After Before Watchmen: What Happened to Then? We Passed Then. When? Just Now.

April 25th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

Yesterday saw the release of Before Watchmen: Comedian #6, ending this big experiment and going out on a whimper. The whole Before Watchmen concept was announced 15 months ago to a tornado of controversy and online arguments. One of the things that kept it so prominent in the internet news cycle was how many talking points it brought up. Some were mad because DC Comics screwed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons out of the rights to the series. Some were annoyed because Watchmen was such a self-contained classic that you can’t really add to it. Some felt that even if you did add to it, what’s left to be said? Some noted how desperate for money DC came off as when a 12-issue series was prequelized into 37 issues, plus a backup.

(Sorry, it’s my nature.)

The announcement appeared to be one of the straws that broke the camel’s back for David. David’s since stopped reading any and all new Marvel and DC titles and hasn’t looked back. I’m not so affected by the im-Moore-ality of DC’s actions and I’m more enthralled by the circus of this move than the comics themselves. As a comic blogger, my own philosophy is that I would love for every comic I read to be good, but if it isn’t, I hope to God it’s at least interesting because that can sometimes be even better. Whether you loved or hated the idea of more Watchmen comics, you have to admit that the audacity of it is interesting as all hell, else nobody would be talking about it.

I decided to give it a fair enough shake. I didn’t read every single comic. I didn’t even read every single series. After the fact, they announced a one-shot of Dollar Bill (which I merely flipped through) and a two-part Moloch story. From what I understand, the Moloch one wasn’t bad.

Nite Owl by JMS and Joe Kubert was something I gave up on two issues in. It had its moments, but it just didn’t grab me. I guess it lost me because the origin aspects of the character are pretty good, but then JMS rushes through that so he could get to Nite Owl and Rorschach being a team. If anything, I did like an idea introduced about how Nite Owl and Rorschach don’t see eye-to-eye because of the way they remember their mothers affecting how they see women. I just found the series pretty boring and I was already feeling anti-JMS from his more recent DC work.

I didn’t feel the need to pick up Dr. Manhattan by JMS and Adam Hughes because I just didn’t have any faith in JMS at this point. I’ve heard mixed reviews swaying towards negative, but the art is apparently pretty.

Comedian by Brian Azzarello and JG Jones got a lot of flak in its first issue for its ending. In it, we discover that not only was Comedian NOT involved with the assassination of JFK, but he genuinely loved the guy and was broken up over it. This got criticism, since the main series shows Blake making a joke about being the one who pulled the trigger while the movie outright shows that he did it. If anything, that ending was one of my favorite things about this miniseries, mainly with how it ties into the final issue, where we see Blake’s involvement in the other Kennedy assassination. It strengthens the series by making it the journey of a man who is 90% corrupt becoming 99% corrupt. That said, while I like the bookends of the mini, as a whole it wasn’t my bag. Seeing the Comedian be a scummy dickhead in Vietnam isn’t a good time.

Azzarello also wrote Rorschach with Lee Bermejo on art. On paper, this sounded awesome. This is a creative team that gave us Joker and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. Surely, they could do something with the series’ most popular character. What we got was a story about Rorschach being a gritty badass, which I can see the appeal of, but it just didn’t engage me enough to keep paying attention. The only thing that got me to come back was the hilarious situation in the third issue where Rorschach gets into a cab driven by Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. It’s a decision that’s both fitting and surreal and I have to take a second and smile at its existence.

My buddy Nawid was telling me last night that both Azzarello books were really bad. I disagree. I think they were both pretty bad. Thing is, Before Watchmen couldn’t afford to be pretty bad. It had huge shoes to fill and while it would never be able to fill said shoes in the eyes of many, it at least had to make enough of an effort.

Ozymandias by Len Wein and Jae Lee is something I read in its entirety because I love Lee’s art. Too bad it’s the worst comic of the whole lot. To the credit of all the other Before Watchmen comics, at least they try to do their own thing. They tell their own stories. They may not be the best stories, but at least the writers were trying something. Ozymandias is a Wikipedia article that’s nice to look at. It was just a lengthy explanation of how Adrian Veidt came to be and how he set up the events in Watchmen. There’s no great character moments or, really, any character moments at all. He appears incredibly robotic compared to his Watchmen self and even situations that could be interesting are muted by his complete lack of emotion. For instance, we see an origin story for how he started fighting crime as Ozymandias due to his girlfriend being killed by Moloch’s drugs. This would be great if there was any indication that he actually felt anything for her at any point.

