Before Watchmen

Of course I didn’t buy it. What do you think I am?
I torrented it, of course. And if DC want to complain about me taking their copyrighted work, the work that talented artists put time and effort into, and using it without their permission, well…
they started it.

Alan Moore stabs a knife into a Watchmen smiley-face cake. Dave Gibbons looks on.

In an ill-tempered conference call on 3 April between some of these advisers and a group of Liberal Democrat bloggers, the advisers could not comprehend why the party was up in arms about internet snooping. They sought solace in the excuse that grassroots anger could be attributed to a problem with ‘messaging’.

How have we got into a situation where the party’s policy advisers seem to have no liberal instincts? Why are we being ‘advised’ by people who think politics is all about ‘messaging’? Why has Nick Clegg surrounded himself with people who have little or no grasp of liberal values or grassroots campaigning?

Simon Titley, “Meet The Linos”, Liberator no. 353, June 2012

Ever since Before Watchmen was announced, its defenders have had only one mantra. “while you may question the decision you can’t question the quality of the product and the quality of the people behind the product.” That’s a quote from Dan Didio, one of the three co-publishers at DC Comics Entertainment. It’s one that rather spectacularly evades the point, of course.

It’s also an incredibly arrogant statement. I think it would be perfectly reasonable, for example, for anyone to ‘question the quality’ of J Michael Straczynski, a man who has two notable achievements as a comics writer — writing a story where Spider-Man’s dead girlfriend secretly had sex with the Green Goblin, and starting a Superman story where Superman acts callously and immorally and refuses to use his super-powers, before giving up that story in a sulk half-way through and leaving it to a better writer to finish off.

(That better writer has since left DC “Entertainment”, because he believes the way they are behaving over Before Watchmen is morally despicable.)

What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think that they’d do that. I think because of the unique team they couldn’t get anybody else to take it over to do Watchmen II or anything else like that, and we’ve certainly got no plans to do Watchmen II.

Dave Gibbons, 1987, The Comics Journal

But DiDio’s argument is, and always has been, that we should judge these prequels as a piece of art.

Which is odd, because the rationale for their existence is precisely the argument that art doesn’t matter. Make no mistake, there is a reason that this series has stirred up more argument than any of the various other creators’ rights issues that plague the cesspool that is the modern comics industry. The treatment of Jack Kirby, or of Siegel and Shuster, or of any number of other comics creators, is unconscionable, as everyone with the slightest shred of decency knows. There is no real way I can morally justify my continuing purchasing of DC comics (Marvel don’t put out enough titles that I want to really register here). I continue doing so simply because you can’t fight *every* battle, and if I only engaged economically with companies that I approved of morally I’d be homeless, jobless, naked and dead of starvation.

But Kirby, S&S and the rest created their works as ongoing serial characters, with an expectation that they would be worked on by other hands. As awful as their treatment has been, one can imagine a purely moral Superman comic existing that is written and drawn by people other than Siegel and Shuster. Watchmen, though, was conceived as a self-contained piece of work. Everything about it screams that it has a finite, symmetrical structure, and everything about it exists because it is an expression of the world views of two people — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Diversion – Dave Gibbons

Incidentally, one of the justifications for why DC screwing over Alan Moore is ‘okay’ that some people have used is that Gibbons is OK with these comics, and that he has as much of a right to a say as Moore does.

This is of course correct. But one can’t help but think that their situations may inform their opinions, somewhat — Moore has created many, many masterpieces. He may not be a wealthy man, but he can make as much money as he chooses. He is artistically and financially as secure as he wants to be.

Gibbons, on the other hand, has never before or since done anything to match Watchmen. That’s not a criticism of Gibbons, any more than it’s a criticism of Tony Asher to say that Pet Sounds is the only album he’s written great lyrics for. Some people only have one masterpiece in them, and it’s still one more than the vast majority of humanity will ever achieve.

But it means that Gibbons’ financial future and artistic legacy is entirely wrapped up in the decisions that DC makes about Watchmen, in a way that Moore’s isn’t. And one might well believe that when everything about your creative and financial life is in the hands of a company that is acting like a psychopath, the choice you make is to do whatever it takes to keep them happy.

Just as Moore’s anger does not invalidate Gibbons’ acquiescence, Gibbons’ approval does not lessen the injustice that is being done to Moore.

