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.