Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Six thoughts that occurred to me after hearing about "Before Watchmen"


If you have an Internet connection and care at all about comics, you've already heard the news.

Here's the breakdown of the suite of books DC has announced, from the publisher's Source blog:


* RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo

* MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

* COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones

* DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes

* NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert

* OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee

* SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

Each week, a new issue will be released, and will feature a two-page back-up story called CURSE OF THE CRIMSON CORSAIR, written by original series editor Len Wein and with art by original series colorist John Higgins. There will also be a single issue, BEFORE WATCHMEN: EPILOGUE, featuring the work of various writers and artists, and a CRIMSON CORSAIR story by Wein and Higgins."

I've enjoyed pieces of work from all of the writers who are contributing to this supremely ill-considered endeavor, but I wouldn't consider any of them to be anywhere near Alan Moore's league. To be fair, the only name writers in the American comic book industry that i can imagine following Moore would be Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman, and of those two, Morrison is the only one I can imagine actually attempting it, as he seems to have a chip on his shoulder regarding Moore that he flaunts publicly now and again.

Of those chosen, Azzarello is the only one who seems to have enough quality output under his belt to even dare comparison to Moore, but in both critical esteem and sales popularity, he seems Lilliputian in comparison. Cooke has likewise written a few very solid genre works before, but nothing that's dazzled in the way Moore's Watchmen's writing does, or even in the way Moore's lesser works do. Cooke has also drawn all his own best stuff, so it's hard to say how something like one of his Parker graphic novels might have turned out if he wasn't rebuilding the whole novels as comics himself.

The rest of the creators chosen are bafflingly unimpressive.

J. Michael Straczynski? His last three stabs at high-profile projects for DC were a Red Circle revival (one so short-lived you're forgiven for not even remembering it), the Superman storyline in which Superman walked around America for a while (which JMS abandoned before completion) and the Wonder Woman storyline in which she got pants and a jacket (which JMS abandoned before completion). Before that? He oversaw the nosedive towards cancellation of DC's Mark Waid and George Perez-launched volume of The Brave and The Bold and, before that, he wrote half a miniseries about Golden Age characters for Marvel and the universally reviled "One More Day" to cap off a long run on Spider-Man. I was under the impression that, like Jeph Loeb, JMS had become a joke of a comics writer, a sly self-parody that readers pay half-attention to mostly to ridicule.

And while Len Wein may have edited Watchmen—and oh how I hope there's a "From the Editor and colorist of Watchmen!—blurb on each chapter of "The Crimson Corsair"—when was the last time you overheard someone in a comic shop say, "Oh wow, the new Len Wein comic!"

The artists are similarly disappointing. Only Cooke and Joe Kubert (whom I assume will be inking or finishing his son's pencils or roughs) stand out as true all-around comics masters. Most of the others doesn't even seem to be the talented and sturdy craftsman that Dave Gibbons is...and was 25 years ago.

I think it's the writers who will get the most scrutiny and scorn here, though, and rightly so, as Watchmen's artist hasn't been so vocally opposed to exploiting the novel as its writer has, and he was even approving of that pretty awful 2009 movie.


I had always assumed that if any sort of Watchmen sequel were to happen—and the ramp up to the release of the film seemed like the time it would happen—it would be with some sort of involvement from Gibbons, perhaps writing one or all of the components, and certainly drawing at least one. Maybe providing covers for them all.

Gibbons' involvement would at least give the project the patina of legitimacy it would otherwise lack if both Moore and Gibbons were absent. With Gibbons involved, further Watchmen would at least look like Watchmen, and DC could claim anything Gibbons wrote was directly from a Watchmen creator. It would also give DC a better argument than the ones they have mustered thus far. With Gibbons involved, they could have at least said, or implied, "We couldn't get that guy involved, but you know how he is. The reasonable one thinks it's a great idea though, as you can see by the amount of work he's investing in it."


DC Comics' Co-Publisher Dan DiDio—who JMS seems to passive-aggressively suggest is to blame for this project's existence in this interview—is also a writer of DC comics, currently working on DC Comics Presents and OMAC.

DC Comics' Co-Publisher Jim Lee is the publisher's number one artist.

DC Comics' Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns is the publisher's number one writer.

I don't see any of their names attached to any of the creative teams listed above, and it seems the publisher's creative leadership is leaving it to others to take the blame and shame for the books. If they honestly believed in the project that much, why aren't their reputations on the line the way the other creators' are?

I can see humility keeping DiDio out of it—he is a writer, but not one of the publisher's better ones—but, on the other hand, a lot of those guys listed above aren't exactly the cream of the crop of comics-writing, even 21st century DC superhero comics-writing. The same can't be said for Johns and Lee; I don't think Johns is equivalent to Moore or Lee to Gibbons, but if they're down with this project, I'd rather see them throw themselves to the wolves instead of pitching a bunch of freelancers to them.