Diversion ends

What Didio is trying to do is have his smiley-faced cake and eat it, too. He wants us to judge these new comics as art, but the only reason they exist is because… well…

“if we mined it properly we could stay close to the core material”
“might be something people are willing to buy into”
“we had a group of four core writers who were able to handle all the products”
“in a logical sense that’s true to the original product.”
“that’s what makes the Before Watchmen product exciting”
“I’m more concerned about the reaction to the actual physical product when it gets created.”
“If we went out there and announced this property”
“we are doing the best we physically can with the property right now.”
(all quotes from this single interview)

Dan Didio there, making quite clear just what his priorities are.

But still, let’s take this entirely on the terms they’re setting out. They’re saying to us “Ignore the morality of taking a self-contained work that revolution1ised the industry we work in, and for which we managed to con the rights out of its creators, and creating inferior knock-offs that cheapen the original work while deeply upsetting the man to whom we owe our livelihood and our industry’s continued existence. IS IT A GOOD FUNNYBOOK OR NOT?”

And, well, it’s possible that a good sequel to Watchmen could be created. We know it’s possible, because one was.

Part of a draing by Kevin Maguire of the Justice League

Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis are both people who understand comics storytelling in a way that Didio can only dream of. And they realised, reading Watchmen, what any quarter-literate person would. They realised that no-one *actually* wanted a new story about Rorshach. (The fact that plenty of people now *do* want new stories about Rorshach tells us more about comics fans than we would really like to know). The characters in Watchmen were not, of themselves, interesting — they were Superpowerfulman, Gritty Vigilante, Hero With Gadgets, Sexy Lady and so on.

DeMatteis and Giffen (and the artists they worked with, notably Kevin Maguire) took the pre-existing characters that those characters had loosely been based on — Captain Atom, Batman, Blue Beetle, Black Canary — and did their own comic with them. One that was very clearly inspired by Watchmen, especially in its use of the nine-panel grid to give the comic a rhythm, but which is its own thing. It has as much of Giffen and DeMatteis’ voices as Watchmen does Moore and Gibbons’. It’s totally different in feel — it’s a sitcom rather than an apocalyptic conspiracy thriller — but it’s worth reading.

And it’s worth reading precisely because Giffen and DeMatteis did their own thing (within the limits of working on corporate-owned comics characters). It doesn’t call itself “Watchmen II: Bwa-ha-hatchmen”.

So it can be done.

So let’s have a look at Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen 1 shall we?

There’s a possibly-apocryphal story (aren’t they all?) that several years ago Alan Moore asked DC Comics (as they then were) to stop sending him comp packages — the packages of free comics they send all their writers — because he didn’t like the company and didn’t want to read their comics. The person he spoke to said “I know you don’t like them, but I’m going to keep sending you just one. You’ll see why.”
The comic that was sent was Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier.
Moore said “Okay, you can keep sending me that one”.

Cooke is, as an artist, the utter opposite of Moore in every way, but he’s the only person involved in this who has anything like the talent that Moore does. DC are putting their best foot forward with this.

Oh, and one more thing — about seven years ago, DC decided that they didn’t like the Justice League comic that Giffen and DeMatteis had done, and killed, raped, or raped then killed, almost every character that had featured in it. This trend reached its peak in a comic called Countdown To Infinite Crisis, co-written by Geoff Johns, commissioned by Dan Didio, and with cover art by Jim Lee, in which the Blue Beetle, a whacky lovable superhero who got into humorous scrapes with his friends, was shot in the head by one of those friends, with lots of lovingly-rendered blood coming out of Beetle’s head.

Johns, Didio and Lee are the new co-publishers of DC Entertainment, and doing a Watchmen prequel was one of their first decisions.

But let’s look at the comic. Is it good enough to erase the moral problems?

Cooke does Morrison and Quitely


The whole thing seems determined to say “DC has other great comics that aren’t Watchmen“, in the hope that by making Watchmen seem less special it will seem less disgusting when they make tenth-rate knock-offs. Unfortunately, DC *doesn’t* have all that many other great comics — at least not ones that will appeal to the conservative Cooke while also being of undoubted artistic merit while having sold enough copies that the audience could reasonably be expected to catch a reference to them, and which aren’t written by Alan Moore. In fact, it has two.

So we start with the page above — a reference to the opening of All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, but horribly overwritten.

(And Morrison is the other ghost at this ‘feast’, his absence felt as keenly as Moore’s. I could write a blog post as long as this one on what Morrison *not* writing this series means…)

Where Morrison uses eight words to set up a situation we’re all familiar with, Cooke uses 120. Where Morrison’s are clear and simple, Cooke’s are newage gibberish.

