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[Featurama] Before Watchmen: It’s Not the End of the World


[Featurama] Before Watchmen: It’s Not the End of the World


Yesterday, DC Comics confirmed their plans to expand upon the Watchmen universe.  For those of you that are comic book fans, you are most likely livid.  I as well was full of a certain white hot rage until I calmed down and looked further in to it. For those in the world that haven’t read the book, well I guess you wouldn’t be so angry.  You should probably give it a read through though if you want any of this to make sense.

While this move from DC is most certainly another attempt to milk their masterpiece, I figured I would take a few words and lay down the foundation of what the Watchmen are.  Some of these new fans have only come to the series with the film tragically enough.

[Who are the Watchmen]

In 1985 DC Comics dove in and bought out the character rights of a failing rival comic book company called Charlton.  Charlton had been all over the map with their books and only really had a small group of super powered characters worth picking up.  Of those, the Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, The Question and Captain Atom would eventually be incorporated in to the DC Universe with each character serving in some form on DC’s premiere team, the Justice League.

One of their most intriguing new writers, Alan Moore, was asked to write a proposal for the heroes that would in turn be a deconstruction of the genre.  This was too risky a venture for DC’s newest properties, but the idea was good enough to push forward.  With a few changes to the characters names and looks, the Charlton heroes were then turned in to the Watchmen.

Alan and artist Dave Gibbons would craft what many would call the greatest graphic novel created.  A simple murder mystery tale that was less about the mystery and more about the lives these people had.
The death of a hero is just a means of exploring the lives of these former heroes in the midst of the Cold War.  They then went and explored the team ensemble that changed the way the world would view super heroes.

These weren’t larger than life super heroes, they were troubled individuals working a job that would lead anyone to insanity.  They were men with doubts, men with fears.  The most sane and normal of the group proving to be the most out of touch with humanity and vice versa. It’s themes and characters would inspire books about it, homage drawing from it and fans discussing it for decades after its release.

It wasn’t until a few years back that Warner Bros finally decided to capitalize on their property.  Watchmen went on to inspire a video game prequel that was based off of a film adaptation.  With this strong push from the company, it was finally time to revisit the world in the medium that created it.

[What is “Before Watchmen”]

Before Watchmen will be 7 inter-connected stories written and drawn by some of the best in the business.  This is the 2nd attempt at exploring the Watchmen world outside of the main book.  The first being Watchmen the End is Nigh.

With the books being billed as inter-connected, there will most likely be some occasional cross over from title to title.  Therefore, each writer on a book will be pulling double duty on another character with a different artist.

Below I’ve broken down the books by writer and have written what I expect of them based on the talent behind it.

Writer: Brian Azzarello

RORSCHACH (4 issues) –  Artist: Lee Bermejo

Rorschach is a twisted and paranoid individual with more questions than answers.  He has a terribly troubling past that often lets the reader over look his brutal sense of justice.  He is an insane man that showcases how crazy this universe had become.  This is a man who separated himself from humanity as soon as he heard of Kitty Genovese.  He would take to hurting those who hurt others, steadily growing more brutal as each crime was stopped.

This is easily the biggest title of the series as Rorschach really came out of the original as the fan favorite.

Azzarello’s history with titles like 100 Bullets, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and Batman: Joker leads me to believe he’s a capable choice to handle the gritty complexity of Rorschach.  Rorschach has a lot more action to offer the series over the other books and should play out like an unhinged Batman book.  I’m a bit surprised this is only going 4 issues, but Rorschach should be making a few cameos in Nite Owl.

Lee Bermejo was Brian’s artist on both Lex Luthor: Man of Steel and Joker and has been working with Brian in various other books.  His style on both has catered to a lot of inner monologue stuff so this is right up his alley.  Rorschach isn’t a talker so this is a pretty good pairing.  I really don’t think it will be hard for the two to get a quality book out with their experience together.

COMEDIAN (6 issues) –  Artist: J.G. Jones

The Comedian was the victim of the brutal attack that left him beaten and thrown out the window of his penthouse apartment to crash to his death.  His death kicked off all of the events in Watchmen and though his scene was short, his presence in the book was tremendous.  He was a cruel man that could find a joke in anything and had no moral compass to tie him down.  He was by far the most ruthless and is simply an unlikable character from beginning to end.

Comedian is still well within Azzarello’s comfort zone as a writer, I’m just not sure Comedian has the potential many of the other books have. This is a universally reviled character.  He does truly monstrous things without a second thought and even though he has the ability to be a deep character, it’ll be very hard to turn this in to something remotely pleasant to read.

