The GeeksverseDon’t Judge “Before Watchmen” Before You Read It.

Don’t Judge “Before Watchmen” Before You Read It.
Published on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 by

Who Watches The Watchmen?

It’s the familiar slogan used byenraged American citizens during the anti-hero riots of the 1970’s that took place within the universe of The Watchmen. Do I really need to remind anyone of this story? The Watchmen has become etched not only within the collective minds’ of every fanboy that has ever read comics for the last 25 years, but it’s placed itself within the very DNA of the culture of comics.

But if needs be, The short of it is: a tale byAlan Moore and Dave Gibbons featuring characters based on old Charlton Characters and concerning a tale of retired superheroes and one not so retired superhero investigating the death of fellow hero The Comedian as Armageddon creeps ever nearer. Throughout the story the reader is showen the  implications, motivations, and results of super heroes in a real world setting. A 1980’s where Nixon was still President, Vietnam was won by us, and the Russians were willing to drop the bomb.

The tale of the investigation into the death of the Comedian revealed characters that all at once were real and honest. But more than that, Alan Moore wrote a tale wherein he turned the comic book culture upside down and fully ushered in the era of the anti-hero.

Many in this comic book world refer to the last 25 years as the Post-Crisis era. I prefer to think of it as the Post-Watchmen era; an era where no one is a true hero or a true villain. All one has to do is look at the current state of Marvel to see the proof of that statement. Is anyone in that universe a real villain anymore? Dr. Doom works with Mr. Fantastic for Kirby’s sake!!!

Watchmen is arguably, the highest point anyone in the comic book world can ever hope to achieve. It’s the height of the medium’s writing, art, and editing as far as this writer is concerned. To go into all the little things that are within those twelve issues would require going through it individual issue by  individual issue and that’s not what this column is about. Besides, it has already been done quite well here.

It is the Holy Grail of comic book stories. It is almost divine in some eyes. It should be unsullied, untouched, revered, and probably feared by some.

So I think everyone knew that when DC announced Before Watchmen that there was going to be some negative feelings. They have ranged from mild disapproval from some fans (utilizing the credo: It’s going to be bad but I’m going to read it anyway) all the way to creators pulling completely out of Work for Hire situations at the top two companies in protest.

WHOA THERE!!

Everyone seems to be coming down on DC for this perceived affront to Alan Moore’s magnum opus. All of them using Alan Moore’s own distaste for the project and Dave Gibbon’s slightly critical approval as grounds for their anger. But allow me to play Devil’s Advocate for a minute. The truth is, Alan Moore has never been happy with anything DC has ever done whith his creation. He’s not happy that DC has made money from his work in any fashion regardless of the fact that he’s made the pretty penny right along with him. Whether he’s happy with it or not, the checks have kept coming to him with every Graphic Novel sold, every DVD bought, and every action figure picked up Alan Moore has received his compensation from it. It’s never been that DC took this property and left him and Dave out to dry. So yes,  his response wasn’t surprising.

 Now, it’s not fair to write off Alan’s anger and disapproval for this by saying “Well, that’s just Alan”. He does believe in what he says and I don’t believe it’s just posturing. I  understand where he’s coming from, since this is the world he created he feels that any decision made regardless of how he feels is wrong.  However, Alan Moore doesn’t have to pay DC’s bills and DC doesn’t have to ask permission from the man who created a property they own.

 I don’t think that this is just a money making scheme. DC has done some fairly nasty things creatively at times just for the money, the line wide Blackest night debacle that went for two months is proof of that for me (that and the $300 pull bag that resulted). However, DC has done a few things that leads me to believe that they are actually trying to be respectful of the property and know how important it is. The first thing is DC approached Alan and Dave both with the offer to write whatever prequels they wanted. Money minded don’t normally try to get a creator that has been very public in his disdain for a company that chance often. Furthermore, this means Alan knew that this was going to happen and he was given the chance to step in and guide the prequels however he wanted to.

He could have taken his creation and taken care of it because he knew with or without him it was going to happen. He decided that he didn’t want to; he took his laurels and stood by them. So he can complain about it but he had the option to make it at least something that may not hurt the franchise or soemthing he could have been proud of.

 Likewise, DC has waited 25 years to even broach this idea. A company simply looking to cash in doesn’t wait 25 years to do so. Likewise, companies looking to simply cash in do not bring in the creators that they have on board for this: J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, and Len Wein, and artists Lee Bermejo, J. G. Jones, Adam Hughes, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, and Amanda Conner. These are top name artists and writers and the majority of them are men of principle and respect. Darwyn Cooke has never been someone who would simply cash a check. J. Michael doesn’t need to jump in for a financial boost. Does Brian Azzarello seem like the kind of guy who takes any task and half asses it? 100 Bullets and his Joker Graphic Novel alone should answer that question. Len Wein? There’s a reason the man is a living legend. Hall of Fame anyone?

In the end, and well after all this ranting has gone on, I think that judgment on these books should be left to the final product. The proof most definitely is in the pudding. Tomorrow, Darwyn Cooke will kick off the frenzy with the Minutemen book and we all will get a chance to see if the goods are being delivered. 