But Cooke moves on from Superman… to Batman.

page from Before Watchmen where Cooke homages Miller and Mazzuchelli

Most of the comic is a ‘homage’ to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, in look and feel, which sort of makes sense since this is more-or-less Nite Owl: Year One.

The problem is that this means that this comic is now inviting comparisons with three acknowledged classics of the medium and genre, when it can’t even stand up to comparison with any one of them.

Where Watchmen, All-Star Superman and Batman: Year One have first issues packed with incident, this is a typical first issue of a typical superhero team-up comic these days, which means we have little unconnected vignettes introducing all the characters — Dollar Bill, Silhouette, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, The Comedian and Mothman.

These little bits show us aspects of the characters that were already there in Watchmen, but with a hammering lack of subtlety that reads as if Cooke had never heard the phrase “show, don’t tell”. Worse, they do nothing else — we’re expected just to be happy to see these characters again. Which would be OK if the characters weren’t obvious ciphers. Wanting to read more stories about Hooded Justice is the same sort of error of thought as wanting to read more stories about Mr Worldly Wiseman and Giant Despair. They’re not built to be characters, and if you want to tell a story about them you have to turn them into characters.

Which Cooke here fails to do. It’s POSSIBLE to do it — you *CAN* write a story about Hollis Mason and the rest of the Minutemen, but you’d have to take the attitude of Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. You have to put characters in where none previously existed — you have to remake them totally into something that can hold the weight of a story.

But this is too ‘reverent’ a comic to do anything like that. It’s ‘paying homage’ to Watchmen, and of course in comics one pays homage to works of unbridled creativity and imagination by having absolutely no original ideas of one’s own. As Jack Kirby was meant to have said when someone told him John Byrne was doing Fantastic Four ‘in the style of Jack Kirby’ “If he was doing it in the style of Jack Kirby he’d have invented his own characters.”

And of course ‘paying homage’ has absolutely nothing to do with respect, or even basic politeness. One request Moore has made over and over about Watchmen and his other work-for-hire is that his name be removed from it. He doesn’t want to be associated with this product in any way.

Credit from Before Watchmen, with a created by credit for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Even if you’re the kind of sociopath who dominates the discourse in modern comics fandom, who thinks that the people who write and draw the comics you read are of no importance compared to the trademarks and the multinational companies that own them, who thinks (and I’ve seriously seen this opinion stated by people who intended it to be taken seriously) that Geoff Johns is a better writer than Moore because he allows action figures to be made of his characters, you’ll still find nothing worthwhile in here. Cooke’s art is always good, but without any kind of a workable story to tell, there’s nothing much for his characters to do, and it degenerates into lifeless poses, with nothing to say about anything.

If you read Watchmen and it fired up your brain and made you start thinking “I want more of that!”, then the best thing you can do is buy a copy of Andrew Rilstone’s phenomenal short book about the comic, Who Sent The Sentinels?. Rilstone’s book — like Moore and Gibbons’ comic — is a structural masterpiece, but one whose surface cleverness conceals a wonderfully touching emotional core.

But as for this?

Cooke sums up his own comic

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51 Responses to Before Watchmen

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    What is the Giffen and DeMatteis Watchmen-like sitcom? Is it available in a single volume?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Sorry, don’t know how I missed stating the title. It was their run on Justice League. There’s not a single volume, as it ran for about five years, but DC have been reprinting it in a series of trade paperbacks, starting with A New Beginning.
      I suspect, however, that you won’t like it — it’s not a self-contained work but is part of the DC Universe, and expects a reasonable degree of familiarity with relatively obscure comic characters.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Ah, thanks for the warning. It’s not that I don’t like non-self-contained works; it’s just that I don’t have the background to appreciate them — and realistically I am never going to find the time to get deep enough into the world to change that. (This is probably why I still don’t really get Seven Soldiers, despite having read it twice, once in publication order once in seven-whole-stories order, the second time also reading annotations.)

        On the positive side, I did order New Gods a couple of days ago, which I believe it pretty well self-contained.

        Does Batman: Year One come into that category?

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          New Gods is one of four series Kirby was doing at the same time (along with The Forever People, Mister Miracle and Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen) all of which tie into each other, and tell a story he didn’t get a chance to finish as he wanted (though he finished it quickly in the graphic novel Hunger Dogs). But it’s self-contained in that you don’t need to read anything other than those series to understand it.

