I suppose someone’s going to have to talk about this, aren’t they?
Personally, I can get neither excited nor outraged about this. DC, in response to what they have to believe to be popular demand for this, is publishing a prequel that will be subject to more scrutiny than the ‘Gone With the Wind’ sequel. They’ve lined up some pretty decent talent for this, although personally if I was any one of these writers or artists I wouldn’t take this job for love nor money. A good chunk of your potential audience has written you off as a soulless hack simply for the act of saying “yes”, especially since Moore himself has been on record for the last 27 years as saying he does not want other writers handling the characters. Even if they’re persuaded to buy the series, they’re going to be comparing you to the towering shadow that Moore and Gibbons cast over the comic-book landscape since 1985. If I thought I was good enough to write or draw something that could be favorably compared to ‘Watchmen’, you can bet I wouldn’t want to make it an actual prequel to ‘Watchmen’.
But more than that, I wonder, is there really a demand for this to begin with? Even if Moore could be persuaded to return for a prequel (which, let’s face it, was never going to happen…and frankly, I think this marks the point where DC has officially given up on seeking a rapprochement with Moore…which at least means we should finally see those comic-book based ‘Watchmen’ figures…) …even if Gibbons would return to work with Moore…is this actually necessary? Do we need (as Moore himself put it) to see a “Moby-Dick” prequel, or tales about what happened to Nick after the end of ‘The Great Gatsby’? For some reason, stories told in comics seem to have a momentum driving them to sequels that we don’t see in other media. (Arguably, movies fall victim to the same pressures, but it seems to be only the “light” films that give in. ‘Transformers’ gets a sequel, but nobody’s out there demanding we see a ‘Silent Running 2′.)
I think that to some extent, comics fans been conditioned to see comic books as a continuing story, despite decades of efforts to break away from the notion. The idea of a “final issue” is one we’ve never gotten truly used to, because the vast majority of comic book fans read comics to be immersed in a universe rather than to read a particular story. (Okay, that’s a pretty big statement to make, but I think there’s something to it. Comic book fans want to enter the Marvel or DC universe for a while, to vicariously live in a world of superheroes and excitement and strangeness, and so the individual stories aren’t as important.) As a result, when someone does put out a sequel or a prequel to a big story, the simple desire to return to that universe is enough to overcome even knowing skepticism about a story’s prospects.
Take ‘The Dark Knight Strikes Again’, probably the other best-known return to the other best-known 80s story. Miller was already beginning to be considered as “past his prime”, and many people doubted he could recapture the lightning in a bottle that was the original mini-series. The promotional artwork and story synopses sounded like fan-fiction based on a classic, and nobody really seemed to have a compelling rationale for the project beyond the simple mercenary belief that it would sell. And yet, sell it did. I personally bought the whole series. I thought the first issue was shoddy and embarrassing, and I still bought the next two. The pull of “what happens next?” was just that strong.
I think that DC believes that the same rationale will work again. They look at comics fans and see people so interested in the Watchmen universe that they don’t care about what’s going to be on those pages in particular; they just want to go back to that world for a little bit longer and live there. I don’t have any particular investment one way or another; I don’t hope they fail, but I don’t wish them success either. All I do have is two words regarding people who tried to recapture the spirit of a cult classic with different creators, hoping that people’s affection for the original would draw them back to a sequel: