The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 68 | Thoughts on the “Watchmen” prequels; “Conan the Barbarian” #1 art preview

Leaving Proof 68 | Thoughts on the “Watchmen” prequels; “Conan the Barbarian” #1 art preview
Published on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 by

Well, if you follow comic book news on the Internet at all, you’ve probably read about DC’s plans to release a line of mini-series this summer that will serve as an official prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s landmark Watchmen, said line sensibly—if unimaginatively—titled Before Watchmen. And that sound you heard, ladies and gentlemen, is the sound of the Internet breaking in half (don’t worry, they’ll have it fixed in time for the next shocking announcement).

Something like this, I imagineAlan Moore, for his part, was quoted by the New York Times as saying that the attempt at a prequel is “completely shameless,” viewing it “as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.” This type of reaction was to be expected from Moore, of course, given his acrimonious split from DC over creative and financial issues in 1989 and his criticism of DC’s attempts to create film spin-offs of Watchmen and V for Vendetta.

There seems to be a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black in this case, though. As J. Michael Straczynski—one of the four writers attached to the project—pointed out in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter,

Leaving aside the fact that the Watchmen characters were variations on preexisting characters created for the Charleton Comics universe, it should be pointed out that Alan has spent most of the last decade writing very good stories about characters created by other writers, including Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Wendy (from Peter Pan), as well as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde, and Professor Moriarty (used in the successful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I think one loses a little of the moral high ground to say, ‘I can write characters created by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Frank Baum, but it’s wrong for anyone else to write my characters.’

Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons had a significantly more positive view of the project, although one can still sense an undertone of resignation with a statement attributed to him by the New York Times regarding DC’s summer publishing plans,

The original series of Watchmen is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell. However, I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire.

I’ve written a bit about Watchmen before, and while I think that it is an important work and DC’s renewed attempt to cash in on it reeks slightly of desperation and a lack of fresh ideas, I do feel that all this gnashing of teeth and hand-wringing about extending the content of Watchmen with a prequel (novelist Jonathan Lethem says that “it’s just inviting disgrace”) simply reinforces what in my opinion is a misplaced emphasis by the comics readership on the value of the book’s narrative content, as opposed to its pioneering narrative technique. If I might quote myself from my postings on the KittysPryde forums:

… I find that [Watchmen is] a triumph of technique more so than content. Moore will be the first to tell fans that the McGuffin-powered plot was just recycled from an old Outer Limits TV show episode entitled “The Architects of Fear.” To me, what was mature about Watchmen was the level of technical craft that was applied to the project. Despite being issued as a maxi-series, it was a novel in the true sense. It wasn’t simply an illustrated story divided into single issue chapters. It was a true novel in terms of narrative emphasis, focusing on character more than plot. Taken all together, the qualities of length and underscoring of character are what made Watchmen more mature than most superhero fiction, which generally takes the form of the short or long form (chivalric) romance, a genre that focuses on the development of plot at the expense of character…


… [Watchmen‘s] greatest strength was how Moore and Gibbons incorporated the theme of “symmetry” in the book’s construction (most strikingly in Chapter V): I’ve always considered Watchmen to be an overwhelming success in comic book storytelling technique buoying up a competent but somewhat unremarkable plot, but it seems like more people remember it for the “non-technical” stuff: the sex and the swearing and superhero deconstruction and Rorschach’s “anti-hero” stylings…

I’m not too interested in these prequels myself precisely because it was the overall level of comics craft applied to the work by Moore and Gibbons that stayed with me after reading Watchmen, not so much the plot or the characters, so I don’t really have an overwhelming desire to revisit the setting and the story (Joe Kubert, Darwyn Cooke, Jae Lee, J.G. Jones, Amanda Conner, and Adam Hughes doing the art on a number of the prequel titles is mighty intriguing, though).


If publishers did stop releasing projects that added on to and extended long-finished stories, we wouldn’t be getting things like Dark Horse Comics’ excellent Conan titles. The publisher was kind enough to pass along an advanced copy of Conan the Barbarian #1 (on sale 08 February 2012) written by Brian Wood with line art by Becky Cloonan and colours by Dave Stewart. An advanced review of the issue can be found here. The limited series will re-tell Robert E. Howard’s story “Queen of the Black Coast,” wherein Conan meets a warrior woman who is easily his equal in battle (not Red Sonja you Philistine, but Bêlit, the Shemitic pirate queen).

Wood will expand on the original Howard story (praised by fantasy and science-fiction scholar Everett F. Bleiler as “probably the best of the Conan stories, perhaps because it is the only one based on another emotion than lust, greed, or hatred”) over the course of the series, filling in the years between Conan’s first meeting with Bêlit and their final adventure together. While we don’t get to see Wood add significantly to the original tale’s introduction with the premiere issue, I’m optimistic about the series given the strength of Wood’s prior work.

One of the best things about Dark Horse’s Conan is how willing the editorial team is to shake-up the aesthetics of the line from one limited series to the next and the combination of Becky Cloonan and Dave Stewart do not disappoint in the least: the storytelling is as clear as any we’ve seen in the stable and the stripped-down linework and palette is a welcome departure from the occasionally over-rendered art seen in the back half of the Conan: Road of Kings limited series.




Tradewaiting for this is going to be really, really hard.

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