The Guardian ran a piece today about DC Comics publishing a series of prequels based on Watchmen, one of the most popular graphic novels that was actually a 12 part mini-series ever printed.
They actually get a few facts wrong in trying to be hip to comic book culture by stating that Bucky was ‘always dead’ as Ed Brubaker pointed out that could be viewed as the first piece of retroactive continuity in comics. Bucky’s fate was revealed in the 1960’s as part of an adventure that never happened. He was also featured in several comics of the 1950’s along with Steve Rogers, so bringing back Rogers in the 60’s and killing Bucky in the 40’s required a lot of rewriting.
For a medium that deals largely with the fantastic, mainstream superhero comics have often been hidebound by a number of “rules”.
For years, certain tenets at both Marvel and DC seemed etched in stone. Captain America’s young sidekick, Bucky, was killed in the closing days of the second world war and “only Bucky stays dead” was almost a mantra at Marvel. Superman, that great exemplar of truth, justice and the American Way, doesn’t kill. Ever. And the X-Men’s Wolverine always had his origin shrouded in mystery, so much so that it was taken as read that it was a story that would never be told.
But Bucky came back, as the Winter Soldier (and now looks like he’s being killed again), Superman caused much philosophical debate when he did, in fact, kill an invading Parademon (raising the question of whether Superman’s “life is sacrosanct” pledge only applies to humans) and Wolverine’s origin was indeed revealed … Hugh Jackman would have been a few quid lighter of pocket had it not.
As those old sacred cows have all been turned into beefburgers, it’s the turn of the absolutely unthinkable to happen in comics: a new series featuring the characters from the groundbreaking 1986 series Watchmen – and not written by Alan Moore.
Watchmen – Moore’s and artist Dave Gibbons’ vision of an alternate America populated by deeply-flawed superheroes as the world edges towards nuclear destruction – has always been a thing out there on its own. Moore even refused to have his name on Zack Snyder’s big-screen adaptation. Despite most comic-book characters passing through the hands of creative teams faster than a pass-the-parcel game at a children’s party, the Watchmen – Nite-Owl, the Comedian, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, Ozymandias – have been Moore’s and Gibbons’ alone.
The news that DC comics – which owns the characters – is planning a series of Watchmen “prequels” was broken by Rich Johnston at his regular gossip-and-news column on the website bleedingcool.com.
Here’s the Bleeding Cool piece…
A couple of years ago, Bleeding Cool broke the news that DC Comics was planning to return to Watchmen to tell new stories. Dave Gibbons would be involved as well as many of DC’s brightest stars.
The very concept was pooh-poohed and Bleeding Cool was accused to making the whole thing up, by some. Until Alan Moore confirmed that he had been approached to, if nothing else, acquiesce to the project, in return for subsequently being granted the ownership rights to Watchmen that he had once sought, at a later date. He turned the idea down, and the media attention seemed to kill the project.
For a while.
I was told before New York Comic Con that it might be back on and that DC were drawing up a wishlist of creators for a series of Watchmen prequel comics.. Well, I’ve now heard a lot more. Darwyn Cooke’s name is at the very top, linked to drawing two mini-series and writing another, followed by the likes of JMS, JG Jones, Andy Kubert and Brian Azzarello. Whether or not they have been approached, I don’t know, and no one’s talking, but it gives you an idea of the scale. I would also expect Dave Gibbons and John Higgins to be involved in some way.
I’ve also been told that there’s a creative meeting happening this week and the project has a secret name, “Panic Room” – as in that’s where the creators will need to go when the news breaks….
DC declined to comment. Just as he did last time, Dave Gibbons would only say “hurm”.
It’s important to note that Moore and Gibbon’s Watchmen was initially a vehicle for the recently acquired Charlton Comics characters The Question, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker and others. When DC Editorial decided to use the characters in other titles, the project changed and the characters became Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan, Nite-Owl, the Comedian, etc. The origins and characters are of course not as important as the storytelling skills and the characterizations along with the post-modern statement that Watchmen made at the time. However… it started life as a work for hire piece.
The real problem arises where DC Comics promised that the rights to Watchmen would revert to Moore and Gibbons after the book went out of print. However, the book has never gone out of print and DC was reluctant to renegotiate the terms of the contract with the creators. Therefore the ownership of Watchmen is more than a little hazy. DC has made several attempts to coerce and manipulate Moore into being agreeable with the publisher over further projects, but at this point Alan Moore is sick of it all. He has lost friendships over this and seen good friends used against him as well (Rich Johnston chronicles the sordid situation here).
Watchmen was also part of a major falling out between Alan Moore (at the time most well-known for his work on Swamp Thing) and not just DC Comics but the comic book industry in general. He refuses on artistic and moral grounds to have his work ‘prostituted.’ He has rightly pointed out that a comic book about Dr. Manhattan would be boring and one about Rorshach would be miserable, despite the ‘top level talent’ that DC claims to be attached to these very things.
Even so, I do recall that he had planned a sequel to Watchmen back in 1985, but perhaps that was DC Editorial’s wishful thinking when the collected edition set the publishing world on fire.
When the Watchmen film was announced, director Zack Snyder reached out to Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore for input. Gibbons was heavily involved but Moore refused to have any part of it.
As Johnston points out, Moore was also offered creative ownership of Watchmen and turned it down.
I am pointing all of this out because, publishing additional Watchmen comics isn’t exactly heresy and Moore had his chance to be involved and has passed on it each time.
Publishing further comics based on Watchmen isn’t as much of a problem as publishing BAD Watchmen comics. No one wants that.
Of course you could just read the Twelve…
A Watchmen prequel is technically nothing new as a friend pointed out. Around the time of the film’s release ‘The End is Nigh’ was released on PS3 and Xbox 360 Arcade video game, written by author of X-Men and Swamp Thing, Len Wein.
Set in 1972, ‘The End is Nigh’ was a two-player co-op game allowing players to control Nite-Owl or Rorschach. The plot involves a prison riot and the assassination of Woodward and Bernstein (the real-life reporters who exposed the Watergate Scandal). The game was well received and added another facet to the excitement surrounding the film at the time while serving as back-story for the film and book as it depicted the falling out between Nite-Owl and Rorschach.