I suppose it's because Kubert has been drawing comics since the Golden Age of comics, but I figure anyone who has been in the industry that long has gotten fucked over by publishers, editors and other creators so many times that they have, in my book, anyway, a License To Do Whatever They Want. Gibbons and Moore followed decades. If he wants to redraw their characters for a paycheck, fine, whatever. He's done his time, he's put up with the requisite amount of bullshit. Joe Kubert has the right to stop any comic book fan in the world on the street and demand a five dollar bill from them, and they should be legally required to give him that bill. He should also be allowed to stop any comics creator or editor, any industry professional, or anyone who works for any of the various entertainment companies running or profiting from old-school American superhero comics and just cold punch them in the face if he wants to.

Len Wein I think gets a bit of a pass, too, simply for being older than all these other guys, and having been in the industry as long as he has.

I guess if you literally came before Watchmen yourself, then you are allowed to work on "Before Watchmen without looking like a huge asshole.

At least in my book.


A sequel, a prequel or even a suite of character-specific one-shots is one thing. But DC is publishing seven prequels, and each of them is an entire miniseries of its own, running between four and six issues. At this point, the Watchmen prequel event involves 34 individually sold comic books, and there's a promise of at least one more book to come.

With that many comic book as part of the project, it's unreasonable to expect any of them to sell anywhere near as high as, say, that one issue of Amazing Spider-Man with then-newly elected President Barack Obama on the cover, or, say, one-eighth of whatever Rob Liefeld was excreting in 1992.

The Big Two publishers publishing so goddam much stuff that their products end up competing against one another is nothing new, of course, but here's something that is supposed to go off like a bombshell—and news of it sure did light-up the blogosphere today—but rather than a single issue, a single series to catch all that excitement/curiosity, the demand is going to be split into sevenths, and then further subdivided. I imagine the #1's are going to be lucky to hit 90,000 units, and that they will end up shipping around 20K by the end.

This isn't Frank Miller following Dark Knight Returns with Dark Knight Strikes Again, this is 11 of Miller's less-popular, less-successful peers doing 35 sequels to DKR.

I imagine an ongoing series called Before Watchmen would fare better. DC could have announced the series and the first arc by Cooke, and then every four to six months announce the next "arc" and the next creative team. That would keep curiosity and conversation going, month in and month out, and the various story arcs wouldn't be in competition with each other for the same customers.

The size of this project is also somewhat baffling in that it far exceeds the number of pages needed for a companion trade collection to the original Watchmen, one of the all-time best-selling "evergreen" graphic novels. There are going to be three-to-seven trades that come out of this event, and librarians, book stores and comic shop owners won't be able to stock them as easily as they could, say, Dark Knight Strikes Again.


You know, Alan Moore might have sighed heavily upon hearing this. He might have even got angry for an hour or two. But it's not really going to hurt him. And it's not going to hurt fans of the original, who will likely ignore it anyway. And it's not going to hurt the characters, who aren't real anyway.

No, the real victims of Watchmen 2 are willing ones—the creators who took on these assignments.

For the life of me, I can't fathom why on earth any working, successful, professional comics writer or artist would want this assignment. Sure, it's probably going to sell a better-than-average amount of books, and yeah, there's a possibility—no matter how remote—that it will have enough of an afterlife in collected format that it will continue to generate significant royalty revenue for years or even decades for the creators involved.

But is even a better-than-usual financial reward really worth the alienating of so many member of your audience and potential audience, the very folks who you presumably want to continue to support your work once this is over with?

I know seeing the names of the creators I hold in the highest regard on that list (Cooke, Conner) made me feel incredibly sad, and seeing the names of those I don't hold in particularly high regard (JMS, Jones, Lee, Bermejo) made me feel angry. (And I'm speaking about these creators in terms of their work, not as human beings; I've never met or communicated with any of the 11 creators in any way, shape or form).

I have no intention of buying any of these gross books, but I imagine I'll want to buy and read the next thing Darwyn Cooke does...I sincerely doubt the fact that he's doing these stupid things will make me not want to read his future work or anything, but I do have to admit that I've lost an enormous amount of respect for him for doing this. That doesn't make him any less great an artist or comics-maker, of course, but it does make me personally think less of him as a comics professional. God knows there's worse behavior than doing Watchmen sequels—and there are creators I have trouble reading at all now because of their behavior—but yeah, Cooke loses some points, my esteem for him drops, I become that much less likely to be excited about Darwyn Cooke.

And that goes for the other 10 creators, too—save for Joe Kubert and, to a lesser extent, Len Wein, who get the Grand Old Man and Grand-ish Old-er Man branded Get Out Of Scorn Free cards.

From DC Comics' perspective, this seems like a bit of a waste, putting these folks on these projects. If Darwyn Cooke agrees to write and draw a six-issue series for you, why on earth would you have him doing some dumb Watchmen shit when you could have him try giving you another New Frontier? How many comics, collections, DVDs and DC Direct shit did that sell for you?