          Batman Year One is self-contained, though it’s improved slightly if you know that Selina Kyle later becomes Catwoman and that Jim Gordon later becomes Commissioner Gordon. But other than that, you don’t need to know anything else about it. I don’t like it all that much (I think it’s good but not great) but I’m in a minority there — everyone else puts it in the three or four best superhero comics ever.

    • Matt says:

      it’s a great article and -in particular the first half is excellent so I am loathe to point out that the Giffen-DeMat JL was being published concurrently to (and possibly earlier than) Watchmen- additionally the 9 panel grid had been an often remarked upon staple of Giffen’s uo to and beyond this point .

      it doesn’t really hold up as a counter-point in my opinion…

      There was -however- an interesting issue of the Question by Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan — The Question #17
      that might make a better case for Watchmen being self-contained.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        Justice League #1 was cover-dated May 1987, Watchmen #1 was cover-dated September 1986. That means that given the four-month lead time in comics at the time, Justice League was started roughly four months after Watchmen debuted. And while Giffen had used the nine-panel grid on occasion before, he’d never done it as obsessively as he did in Justice League (and since)

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    (Test. Ignore.)

  3. Z says:

    I was particularly struck by the obscenity of the liberal excerpting from Under The Hood, which amounted to Cooke sometimes rewriting/butchering, and sometimes just swiping Moore’s prose. The actual dialogue makes up for in ethnic slurs what it lacks in poetry, economy, or imagination, which also makes DiDio’s protestations of the elasticity and sanctity of artistic freedom look ridiculous. Total crap.

  4. Tam says:

    There’s no one better than Cooke for doing pastiches of other comic books, so given the project went ahead I think he was a good choice for it, but it also highlights the paucity of ambition, compared to the original project. I guess I might buy it if it appears in the bargain bins.

    Personally though I’d care more a lot about all the creators’ rights issues if I’d seen Moore (or indeed anyone else, including all the people currently getting so worked up about this) give a bit more credit to John Higgins for his role in making Watchman as good as it was, but, as I understand it, he’s never seen any of the royalties that have gone to the other two.

    As for watchmen sequels, I’d say the closest I’ve seen to a sequel to watchmen in spirit is probably the Image series, The Winter Men. It’s badly flawed, not least due to being curtailed a few issues early, but it terms of world-building, density, ambition and trying to do interesting things with real world heroes, it’s very good and it has a much better ending

  5. Tam says:

    Just to clarify, I know Moore and Gibbons said nice things about Higgins colouring at the time, but my point is that I’ve never heard them say they ought to share the rights with him!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I think Higgins’ work was far less essential to the comic’s success than Moore or Gibbons’ work. Which is not to say it wasn’t important, but Watchmen would have *almost* the same impact with a different colourist, or no colourist at all. Change the writer or line artist and you don’t have Watchmen at all.

      • Tam says:

        True to an extent, (although if you compare it to the colouring of pretty much any other book coming out at that time, it really was in a different class to anything else around in the innovative way it used the limited available palette) and I’m not suggesting he deserves equal credit, but at heart I think the current watchman debate comes down to giving respect where it’s due and I don’t think Higgins gets the credit he deserves, either artistically or, I suspect, financially compared to the other two creators.

        • “at heart I think the current watchman debate comes down to giving respect where it’s due”

          I am all in favour of giving respect where it’s due, but I think what this debate comes down to is understanding what kind of a thing ‘Watchmen’ is. Anyone who thinks a prequel can be fitted in there just hasn’t managed to grasp what it was on any level, however obsessive they may be about it.

          I’m a huge fan of Moore. But I’m not buying these comics out of any boycott. I’m not buying them because I can’t believe they’ll be any good.

        • vollsticks says:

          Dunno if it constitutes artistic or financial credit but Higgins is drawing the pirate story in the back of the books, “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair”. So mebbe someone at DC felt bad and threw him a bone, so to speak?!

        • plok says:

          That’s a tough one, isn’t it? Higgins’ colouring is a great contributor to Watchmen’s storytelling, and as Steve Gerber said once it’s hard for us to appreciate how much art lay behind a colourist’s job back in the days of newsprint — lots of knowledge about paper involved there! — so one would like to see the work of colourists and letterers a bit more acknowledged…but at the same time, you can’t quite argue for “authorship” there, can you? So it seems colourists and letterers must always be the “session players” of comics, no matter how excellently they perform or how daring they are. Ringo doesn’t get a writing credit on most Beatles songs, and he was a band member instead of a session guy!

          I worry about that sort of thing myself, sometimes; the boundary between hired gun and full writing partner can be fuzzy, and you don’t want to be like Paul Simon in that Los Lobos story.

