When DC announced back in February that they were releasing prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 comic book – the magnum opus generally regarded as the greatest comic book series of all time – the news was met with hearty derision from fans and outright fury from Alan Moore. The writer declared the prequels “completely shameless”, spoke of the “draconian contracts” DC made him sign at the time and said “I don’t want money. I want this not to happen.”
Artist Dave Gibbons, however, took a more live and let live attitude. “I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work,” he announced. “May these new additions have the success they desire.” Although his line about “DC’s reasons” could well be a guarded reference to the cash-in all detractors are accusing them of – something DC furiously denied, before awkwardly releasing a tie-in toaster.
Five months after the announcement generated thousands of furious tweets, and on the eve of the series’ release, Dan DiDio, DC Comics Co-Publisher, laughed “I don’t know if I want to go through this hell again!” Speaking at the Kapow! Comic Convention, DiDio spoke candidly about DC’s trepidation at tackling the granddaddy of modern comic books, and about their excitement about the Before Watchmen final products.
“Watchmen is a crown jewel, don’t kid yourselves,” says DiDio. “But we also knew that if we were going to do it we wanted to do it right because we were going to get a lot of questions about why we were doing it. There’s been a lot of hesitation over the years, but after the feature film we feel that it’s been adapted in other forms so there’s a hunger for it. We’ve sold one million trades of Watchmen. It’s not just the same people buying 10,000 copies each. Even if we change the covers.”
Whatever people may say about Before Watchmen, they can’t deny that some serious talent is involved, including Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello, J Michael Straczynski, Adam Hughes and Amanda Conner. “The creators involved in this have been doing some of the best work in their careers,” DiDio says. “They know the importance of this project, they know the level of scrutiny it’s going to get.”
In particular, even the most grumbling fans acknowledge that they are genuinely excited to see Cooke’s work on Minutemen, a perfect marriage of artist/writer and subject matter. Seeing as the Minutemen – with the exception of the Comedian and Silk Spectre I – are the least well-known Watchmen characters, fans seem more open to exploring their history. They are less fiercely protective of them than they are the likes of Rorschach and Nite Owl, who will be sharing page time in the Nite Owl series by Straczynski and father/son artist duo Andy and Joe Kubert.
With original Nite Owl Hollis Mason also figuring heavily in the book, DiDio describes it as having a “father-son feel to it”. Bob Wayne, DC’s SVP of Sales, went on to promise that “Rorschach is in Nite Owl as a very key participant, not just as a walk-on part.”
Meanwhile, Rorschach’s solo title by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo is described by DiDio as “probably the most violent of the whole series. Brian has said it’s grindhouse, and Lee’s art brings that home over and over again.” The other potentially über-violent comic in the series is The Comedian, also by Azzarello. “This one is the political intrigue one, which I think fits the character so nicely,” DiDio explains. “And it plays throughout time, throughout US history, and I think that J.G Jones really captures that moment in time.”
In many ways, you may be forgiven for thinking that Rorschach, Comedian and Nite Owl are the characters least in need of prequels, as we already know all about them. The same could be said of Dr Manhattan, but his time-bending powers certainly warrant a second look, and the idea of renowned cover artist Adam Hughes tackling interior art is surely worth a peek. “This is Adam’s first interior work in over ten years and there were always a lot of people saying “can Adam do interiors?”” DiDio says, before assuring us: “Yes. I’ve seen the entire first issue and it’s really beautiful, it really captures the spirit of what Dr Manhattan’s all about which is really a sense of scope because of his time-shifting power, how all these bits and pieces are inter-related through various stages of his life.”
Another character with lots of room left for exploration is Ozymandias, who in Before Watchmen is being tackled by Len Wein and Jae Lee. Moore and Gibbons were unable to show much of him in Watchmen for fear of showing their hand, given that he was the villain at the heart of the piece. Seeing how he got to a place where wiping out half of New York seemed like a reasonable plan could well be interesting, if handled well. “When we put this together we wanted to find the widest variety of artists because of the great work that Dave Gibbons did on the property and his style is the only style that we’ve seen attached to the project for so long we didn’t want people to just repeat what Dave had done, really to bring their own style and flare to it, and Jae of all people really created a look that’s separate from anything we’ve seen with these characters.”
The book DiDio was raving about the most was Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner’s Silk Spectre. “One of my personal favourites is Amanda Conner’s Silk Spectre,” says DiDio. You’ve got Darwyn Cooke writing – or rather Darwyn is co-writing with Amanda. When Darwyn signed up with Amanda we really wanted to capture the spirit of Silk Spectre and a period of time, and he did the basic plot and Amanda ran with it from there… this is probably the quietest of the stories, but I think one of the most heartfelt stories. This is a coming of age story with Silk Spectre as she starts to discover herself and separates herself from what she was expected to be by her mother… There are scenes in Amanda’s work where she slips into fantasy. She’s going into Silk Spectre’s head as she’s growing up and she’s creating a fantasy for herself, so her art style changes a little bit in that.”
The books start coming out in June. DiDio explains “Similarly to Seven Soldiers of Victory, we have seven interconnected series but each one’s able to stand on its own. Each one comes out once a week, so we have one Watchmen book per week.”
Undoubtedly, Before Watchmen is a ploy to boost sales figures. But it’s a ploy that can be redeemed by the quality of the work. “To say we’re excited about it would be an understatement. To say we’re nervous about it would also be an understatement,” DiDio admits. “But I think the product will speak for itself really soon.”