So I ask my fellow fanboy/girl brothers and sisters to not simply write this off as horrible before giving it a fair chance. Give the writers and artists of this book the credit they deserve. Don’t just hate it simply for the sake of a man who felt his pride was more important than his fans.

Remember nothing is black and white. Every situation is touched with gray shades. Alan Moore should know this better than most.

Will Before Watchmen be better than the original? Well, it really can’t be, can it? Will it tear down the status and reverence of the original? I think to say it will is doing a huge disservice not only to Darwyn, Brian, J. Mike, Len, Amanda, Joe, Andy, Adam, Lee, and J.G. but especially to Alan and Dave and their talent.

 

Give it a chance before you write it off. I do it for Grant Morrison, do it for the Watchmen.

9 Responses
    • I agree that I shouldn’t judge it before I read it. Unfortunately, my geek scowl seems permanent. I’m also not a fan of the action figures. The prequel and action figures seem to be counter to the message that I read from the first book.

      I’ll read this eventually, but it isn’t at the top of my reading list since my skepticism is still high.  

    • I’m not prejudging it. I’m a little excited (if apprehensive) about it. I’m excited because I really liked the world, and apprehensive because there aren’t too many attempts to do prequels that don’t suck.

      Also, I was one of the few folks who was a little disappointed in the movie version of Watchmen – it was visually stunning, and looked to be lifted from Gibbons’ pages, but some of the subtle shift in tone surrounding the ending kind of left me cold. I can see what Moore was upset about there. They took his words, his concept, and transformed the message. That isn’t really what’s happening here, it isn’t a reboot or a do-over.

      That said, if the prequels are good, and with the talent attached they have potential to be, I’m not going to just attach to Moore’s aggression as a reason to say “this is crap.”

      As you mentioned, this was a re-imagined Charlton universe (and if memory serves, wasn’t the first draft written specifically with those characters in mind, but changed later due to DC wanting to insert the Charlton guys in the DCU?), and it’s difficult for me to give credence to Moore’s claims that these are “his” when at the very least strong inspiration came from Ditko, Gill, et al.

      Moore’s made a great deal of his acclaim and money playing in others’ sandboxes (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen anyone?), so even if Watchmen is “his,” it may be time to share the sandbox with other talent kids.

      If it sucks, I’ll be quite happy to toss it in the trash, and write it off as another DC money grab/publicity stunt, but for right now, it is the only thing DC is doing that I’m remotely interested in.

      • I didn’t like the film version, either. Not that it was such a bad adaptation all things considered, it’s fairly entertaining as far as comic book movies go, but a lot of the “structural” qualities that made Watchmen unique—Gibbons’ commitment to panel and page design symmetry in particular as well as the recursive qualities in Moore’s narrative structure—were lost in the translation to film. To me, Zack Snyder totally missed the point of what separated Watchmen from the field at the time (it wasn’t the violence, or the suggestion that superheroes had kinky sex lives or whatever… Moore wasn’t the first to mine that particular vein). It’s that coherence in structure and story design that makes Watchmen special, at least for me. The actual plot and the characters are interesting, but they’re not really anything the medium hadn’t seen before in some form or another in the pages of, say, the Warren Publishing comics of the 1960s and 1970s and the pre-Code EC Comics titles from the 1950s or even the non-Comics Code compliant “comics magazines” that Marvel published in the 1970s.  

        One of the things the Before Watchmen books do have going for them is that Len Wein (who was the editor on the original maxi-series) is onboard. He talked briefly about the project during Fan Expo Vancouver, and however the books ultimately pan out, I think we can be assured that they’ll at least be professionally and conscientiously helmed.

    • For me any project comes down to “why does it need to get made”.  Which
      translates to “what does this add to the mythos, subtract from the
      mythos, change the mythos or add to the overall story”.  Before
      Watchmen doesn’t add anything to it.  Watchmen is one of the few
      complete stories out there, another would be the incredibly underrated
      The Golden Age by James Robinson & Paul Smith.  I have 0 interest
      in any of these, even with the talent involved, just because I can’t
      see what it adds to the Watchmen story. 

      • It adds back story that was hinted at in Watchmen. There was a lot of “Hey man, remember that time we…”
        “Yeah, that was cool, too bad the reader doesn’t really understand our reference though” moments in Watchmen.

        There’s no *need* to go back, but it has potential to be cool fill in and do it’s own thing. Maybe it is sort of like doing The Hobbit movie. LOTR was complete in itself as a trilogy, but it’ll be cool to see the Ring’s history that was touched on in the films. I know this is a little different, as The Hobbit as a book existed first, but in a way it isn’t, as there’re a lot of kids who haven’t read the books, and don’t know the early story.

        • Except Moore handled those beautifully because I never once had a “wish I knew what they were talking about” reaction.  Context and the current story were enough to fill in the blanks.

          Adding that kind of backstory is filler more than relevance.

          •  I liked the references to events that we didn’t read. It made the world feel fuller. It is like when Amalgam Comics  stuck in editorial boxes to comics that never existed and never would. I agree that I didn’t need to read the filler event because it was explained enough to understand what needed to be understood.

          • Just because an interesting story is complete doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting stories left to be told.

    • Okay, so it is hitting the news stands. How is it so far? Perhaps we need to read it all before we judge, but how is the prequel starting off? 

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