Then we have Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Connor. This one is a fun ride. Beautiful and funny, this miniseries actually suffers from being part of the Watchmen universe and not the other way around. As good as it is, once the final issue hits, the series remembers that, oh yeah, Watchmen happens and has to put all of its toys back in the box. It’s frustrating, but otherwise, the four-issue mini is totally worth checking out.

Finally, there’s Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke. I haven’t really checked out the sales for Before Watchmen, but I know that Minutemen was at the bottom. That’s a shame, since it’s the only Before Watchmen title that truly works. Cooke walks the walk and somehow pulls off a six-issue series that is brilliant on its own, yet deserves to be accepted as the little brother of Watchmen. I’d say that if you ever wanted to give the prequels a shot, just go with this miniseries and Silk Spectre. Luckily, the two are put together in the first hardcover Before Watchmen trade.

I think it’s telling of what worked and what didn’t. One of the big criticisms of the prequel concept was, “Didn’t they say everything that needed to be said in Watchmen?” That came to be true, in a sense. Rorschach, Nite Owl, Ozymandias and to a lesser extent Comedian were too defined with their histories. There wasn’t much newness that could be tossed into the mix, which made it seem pointless outside of the blatant cash grab. Silk Spectre was arguably underused in the main series, never truly existing on her own but more in response to other characters. The Minutemen and Moloch were supporting characters with vaguely defined histories. There was easily enough wiggle room to create a world within that didn’t cause cracks in what Moore and Gibbons built.

Oh yeah, there was also the Crimson Corsair backup stories, but I didn’t read any of those. To anyone who did pay attention: Was there any point to them at all? The pirate story in the original book was meant to be a metaphor for Ozymandias’ actions. Was the backup supposed to represent something similar or was it just pirates cutting each other?

Anyway, with Before Watchmen having come and gone, my feeling is this: I wish they would have just gone with Minutemen. It wouldn’t have made them nearly as much money, but it probably would have been the best scenario for PR and quality outside of never doing any of this in the first place. Less people would be angry, DC would come off far less greedy and desperate and we’d have a better batting average under the Watchmen banner. There would still be criticism for Moore and Gibbons’ treatment, but I don’t think it would have looked like such a massive railing against the company as it turned out to be.

Despite the bad comics and decisions that may have come from this, I still say it’s less hurtful to the original story than the Sam Hamm movie we almost got in the 80’s. At least nobody in Ozymandias yelled, “CHRIST ALMIGHTY, IT’S THE GODDAMN WATCHMEN!”

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12 comments to “After Before Watchmen: What Happened to Then? We Passed Then. When? Just Now.”

  1. Not knowing about my misgivings regarding the entire project, my cousin bought me the first three issues of the Dr. Manhattan series for Christmas. Aside from feeling completely unnecessary, I’m having a hard time figuring out what the central conflict of the series is supposed to be. By going back and time and preventing himself from becoming Dr. Manhattan (or, rather, not directly causing it as the series was obviously leading up to), he creates a situation in which every decision he makes creates new parallel universes, one for each possible choice. I fail to see how this is bad; I’m no physicist, but my understanding is that this is actually completely normal, if certain theories of quantum physics are correct. Further, the comic doesn’t even seem to be suggesting that all of his decisions lead to some bad future.

    So, what exactly is the problem? What is Dr. Manhattan supposed to be saving everyone from by making sure he becomes a naked blue guy who considers the past and future to be interchangeable and always makes the same decisions? What is the point of this comic? I don’t know, and I can’t say I feel compelled to spend money to buy the last issue in hopes of finding out.

  2. Sounds like most of these were bad overall but had a few killer moments that made it worth the read-it-once trouble…

    …so they were ghostwritten by George Martin?

