Before Watchmen: Minutemen Tops The Wednesday Run – June 6, 2012

It’s a fascinating, if not downright historic, Wednesday at your local comic book shop. Today, the first issue of DC Comics’ long-gesticulating Watchmen set of prequel comics gets released.

You remember Watchmen. The graphic novel. By writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. 1986. Eisner award winner. Hugo award winner. One of Time Magazine’s 100 best novels of the twentieth century. Novels! Watchmen. Adored. Revered. Dissected. Debated. Reprinted into perpetuity. Watchmen. The seminal work of the comic book art form. Watchmen. Ownership disputes. Contract rights. Legal rights. Artist rights. Watchmen. Vitriol and anger and bitterness.

And today, the comic book reader is left to decide, left to spend their money, on Watchmen prequel comics by people other than the original creators. Yea or nay?

Ah, yes. Watchmen.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1
Written and illustrated by: Darwyn Cooke
Published by: DC Comics

Inside your comic book shop today you’ll encounter, by my count, three very different factions of people: those eager for more stories featuring the characters and storylines inherent in the original Watchmen, those that hold the original Watchmen complete, sacred and unalterable, and those that don’t particularly care one way or the other.

When DC Comics first announced the launch of eight different prequels (eight!) to the seminal series, I was fairly entrenched in the third camp. (You can read that take here.) My thought, in short, was that a contract gave the publishing company the right to do pretty much whatever they wanted with the property – and what they wanted didn’t really matter to me. But over the past few months, that stance has shifted considerably. Can we live in a society where an artistic vision is deemed, unequivocally, complete? Can we engage in commerce where the search for revenue does not trump integrity?

Recently, Watchmen writer Alan Moore, adamantly against the publishing of any new material, prequel or otherwise, has effectively stated that if you were to purchase one of these new Before Watchmen comics, he’d rather you not be a reader of any of his many other works. He’d rather not make a living from your enjoyment of his artistic endeavours.

These words struck me quite hard.

If the publishing of these stories meant that much to one of the two creative people responsible for the original, a story that I hold high regard for, then it should mean something to me as well. It made me think that I should have more regard for the art form and the talented writers and artists that produce it, that I should be a more reasoned consumer of the medium I love so much.

Regardless of the contract dispute between Moore and DC Comics, a dispute I will not debate here, in my mind, the original Watchmen is a complete tale and sequels or prequels are unnecessary appendages to that original story. I find that I just don’t have enough interest in these new publications, despite the immense talent producing them, to justify my purchase of the comics. Even the contentious value of the idea (and for a comic book reader/collector, there’s a lot of value in this particularly contentious idea) doesn’t carry enough weight to make me want to pick up and read a single issue. I’d argue that the same group of superstar writers and artists working on the Before Watchmen properties would be better off lending their talents to stories about any number of forgotten, misused, under developed or misbegotten comic book characters. Under the same framework, the publishing company would probably sell just as many issues, garnering the same financial bottom line without muddying their ethical one.

But I’m not going to begrudge someone who wants to read more Watchmen. I understand that a Before Watchmen audience exists.

So, then, dear Before Watchmen reader, this particular paragraph is for you. If there is one prequel title of the eight that I’d recommend checking out, it would have to be Before Watchmen: Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke, released today. The Canadian is at the forefront of the medium, one of the few award-winning artist/writers that could actually pull off a story appropriate to the original. He’s a perfect fit for the period piece story of the group of characters that gave rise to the era inherent in the original Watchmen series.

So, make the Wednesday run. Even if you have no interest in these Before Watchmen prequel comics, hang out by the cash register and listen in on the debates that will surely rage in the comic book shops today.

And for once, you can tell me if the read was worth the run.

Every Wednesday, JP makes the after-work run to his local downtown comic book shop. Comics arrive on Wednesdays you see and JP, fearful that the latest issue will sell out, rushes out to purchase his copy. This regular, weekly column will highlight a particularly interesting release, written in short order, of course, because JP has to get his – before someone else does!

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