Of all the important gatherings at C2E2 over the weekend, perhaps none were more anticipated than DC Comics' Before Watchmen panel. In a totally packed, giant conference room on Saturday afternoon, DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio, writers Brian Azzarello, Amanda Connor, J. Michael Straczynski, and Len Wein and artists Lee Bermejo, Adam Hughes and Joe Kubert (plus some editors) came together to reveal to fans the first look at this somewhat controversial prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic book masterpiece (which we have previously covered). What did we learn?
-Dan Didio opened with probably the question on everybody's mind: "What in the world are you thinking?" He noted that he was actually surprised at the online fan community's response to Before Watchmen, which was more positive than he anticipated. Didio justified the series in plain, understandable terms: "You don't leave your best players on the bench when you're trying to win a game."
-Didio also mentioned that DC wouldn't have produced Before Watchmen if they couldn't have lined up the writers and artists they wanted to work with. Fortunately, every creator they're using was "on top of the wishlist."
-Much like he did during an earlier DC panel, Didio invited a mildly skeptic audience member up on stage to preview the six Before Watchmen titles. Though the rest of the crowd wasn't allowed to see the books, the skeptic praised them, especially their art.
After introductions, Didio and the others present ran through a quick pitch for every book in the series:
Nite Owl (J. Michael Straczynski, Joe and Andy Kubert)
Straczynski says this will be the most "mainstream" of the Before Watchmen comics—which fits with the character—and will tell his origin from childhood to joining up with the other Watchmen heroes. The book's described as "fun stuff" with "some scary stuff." Art for this book's provided by the father/son team of Joe and Andy Kubert.
Minutemen (Darwyn Cooke)
Though Cooke was one of the only creators absent from the panel, Didio noted that he was the perfect person to do this book set in the '50s, as Cooke's early work (like Justice League: New Frontier) shows.
Ozymandias (Len Wein, Jae Lee)
-This book's written by Alan Moore's editor on the original Watchmen.
-Wein calls Ozymandias the "spine of the story" and praises his collaborator's work as "almost fine art." This blogger can attest that of all the impressive previews we saw, Lee's work does indeed stand out.
The Comedian (Brian Azzarello/JG Jones)
Azzarello notes that the book is mostly set in the '60s and has a Madmen vibe.
Doctor Manhattan (J. Michael Straczynski, Adam Hughes)
-Straczynski noted that Manhattan features non-linear quantum storytelling that will jump around a lot in time and space, much as the character did in the original Watchmen.
-The book will be part origin story and part philosophical text. Manhattan's the most powerful character in Watchmen, but he might also be the most powerless, because he knows everything that's going to happen. Can someone like that have any free will?
Silk Spectre (Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Connor)
-Co-writer Connor says the book is less angsty than others, and "a little bit like a romance comic, but with beatings."
-Connor's first career choice was being a superhero, a wish she's bringing to the book. She's also drawing on her contentious teenage relationship with her mother (since Silk Spectre features two generations of a crime-fighting family).
-Of Silk Spectre, Connor says it may not blend seamlessly with Moore's original work, but "I'm trying my damndest."
Rorschach (Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo)
-Azzarello refers to this title, probably the most anticipated book, as "the face of Watchmen."
-The book takes place in 1977, about 8 years before the original graphic novel.
-Azzarello also drops that US President Richard Nixon will feature in the story, calling Nixon his favorite character.
Crimson Corsair (Len Wein, John Higgins)
-This pirate comic will run in the back of every Before Watchmen issue, much as the Black Freighter comic interrupted the original Watchmen. Corsair was in fact originally intended to be another Black Freighter book, but Wein wanted to do something different.
-Art for Crimson Corsair is provided by original Watchmen colorist John Higgins.
-Each artist is encouraged to work in his/her own style. As a result, the series will feel connected to each other, but readers can opt only to check out one or two of the books if they so desire.
-One audience member asks if the profanity, violence, and sexuality of the original Watchmen will be present. We can't print DC's word-for-word response here, but rest assured the answer is yes. Artist Adam Hughes notes that frankness is so important to the original story it had to be included here. Says Hughes on drawing a certain naked superhero, "I treated it like experimenting in college."
-J. Michael Straczynski in particular was asked to respond to the Alan Moore controversy, as Watchmen's original writer has basically cursed the prequels and anyone who reads them. JMS responds very fairly: "On an emotional level, I get it." JMS addressed the fact that Moore didn't make much money from the series by explaining that no one gets a great first contract.
-DC's doing a giant Web marketing push for Before Watchmen. If you'd like up-to-date news on these prequels, you can visit The New Frontiersman website (which fans will recognize as the fictional Conservative newspaper from the original Watchmen) to get updates, discover hidden surprises and more.
The teaser art on display at the convention (below), in particular, was fantastic, as you can see. Before Watchmen starts the first week of June and will produce one issue a week for 35 weeks. Will you be reading?