Question of the week: is there a point to Before Watchmen (and other prequels)?

So one of the big stinks of the last year in the world of comics has been Before Watchmen, DC’s prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s famous 1980s graphic novel series, which ended up being made into a beautiful, faithful but somewhat emotionally empty movie a few years ago.

Now, Alan Moore hasn’t endorsed Before Watchmen. He’s not writing it. Dave Gibbons isn’t illustrating it. In fact, Moore at least is dead against it, not least because he was told he was going to get full ownership of the original once DC had stopped printing it – something that DC has never done. In fact, just about the only person involved with the original who is part of Before Watchmen is Len Wein, who ‘edited’ (he didn’t do a lot, on the grounds that ‘Who copy edits Alan Moore?’) Watchmen, and he’s only writing one of the prequel strands.

Meanwhile, Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello and other writers have sat down and written prequels stories for several of the Watchmen characters. So far we’ve seen prequels for Silk Spectre, the original Minutemen (including the first Nite Owl and Silhouette), Ozymandias and the Comedian, and there are more to come.

And I have to say it’s all largely pointless. The stories even at their best (Cooke’s) just add some flesh and bones to stories already hinted at in the original, rather than adding anything new. Yes, there’s something to be said for giving Silhouette a bit more of a backstory, but that’s about it.

Meanwhile, Brian Azzarello – typically not bothering to read existing series before writing for them – completely contradicts what’s implied in the original Watchmen and what’s explicit in the movie: that the Comedian assassinated JFK. In his story, the Comedian is friends with the Kennedys and is sent on a diversionary mission so that he can’t prevent the assassination in Dallas.

So today’s questions are:

Is there a point to Before Watchmen, beyond making money? If you’ve read the current issues, have you enjoyed it? Do you feel they’ve added anything to the story? And on a larger point, is there generally much point to a prequel, or does it inevitably merely feed off the original, without adding much that’s new?

Answers below or on your own blog, please.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.