I got a bit of a weird feeling in my gut when I saw the official announcement that DC Comics is planning to publish a series of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal Watchmen miniseries. I mean, what DC is doing isn’t legally wrong. They’re well within their rights to publish any Watchmen-material as they see fit, and they’ve recruited some of the best talent in comics to help bring this project to life. The art shown so far looks great, and everyone involved are saying the right things about honoring the legacy of the original book and treating the characters with respect. DC likes to turn a profit on the comics they publish, and exploiting a popular “franchise” like Watchmen is a seemingly no-brainer decision. And why should Watchmen be treated like a sacred cow now, when every other cow has been slaughtered without mercy? Watchmen is just a comic, one that Alan Moore himself once planned to write a prequel to. And while Moore has withdrawn himself from the comic industry over the years, Gibbons contributed new material promoting the Watchmen movie, and put out a press release wishing the creators involved in the new prequels well. So why do I feel uneasy about The Before Watchmen project?
Watchmen is one of those few works that completely stands on its own. Moore and Gibbons created such a vivid world with iconic, fully realized characters, that they didn’t leave me with a desire to see their “untold” history explored in any concrete way. Its all there on the page.
Maybe most importantly though, Alan Moore didn’t want these type of books made. He turned down a deal with DC where he would regain the rights to his original work if he agreed to allow the company to publish spinoff material like the prequels well see on shelves soon. What does it say about how DC thinks of their creators, past or present, that they explicitly went against the wishes of a man who has written some of the greatest comics that they’ve ever published ? What does it say about their creative integrity that they’re deciding to revisit this world, instead of commissioning all of this amazing talent to creating something new? And as for that press release from Gibbons, he was essentially washing his hands of this project.
In the wake of this announcement, many people have pointed out that DC is in the business of making money. I would have hoped that the company was healthy enough so that they wouldn’t have to resort to such a drastic, creatively bankrupt course of action. How is this project going to move the company, and the industry forward? If there was ever such a thing as a naked cash grab, this would be it.
I don’t know, maybe I’m taking this whole thing too seriously. Watchmen will always stand tall on its own, and supplemental material such as these prequels will only serve to make it stand out even more. And in the end, we’re talking about pictures and words on pieces of paper. But I can’t shake the feeling that this seems like a desperate gambit by a company struggling to remain viable in an everchanging market. And they don’t’ care if they have to sell out their principles to do it.