  6. Pingback: Links from Thursday « Gerry Canavan

  7. Really nice piece. And I like your idea that Giffen/Dematteis were inspired by Watchmen.

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  9. Hal says:

    Good work, kemosabe. It’s interesting to note how the above quotations alone see Didio damned out of his own mouth; he doesn’t seem to realise how pathetic and more than faintly sickening his almost obsessive use of the words *”product”* and *”property”* makes him seem (or, more likely, he is too arrogant and too much the corporate drone to care). However, it does good to reflect on how effective Corporate America (and indeed the Corporate *World’s*) use of such dead words has been over the past 25 years + in distorting how many people talk of – and even *think about* – films, comic books, tv, etc. Just stop to consider how free people are with words such as “property”, “franchise”, and “product” not realising that *using* those terms determines how one *thinks* about things in a creepily subtle (and sometimes *hideously unsubtle*) way, this perhaps explains why some won’t even question their basic assumptions about corporate “rights” – as if those “rights” were inalienable and immutable – while implicitly/explicitly rejecting the rights of the individual because said person may not be beyond reproach despite that being of no importance to the matter at hand(they should remember the words of a man named Osgood : “Well, nobody’s perfect”). This whole Before Watchmen farrago leaves a bad taste especially when people take the side of a fricking Corporation over Alan Moore and a work of art, preferring strings of fucking pointless BWatchmen sausages over the idea of *anything* being special. I can’t understand why some people think that everything has to be the *same* in art/entertainment or why the fact that Alan Moore has occasionally made asinine arguments and condescending comments means that he should be treated as if he is never correct, is undeserving of respect, and isn’t one of the comic book Greats when he obviously *is*.
    One last dumb comment, I’m also fascinated by the way that some commentators explicitly distance themselves from making any *ethical* judgment because ethics is “unkool”. Pah!

    • Mike Taylor says:

      You are so right. The ubiquity of those words “product”, “property” and worst of all “franchise” is one of the great blights of the last decade, and really does change how people think about things. The same thing is happening in sport as in art: when the American owners of Liverpool Football Club started referring to it as a “franchise” a few years ago, the writing was on the wall. *hack, spit*

  10. Hal says:

    Yeah, wouldn’t want to be Unkool would they? The most unintentionally funny/stupid comment I’ve read from someone *strenuously* avoiding considering that the just might be an *ethical* argument against BWMen (I’m fine with someone feeling that there isn’t though I don’t agree but I find it cowardly not to even consider it) was one where the person said they weren’t apathetic about it, they just didn’t care. Bwahahaha! Calling Professor Paradox. Presumably they cheered themselves up by muttering a few “dudes”, a couple of “back in the day”, and maybe a “gamechanging”. Wow, a peculiar use of English that challenges my own. Heh.

  11. steve says:

    Maybe I’ve missed this along the way but what’s happened to Morrison’s and Quietly’s take on Watchmen, Microversity ?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      AFAIK Multiversity (which wasn’t a ‘take on Watchmen’ but a story about the DC multiverse which would feature the Charlton characters in a Watchmen-like situation) was delayed because Quitely had problems with RSI, then again because DC reconfigured its multiverse with Flashpoint. I believe it’s still planned to come out at some point.

  12. Hal says:

    @Mike Taylor, yes, yes, and, yes again! That kind of creepy corporate globalization gets into just about everything now, yet if you point it out you are often made to feel like some kind of “weirdo” (that I *am* some kind of “weirdo” is beside the point. Ha!). It’s like we’re living in Robocop with the corporation Omni Consumer Products; music, baseball, soccer, Doctor Who, Watchmen, movies, even *people* can now have those words appended to them, everything is treated as product while if you’re interested in any of those things you are tagged “consumer”, as if everyone is a puppet. Blech.
    I don’t know if you’ve noticed but pay attention to how they promote/hype films now and how “fans” and the media collude in the promotion, something that the “democratic forum” of the internet has ironically made easier. Even before a script has been written the hype begins and then there’s two or three years of incessant articles, carefully managed interviews, teasers and “leaked” photos, for example The Amazing Spider-Man and Star Trek 2 (ugh) have gone/are going through this process so we get stuff like interviews with company man Avi Arad carried in magazines or on the web where he lies or at least bullshits about what happened with Sam Raimi and virtually no one calls him on it because hey! It’s Product and “look at the shiny NEW thing. Ooh!”. Regardless of the quality of ASM, people should pay attention to why it’s being made and how they are “positioning” it in “the market” instead of having their strings pulled just as soccer fans should consider how they and their sport are viewed (of course if you *are* a dedicated soccer fan then you are a perfect target for bilking because you’ll want to remain a fan). Films are now targeted at a narrow audience which is depressing, the way too many people are manipulated is worse.
    Rants I’ve a million of ’em!

