Chat Cave: Late Additions to Before Watchmen

The Retcon Punchers weren’t exactly thrilled when Before Watchmen was announced. But then, against all odds, the experiment proved largely successful. The original line-up contained many titles that went well beyond justifying their existence — a few even transcend their inherently exploitative premise. Last week saw the release of Moloch #1 and the announcement of a Dollar Bill one-off. What does this mean for the legacy of Before Watchmen? Any additional titles you want to see? What if there’s a chance to get additional issues of existing titles? Welcome to the Chat Cave.

Patrick: One of the things that had me sorta-kinda backing the idea of Before Watchmen in the first place was the sheer level of talent DC trucked in. The franchise may be a sacred cow, but at least the creatives behind the bastardizations were going to be AAA comic writers and artists. The only real turd in the Retcon Punch bowl was J. Michael Straczynski. Especially when given licence to explore mature themes, that asshole runs a tone-deaf game of clumsy one-upsmanship that invariably comes off as juvenile and chauvinistic. So it shouldn’t have been surprising that we hated his Moloch series so much. The Watchmen characters have an impeccable history, but there’s nothing inherently wonderful about any of them. At their best, these characters are a licence to be ambitious. Which means I’d only like to see additional series if they’re under the guiding hand of ambitious creators. I know the point of publishing comics is to make money, but: no more quick cash-ins.

There’s a letter to Adrian Veidt in the original Watchmen that details the progress being made on the Ozymandias and Baubastis animated series. I’d like to see a title either just depicting the bright fun adventures of the world’s smartest man and his giant talking cat, or a series that shows the production of that cartoon. Rorschach 1 and Dr. Manhattan 2 both act as stealthy criticisms of the prequel series, but turning Ozy’s adventures into a 1980s animated series could be a great exploration of how even the most artistic intentions have to be compromised for mass consumption. I’d read that.

Drew: Wow, Patrick, getting to see the Ozymandias cartoon had never occurred to me, but what a fun idea! I suppose it wouldn’t qualify as “Before” Watchmen, but it could manage what Darwyn Cooke has done on Minutemen, using the style of the time of the subject matter to better immerse us into the world. It actually makes me kind of wish that we had gotten that version of Ozymandias, rather than the self-consciously hard-boiled version Len Wein has given us — but I suppose that’s a discussion for a different time (or the comments).

The thing that offends me the most about the late additions to the Before Watchmen line-up is how brazen the cash-grab has been: the characters leading the new series are either named after money, or famous for stealing it. They could serve as clever commentaries for the cash-grab perception of the whole endeavor (or at least the last-minute add-ons), but if Moloch is any indication, these won’t set their sights nearly so high.

In spirit, I like the idea of expanding on the histories of these under-explored characters more than, say, Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan, mostly because it gives the creatives involved more space to, you know, create. The problem, though, is that they’ve given the reins for these new titles to writers who aren’t great at the loose, yet specific continuity constraints of such open-ended stories. Both have focused on points we already know — Straczynski’s Nite Owl has shuffled them into an  incomprehensible hash, while Wein’s Ozymandias has pedantically explained them  point-by-point — failing to offer anything new. I suspect these new titles will similarly focus on the very few details we know about these characters. We should just call them Moloch: Cancer and Dollar Bill: The Cape Mishap and skip reading them altogether.

Shelby: I understand that DC is a business. No matter how noble, at the end of the day, it’s about the bottom line. DC has a money-machine with Before Watchmen, and I get that they want to run it into the ground. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind so much, if they also took the care to produce quality material to get me to throw more money at them. Based on the first issue of Moloch, I don’t think this is the case. Instead of introducing, say, another Silk Spectre or Comedian arc and expanding on the vibrant universes those creative teams have given us, DC has thrown out a lazy, misogynistic story from the weakest author in the bunch.

Here’s the rub, though: Nite Owl has garnered a lot of positive reviews. The worst review I could find on Moloch called it merely mediocre, middling. So, what seems to us a heartless and cold attempt to milk the Watchmen cash-cow dry could actually be DC giving their readers more of what they want. Is our disappointment in these last minute additions merely a demonstration of the vast difference of opinion between us and DC’s mainline readership?

