Are sequels/prequels really necessary? Should we just leave well enough alone? Should something like Before Watchmen even have to exist? The answer to that last question is definitely “no”. And in some cases, depending on your point of view and how passionately you feel about that matter, you may be screaming that “no” at the top of your lungs. Afterall, Alan Moore’s original masterpiece has long been considered one of the most important works in the comic book industry. It redefined the superhero genre and is often cited (alongside Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) as being one of the major turning points from the innocence of the Silver Age into the cynicism and hyper-realism of the Modern Age. Even to this day I can pick up my copy, read through it and still enjoy it. Is it perfect? Nope, and you’re apt to find nearly as many people who don’t think its all that as opposed to people who will continually sing its praises. Still, its long been considered “untouchable” as far as adaptations or sequels with Moore himself being the most vocal opposition towards either expanding or adapting it.
Having said all that, I can’t say I’m terribly suprised it finally actually happened. First off, we had the movie adaptation, which in actuality was something that DC had been trying to get made for years. Being a big fan of the original graphic novel, I can’t say I’m really impressed with the movie adaptation and in some cases downright annoyed at how many of the events and characters are portrayed. But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit curious, if even a little excited to see it when I first heard it was coming out. This is kind of my same reaction with the new Before Watchmen prequel comics. Now, if you’re a comic book fan you probably already have an opinion on the matter (and in some cases a very strong opinion) and nothing I’m going to say is probably going to sway you one way or the other. I think we can all agree that sequels and prequels get made more for money than artistic merit. Big studios don’t care about soiling the sancitity of an original product that blew people away. They only focus on the fact that people loved it so much that they would probably go and see another installment regardless of the ethics behind it. And you know what the sad thing is? They’re right. I was the first to say “I don’t think these comics should exist”, just as I was the first to say “Frank Miller should not be writing a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns“. Did I go out and purchase and subsquently read The Dark Knight Strikes Again? You’re damn right I did.
Now, you can argue that there are some sequels and prequels that in some case improve upon the original. I’m inclined to believe that’s mainly because the original wasn’t quite as good as we thought it was. Sometimes it takes a director a movie or two hit their stride with the characters and story they are presented. Same with written work. The last three Harry Potter books are pretty brilliant compared to the first few. Then again, sometimes lightning strikes and you just can’t make it hit the same place again and any attempt to do so becomes pretty transparent. Because, again, despite your feelings about whether something should be made or exist, you’re probably still going to check it out…if even just out of morbid curiosity. And the big, rich studios know this and this kind of knowledge is what keeps them…well, big and rich. At that point, the most we can hope for is that at the very least its well done. And to be honest, from what I’ve seen, these comics are indeed well done. DC didn’t just churn out a bunch of crap with the Watchmen logo on it. They may be greedy, but they’re not stupid. Here’s a quote from Stephen Spielberg about why he didn’t make a sequel to E.T.
[quote]Sequels can be very dangerous because they compromise your truth as an artist. I think a sequel to E.T. would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity. People only remember the latest episode, while the pilot tarnishes.[/quote]
Now if E.T. 2 had carnivorous aliens in it with E.T. returning to kick ass and save the day (I swear, that was the actual proposed plot) that would undoubtedly ruin the original. I’d never be able to watch that tear-jerking farewell scene at the end without thinking “yeah, its ok, he’s coming back with a bazooka to kill bad guys”. Similarly, if the new Watchmen comics fundamentally change the characters we’ve come to know form the original novel or are made of a generally low quality then that would absolutely compromise the integrity of the original. So far, at least, it doesn’t look that way. I think most people are just angry that they were made to begin with, not with the actual quality of the work.
So, rather than create a hate-filled and ultimately innocuous rant about how DC is “ruining” the original Watchmen by releasing these books (that yes, I will buy and probably review for TGF), let’s all just agree to disagree. No, it shouldn’t exist, but if its actually well done then that’s at least something, right? If you’re a fan of Watchmen, you are probably going to buy these books anyways. Might as well just satisfy that morbid curiosity. And if it sucks, you can feel justified about saying you were against them to begin with. But, if they’re good…well, you won’t admit that out loud anyways. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.