DC Plans Prequels to Watchmen Series
By DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: February 1, 2012
No hero’s tale ever really ends, whether it is Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War or Sherlock Holmes’s exploits after his tumble over the Reichenbach Falls. And now Watchmen
, one of the most influential comic-book works of the last 25 years, is about to yield additional chapters, a plan that has already drawn the outrage of its original author.
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From the Before Watchmen mini-series.
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Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.
On Wednesday DC Entertainment is expected to announce that its DC Comics imprint intends to publish seven comic-book mini-series that will continue the stories of the adventurers introduced in Watchmen, which was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.
Serialized from 1986 to 1987 and since collected as a graphic novel, Watchmen chronicles a group of crime fighters who, amid the real history of the cold war, find they are as powerless to solve their personal problems as they are to prevent the seeming inevitability of nuclear holocaust.
The new mini-series, collectively called Before Watchmen and scheduled to start in the summer, will not be direct sequels to the original, which has been widely praised for its sophisticated storytelling and for its emphatic (if deliberately ambiguous) ending. Instead a new group of writers and illustrators will expand on the back stories of the costumed vigilantes like Rorschach and Nite Owl.
DC Comics seemed to understand how this announcement would most likely be received by Watchmen devotees; in a news release the publisher said the Before Watchmen installments were “as highly anticipated as they are controversial.”
Mr. Moore, who has disassociated himself from DC Comics and the industry at large, called the new venture “completely shameless.”
Speaking by telephone from his home in Northampton, England, Mr. Moore said, “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.”
For DC Comics, the lure of revisiting Watchmen, even without Mr. Moore’s involvement, is understandably irresistible. The graphic novel has been a perpetual best seller, with more than two million copies sold, and its critical success has brought renewed attention to comics, particularly in Hollywood, where it has helped to spawned countless blockbuster superhero movies. (That includes a 2009 adaptation
of the graphic novel “Watchmen,” directed by Zack Snyder, that was both praised and panned
for its faithfulness to the source material; costing an estimated $130 million, it brought in a disappointing $185 million at the global box office
DC has become an increasingly crucial part of Time Warner, whose film studio, Warner Brothers, is preparing new big-budget Batman and Superman movies. And the publisher has enjoyed increased sales from a recent initiative that restarted its superhero comics at issue No. 1
“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, the co-publishers of DC Entertainment, said in a statement. “After 25 years the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told.”
Brian Azzarello, a comics author who is writing the mini-series for the Watchmen characters Rorschach and the Comedian, said he expected an initial wave of resistance because “a lot of comic readers don’t like new things.”
“I think the gut reaction is going to be, ‘Why?’ ” Mr. Azzarello said in a telephone interview. “But then when the actual books come out, the answer will be, ‘Oh, that’s why.’ ”
Some admirers suggested that more nuanced reactions were possible. The novelist Jonathan Lethem admitted in a telephone interview to “an instinctive, protective scorn” of any effort to revisit Watchmen.
“That story was absolutely consummate and an enunciation as complete as any artwork in any realm,” he said. “And it’s just inviting a disgrace, basically, to try to extend any aspect of it.”
Yet, Mr. Lethem added, the referential nature of the original Watchmen — which was inspired by earlier superhero characters and drew upon a grab bag of influences
, including the Bible, the sonnets of Shelley and “The Threepenny Opera” to tell its story — begged for the graphic novel to be reinterpreted.
“In the greater scheme of things,” he said, “there’s an ecological law, almost, that it ought to be.”
Not to Mr. Moore, however. To him Watchmen is not a proud reminder of the role he has played in legitimizing comics as a serious storytelling vehicle. Instead it evokes memories of what he says were “draconian contracts” he signed with DC in the 1980s that give him little control over the work he created, and his gradual falling-out
with the publisher over the film versions of “Watchmen” and another of his graphic novels, “V For Vendetta
While he was unaware of DC’s specific plans for Before Watchmen, Mr. Moore said he has over the years resisted overtures from the publisher to approve sequel or prequel projects.
Still, Mr. Moore said he was unlikely to stand in the way of Before Watchmen or to fight the project in court, where he said DC Comics would meet him with an “infinite battery of lawyers.”
“I don’t want money,” he said. “What I want is for this not to happen.”
Mr. Gibbons does not share those feelings. Though he is not participating in Before Watchmen, he said in a statement: “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.”
But Mr. Moore was unconvinced, saying that the endeavor only weakened the argument that comics were an authentic form of literature.
“As far as I know,” he said, “there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to ‘Moby-Dick.’ ”