Maybe if we started an online petition, we could get a one-off of the Ozymandias and Bubastis show. It would be so delightful to see the two of them running around fighting Communists, Super Friends style. That is a cash-grab I would happily fall victim to. 

22 comments on “Chat Cave: Late Additions to Before Watchmen

  1. Good point Shelby – I tend not to give too much credence to what the mainstream DC readership is interested in. What’s particularly interesting about Before Watchmen is that a lot of people that should have opinions about what DC is and is not doing well here aren’t reading any of it. So many Watchmen fans straight up declared that they weren’t going to read a work of the prequels, and even more have decided to wait for the trades. I wonder if the group of people actually reading Watchmen in real time isn’t partially self-selected to be overly enthusiastic about the material (even if that material is Nite Owl or Moloch).

    • Yeah, that’s a good point. I’ve had more than a few people just wince when I tell them I’m reading Before Watchmen: not because they don’t like it, but simply because they don’t even want to read it on principle alone. I feel like we need to get the word out to more people like us that there are most definitely Before Watchmen titles that are worth reading. Just thinking about people missing out on Comedian makes me sad!

      • I keep saying it, but Silk Spectre would absolutely stand on its own — it would only take a few minor tweaks to remove any reference to Watchmen at all. That said, it’s greatly enhanced by the connections, but for anyone hung up on the fact that it’s a prequel, it’s easy enough to pretend this is just a very well-done mini-series that has absolutely nothing to do with Watchmen. Don’t let the fact that it’s a prequel prevent you from reading it — it’s too fucking good to skip.

    • I think that’s always true to some degree, which is why hobbyist reviews (like ours) tend to be largely positive. Sure, you’ll get the odd pan every now and then, but we tend to skip things we think we don’t think we’ll like (or maybe even have experience not liking). I hate to suggest that the segment of the population NOT scared away by the prequel status may be disproportionately made up of less-discerning audience members, but I think a lot of the snobs opted out of the whole experiment. There are obvious exceptions (ahem), but that might explain why all the people who actually read Moloch didn’t absolutely hate it.

  2. I don’t think I can get into pondering the recent add-ons without it just turning into a rumination on the validity of the whole event. Sure, they were added late, and it’s a cash grab – but the whole thing was always a cash grab; the trick was in whether it could prove to be a worth-while one. The writers we’re getting were already involved in the other minis, so it’s not much different to me than finding out the season finale of Game Of Thrones is gonna run an extra 15 minutes over the hour in that week’s TV Guide. Drew (I think), in one of the alternating currents, makes a Star Wars prequel comparison – because that’s the ubiquitous prequel series and because the concern was that the books were going to be origin-obsessed. I pose the same comparison based on a different judgement – that they both were cash grabs, they both had the best creative resources and most polish that their mediums could provide (neither skimped), they both turned out to be entertaining to varying degrees (depending on the installment), but neither one could hope to have lived up to the originals. Why? You can fund something as well as humanly possible and make sure the creators have every tool they need for success, but you can’t PLAN to bottle lightning – that’s what the original products were, authentic bottled lightning. Everything fell into place, even when the resources WEREN’T astounding in the 80’s… they just happened to be the product of peak inspiration and during the apex of hot creative streaks from top-tier talent. You can’t PLAN that. You can put Alex Rodriguez to bat 4 times a game, but he’s only gonna hit multiple homers when it’s that special night and everything just clicks. So… Moloch and Night Owl = Phantom Menace, Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandius = Attack Of The Clones, and Silk Spectre, Minutemen, Comedian, and Rorschach = Reveng Of The Sith. By my calculations, even if Dollar Bill SUCKS, we still got a disporportionately good ammount of Revenge Of The Sith.

    • That’s a great take, Mogo, but I’d actually like to introduce another film franchise to compare this to, mostly because it’s on my mind: James Bond. Sure, later sequels may not live up to Dr. No, but they also don’t have to live down to Die Another Day. Maybe no Bond flick ever quite caught the level of magic of Star Wars or Watchmen, but it is possible for good talent to come together on decades-later projects to create something that approaches the magic of the original.