J.G. Jones does a lot of cover work and not a lot of interiors.  This would normally be a count against the man if it weren’t for the fact that his full issue work has been with some of the big boys.  Wonder Woman: the Hiketia, Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy and Final Crisis were big titles, but ultimately, Wanted is what you need to look at for this book.  His use of shadow could work really well with this title and he’s always been good with leather.  I do kind of hate what he did with the cover though.  His paints on Y the Last Man and WW: the Hiketia was much better.

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

NITE OWL (4 issues) –  Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert

If the cover picture is to be believed, this book is actually about Nite Owl II.  Nite Owl II took over the mantle of the original Nite Owl after he retired and used his knowledge of technology to create a better suited replacement.  Because of his mentor, Nite Owl really is a hero because he wants to be.

Which is why he was so awkward in Watchmen.  The world didn’t need his heroics and he became fat and lazy because of this.  The great triumph of the character was to see him return to his costume.

J. Michael Straczynski is best known for his long runs on Spider-man and Fantastic Four.  These books contained a bevy of characters with issues and that will easily be brought to a character as insecure as Nite Owl. I don’t think JMS is particularly flawless as a writer, however rise to the occasion characters are his thing and he’s done them particularly well.

This is probably the easiest of the books to write as Nite Owl doesn’t have the complexities that some of the other characters have.

The most interesting thing about this project will come from what the father and son team of Joe and Andy can produce.  The Kubert’s are kinda like comic art royalty and Andy’s work on Batman is more than enough credential for Nite Owl.  His father Joe’s classic style of line work and inking will hopefully lend a feel to the book similar to Dave Gibbons work.  We can already can clearly see his use of ink on the cover and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Andy’s very strict line work.  Andy has also worked beside Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons on Batman vs Predator, so there is hope that he’ll transcribe some of that feeling behind Nite Owl.

DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) –  Artist: Adam Hughes

Dr. Manhattan was a normal scientist who’s workplace accident granted him power over the atom.  He’s a man far more advanced than any man imaginable and thus throughout the Watchmen, we see him moving farther and farther away from his humanity.  He is akin to a god trapped inside the body of a man.

Straczynski’s Supreme Power gave him a lot of room to work with god like figures that were pretty detached from normal people.  That’s Dr. Manhattan in a nut shell.  I’m pretty good with JMS on this.  The thing that’s throwing me for a curve ball is Adam Hughes.

Adam Hughes is a pinup girl guru which has me thinking this title will focus more on the relationship that Manhattan had with Silk Spectre II more than anything else.  The cover alone supports that theory.  As a character, Dr. Manhattan is not very interesting solo.  It’s his interactions with humans around him that really makes the story.

JMS’s years of experience with the Fantastic Four helps this as Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre’s relationship is similar to Reed and Sue’s.  To be honest though, this wasn’t the story I wanted to hear.  Watchmen did amazingly well in showcasing Manhattan’s fall away from humanity. I’m just afraid this will only serve to fill in the stuff that doesn’t need to be filled in.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

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

The Minutemen are the first generation of heroes from the Golden Age that left the world in the hands of the Watchmen.  They are the first group of super heroes.  Their story was never fully realized in the comic book, but their relationship was well documented.  For those looking for a comparison, the Minutemen were the JSA to the Watchmen’s JLA.

They were the original heroes.

Darwyn Cooke wrote DC’s New Frontier which actually over qualifies him for the Minutemen.  If you wanted a true “Before Watchmen” title, this would probably be it.  I’ve yet to read a bad Darwyn Cooke book and out of the two books he’s writing, this has the best chance.  The Minutemen were never fully realized in the the title and the tales accounting for their rise to fame and eventual falling out were the foundation for all of the issues the Watchmen faced.  It’ll be interesting to see how Darwyn’s pulp art style works in line with the shockingly dark end to the Minutemen.

This fits Darwyn’s style magnificently and I’m dying to read this.

SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) –  Artist: Amanda Conner

Silk Spectre had a history very similar to Nite Owl.  Her mother was originally on the Minutemen and she in turn replaced her mother in the Watchmen. The major difference is that Silk Spectre was always living down her mother’s role instead of embracing it like Nite Owl.  This self-loathing carries with her as she grows weary of the tights.

Before Watchmen’s Silk Spectre looks to be about the two women who filled the role.  Judging by the very detailed cover, we’re getting a glimpse in to the entire history of the character.  Darwyn’s only real work focusing on a heroine was way back in 2001 with Catwoman.  He had a short run of four issues and a graphic novel, yet his recent works have been very male-centric (particularly with Parker).  For this reason, I’m glad he’s teaming up with Amanda Conner on art just to bring him back in focus.

