Today’s oddity is a piece of comics promo… a double-sided newspaper/poster given away in 2012 to promote the then-upcoming Before Watchmen series. Younger readers might not recall the ire that this series raised. Watchmen was a ground-breaking and beloved twelve-episode maxi-series created by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. It was collected as a graphic novel by DC Comics in 1987. It sold by the factory-load, many important awards were won, lots of money was earned, and careers were made. It was, and remains, one of my all-time favourite stories of any genre, in any medium.
Then after some time, the Powers That Were in DC said, paraphrasingly, “Hold on, we own this highly-regarded property and we’re just sitting on it when it could be earning us a lot more money!” So they gathered their biggest and brightest creators — proper top talent, they were — who planned out a bunch of prequel mini-series that each focussed on one of the main characters. The new project would be called Before Watchmen (which is the hand-carved wooden shoes of titles: clunky, uncomfortable and very much feeling like it was just temporary solution but then they ran out of time).
Where the original Watchmen was a single series of twelve issues, the prequels were a little more complex, with a total of thirty-seven issues over seven multi-part series and a single-issue one-off:
Minutemen (six issues)
Silk Spectre (four issues)
Comedian (six issues)
Nite Owl (four issues)
Ozymandias (six issues)
Rorschach (four issues)
Dr. Manhattan (four issues)
Moloch (two issues)
Dollar Bill (one issue)
Additionally, The Curse of the Crimson Corsair was a two-page back-up strip that appeared in most issues, drawn (and later written) by John Higgins, the only returning member of the original creative team. (There was also a planned single-issue called Before Watchmen: Epilogue but that one never appeared.)
When the Before Watchmen comics were being published, many of the more vocal fans absolutely despised them. They hated them so much that they didn’t even need to read them to know they were bad. In some cases, the vitriol and bile was so much that it achieved critical mass and propelled the hate-waves back in time to infect the past, allowing some especially-gifted fans to whine about the prequels being terrible before they were even published!
As for me: I chose to wait until I’d read the prequels before I judged them — but because I’m not a fan of attacking something without knowing what it is, I created the image of the tea-cup (above) to accompany a somewhat tetchy article about the preemptive hate phenomenon, which you can find reproduced here.
Regardless of whether they were necessary, or even desired, on the whole the Before Watchmen tales are pretty strong. Some of them are quite excellent. They were collected in four graphic novels, and also later in one great big omnibus edition.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I feel obliged to mention that I have had a professional input into the series: when artist John Higgins took over the writing duties on the Crimson Corsair strip, he came to me a couple of times for advice on dialogue and plot elements. This is also in the interests of bragging.)
Predictably, despite the fears of many of the fans, the original Watchmen graphic novel remains intact: it wasn’t tainted or otherwise adversely affected by the existence of the prequels, just as it wasn’t affected by the also-hated-in-advance movie adaptation (which I thought was very good, by the way).
And as I write this, the world is days away from the premier of the new Watchmen TV series from HBO, and in theory it won’t be too long before we see the final issue of Doomsday Clock, the long-awaited/long-feared (delete as applicable) Watchmen sequel that ties the story in with the DC universe.
Some of the fans would prefer Watchmen to have remained absolutely untouched. I can understand that attitude, though I don’t wholly agree with it. First, because the creators don’t own the property and they knew that from the start. And second, well, comics are a business as much as they’re an art-form, and we need the business side of things to create and promote new material. In the movie industry, purists sometimes decry the massively successful all-spectacle blockbusters like Avatar, claiming that they swamp the movies with smaller budgets. But the truth is those big money-making movies keep the studios afloat. In the same way, the Watchmen prequels, sequels, spin-offs and adaptations will earn DC a lot of money, and hopefully some of that will be funnelled back into the business to fund new projects.