  13. Aled Davies says:

    Good article but I think you are overreaching yourself a little in tying the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League to Watchmen for a couple of reasons:

    – Originally the post Crisis relaunch of the Justice League was due to be a big seven book, however this came unstuck as due to the Crisis revamps, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman were deemed unavailable for a team book by their creative teams. Denny O’Neil took pity on Andy Hefler (the editor of JLI) and allowed Batman to be used and as Andy Hefler was the editor of the Green Lantern books he could use one of the GLs. Beyond that Giffen/DeMatteis had to use the second and third tier characters.

    – At the time both Blue Beetle and Captain Atom had solo books out so it was natural that they would be candidates as both books (especially Blue Beetle) needed the cross promotion. Beetle in particular had a big push in the Legends mini series, so their addition to Justice League was largely driven by them a) being available and b) having solo books at the time.

    A lot of this is recounted in the introduction to the “A New Beginning” collection. Probably the only thing you could use to link the two books is that the sitcom/humor aspect of ‘Justice League” was a reaction to the grim and gritty style that was prevalent at the time due to the success of “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One”.

    Anything more than that and you are clutching at straws.

    • gary a says:

      But I do think that they are aping the “style” if not the “substance” of Watchmen. If you look back, the issues do a great deal of “acting” on panel, in the same way that Watchmen can linger on a scene before it moves to another. Another Watchmen aspect is the lack of thought balloons and captions, which make Maguire’s art pop more because you’re looking for reaction instead of reading for reaction. Giffen is a fan of Watchmen and a lot of his work post-Watchmen work shows the 9-panel grid and narration/journal entry style. His ultimate Watchmen-esque story is, of course, LSH Vol 4 where he goes all Alan Moore on the Legion of Superheroes and if you’re a fan of Watchmen but hate Watchmen 2, check out that run. It definitely owes more of a debt to Watchmen than any other comic book post-Watchmen.

      • Aled Davies says:

        Giffen was using dense multi-panel grids as early as late LSH v2 . While not strict nine panel, I think their use was more a function of having to work with writers that use dense text like Levitz or DeMatteis.

        I certainly agree that LSH v4 was where Giffen mainlined Moore and its probably a much better candidate for homage than JLA/I/E. It’s a shame that Giffen was dicked around so much by DC Editorial at the time with all the changes on what was in continuity that things didn’t move forward as they should have.

        • plok says:

          I don’t know about all that…we don’t have a problem mentioning DKR in the same breath as Watchmen because of some ineffable “tone” it struck, and the JL relaunch had a lot of that tone as well, at the time. Sitcom it may have been, but it was a sitcom that could go grim with the best of them, riffing on convention as it did so. “Ram the building” had a quasi-realistic heft to it, bit of transgression there…I don’t know how much hay is available to be made on the subject of it being consciously drawn from a Watchmenny root, but it sure wasn’t retro for its time, whatever it was.

          So, as I said…I’m not entirely sure. It is a darn neat comparison, though! And one that isn’t exactly harmed by the “it was supposed to be with these other characters, but then they weren’t available” thing…

          • gary a says:

            I think Suicide Squad would be a better Watchmen fit. Two of DC’s successful titles at the time were Suicide Squad and jL. SS used the whole “alternative history” to tell political stories with Suicide Squad. It also used anti-heroes and characters who are dealing with psychological issues. It didn’t use the storytelling tropes of Watchmen, but it sure touched on the same themes and ideas (most Ostrander titles did at that time). Justice League seemed to me more, in tone, like the MASH tv series, where you would have serious issues and humor beats in the same episode. It wasn’t a sitcom, but more of a dark comedy in a lot of ways.

            But the key difference is that both JL and SS had to deal with the changes after CoIE. Watchmen (and, to an extent, DKR) didn’t have to deal with years of publication and changing trends/culture/buying habits of the readers. Right after CoIE, there was this huge potential for change in DC where “anything could happen.” After Millenium, DC started tapping that potential down and shot out edicts like Batman is an urban legend and Superman was never a JLA member.