Amanda Conner does extremely well with females characters.  She uses a lot of expression in her faces that tends to create some wonderful reactions in the people she draws.  While I’m not sure she’s the match I would want for a book as gritty as Watchmen was, her cover looks to showcase what she is going to bring to the comic.  It’ll be interesting to see how she can represent Spectre II’s weariness as she goes further in to the story.

Sadly, I don’t think 4 issues will be enough for what this title could have become.

Writer: Len Wein

OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) –  Artist: Jae Lee

Ozymandias is the world’s smartest man.  He’s driven, intelligent and is vastly different from many of his contemporaries in the Watchmen. Ozymandias is a man that sets out to change the world and does it.  He is the one character of the book that has the most back story to fill in.

Fortunately, we have Len Wein helming the project.  For those having trouble figuring out who Len Wein is, he’s the guy who edited the Watchmen.  He crafted the story for Watchmen: The End is Nigh and he also played a part in creating characters like Swamp Thing and Wolverine.  This is a man that left his mark all over the industry throughout his career and now he’s returning to the book he helped make in to a success.  Ozymandias is easily the most interesting book as anybody would guess after reading Watchmen.

To help the book is Jae Lee who is probably best known for his work on Fantastic Four 1234 and Inhumans.  He has fantastic lines that go really well to showcase a lot of the finer details on textures.  His work with FF1234 showed how gritty his style can go and it’ll be interesting to see what can happen with a pure looking character like Ozymandias.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON CORSAIR (Spliced in to each issue of Before Watchmen) – Artist: John Higgins

Tales of the Black Freighter was a novel within a novel.  It used a completely unrelated tale read from the point of view of a child and his comic book to coincide with many of the events happening in the Watchmen universe.  It was a dark and terrible tale of a man trying to defend his home at any cost.

And here we have Len Wein, the editor of Watchmen, doing a cursed sea faring tale similar to the one in the original book.  I guess the best way to top that off is by throwing the original colorist of Watchmen together with him.

Now I’m extremely skeptical about this.  The talent behind this is fine, but the Watchmen worked this haunting story inside the pages of the series and it was brilliant.  Fantastically so.  Now we’re going to emulate that same idea again?

It worked originally because a focused Moore and Gibbons worked it in to the their title through key events.  Throwing 2 new pages in to 35 books can’t be consistent.  It’s an interesting idea that has 2 people that can make it work (especially when you consider Len’s experience as an editor), however I’m extremely skeptical of how this move will play out.

[What to make of all this]

We have talent behind this project.  As much as I’d like to believe that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are the only ones that could do another Watchmen, there is likely no chance of that.  Alan Moore is not interested in his property anymore and I can guarantee you, it wouldn’t have been as good as you think it could be.  Dave Gibbons hit the Watchmen out of the park in the 80s, but his career hasn’t been nearly as good as his works with Moore.

With the focus on fresh, hot talent this has a chance to be something good.  We have a writer and inker that worked the process with Gibbons and Moore.  In fact, all of these books have pretty brilliant choices to back their authors up.  While I might cringe at a Dr. Manhattan Adam Hughes book, his ability to accentuate the sexuality in his characters makes for an interesting dynamic in the messed up relationship between Silk Spectre and the title character.  I’ve seen absolutely nothing regarding a story or a preview, but I’ve seen what this talent can do and it’s pretty perfect for what’s being offered.

Unfortunately, do we really need any of this?  There is no point of Watchmen that really needs to be expanded upon in sequels, prequels or side stories.  It’s unfortunate that a title that could be considered a masterpiece necessitates a prequel, but worst off is that it’s unfocused.  Before Watchmen will be kicking off this event with an Epilogue book from a collaboration of different artists and story tellers.

I know there are plans to have this inter-connect, which shouldn’t be difficult with 4 writers to throw ideas around with. However, Watchmen was never a part of a franchise.  It told the story in one thought out series and was made all the better because of this.  Spanning this universe to nearly triple the number of issues is a bit much and I don’t think the Crimson Corsair can keep up.

I have my doubts about the necessity of this project as well.  I don’t need more Watchmen, but it was Dave Gibbons who turned it around for me.  “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 still have my worn trade of Watchmen sitting on my bookshelf.  Nothing these books can do will make it any less of a masterpiece.  However, at this stage each of these books has the chance to make Watchmen even better.  At least DC is putting established talent behind this project to attempt success.

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