Honestly, which one of you didn't think that the Before Watchmen series was not only unnecessary but pointless? I include myself amongst those of you who agree. When Warner Bros announced that Zack Snyder would direct the movie adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen, fans were ready to burn the studio and kill the filmmaker. Warner was attempting to make a film out of the greatest graphic novel of all time - and the task wasn't minor- even if at the helm of the project was Zack Snyder (who was responsible for the critically praised adaptation of Frank Miller's 300). The result? Well, we can't blame it all on Snyder, he did a damn fine job with the visuals (especially the astounding Dr. Manhattan's origin story) but the rest is just ok.
It was all at peace in 2012 when DC shocked the world. What DC did was beyond comprehension. We were good with a film a adaptation of Watchmen but execs at DC brilliantly thought that Moore's seminal work "deserved" a prequel. The idea was completely out of place, very much like if you were to remake Hitchcock's The Birds. Regardless, the waves of criticism prior to the announcement, DC continued with the already planned series and the overall outcome was what we could have expected: a dull lackluster venture. However, there's one story that surprised us all: Dr. Manhattans background story. Wanna know why? Keep reading.
I know that Moore publicly stated his aversion to the Before Watchmen series, calling it "completely shameless" but once you've read J. Michael Straczynski's Dr. Manhattan you may change your mind. Straczynski pointed out something interesting when interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter when first asked about his involvement in the project:
The perception that these characters shouldn’t be touched by anyone other than Alan is both absolutely understandable and deeply flawed. As good as these characters are – and they are very good indeed – one could make the argument, based on durability and recognition, that Superman is the greatest comics character ever created. But I don’t hear Alan or anyone else suggesting that no one other than Shuster and Siegel should have been allowed to write Superman.
The whole point of having great characters is the opportunity to explore them more deeply with time, re-interpreting them for each new age.
I assume I'm probably wrong, that Rorschach is the most beloved character of Watchmen, yet Dr. Manhattan (for me) is way more attractive - I consider the chapter of him in Watchmen the most fabulous. You may be thinking we already know Manhattan's story very well, however what Straczynski accomplished will leave you speechless.
Dr Manhattan's Before Watchmen opens in the Comedian's funeral scene, the same one of Moore's Watchmen. From then onwards, Straczynski's story will run parallel to Watchmen. He'll be using some of Moore's scenes to tie them with his plot. If you saw 300: Rise of an Empire then you pretty much have the idea of how the writer intermingled the two stories. Issue number 1 properly starts when Dr. Manhattan is on Mars moments before he drops his photograph with Janey.
The first chapter of the story deserves recognition at any level. It's the first Before Watchmen of the series that does actually contribute something new. Straczynski deals with time and relativity and the infinite possibilities of alternate timelines. There's a deep and moving soliloquy of Dr. Manhattan talking about free will and destiny. If he indeed accidentally happened to exist or if he existed because of an accident already designed by forces that he didn't fully understand.
"(Dr. Manhattan reflecting about his own being) I had not changed into what I am now. But I could still sense myself in the future. Even as I think these words for the first time, the me who is my future self is remembering me thinking these words for the first time. There is a line that connects us. But how far back does that line go. And is that future me the same future me that would have existed had I not made certain decisions, certain... changes?"
In terms of action, chapter one doesn't really offer anything extraordinary. Manhattan will take us to his childhood and to the moment of his father's death but principally to the night when he and Silk Spectre met. Once this episode is concluded, the reader may have the feeling that Straczynski didn't know what he was aiming for, except he had set the pieces of the puzzle that would detonate and make sense until issue number 2.
Surely the Watchmen film version didn't satisfy fans but it wasn't that bad either. The Before Watchmen series experienced the same aversion and I would like to see a standalone movie for each character, with Dr. Manhattan's being the most impressive (and Billy Crudup certainly has to reprise the role!). If those spin-offs were to exist we could start calling them "The Watchmen Cinematic Universe" Would you like to see the standalone film of each Watchmen character? Let me know in the comments section.