Before Watchmen: Not a completely terrible idea?
By Bert Ehrmann
June 22, 2012
Recently, DC Entertainment began releasing a series of prequel comics to the 1980s series Watchmen, which is considered one of, if not the, greatest comic series of all time. Essentially, there are two schools of thought on this upcoming series; it's not a bad idea and if handled correctly might even be good and it's a horrible idea, especially since the writer of the original Watchmen series Alan Moore has publicly been against this new series, saying the idea of a prequel is "completely shameless" and "what I want is for this not to happen."
While I have great respect for Moore, I can't really agree with him. Moore is certainly responsible for the great bulk the Watchmen mythos, but he created this mythos by building on the works of previous creators, something that he apparently feels others should not be able to do when it comes to his work.
While the main characters of Watchmen are new, they are far from unique. Originally, these characters were to be based on a group of characters DC Comics had bought from a company called Charlton Comics. But ultimately, DC wanted to use the characters for other things so Moore instead created new characters for Watchmen. Characters that are thinly veiled versions of the Charlton characters he was going to use in the first place.
There is a Charlton character called "The Question" who is a masked, faceless fedora and overcoat wearing detective, whom in Watchmen is replaced by the character "Rorschach" who is a faceless fedora wearing detective who wears a mask of constantly moving shapes. There is a Charlton character called "Captain Atom" who was given astounding powers and a silver body in an experiment gone wrong, whom in Watchmen was replaced with a character called "Doctor Manhattan" who was given astounding powers and a blue body in an experiment gone wrong…The same similarities are true in most of the major Watchmen heroes.
And, there's always been those who draw parallels with the end to Watchmen and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Architects of Fear" which do bear some striking similarities.
Some have argued that Moore's "singular vision" for Watchmen makes his creation different than other comic series like X-Men or Spider-Man that have been visions of many, many creators over the years. While I'd argue that Moore is responsible for the great bulk of the Watchmen universe, Watchmen was none-the-less created by more people that just Moore. Dave Gibbons created the look and illustrated each issue of Watchmen, John Higgens added color to the characters and backgrounds and editors Len Wein and Barbara Kesel made sure everything went smoothly.
Interesting that those who focus on Moore as the auteur of Watchmen tend to ignore contributors of others, and artist Gibbons has come out with (if tepid) support of the new Watchmen comics.
I honestly believe that the fans of Watchmen don't want this new prequel comic since they fear that somehow this new series will make the original less great, which I've never really understood. Does the series AfterMASH make M.A.S.H. any less of a groundbreaking show? Does the stinker movie Batman and Robin make the original Batman film any less glorious? If anything, they make the originals even more amazing since it shows just how difficult the creation of something powerful and great can be in the first place.
Simply put, great works like Watchmen are remembered while anything bad or even not so great are forgotten or relegated to historical footnotes.
All that being said. I'd never criticize Moore for using character pastiches and "borrowing" story elements from The Outer Limits. The fact is that he took a few disused comic characters and plot to a mostly forgotten 1960s TV show and turned them into something new and different and in the process created one of the best comic series of all time.
However, I would criticize Moore for not allowing others to do as he's done, to take elements from the past and to create something new with them. If he hadn't done just that in the 1980s we'd never had gotten something as magnificent as Watchmen. I just wish he'd be more open to giving others the same chance.