By Todd Allen
Oh, we all knew the Watchmen sequel was coming. The art leaked and DC’s lawyers went wild — unusual enough to know something was close to an announcement. Then the last round of announced reprint books included The Art of Amanda Conner (some of her art was in that leaked batch) and a HC reprint of Dave Gibbons’ Green Lantern work (more on that in bit) made it clear an announcement was imminent. What do we get with the actual announcement? Comedy. And more comedy from the PR than from the reactions, if you ask me.
Everyone involved with this knows that if “Before Watchmen” isn’t note perfect, there’s likely to be a lot of egg on a lot of faces and everyone is hedging a little.
Let’s start with with my favorite line from the official announcement:
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.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m down with Len Wein. I bought DC Universe: Legacies. I have Roots of the Swamp Thing packed away somewhere and I think I might prefer his Phantom Stranger work. He’s an important creator and he brought Alan Moore to DC. Still, throwing it out like that as the first person with a legacy connection to the original. That just made me laugh out loud. I’ll give the official punchline on that to former Esquire editor, Marty Beckerman in his Nerve column:
Original series editor Lee Wein penned many of the new stories, so at least that’s something. Because if Citizen Kane had had a prequel, Orson Welles’ editor should’ve written it.
Unfair? Absolutely. But that’s how the press release read to a lot of people.
Speaking of Wein, he’s the subject of the absolute funniest quote in the interviews. Good ‘ole JMS popped out this gem for CBR:
Alan didn’t pass on being brought on to write Swamp Thing, a seminal comics character created by Len Wein, and he did a terrific job. He didn’t say “No, no, I can’t, that’s Len’s character.” Nor should he have.
Um, dude? If you want to take that rhetorical approach, you should stick to Watchmen being based on the Charlton characters and Moore tending to retrofit older literary characters. There’s a big difference between Dan DiDio asking you to do more Watchmen and Len Wein, who happened to be editing the book he was co-creator on, asking Alan Moore to do Swamp Thing. Still, while horrible logic, that’s comedy gold. [And I'm going to be reading a LONG awaited issue of The Twelve after I post this. Not like I'm a JMS hater.]
Practically every interview from a creator is defensive. Everyone know they’re taking a risk participating in such a project. My advice – take in the hype. Taste the fear in the interviews and have a good laugh out of all this.
Then consider the REAL risk-taking DC is doing here. Watchmen didn’t sell all those graphic novels in the Direct Market. They sold a lot of them in bookstores to people who wouldn’t have a clue where to get single issues. DC is opting to take curiosity sales on single issues, rather than on graphic novels. These titles get a bad rep in serialization, that’s a lot of money left on the table. But, as JMS was saying today, DiDio is bold. No pressure whatsoever.
The funniest thing about all of this is how Watchmen colors the mass reaction to these creative teams. I find myself looking at a Darwyn Cooke title and thinking “do I really want to get this?” That really shouldn’t be happening, but it’s the Watchmen Effect. And I’m not exactly in the minority here. But, figure I was quoting a reaction from Nerve and you see how far away from the DM the ripples go and the irony kicks in that you might be alienating the mass audience to sell the hobbyists.
Finally, we double back to Len Wein, who says to Wired:
“I think reboots are almost mandatory in an industry that has existed for over three-fourths of a century now. The need to inject new blood, new ideas, new approaches, is the only thing that keeps our readers coming back for more.”
My first reaction on reading this was a belly laugh. Yes, reboot the old characters to inject new blood. That’s very nearly an oxymoron. Then it occurred to me, Alan Moore makes an almost annual flustered denouncement that DC is still clinging to his old standards after all these years. Now it’s a sad comment that DC has to do reboots because they’ve seemingly lost the ability to successfully launch a new character. The New 52? All relaunches and revamps. What is Before Watchmen? It’s DC going back to an old well one more time.
So here we are and Watchmen is coming. My last question, based on the initial round of hype… they’re not going to have that Len Wein/Dave Gibbons Green Lantern HC promoted as “by the editor and artist of Watchmen,” are they?
P.S. – Dan? If you’re brazen enough to do “Before Watchmen,” you’re brazen enough to do a “Watchmen Babies” variant cover. It would be awesome. Own the joke.