphic novel? Or is it “The Death of Superman”? I know DC ordered up a lot of copies when the trailer hit, but have they ever posted a “Million copies in print” press release? (Count all eight? editions…)

    Hmmm… who would you like to see writing a Watchmen story?

  18. … should also add: If this was a creator owned work, I’d be disappointed. But as a corporate owned work, I’m surprised it wasn’t meat for the slaughterhouse sooner.

  19. I think a lot of the blowback comes from a generation of fans who enjoyed works from the 80s, and have seen new versions of those old works “reinterpreted for a new age” and revisited to see if there’s still any energy left.

    I mean, the late 70s and early 80s were the age of Star Wars, which George Lucas revisited in his prequels. Ditto with the Indiana Jones series, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even Tim Burton’s first Batman movie was an 80’s movie that was revisited. Everybody’s got a new spin on old stuff, so naturally there’s gonna be some grumbling and complaining.

  20. If I ran a comics company, I would be like Bill Belichick: creators wouldn’t get to say anything to the media unless it was carefully orchestrated. We’d just leave it on the field, once a week. Are these guys trying to steer readers away? The inter-company jabs in particular — really?

  21. My only real objection to this blatent cash grab is JMS. Guy hasn’t written anything good since Rising Stars & even that wasn’t great.

  22. i remember picking up one of the issues of “Top Ten: Season Two” for a pittance just out of mild curiosity. I loved Moore’s Top Ten and don’t consider it a sacred cow, so I could see another author possibly doing justice to it.

    So I got it home…. and there were no sneaks. The sneaks were two-thirds of the fun of the series, playing “who’s that in the corner of page sixteen, panel four?”, yet they were just gone.

    No sneaks. None.

    I was baffled. Why bother continuing the series if you’re going to take out its most obviously enjoyable element? It’s as if they said, “The original Moore series was way too interesting. We’ve got to dull this down a whole bunch.”

    I’ve already decided that the Watchmen film never happened. Now DC won’t be publishing these prequels. I’m looking forward to their lack of presence on the shelves.

  23. It’s fan fiction and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re writing Batman or Spider-Man today you’re writing a fan fiction version of the character. Flashpoint and Fear Itself were total fan fiction. It just matters if it’s well done or not. The direct market is by fans for fans right now. Sometimes something breaks out of that but it’s hard to complain about something that’s not very different than the standard.

  24. Let’s all hope and pray that Before Watchmen does phenomenally well and maybe, if we’re really, really lucky, we’ll get to see Before Sandman.

  25. So, it is seing the 70s to the 30s through the eyes of 2012. Seeking for cracks in the continuity established in the original.

    I don´t doubt that Azarello will write a gory and gritty Rohrschach story with nice art or that JMS will make sure to establish a splash page at the end of part whatever showing the moment when Dr.Manhattan´s eyes fell for the first time on Silk Spectre.

    But this has nothing to do with being relevant. Nit in the slightest. This is as some already noted fan fiction.

  26. There might not be a need for a King Lear sequel, but that didn’t stop Jane Smiley from winning a Pulitzer Prize for “A Thousand Acres”, or Akira Kurosawa from writing and directing “Ran” (multiple awards).

    Or one could consider “The Nutcracker” ballet, originally choreographed in 1892. This ballet (Tchaikovsky! Petipa!) didn’t become wildly popular and successful until George Balanchine made it a Christmas tradition in 1954 with his staging. Petipa, in case you didn’t know, is one of greatest choreographers of all time, so Balanchine had to be even better. (Some would argue that he was, establishing ballet in America, and being the godfather of the contemporary ballet style.)

    Of course, Petipa also adapted and improved many ballets from other choreographers, many of which are now considered the definitive productions.

    So Balanchine stood on Petipa’s shoulders, and Petipa stood on the shoulders of others as well.

    Sometimes (most times) a dwarf stands on the shoulder of a giant and sees a little further. Sometimes, it’s a giant who stands and sees what none has thought possible. And yes, sometimes that dwarf pees all over the giant.

    History will judge this and any other derivative work. Let’s meet back here in twenty years and discuss the results.

  27. Almost everything could be described as “fan fiction”. Pastiche… that’s just a fancy name for taking some which already exists and making something new.