  3. I said from the get-go that, while I abhor the cash grab idea of doing more Watchmen comics for a variety of reasons, I at least would’ve genuinely been interested if DC showed some balls/spine and did a sequel where you would be free to make something new, not navel gaze and work in-between the cracks of the original. In short, After Watchmen would’ve been creatively far more interesting than Before Watchmen simply because you won’t know the outcome.

    It doesn’t help that DC let two writers on this series (JMS and Wein) that both have axes to grind against Moore. Wein has literally never shut up about the ending to Watchmen and the whole Twin Peaks thing. Seriously, every chance he gets he always mentions how he was against it going on 20 years now. Both him AND JMS’s BW stories read as corrections to the original and how THEY would have done Watchmen with a “this is how it should’ve been” approach.

    I knew what to expect from JMS since in interviews he flatly said (paraphrased),”I never understood how someone so smart could be so absent-minded to leave his jacket in the vault and get caught in it.” I knew (rightly) that JMS was going to do everything he could to fix that because in JMS’s world, there’s no such thing as accidents apparently. Ugh!

    At any rate, silk and Mintuemen (and to a certain extent Comedian) were all really good to decent. It’s just a shame that the rest of the property had writers trying to re-write the original story and be all “ha-ha look at me being more clever than Alan Moore.”

    I guess at least if there’s a silver lining is that no matter what DC says, Alan was proven right.

    DC can’t do anything other than use stories he wrote 25 years ago. 😀

  4. @Alekesam: I hadn’t heard that. What a ridiculous criticism of Dr. Manhattan’s origin. JMS seriously can’t conceive of a man being distracted by, say, complex nuclear physics to the point where he walks off without his coat? Because smart people never get caught up in what they’re doing and forget things, right? There’s a reason the “absent-minded professor” is such a cliche. Honestly, it seems to me that the smarter you are, the easier it is to get wrapped up in your own thoughts. They tend to be more complex, after all.

  5. Minutemen and Silk Spectre were both really good.

  6. Why read this in the first place? What’s the point? It’s a wholly immoral venture that at best could’ve delivered a decent superhero comic, why participate in it for such low gains?

  7. […] At 4thletter Gavok decided to try out the Before Watchmen project: […]

  8. Hmm so we won’t get the chance to see David brothers fight each other in injustice Ties that bin…gods among us?

  9. @Martin Wisse: Various reasons.

    1) I don’t care enough about the Moore situation to be offended.
    2) I enjoy Darwyn Cooke.
    3) I’m intrigued by DC’s desperation.
    4) If it turned out to be a total car wreck, I can write about that.

    And Minute Men came off being more than a decent superhero comic. If DC said, “We’re only releasing a 6-issue miniseries by Darwyn Cooke that acts as a Watchmen prequel, dealing with one main character, a couple supporting characters and some guys barely talked about,” this whole deal would be looked at in a different light.

    Even if it wasn’t, saying something might be kind of good isn’t really the best warning against reading it.

  10. It’s worth noting that it’s not like Before Watchmen is more morally dubious than the normal fucking over of comic creators since forever. It’s just a breaking point that shows that DC really doesn’t give a fuck at all. I’m happy the sales tanked.

  11. I think the lesson is that shameless cash-grab or not, Darwyn Cooke doesn’t make bad comics.

  12. […] Watchmen was such a self-contained classic that you can’t really add to it: Ok, first of all, this argument is a matter of opinion, not fact. So as long as we’re entitled to subjective arguments, then I would counter that I think there’s still plenty of interesting stories to be told within this universe. Plus, Alan Moore, the old crank who created Watchmen, has taken a whole slew of characters, including Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Alice from Through the Looking Glass and Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, re-imagined each of them, and even (gasp!) expanded the universes of these characters. So it’s ok for Allan Moore to write a sequel in which Alice is “attending drug fueled lesbian sex parties” but he raises a stink about prequels that largely remain true to the essence of his characters? While this point doesn’t necessarily validate the Watchmen prequels, presumably those who side with Moore also enjoy his other work. So if this is your stance, then you can never, ever enjoy any creative work that attempts to expand the universe of a character that previously existed in a so called “self contained” story. […]