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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Another Reason Why Before Watchmen Should NOT Exist: It'd Dated Already


There are a hundred and one reasons why DC shouldn't go forward with Before Watchmen, the controversial series of prequels to the superhero genre's Citizen Kane. I've heard plenty of discussion about the continuing disrespect towards the original creators, the fact that few if any creators could measure up to the originals, the fact that there's no more story to tell with the characters, etc. However, one thing about which I haven't heard much discussion is the series' timeline.

Watchmen not only debuted in the 1980s, but was entirely about the 1980's. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created an alternate timeline leading to an alternate 1985. The plot is set against a Cold War gone hot, with the Russians poised to nuke America. The characters' origins are rooted in the Great Depression for the first generation, and the Vietnam era for the second. Rorscach's hero is Harry Truman, for God's sakes.

Most of the most successful comic book characters are from eras long past, and even further into the past than Watchmen. But those characters weren't given backstories as rooted to history, and they benefitted from regular updates and revamps (such as moving Iron Man's origin story to the war du jour, or modifying Captain America's history to make him a man out of time). Since we aren't getting an Ultimate Watchmen, we're instead getting more stories set in the deep past, exploring characters whose conclusions are foregone against a backdrop unfamiliar to a modern audience.

This is not an indictment of historical fiction or even of prequels, but rather an indictment of the bean counters at DC for bringing this wretched project to light. They've courted a lot of hate from fans, and for what? Prequels exploring the historical minutae of a twenty-five-year-old story that really doesn't need it? Even if Watchmen is a classic known to people who don't regularly read comics, classic is inherently dated. And unless Before Watchmen includes some miraculously innovative take on the material that already exists**, it's going to be an inherently limited and superfluous exercise with little profit beyond the short-term.

* (Image Found On Internet)
** (Grant Morrison's Multiversity would have been this, because Morrison's talent as well as his outspoken distaste for Watchmen made him one of a handful of creators who could actually make something of this doomed idea.)


  1. I'll admit to not being a fan of "Watchmen" in particular (And deconstructive literature generally, but that's a whole other discussion), but what I find more problematic with these prequels from a narrative perspective is how completely superfluous the past of most of these characters are, to begin with.

    Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan each have defining moments whereby they essentially cease to be their original personalities and become entirely new personas. Night Owl's character is more defined by his lack of an interesting back story or "coming of age" moment. The revelations about Silk Specter's past has more impact on Dr. Manhattan than it does to her, personally. Ozy's entire life prior to the story is unimportant save for that single moment with the Comedian. Speaking of, Comedian is the only character who, hypothetically, something new and interesting could possibly be learned about. But he's definitely the least marketable.

    So the writers of these projects are in the unenviable position to create something that's both interesting in its own rights, while at the same time realizing whatever they create is ultimately unimportant to the character they're writing for.

    I mean, as a work, I don't think Watchmen is as sacred a cow as others do, but if a project is already doomed from a narrative perspective, why bother?

  2. That fake Liefeld cover is HILARIOUS!

    And I agree with E. that "Watchmen" is sufficiently self-contained that it'd be really hard, if not impossible, to wring any more story out of it.