DC Comics unveils full list of Watchmen prequels

Rorshach and other characters from 'Watchmen' will get the prequel treatment this summer with weekly 'Before Watchmen' miniseries. Under its DC Comics banner, DC Entertainment is reviving characters from the beloved and seminal graphic novel Watchmen for seven prequels collectively titled Before Watchmen.

The comics will feature all of the heroes — and anti-heroes — who writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons created in the 1986-87 Watchmen series, which was later collected as a graphic novel. Those characters will star in miniseries by some of the company's top writers and artists

Issues will be released so that there will be a new one every week, and each will include two pages of a separate, continuing backup story, Curse of the Crimson Corsair, by Wein, with art by Watchmen colorist John Higgins.

A single-issue Before Watchmen: Epilogue will also be a part of the prequel series, featuring several of the writers and artists involved. List of titles and artwork for the covers behind the LJ cut.

According to the Guinness World Records, Watchmen is the best-selling graphic novel of all time, with more than 2 million copies sold. However, Azzarello first read the series when it came out monthly in the '80s and was a huge fan 10 years before he broke into the industry.

Azzarello says he "dropped the phone" when DC co-publisher Dan DiDio called him last summer and asked if he'd write the fan-favorite character Rorschach, the vigilante clad in a mask with shifting ink blots who investigates the death of his old friend, The Comedian, in the original Watchmen story. "He's the face. The guy who covers his face is the face of the franchise," Azzarello says. For the four-issue Rorschach series, he's teaming again with Bermejo, the artist from his Joker graphic novel. "You're going to get the Rorschach that you know and want. It's a very visceral story we're going to be telling,'' Azzarello says.

Set in a bleak version of 1980s America where Richard Nixon is still president and powered beings have changed the fabric of society but are now considered outlaws, Watchmen created a legion of fans with its rich storytelling and deconstruction of the superhero genre. The phrase "Who watches the Watchmen,'' spray-painted on buildings in the original book, has become iconic.

Many of those readers view Watchmen as a sacred text that shouldn't be touched. Moore himself publicly stated that he wanted nothing to do with the 2009 movie adaptation by director Zack Snyder, or any sequels or prequels.

Gibbons, who was an adviser on the movie, has given his blessing. "The original series of Watchmen is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell. However, I appreciate DC's reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire," he says in a statement.

That approval, however, isn't as important as making sure all the Before Watchmen books work on their own, Azzarello says. What's key is "that we all get in there and we tell the best possible stories we can and we reconnect these characters. It's 25 years later. Let's make them vital again."

List of titles:

RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo

MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes

NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert

COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones

OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee

According to web site i09.com, Some of the creators have offered insights into the genesis of this project.

From Len Wein, who notes that original Watchmen artist was okay with all this:

To the best of my knowledge, while both Alan [Moore] and Dave [Gibbons] are aware of what we're doing, I don't believe anyone at DC has spoken to Alan at all, which seems to be the way he prefers it [...] And Dave, I believe, was invited to participate but declined.

And Darwyn Cooke was originally against the project:

I said no out of hand because I couldn't think of a story that would measure up to the original - and let's face it, this material is going to be measured that way - and the other thing is, I frankly didn't want the attention [...] This is going to generate a lot of a particular type of attention that's really not my bag. But what happened is, months after I said no, the story elements all just came into my head one day; it was so exciting to me that, at that exact moment, I started seriously thinking about doing the book.

And J. Michael Straczynski takes what could be interpreted as a roundabout dig at the competition's summer event:

Ever since Dan DiDio was handed the reins (along with Jim Lee) over at DC, he's been making bold, innovative moves that might have scared the hell out of anyone else. At a time in the industry when big events tend to be "Okay, we had Team A fight Team B last year, so this year we're gonna have Team B fight team C!" Dan has chosen to revitalize lines, reinvent worlds and come at Watchmen head-on. It was, I think, about two years ago that he first mentioned that he was considering the idea, and he's to be commended for fighting to make this happen.

And finally, what did Alan Moore have to say about all this?

I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3 (large images of covers here).

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IMO, it's exciting to see what other artists and writers can do with the classic Watchmen characters. After all, just think of all the Batman stories that were not written or drawn by Batman's original creator Bob Kane. Also, Minutemen! And Adam Hughes! (just to name one of the fantastic artists).

Remember that these are prequels where everyone will be a lot younger. Rorschach won't be quite as crazy/stinky and Nite Owl II won't be fat.