If you listen to certain corners of the internet, the souls of comics fans everywhere are going to cry out for justice come June 6th. That’s when DC Comics starts rolling out Before Watchmen, the controversial prequels to Alan Moore’s beloved dystopian superhero opus.
Written and drawn by legendary creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen holds a special place in many comics’ readers hearts. Its intricate narrative design and psychologically surprising characters combined to form a work that let longtime superhero readers hold their heads high. The series helped pave the way to literary respectability for a genre once derided as juvenilia. It’s understandable that people would want to leave Watchmen undisturbed, even as this project swirled around as rumour for years.
Moore’s had harsh words for Before Watchmen and the people involved. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed his latter-day career, though. No matter whether you want to label Moore a crank or a hypocrite, he has a history with the work and the publisher that’s his alone.
But all the hue and cry from fans over the strip-mining of Rohrshach, the Comedian and others drowns out a crucial truth: for a fan, it’s never good for any entertainment to be too sacrosanct to touch.
The thing about superhero comics is that there’s an implicit baton-passing built into the genre’s DNA. The assembly-line creative process that’s been part of comics since its inception started out as a mercenary and efficiency-driven practice, but it’s spawned inspired mixes of talent that have been happy accidents. There’s no getting around the fact that DC Entertainment is doing these prequels to get money. I hated the Watchmen movie and video game that was made for the ssame reasons. But we still might get some good, maybe even great comics out of Before Watchmen.
As far as I can tell, Darwyn Cooke’s never phoned in a day of work in his life. Even J. Michael Stracynski, whose recent work leaves me increasingly cold prides himself on a certain amount of polish. When new creators jump on established characters, there’s an opportunity for a different yet equally as compelling take on someone else’s creation. Moore himself’s done excellent work in this paradigm. I think that comics fans need to at least exhale long enough to see how the quality of the books turn out.