            This is why Before Watchmen is troublesome. The story of Watchmen never had to deal with the edicts of modern storytelling and editors that serial stories. The story was built when no one was looking and it created a very specific story that dealt with a very specific authorial fear.

            Personally, I would rather they just rewrite Watchmen than giving us Watchmen 2. Do a sort of Ultimate Watchmen that uses the Architects of Fear to write a superhero murder mystery using Charlton Templates. Comedian was part of the First Gulf War, Dr. Manhattan cannot stop the planes from going into the WTC, Slash Fic is written about the Silk Spectre, and the Minutemen were Baby Boomer Superheroes. Give it J.H Williams to draw and Greg Rucka to write and that would at least be a more honest version of Watchmen.

            • plok says:

              Ah, I miss the metatextual ferment of those post-Crisis days! And to this day can’t understand just what exactly Zero Hour was meant to accomplish…but then at least it wasn’t as bad in that respect as Infinite Crisis.

              There’s always been a quasi-realism operating in supercomics, that over time got ramped up and up…”why wouldn’t they do this, in real life?” is a question that animated 1962 Marvel as much as 2002 Image, but Watchmen is probably the keenest of these questioners…and I think you do see its approach resurfacing in JL, as it doesn’t in quite the same way in (for example) Messner-Loebs’ Flash — though it too is concerned with just how “real” the DCU is just after Crisis. Big causes and effects operating on the periphery of the characters’ awareness, and there’s some pathos to the way they try to do the “team” thing anyhow. There’s some interesting “scaling” of the post-Crisis universe happening, too, very much in line with the team book’s general programme of milieu-mixing — when Metron shows up, Scott Free tells the other Leaguers to for God’s sake be cool — and it’s different from what Morrison’s doing over in Animal Man but it stems from the same source. Though I guess to say that is to argue a little bit against Andrew’s Watchmen = JL idea, which I don’t really want to do because it’s a cool idea…

              Ha, and I actually think a simple contemporary re-staging of Watchmen could be hilarious, if done right! Piss in the eye of editorial interference! “You wanted more Watchmen, now you’ve got it…sorry, couldn’t keep the reflexive commentary on the actual contemporary superhero comic out of there…”

  14. Troy Wilson says:

    Moore and Gibbons had nice things to say about the Bwa-ha-ha League back when it was first coming out (in a Comics Interview chat, if memory serves). I really dug its distinctiveness, my only complaint being the way most of the characters had to be significantly dumber than usual for the sake of the gags.

  15. Calamity Jon says:

    Part of what struck m about that plodding opening page is that it traces a distinct line from mythos-to-mythos (here’s a farm couple and their little baby, here’s a grim gray gotham, here’s a kirby-scape, here’s Manhattan) as if saying that Watchmen is meant to be some sort of continuation of Superman, Batman and the works of Kirby (and, by association, marketable and merchandisable characters united as much by the company which owns them as by any sort of common thread) rather than a response to it…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Wow, I never noticed that! That makes it simultaneously much cleverer and much more repellent than I’d actually given it credit for…

    • plok says:

      How horrible!

      • I once saw the lovely David Tennant asked what his favourite flavour of shite was by a fearless and amusing interviewer. Game lad that he is, Mr Tennant advised that when it came to shite he was less interested in flavour than he was in texture, noting that his favourite kind of jobbies had more in common with bitumen than they did with butter.

        When I first saw the opening page of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen series on this page, I thought that I was dealing with buttershite. Now, thanks to Calamity Jon, I know that it’s really bitumenshite. Lovely, chewy, bitumenshite. Mmmmmmm.

  16. gary a says:

    I wonder if Morrison’s reaction to Watchmen was already written. if you read his DC1Million, the threads in that story definitely have a feel of aping that style, with a Blue Beetle that is more Nite Owl with a Rosharck’s journal than anything else or the use of clever web-like pop-ups that litter his JLA-DC 1Million that seem to be the more advance, texting version of the Alan Moore text pieces. He wanted to “end the dark age of comics” with his DC1Million and it did and brought about a nice “Silver Age Bubble” that burst when Starman ended and Identity Crisis began.

  17. I am going to slightly disagree with your comment that “Gibbons, on the other hand, has never before or since done anything to match Watchmen.” The “Give Me Liberty”/Martha Washington series with Frank Miller and his graphic novel “The Originals” are his two major post-Watchmen works, but they were completed years apart from each other and did not achieve the success or longevity of Watchmen (or just about anything else). I have always been surprised that he did not draw much of anything else that could be considered a book-length work.

