Shiny Shelf

The Night Before…

By Mark Clapham on 06 June 2012

The first issue of the first series of DC’s sprawling ‘Watchmen’ prequel, ‘Before Watchmen’, comes out tomorrow in the UK. It’s ‘Minutemen #1′, by Darwyn Cooke. There’s a preview of the first few pages kicking about… I haven’t read it. That may seem unfair in the light of the following, but at this stage, I can’t even be bothered to glance through the opening pages, even though they’re by a creator I really like.

Let me explain.

I was kind of open-minded about ‘Before Watchmen’ when it was first announced, and was certainly considering picking up the Cooke series. I’m generally not a believer in sacred, untouchable texts, and am always open to sequels and reinterpretations. Also, if I never bought or watched or listened to anything where someone creative had been screwed over by a big corporation, I’d have to live in a floatation tank.

That cautious but open-minded approach has curdled over the last few months, abd in the last week or so I’ve definitely moved the other way. Lucid articles like this piece by David Brothers are a part of it, but also the rumbling of DC’s pre-hype machine has actively turned my neutrality towards ‘Before Watchmen’ to ire.

DC, their editors, the creators and even cheerleaders at other companies have had months to put a persuasive case for why these prequels should exist… and all we’ve had are bitchy putdowns of Alan Moore, garbled statements about the plot of Watchmen that show the writers of these books don’t necessarily understand what they’re prequelising, and some static, overly respectful and dull pin-ups. You could probably imagine what a Jae Lee picture of Ozymandius would look like it, but now you don’t need to, because there it is.

Positive comments about the project have generally focused on the track records of the creators involved, and the excitement of fans and retailers about it. Which is great and all, but the equivalent of pushing a new TV drama by boasting about how much people will want to advertise in the breaks. Where’s the creative agenda, the big story?

It’s been hard to see what’ the point in ‘Before Watchmen’ is, beyond another case of the mainstream comic book industry acting as some kind of iron lung to keep the comic shop network alive for a few more years.

What’s the creative drive behind this thing? As prequels they seem determined to only colour in between lines set down by Moore and Gibbons, adding nothing. The writers are so firmly in their comfort zone – Azzarello writing violent vigilantes, JMS doing SF chin-stroking, Cooke going crisply retro – that it doesn’t feel like there’s any danger of them needing to push themselves creatively.

It just feels like a predictable, trite exercise. If you’re going to cause a storm of protest at least do so with some passion and energy, create something that can go some way to making an artistic justification for whatever noses you’re putting out of joint.

Have Doctor Manhattan come back to Earth to fight Kid Rorschach, deconstruct the idea that a big explosion in central New York would somehow make the world a safer place, do something that’s vital and transformative. Do anything, anything at all other than showing us Doctor Manhattan in previously unseen lab work, or Rorschach breaking a slightly different set of thug-bones to the ones he does in ‘Watchmen’, mere scribbles in the margins.

I could be wrong in pre-judging ‘Before Watchmen’ this way. It may be excellent, and I might be missing out by not reading it and you may consider what I’ve said totally unfair, written as it is without seeing the finished product. But I don’t think so. All involved have had months of pre-publicity to communicate any excitement beyond the commercial about these comics, to pique my interest, and haven’t managed to do so.

Perhaps more damning even than the creator rights issues, for such a controversial project, ‘Before Watchmen’ just looks incredibly dull. And who needs more dull comics?

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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