That too goes for many of these other guys. Adam Hughes interior work? You're wasting that on four of the 34 Watchmen prequels, instead of having him finish All-Star Wonder Woman, or an original miniseries? You just relaunched your entire superhero line in order to attract new readers to your comics, and you have Amanda Conner drawing a prequel to a 26-year-old comic book series that no one really wants to exist anyway?

Why aren't these people working on their own Watchmens or, barring that, refurbishing the DC-owned IPs that need it...Watchmen is a dead-end. It's already had its movie. But Wonder Woman, Flash, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel...? Those characters' multi-media millions are still ahead of them.

What horrible waste of talent this is on DC's part, and what a horrible waste of goodwill this is on the involved creators' parts.


Michael Hoskin said...

I think Warren Ellis has the level of class to write another Watchmen... except he's actually trying to write the Next Watchmen, not the Next Mortgage Cheque.

>I guess if you literally came before Watchmen yourself, then you are allowed to work on "Before Watchmen without looking like a huge asshole.

Really? Then DC missed a golden opportunity by not hiring James D. Hudnall!

Kevin said...

To JMS' credit, he managed to get out that Superman: Earth One ogn with Shane Davis, and he's on his way to finishing the twelve-issue The Twelve, which started. . . 4 years ago.

Making a prequel for the Watchmen is a huge risk for the creators, and I think risks should be rewarded, but I'm not going to be picking it up, and I don't think this is going to be reaching any new readers. My friends at school who're remotely interested in comics will have the Watchmen trade but they won't care to visit the shop weekly.

I too am disappointed that Adam Hughes chooses to do interior pages for this one.

JohnF said...

The Twelve is pretty good, though.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

If they tell about stories before Watchmen, it will be routine heroing-stories. That means, that they don`t necessarily have to be grand masterworks.

I for one think, that you may be too pessimistic about this one. I mean, if these preguels wouldn`t happen, I`d be fine with it. Now that they will anyhow, I think that I`ll probably check at least a few of them out, and hope that they will be good at the least. And this really doesn`t drop MY respect for the persons from whome I`ve read stuff from. That is, if they wont screw these up. Which seems 50 % unlikely.

But, we both are entitled to our own opinion, and I respect yours. So, no hard feelings.

Jer said...

The only explanation I see from DC's perspective is that Watchmen isn't a dead end. Sure it's had it's movie - but it continues to be the best selling graphic novel they have and they have perpetually had problems getting people who read that to buy other things.

If you have blinders on as to why Watchmen is the best selling graphic novel DC has, then you could imagine that the problem is that the people who aren't picking up other things just want "more Watchmen" and you want to give it to them.

Unfortunately for DC, what the people who aren't moving on to other parts of DC's catalog REALLY probably want is "more Moore and Gibbons as they were 25 years ago". Which DC screwed up 25 years ago - they could right now have 2 or 3 Watchmen sequels on the shelves penned by Moore and Gibbons had things been different.

As far as the creators - meh. They have to pay their rent. I will continue to be underwhelmed by JMS, I'm sure, and I will continue to be impressed by Amanda Conner. Hell I'll probably find a copy of Silk Spectre to read just to see her work. It's just comics, and they're just doing some fanfic. It's not like they're travelling from town to town burning the original copies of Watchmen and replacing them with sequels. And it's not like every bit of, say, Sherlock Holmes fanfic pisses on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle by its mere existence.

And as far as Lee and Johns not working on it - it's a shame. I have an image in my head right now of what a Jim Lee drawn Watchmen prequel would be like and it would be hysterical. Both in its form AND in the outrage and hyperbole it would generate. The only thing better would be a Rob Liefeld scripted and illustrated Watchmen prequel. Imagine the hilarity that would ensue from that one ...

JRC, the OWL Says Who said...

Couple of things stand out: the best argument anyone has made about this it why aren't all these creators being used on the new52 books? I mean REALLY?

Do you think there was maybe an idea that THIS could possibly have been the new DCU? Rebuild it around the Watch-verse? Didio loves the ultra-gritty stuff, he has said as much about Identity Crisis which is the closest thing the company has done in tone to Watchmen. He seems convinced that 'the world' (readers) want this kind of fiction experience because it mirrors our world.

Seems like this was probably planned out a the same time DC decided to do their reboot, and the interesting thing about that is they are giving this more time to come together properly than they did the reboot--which it really needed by the looks of things.

JohnF said...

Also, Adam Hughes, JG Jones, and Jae Lee are fantastic artists.
Not that any of this redeems the idea of Before Watchmen, which sounds terrible, but these are some top-notch illustrators.

Rodrigo Baeza said...

I suppose Gibbons is busy drawing his creator-owned comic with Millar, but I wouldn't be surprised if they get him to do some pages for the epilogue. Or some variant covers, at least.

random said...

Haha what? The Kubert art team is the only one that actually kind of sucks, I'd take any of the rest well before Gibbons.