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Posted at 10:45 PM ET, 02/01/2012

‘BEFORE WATCHMEN’: Should DC Comics be revisiting the epic?


A cover from the “Before Watchmen” venture announced Wednesday. (DC Comics )

"Nothing ends. ... Nothing ever ends."

— Dr. Manhattan

IT’S BEEN A POLARIZING WEEK for nostalgic pop-culture fans who want their “1986” time capsule to remain untouched, unsullied and unbreached.

Monday, of course, brought the online release of Honda’s full Super Bowl ad spoofing the John Hughes chestnut “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — with a middle-aged Matthew Broderick now playing hooky from his ”real life.” (On YouTube, the official “Matthew’s Day Off” is now nearing 7-million views — with ”likes” running roughly 11-to-1.)

Now proving even more controversial, it seems, is the commercial excavation of a comic masterpiece.

DC Comics officially announced Wednesday that the acclaimed 1986-87 epic “Watchmen” will be revisited this summer with a seven prequel miniseries titled, so fittingly, “Before Watchmen.” DC itemized the seven books and their roster of attached top talent, and — as if to sweeten the deal — announced a “two-page back-up story,” titled “Curse of the Crimson Corsair,” that helps “bless” the whole endeavour by gaining Len Wein (the original “Watchmen” editor) as a writer of both that and the “Ozymandias” series.

(And now, at last, we know what that new DC seal is perhaps all about: The publisher seems to be peeling backward into the past to find its new venture.)

To help roll out its latest lightning rod of a decision, DC brought “Watchmen” co-creator Dave Gibbons to the virtual microphone. In DC’s release, Gibbons said in part that though he and writer Alan Moore had told their complete “Watchmen” story (nice couching, that), “I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work.”

Moore had slightly, um, harsher words for the Great Prequelization of ’12, telling the New York Times that DC’s gambit is “completely shameless.”

Let the hot blue clash of fan-combat begin.

To many devotees, “Watchmen” is a sacred text and testament to comics’ highest literary powers. To these worshipers, DC has just become a defiler of the crypt, if not the script.

But J. Michael Straczynski, who’ll write the project’s “Dr. Manhattan” and “Nite Owl” books, reportedly authored the new point-by-point rebuttal on his Facebook fan page. One of our favorite passages is his addressing the charge that “these characters are sacred, nobody else should write them.”

“If we’re going to talk about the sanctity of characters,” Straczynski writes, “let me point to an observation I made in one of the interviews:

“Alan has spent most of the last decade writing some very, very good stories about characters created by other writers, including Alice (from Wonderland), Dorothy (from Oz), Wendy (from Peter Pan), as well as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde and Professor Moriarty. I think one loses a little of the moral high ground to say, ‘I can write characters created by Jules Verne, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Frank Baum, but it’s wrong for anyone else to write my characters.’ ”

In 2008, Comic Riffs contributor David Betancourt interviewed Gibbons about “Watchmen” as a movie, as a “making of” book and as a creative collaboration (“Alan and I had an absolute ball when we were creating the book. It was a real joy.”).

Today, Betancourt weighs in on whether he thinks DC is making the right move with “Before Watchmen”:

[CLICK BELOW TO CONTINUE READING]

THIS IS CLEARLY not a move for fans of “Watchmen.”

“The move,” of course, is DC’s decision to go back to the “Watchmen ” universe. The Watchmen’s past, to be exact, and without Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Once this news broke today, fans could be divided into two categories: Those who can’t wait, and those who would prefer the day never come when someone other than Moore and ibbons tells a Watchmen story.

Yes, many fans of “Watchmen” will tune in to see what happens. But DC is doing this knowing that it could very well alienate many of the readers that helped make “Watchmen” a classic.

These readers aren’t the focus.

The focus is — as it now should be — on the teenagers who may download these new “Watchmen” comics on their smartphones or tablets.

In the current comics-publishing climate, that’s why DC’s move can be considered bold — but not dangerous.

DC Comics has to take chances. The New 52, a new logo and now resurrecting the holy grail of comics — DC is doing what any comic book company in the digital age should do. They’re trying to get noticed and stay in the headlines.

Unlike DC, Marvel has managed to build its brand outside of the pages of comic books by making blockbuster movies with various characters. DC’s got Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. And that’s it. “Green Lantern” bombed. Flash and Wonder Woman may never see the big screen. And after this year’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” Nolan reportedly says goodbye to the cape and cowl.

If ever there was a time to try something bold, the time is now. And I can’t think of anything bolder than this. “Watchmen” is special to fans — for many, it’s the reason they got into reading comics in the first place. But these is a new generation of potential fans for the taking. And if DC wants to use new “Watchmen” stories to attract them, then so be it.

For the fans that think “Watchmen” should be left alone, never to be dusted off, the great thing is: There’s always that great American option of not reading the new material — therefore not subjecting yourself to something that may put you in a fanboy rage worthy of the Red Lanterns.

I, on the other hand, plan on enjoying this epic event and the top-notch talent that comes with it (Darwyn Cooke and Brian Azzarello, just to name two) when it arrives this summer. (When I saw Cooke’s rendition of the Nite Owl, I was glowing with fanboy joy.)

“Watchmen” will always be a classic. A prequel will never change that (see: the Star Wars franchise).

There’s nothing wrong with going into the comics vault and giving a new spin to a classic.

Nothing ever ends. Even when the new endings are, actually, a beginning.

By  |  10:45 PM ET, 02/01/2012

Tags:  before watchmen, dc comics, alan moore, dave gibbons, j. michael straczynski

 
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