If there is one thing we can be certain about regarding DC's tantalizing but brief Before Watchmen announcement today, it's that making Watchmen comics is like printing money. No matter how much some die-hard fans may hate the idea of the project -- and maybe even the final result -- these mini-series are guaranteed to make a certain amount of cash, if just for the curiosity factor alone. In fact, if I had to guess, there are probably a bunch of numbers already crunched in some person's spreadsheet somewhere in DC Entertainment right now -- projecting (with an uncanny degree of accuracy) how many copies of "Before Watchmen" are going to be sold, both in single issues and the hardcover/softcover collected editions. And of course there are the hopes of jump-starting a movie sequel.
Too calculated and pre-planned for your taste? Money and talent that would have been better used towards creating new characters? Blasphemy upon a literary classic, and an esteemed author's express wishes? Let's take a look at each basic fan objection so far to Before Watchmen:
"It's a cash grab."
It certainly is. In an industry struggling with a shaky economy, shrinking core fan base, and the uncertain future of digital vs. print, what you really need is to grab some cash. If you do not grab the cash, and put out projects that will reach a mass-market, "built-in" audience, you are not quite doing your job right now as a publisher. Watchmen, with its record-breaking book sales and a not-so-successful but quite visible movie, has that built-in audience. Acquaintances of mine who have limited-to-almost-zero knowledge of current comics know what Watchmen is and that Alan Moore wrote it. That's why DC is putting out this "prequel." Because they know it will definitely make money, especially with a market expanding out more and more to the iPad and other reading devices.
This leads me to the second objection found for Before Watchmen...
"They should be making new characters, not digging up old ones."
Yes, in an ideal world they should. And they have. Numerous times. Remember DC Focus? That was a DC imprint containing critically-acclaimed alternate takes on the superhero genre. Totally new characters. Great talent line-up. Nobody bought them. So DC had to cancel the line. Remember Helix? That stab at new and original content with top-flight talent at least had a hit with Transmetropolitan -- but the rest of the titles went bye-bye way too soon, a casualty of poor sales. Remember Minx? Love or hate that particular line of graphic novels targeted towards young women, those books also had great talent and tremendous financial and press backing by DC. Sales weren't good enough. And I could keep on going with examples.
Publishers are like housepets, trained by sales numbers instead of a rolled-up newspaper and a squeaky toy. If sales are continually bad for new projects, they are going to learn and put out more product based on tried-and-true properties. The onus is on us as fans and customers to support these attempts made by big publishers to create new things. And by complaining en masse about Before Watchmen on a website, you are ignoring the tons of posts on original material being produced right now from publishers such as Image, Dark Horse, and even DC's own Vertigo. That's the irony of it -- even bad buzz is still buzz!
And now the final objection:
"This is blasphemy being committed on a literary classic and an esteemed author!"
Exsqueeze me? Didn't Alan Moore write a scene in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen where Mr. Hyde raped the Invisible Man? And a scene in Lost Girls where Dorothy Gale pleasures herself in the middle of a tornado? Moore didn't create those characters. The original creators of those characters are dead. If they were alive, perhaps they would applaud Moore's skillful reimagining of their creations -- or maybe they would be completely mortified. I respect Moore as an author, I understand his sentiments and frustrations over the rights to Watchmen -- but the "sacred cow" argument regarding why we should, Chris Crocker-like, "LEAVE WATCHMEN ALONE!" just don't sit well with me.
Look, I totally "get" the fear that these comics might suck. There's first-rate talent of the Darwyn Cooke variety attached to Before Watchmen, and it seems like a project that has been in the pipeline for a while (as opposed to rushed out the door). However, it's possible we could all experience massive disappointment come Summer, "unwrapping" and then tossing away our collector's edition first issues of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre in despair -- our collective "childhoods" retroactively ruined yet again. But regardless of what might or might not happen, one thing still remains sure. Before Watchmen will make a lot of money, and we are all, through our fast-and-furious Tweets, Facebook messages, Tumblr entries, and blog posts today, part of the machine promoting the heck out of it whether we intend to or not.