    • plok says:

      Over at TCJ, in comments, Eddie Campbell seems to zero in on that: at the risk of getting him horribly wrong in the rephrase, I believe he says Dave Gibbons is much more a “comics guy” than Alan Moore, and so regarded Watchmen as a work different in degree but not in kind from his other creations. Which is a helpful way of looking at it: Dave’s an odd one for me, because sometimes he does stuff that makes me think “here comes that Watchmen hyperintelligence again”, and then other times he does things that make me wonder if I’m really reading the same guy. But I guess a professional isn’t bound to treat any of his jobs as so much more exceptional than any of his other jobs, and so Dave can do whatever he likes and need not worry about pushing envelopes all the time? Which obviously I can’t criticize him for: artists gotta pay the rent, and what’s super-special to me might just be another day at the office to him — after all, he’s a pretty damn versatile penciller, so why shouldn’t he primarily look to that talent over other considerations?

        • Perhaps I should be more upfront about the fact that – in this instance – I like it when an Eddie Campbell because I made a similar point way back when:

          “The Watchmen toys, games, movie, etc all seem to have been created under the mistaken assumption that what makes Watchmen special is the fact that it features a group of superheroes who are quite like but not exactly like a lot of other superheroes, when what actually makes it special is the specific set of interactions between Moore and Gibbons that are caught in time, like a photograph slowly falling.”

          See me? I’m pure dead brilliant by the way, if not quite as brilliant as Future of the Left, whose ‘Robocop IV: Fuck Off Robocop’ is probably my favourite reaction to Wa2chmen so far:

          NO-ONE DIED!
          in fact- they left improved
          if Michael Bay wants a bigger house, let’s help him
          where you from?
          where you been?
          he said –
          I went to Cannes once and and really did not have much

  18. Liam says:

    “They started”? Where did they use any work without permission? Alan Moore doesn’t have to give permission to do anything because it’s not up to him to decide.

    What a weak excuse for piracy. You obviously have interest on Before Watchmen, so why not buy it?

  19. Ha ha I love the Mr Worldly Wiseman analogy (although Watchmen isn’t quite as bluntly allegorical). I’ve thought of the analogy with, say, Leopold Bloom: anyone who reads Ulysses and thinks “gee, I’d like to read more adventures of that Bloom guy” has a totally different relationship to the work than I do, a relationship I can barely get my head around. [apologies if this is a double post]

  20. Danny F says:

    Cooke just isn’t anywhere near as great a creator — excuse me, that word doesn’t really apply — WRITER/ARTIST as most fans give him credit for. Whenever I see his stuff I just can’t help but think “yeah, more retro-nostalgic s–t.”

    And that was really part of the point of Watchmen in the first place: to add something uncomfortable, uncanny, and innovative to the typical nostalgia of superhero comic books.

    I don’t hate Cooke. I don’t hate his fans. But it seems all of them just sort of miss the point. The point isn’t to be entertained. The point isn’t to be good little consumers, making as many apologies as it takes to convince yourself to buy something else that you don’t need to buy. Isn’t the point — of everything, really — to grow as humans? Watchmen definitely moved things forward, and moved things upward, even as it made us re-examine backward. The gigantic gap between what Watchmen did and what Before Watchmen is should be stunningly apparent to anyone with even the most basic amount of common sense.

    And I’m not even THAT much a fan of Watchmen. I like it, but it’s nowhere near my favorite comic. I’m not overly precious about it. But I look at Cooke’s cutesy little happy-time nostalgic renditions of these characters and it just makes me sick.

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  22. Nick says:

    Apologies for a late reply, having only just found this excellent post. I was more intrigued by the first issue of Silk Spectre, which cribs from Watchmen so frequently and directly (down to the quoted lyrics at the end) that I really want to believe it’s doing so with a purpose – perhaps to apply a different comics ‘lens’ to Watchmen in each issue, which could potentially be interesting, or to critique the style of Watchmen in some half-arsed fashion. Unfortunately for that to work the first issue would have to be making some kind of statement itself, and I can’t see that it does. But the alternative – that the creators are simply recreating Great Moments of Watchmen because they think that’s the best way to go about it – is too depressing to dwell on.

    I feel mean criticising Cooke (but not too mean) because it’s clear DC are putting him under the spotlight first to soften people up before the real crap lands (Comedian #1 certainly bears this out), and he does seem to be approaching things with a kind of respect – one that comprehensively misses all available points, but even so… Comedian makes Minutemen look like Watchmen, which I suppose makes Azzarello a team player to some degree.

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