Okay, so here’s the deal: you guys have all seen the movie version of Watchmen, or read the comic book Watchmen, or pre-ordered your Watchmen toaster, right? Well, after years of lively back-and-forth (to put it nicely) with the creators and fans, DC Comics will finally release a prequel to the book called Before Watchmen. But not just one prequel… They’re actually releasing eight miniseries this June , each focusing on one character from the original Watchmen book.
This would be a big story no matter what, but it’s compounded by the fact that Watchmen writer Alan Moore is on bad terms with DC, and a lot of fans feel that capitalizing on a literary magnum opus like this is in poor taste. So to say there’s been a lot of talk about this in the comic book world is a bit of an understatement, but for the rest of the non-comic crowd, there hasn’t been much buzz. Heck, pretty much everyone we talk to who isn’t a comics journalist or a comics professional didn’t even know Before Watchmen was happening.
That is, until now. Before Watchmen may not be out on stands until June… But we read it thirty-five minutes ago.
We had a chance to sit down, secretly, in the DC Comics offices to flip through the “Green Book,” a collection of pages and scripts from the BW series, some finished, some without dialogue, and some just rough sketches. But it was enough to give you our impressions of the upcoming series. The main takeaway? Whatever you think about this project, the art is really frickin’ good.
Below, we’ll break down our thoughts on the Before Watchmen series you can’t miss, what to look for, and whether you’ll want to elbow past the angry crowds of picketers who call the book an affront to the integrity of the original work.
MINUTEMEN (Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke)
WHAT IT IS: Before Watchmen, there were the Minutemen. So now, they get a Before Watchmen series called Minutemen. There you go, that was easy. But really, it’s a series about the team that came right before the Watchmen in history, who we only get brief glimpses of in the original series.
WHY YOU WANT IT: Good lord, the art in this book is fantastic. The upcoming The Dark Knight Rises shows Darwyn Cooke’s influence in Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman costume. Comic book fans know his work from the great DC graphic novel New Frontier, as well as his series of Parker books based on the crime novels. It’s kind of a no-brainer to put Cooke in a 1940s/1950s setting, and let him go to town. Given that these characters didn’t really appear in the original book anyway, this is probably the one book a guilty comic book fan can pick up, with no problem. For non-fans, you’ll just want to see Cooke’s superb sense of perspective, connected layouts, and knock-out handle on the comic book form.
SILK SPECTRE (Writer, Darwyn Cooke; Artist, Amanda Conner)
WHAT IT IS: The second Silk Spectre – played by Malin Akerman in the movie – gets entangled in love, and the s**t kicked out her by her mother, so she can grow up to be a conflicted hero.
WHY YOU WANT IT: You guys like sexy ladies, right? Nobody draws sexy ladies like Conner, and that’s reason enough. Okay, are the fellas gone? Good. For everyone else, what makes this book so surprising is how ridiculous funny it is. That’s right: a funny Watchmen book. Conner has said she based the book on the nine panel grid structure Dave Gibbons used for the original series, but it also feeds nicely into what Silk Spectre is: a throwback romance comic, but with way more moms beating up their daughters. Talking to DC, we said we felt this has the potential – in a way – to be the most controversial series, because it’s fun… And Watchmen isn’t fun, dammit, it’s serious! SERIOUS.
RORSCHACH (Writer, Brian Azzarello; Artist, Lee Bermejo)
WHAT IT IS: The second craziest member of the Watchmen beats up pimps in seedy ‘70s New York.
WHY YOU WANT IT: If you like to feel dirty, you will love this book. Artist Lee Bermejo is an insanely good visual storyteller – the script was separate in this book, and we understood everything that was going on. The opening page is Rorschach’s mask depicted in the clouds over New York City, and it only gets better from there. Plus, if there’s one character we want more from in Watchmen, it’s Rorschach. Poor guy needs a little love.
COMEDIAN (Writer, Brian Azzarello; Artist, J.G. Jones)
WHAT IT IS: If you want the job done right in the wrongest way possible, you call the Comedian – the guy behind some of the most heinous state-sponsored crimes in history.
WHY YOU WANT IT: Honestly, we can’t tell you a lot about this book without spoiling it, but think about the description above, and you’ll figure out a few of the f-ed up things Azzarello has the Comedian doing throughout this series. Jones art is solid, but this is the one book where it felt like the artist was stepping back to let the writer go nuts… And those familiar with Azzarello’s writing know he can go totally, totally nuts. Whatever happens, this looks like the series that will take the most chances.
DR. MANHATTAN (Writer J. Michael Straczynski; Artist, Adam Hughes)
WHAT IT IS: …Before he was famous for his big, blue penis, Dr. Manhattan had a regular-sized, pink penis. This is that penis’ story.
WHY YOU WANT IT: Hughes’ art is nice and slick, and Straczynski knows how to write gods struggling with their humanity (he’s done it before in Marvel’s Thor, and many creator owned-series). That said, like most of the rest of these books, this seems to be straight up prequel/biography, and we’re not as interested in books that just fill in the blanks.
NITE OWL (Writer, J. Michael Straczynski; Artists, Andy and Joe Kubert)
WHAT IT IS: What if a kid found out who Batman was, and then Batman was a pitiful jerk? And that kid became Robin, but he was also kind of sad? What would THAT be like?
WHY YOU WANT IT: Just by it’s nature, this is a bit of a Batman riff, in case you couldn’t guess. But the real thrill here for comic fans is seeing classic artist Joe Kubert ink over his son Andy Kubert’s pencils. Seeing their two styles mix is a spine-tingling thrill, albeit a thrill for comic book nerds like us.
OZYMANDIAS (Writer: Len Wein; Artist, Jae Lee)
WHAT IT IS: Even the smartest man alive used to be the smartest kid alive.
WHY YOU WANT IT: This does seem like another “fill in the plot points” type book, which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for. Jae Lee’s art though, is lovely – it looks like what would happen in Norman Rockwell and H.P. Lovecraft decided to have a baby together. And then that baby drew a comic book prequel to Watchmen. That’s one talented baby, you guys.
So there’s your rundown… There’s also an Epilogue one-shot coming up, and each issue has a supernatural pirate tale called “Curse of the Crimson Corsair,” that features some sweet pictures of sharks. We can all agree on sharks, right guys?
All in all though, at least visually, this project is getting all the love and attention you’d expect from the sequel to the most beloved graphic novel of all time. And for the first few issues at least, there doesn’t seem to be a clunker in the bunch. Will that pan out? Will comic book fans survive the inevitable gang war at San Diego Comic-Con? When it does happen, we’ll be high above the San Diego Convention Center, watched as the accumulated filth of all their sex and murder foams about their waists, and they’ll look up and shout, “Save us!” …And we’ll look down and whisper: “No.”
Educate your geeky side further by reading Alex’s Ten Things You Need to Know about Comics. –>