      I suppose every movie or comic (at least those released by major companies) is designed to make money, but I object to something that feels so calculated to take advantage of the popularity of a franchise — rather than actually being worth making. Your breakdown of Before Watchmen before is pretty spot on, but you’ll note that they gave the new titles to Wein and JMS, neither of whom have titles in the “Revenge of the Sith” category. If they wanted to make it good they would have given it to somebody else.

      • No, I fully agree… it’s exactly right that they assigned the new books to the worst writers involved. I’m assuming Len Wein is the overall editor of this thing though, and something tells me he doesn’t have the clearest idea of what’s made the good books good or the bad ones bad or possibly even which ones ARE good or bad… it’s the same deal with Lucas and the prequels; of COURSE Lucas doesn’t know Old Lucase is bad

        • It would be SO EASY to say that they just wanted new blood, though. Like, “Sorry, JMS, but you’re already on two minis — which we totally love, by the way — so we thought it would be good to get another voice in here.” With JMS writing A FULL THIRD of the Before Watchmen titles, this is becoming his universe rather than Moore’s. I’m going to go shudder forever.

        • Yeah, I know the feeling. I like to imagine that Darwyn Cook and Azz were probably approached but answered something to the effect of “No, I wouldn’t be able to throw something together at the last minute for you.” I remember reading that Cook had initially turned down the project because he didn’t want to do something unless he had a story actually worth telling, and a few days later after inspiration struck he called editorial back and relented. You know who is actually to blame for all of this mess? Zack Snyder… if his film and the related promotional materials hadn’t made the name Watchmen show up on the larger Time Warner bottom line for the first time probably ever then the DC editors and publishers probably wouldn’t be getting phone calls to the effect of “Wait, so we own this Watchmen property, and we own DC comics, but we’re not making any Watchmen comics at DC?”

    • The thing about comics (from a publishers perspective) is that – while you can’t plan to bottle lighting, you can hire the best lighting bottlers in the industry. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the Star Wars prequels failed because Lucas insisted on too much creative control (writing and directing all three – something he hadn’t done since the first movie like 20 years previous).

      Your point stands about the OVER ALL quality of the prequel series (still pretty high), but I feel like they could have hedged their bets by more carefully selecting creatives that had something to say about the material. It’s immediately apparent that JMS doesn’t have anything to say about NO or Moloch – so why not move down the list of impossibly-good, regularly contracted talent and find someone else?

      • I am always complaining that DC treats JMS like a rock star writer for some damn reason when he clearly is NOT (or at least NO LONGER is… he did some good work for Marvel early on, but get OVER IT and give the important assignments to somebody who can deliver).

      • Is it possible they’ve already tapped the only talent willing to take on such a project? Many creators were probably as outraged about this whole thing as fans were, and everyone else didn’t want the direct comparisons to the greatest comic book EVER. Maybe they just couldn’t convince anyone else to do it.

  3. DC’s February solicits (which came out on Monday and I’m only paying attention to now) lists SO MANY FINAL ISSUES of these minis. Maybe we don’t need to worry about this thing going on indefinitely: which I know was one of Drew’s concerns. I mean, after the Minute Men closes out (which has yet to be show up in solicits, but my guess in March 6th), and they drop the Epilogue (again, not solicited, but I’d guess March 13) – that has to be the end of them, yes? They can jam extra content in the middle, but once they tie this thing off, it’s tied off.

  4. So, how long do you guys supposed before the key Watchmen characters end up in the main DCnU? Will they end up there before the Sandman characters? Gaiman still has to release and promote one final Sandman entry at Vertigo so I supposed Watchmen will get imported first.

    • Uuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhh – how much longer am I going to be alive? After that, please.

      I would believe them starting another big Watchmen event (like a sequel series or something) before introducing them into this continuity. Or maybe I’m wrong, and the next time reality collapses, Doc and Nite Owl will get swept up into Justice League International. It’s a depressing thought, but one I’d like to think we won’t ever see. You can’t really introduce Dr. Manhattan into a world with Superman and not have the same set of questions Doc’s existence raises applied to Supes – not only are their worlds different, the philosophies necessary to write them is different. They wouldn’t really do that, would they? WOULD THEY?

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