'Watchmen' prequels provoke debate in comic book community

A prequel series will be released this summer, written by acclaimed comic book authors – but the original 'Watchmen' writer isn't involved.

'Watchmen,' first released in 1986, has often been hailed as the greatest graphic novel of all time.

Debate is already cropping up in the comic book world over this week's announcement by DC Comics that prequels to the acclaimed graphic novel “Watchmen” will be published this summer. The prequels will not be created by the original author or artist, but by a group of comic book writers who are all well-known and acclaimed in the field.

The 12-part series “Watchmen,” compiled into a single volume, became the bestselling graphic novel of all time and is often described as the best graphic novel ever published, making Time’s “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” list. (It was also turned into a 2009 movie that still divides its fans.)

Some fans feel that the material and characters shouldn’t be touched, as does original "Watchmen" author Alan Moore. Moore, who would not let his name be attached to the “Watchmen” movie, has railed against DC Comics for years and told The New York Times that the new series is “completely shameless.”

“As far as I know,” Moore said, “There weren’t that many prequels or sequels to ‘Moby-Dick.’”

This new venture represents a lack of creativity on the part of DC Comics, he 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,” Moore said.

Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, DC Entertainment co-publishers, said the new series will be a way to update the mythology for a new millennium.

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” they said in a statement. “After 25 years the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told.”

The project, which has been titled “Before Watchmen,” will consist of prequel stories for each character, following their lives before the events of “Watchmen.” Each story will be named after its lead character. One will be “Rorschach,” a four-issue series which will be written by author Brian Azzarello, who won acclaim for his "100 Bullets" comic book series. Another, the four-part “Dr. Manhattan,” will be penned by writer J. Michael Straczynski, who is well-known for his work on “The Amazing Spiderman” and also writes for television and film. “Ozymandias” will be written by Len Wein, the editor of the original Watchmen series.

In addition to the character-focused series, there will also be a six-issue story called “The Minutemen,” which tells the story of the superheroes who came before the Watchmen.

In the original “Watchmen” series, there was a separate storyline called “Tales of the Black Freighter” that was supposed to be a comic book published within the fictional world of “Watchmen.” A similar device will be used in the new “Before Watchmen” series, with new installments of a story titled “Curse of the Crimson Corsair” running through each issue. In the “Watchmen” universe, DC Comics began publishing stories about pirates, which led to the fictional comic book “Tales of the Black Freighter,” and the story of "Tales" was woven through the main plotline of "Watchmen."

DC said new issues of “Before Watchmen” will be published weekly, but have not provided a more extensive schedule.

Original illustrator for “Watchmen” Dave Gibbons, who served as an adviser for the film, gave a statement that suggests he is more approving of the project than is Moore.

“The original series of ‘Watchmen’ is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell,” he said. “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.”

Azzarello told USA Today that he thinks fans will approve of the new venture once they read the material.

“You're going to get the Rorschach that you know and want,” he said of his contribution. “It's a very visceral story we're going to be telling.”

Writer Darwyn Cooke, who will be behind “The Minutemen,” told The L.A. Times that he initially had reservations about taking on the project because of the controversy he knew it would cause. When originally offered a role in it, Cooke said he refused.

“This is going to generate a lot of a particular type of attention that’s really not my bag,” he said. “But what happened is, months after I said no, the story elements all just came into my head one day; it was so exciting to me that, at that exact moment, I started seriously thinking about doing the book.”

Azzarello told The New York Times that he also thinks fans of the original will come around.

“I think the gut reaction is going to be, ‘Why?’ ” he said of current reaction to the news. “But then when the actual books come out, the answer will be, ‘Oh, that’s why.’”

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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