This morning, DC comics announced seven new prequel books in the revered Watchmen universe, confirming both the hopes and fears of comic fans everywhere. The new comics, titled Before Watchmen, are launching this summer and will span seven different books that each focus on individual early members of The Watchmen. The decision to augment what is considered to be the most influential comic book of all time is certainly a controversial one, and it is one we will likely not stop hearing about for years to come.
Watchmen is Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed classic that critiqued the concept of superheroes and turned it upside down by throwing in complex politics and anxieties of the time. Released in 1986, Watchmen was a game changer in an era of comic books that featured cheesy, childlike stories and artwork. Considered by many to be a turning point in the maturity of the medium, Watchmen offered an extremely dark, grown up story of anti-heroism, violence, sex, and corruption. It showed the world that comics didn’t have to be just for kids, but that they could tell a legitimately complex story with heavy themes.
Before Watchmen will be released in seven separate books, with each book focusing on one of the main players of the early Watchmen canon. The characters in question are Comedian, Rorschach, Minuteman, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, and Dr. Manhattan. Each of these characters play a large role in forming The Watchmen and for setting up the story and events of the original book. The prequels will no doubt tell stories of the early adventures of these heroes as they form the first generation of The Watchmen, and the tragic failure of that group as they come into modern times.
There is plenty to be concerned with about this news. Additional Watchmen stories have been rumored for nearly two decades now. The original book is considered a masterpiece, and it tells a complete story. Fans have worried that any additional stories, especially those motivated as a cash grab, would only tarnish the legacy and brilliance of Watchmen. Most disconcerning of the new books, however, is the lack of Alan Moore.
Alan Moore, who has disassociated himself with DC Comics, is notorious for objecting against any further attempts to continue any of his classic work in modern ways. Be it film adaptations, sequels, or prequels, Moore never fails to lash out at those responsible. Moore had no involvement in the 2009 Watchmen film, and he publically spoke many unkind words about the film and its creators. Like the film, Moore is not involved in any way with Before Watchmen. He has already vehemently denied the project, going so far as to call it “completely shameless” in an interview with The New York Times. Alan Moore made Watchmen what it is. Can a prequel series without him still succeed?
DC have certainly considered the implication of a Moore-less Watchmen, and they have brought out their big guns to compensate. On board to write the seven books are J. Michael Straczynski, Len Wein, Darwyn Cooke, and Brian Azzarello. Azzarello will be writing both the Comedian and Rorschach books, and is the perfect man to take on those dark and painful roles. With an all-star team like that heading up Before Watchmen, we can rest assured that the books will tell great stories—perhaps wholly unnecessary stories, but still great nonetheless.
Still, the news is very troubling to many comic fans. DC are trampling onto sacred ground with Before Watchmen. While it is true that prequel stories are the only proper way more Watchmen content could be created, there is still plenty to worry about without Alan Moore, and in the shape DC has been as of late. DC has been very prequel and reboot happy lately, considering they recently rebooted 52 of their classic comics (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Justice League to name a few) giving them all fresh starts. Who knows if Before Watchmen is just a continuing piece of this business trend to grab money from nostalgic comic fans. The answers won’t come until the books hit store shelves this summer, the beginning of the end of the world.