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.

  • No. No point. No point at all.

  • I won't buy any of them. I think it's sad that Alan Moore was lost to the mainstream comics industry. He wrote one great Superman, and possibly the greatest Batman story but there should have been a lot more.

    There is an interview with Moore where he explains about Dave Gibbons 'overseeing' the prequel project where he says, 'And, so ended my friendship with Dave Gibbons.” Which I think is the quintessential Alan quote; substitute the name and he can use it to finish any of his anicdotes.

  • Mark Carroll

    There can be stories worth telling in prequels, especially in setting up premise. I'm avoiding the Watchmen stuff though; I don't want the latter to feel tainted with the disappointment of these additions.

  • SK

    I wasn't that keen on Wide Sargasso Sea either.

  • I think we'd all be more receptive to a Watchmen prequel if it was being penned by Alan Moore. Without him it loses any artistic merit, and becomes purely about money.

    Interestingly enough, DC has recently announced a Sandman prequel and that is something I will purchase. It rather neatly has a story that is worth telling, the story of Dream's capture.

  • SK

    No, hang on, that's silly. The artistic merit of the work can't depend on who it's being penned by. That wouldn't make sense at all. Well, except in the rather limited sense that Moore obviously realises there isn't any point in doing it, so the one penned by him has the artistic merit of 'not existing', which the published ones lack, and so is ahead of them in that way. But no, otherwise, how can who does the writing affect the artistic merit?

    (Perhaps you mistyped and meant to say that without Moore it loses artistic legitimacy, that is, only Moore has any kind of right to add to the Watchmen franchise, and without his involvement it is somehow illegitimate, disreputable. That argument would be on a stronger footing, though, if Watchmen itself weren't a reinvention of already-existing characters. When you build your career on doing reinventions of stuff other people originated, you kind of have to take it on the chin when you are in turn reinvented. So no, I don't think Moore has any kind of 'claim' on the concepts of Watchmen.)

    Secondly, why is the story of Dream's capture 'worth telling'? It was told, in as much detail as necessary, in Sandman issue one. It's just possible that a story fleshing out the details may have some kind of point, but if fleshing out the details is all it does, then it will be pointless and without artistic merit.

    To be worthwhile, any work of this kind needs to enter into dialogue with the original; at least Wide Sargasso Sea gets that right. It's flawed, but it at least has a point, has something to say about the original. And the dialogue it enters into has to be worthwhile, too, and actually engage with the original: this is the problem with Wicked, which manages to say nothing at all about Baum's 'Oz' works and instead be an anaemic Nazi allegory. If Oz had coded Nazi overtones this would be worthwhile, but as it doesn't, Wicked is a supremely pointless work.

    But in neither case does the artistic merit depend at all on the fact that they were not written by Charlotte Bront� or Frank L. Baum respectively, and the artistic merit of an Watchmen extension depends not one jot on Moore's involvement or lack of such.

  • SK

    Oh, does the Aeneid count as a prequel to Livy? Is there point to that?

  • 1) To a certain extent, it's an adaptation of The Iliad, as well as a sequel to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, and incorporates other myths and parts of the Epic Cycle. Since they all preceded Livy by several centuries, it can't be a prequel – a story written after another story to explore events that occur before that first story.
    2) It's unclear whether it's a prequel to Livy, since it was written at around the same time, but no one's sure which was written first.
    3) Can you write a prequel to a piece of non-fiction (or something that's intended as non-fiction)?
    4) It's Roman, so no, there's largely no point to it.


  • The problem with writing comments on your phone is that they might lack clarity, so I shall write this on my computer.

    You are right that my choice of words is, perhaps, not the greatest. �Artistic legitimacy� might have been a better way of putting it, but I think I was actually talking more about DC�s motives for putting out the book. This is a separate issue to the question of prequels having any artistic merit at all. Do you honestly think that DC is putting out these books for an artistic reason? Perhaps the mainstream comics industry doesn�t put any books out for artistic reasons, including the original Watchmen, but this is purely a dollar making decision.

    George Lucas� involvement in the Star Wars prequels, obviously, didn�t add many positives to that project after all. I wouldn�t want, but probably would buy, a Moore penned Watchmen prequel but I believe too much time has now passed for that to be a worthwhile venture in any case.

    Too much time may have also passed for a a Sandman prequel. �Worth� was another lazy word. I doubt it will add much to the original stories, but it�ll probably be an enjoyable enough read.

    Wide Sargasso Sea I found tedious, but then I disliked Jane Eyre. I had to read the former for a course, and read the latter in preparation.

    The problem with writing comments on your computer is…

  • SK

    'If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die.' (Chesterton)