    Or you’re inspired by something you see, so you create a story.

    Or, you have a writer’s block, so you crack open Thompson’s Motif-index and pick something at random.
    F611.1.14. for Aquaman, F661. for Green Arrow, F610.0.1.1. for Wonder Woman…

    That’s the problem with great literature: it inspires others. Same with cartoonists. Most start by copying comic strip characters. Eventually, they develop their own styles. Same with writers.

    With corporate comics, you have to keep to a certain style guide, while making stories which are original and fresh.

    For an interesting analysis of this, go read:
    It’s a Bird by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen.

  28. Considering the fact that Alan Moore has commandeered almost every fictional public domain character for his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it seems a little disingenuous for him to fault DC Comics for exploiting the Watchmen characters.

    Also I’m sure, if alive, that Barrie, Baum, and Carroll [Dodgson] wouldn’t too thrilled with the “sequel” Moore wrote for their characters in The Lost Girls.

    Actually Carroll might have been thrilled by it, at least a little titillated.

  29. A lot of the discussion I am hearing, and I am not talking here specifically, has me wondering about comics fans in general. I mean, what do they think comic publishers have been doing for almost 80 years?

    Maybe instead of pretending that one story is sacrosanct, we should get rid of the copy write extensions of the last 20 years and let these characters roll into the public domain. Then the publishers wouldn’t have a vested interest in reworking the same characters over and over again.

  30. These aren’t thematic additions, this is canon done without the author’s approval. That’s the difference. Whenever there is an official sequel it is always with the author or estate’s blessing — Tolkien, Herbert, Lucas, etc. unless it is public domain. If it is a thematic sequel, you can merely reference the material but it is not canon (like Morrison used Dr. Manhattan in Final Crisis — that was cool). And these types of sequels are of public domain works.

    DC owns the material but they are framing their argument in weird ways concerning the public domain. This has nothing to do with the public domain — DC owns the whole thing outright.

    I wonder if this will discourage the next great writer from publishing his or her fantastic new, better than Watchmen epic at DC?

    Next up Planetary appears in Kamandi 2 starring OMAC, Beautiful Dreamer, and Don Rickles.

  31. “WATCHMEN may be the best selling AMERICAN GN ever”

    Given that the writer and artist were British can it really be called an American GN?

    Are the Beatles now an American band because they were with an American label?

  32. “You’re going to get the Rorschach that you know and want. It’s a very visceral story we’re going to be telling,” Azzarello says.

    Actually, Brian, I already have that. It’s sitting on the shelf behind me. And I’ve dumped both Wonder Woman and Spaceman from my pull list. I was going to start picking up the 100 Bullets trades, but think I’ll hold off on that, too. Actually, I’m going to use that money and get some of the Alan Moore trades I’ve been meaning to get and never got around to.

    But hey, at least this will be good research for you . . . next time you write a prostitute character, you can definitively portray that mindset.

  33. @ Torsten, Theres a big diffrence between a Retelling(Ran and 1000 acres) and a flat out and unauthorized Prequel/Sequel. an example of this would be the Heidi sequels “Heidi Grows up” and “Heidi’s Children” written by the american translator of the original novel, done with out the consent of Johanna Spyri(since she was dead). History is against this cash grab from getting off the ground.

  34. “Many of the creators working on these books are friends of mine—several, I would characterize as dear friends”

    What has that got to do with these people’s own business/creative decisions???

    Are you trying to convince yourself this IS a good move, because “they’re my friends”? “They’re my friends, people, so it’s okay, it’s going to be brilliant.”

    If they weren’t friends or even indeed were a different bunch of people altogether, would your article be different, more of a slamdown on the creators?

    You don’t sound convinced this is a good move yet you’re trying to convince yourself it is. Can we just have objective reporting instead?

  35. I’ve given this one a lot of thought & have come to these conclusions: 1. as Watchmen has proved so popular, its natural that DC(or any company that owned it would want to follow up). 2. Moore was asked about doing a sequel or prequel of some kind & repeatedly refused. 3. These new pieces may have no measurable effect on the original series. The original Star Trek is still the original Star Trek, despite(or because of) the many spin offs.