If you’ve been following geek news, you’ll know that DC Comics will be releasing a series of comic books, Before Watchmen, this summer. These books will be based on characters developed by Alan Moore in Watchmen, the 1986 graphic novel that became the standard by which all other graphic novels are now judged. And if you’ve been following geek news, you’ll also know that Moore is not happy with this prequel series–and neither are his many devout fans.
But the writers of Before Watchmen, all of whom are respected comic book writers with their own followings, are thrilled with the chance to embellish upon the characters they’ve come to love…because they too are equally devout fans.
J. Michael Straczynski, the writer of the complex and compelling 1990s science fiction TV show, Babylon 5, as well as two upcoming Before Watchmen comics, Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan, responded to the many, many (many) fans who have demanded to know why these comic book writers would dare rework Moore’s masterpiece, particularly because Moore has withheld his blessing on the project.
(Moore had, and still has, a famously contentious relationship with DC. For an in-depth look at this 25-year feud, please read this excellent essay on the subject, from Susanna Polo of The Mary Sue.)
Straczynski, or JMS as his many fans call him, explained his position. He has many reasons, but the two that stood out are:
1. He and the other writers are writing the Watchmen prequels because Moore doesn’t want to:
If at any point in the last 25 years, Alan had said, “you know, there’s a Watchmen story I’d like to tell,” there’s no question that DC would have given him both the freedom to tell that story and a check big enough to dim the lights at their offices for a week. And there were frequent overtures for him to do just that. In 2005, DC actually offered to give him ownership of the characters if he’d come back to do more stories with them.
They wanted his involvement, solicited his involvement, would have been thrilled at his involvement. He declined at every point. Fair enough. It’s his choice, and it’s his right to make it.
2. He and the other writers are writing the Watchmen prequels because they want to.
When I met with the others in New York to discuss these books, I was in awe of the assembled talent. These were, and are, some of the brightest lights in the comic business. (And me, holding up the rear.) Listening to Brian A, I frankly thought I should be sitting at the children’s table, not here. And beside me was Len Wein, who was involved with the original Watchmen books. Amazing.
I wish you could’ve been there. I wish you could’ve seen the passion, the care, the creativity in their eyes and in their voices. There was no talk of money, or of deals, it was all about digging into characters for whom we all shared a profound reverence and appreciation. No detail was too small to delve into. What really happened to this character, who died or disappeared? Why did this other character dissolve into madness and alcohol? Who the hell was the Twilight Lady? There was an excitement and a dedication to preserve the quality of the characters that I wish you could have been present to witness firsthand.
It. Was. Awesome.