Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins’ Watchmen is perhaps the most influential superhero story ever created and is considered one of the landmark literary achievements of the comic book genre. As a consequence, adding to this work has been a controversial subject — to say the least — and although Doomsday Clock and HBO’s Watchmen television series both proved viable sequels to the story, DC’s Before Watchmen prequels were met with considerably less enthusiasm and acclaim.
Released across 2012 and 2013, Before Watchmen was a set of seven miniseries featuring characters and concepts from across Moore’s classic universe including Minutemen, Silk Spectre, Comedian, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Moloch and Dollar Bill. In light of the success of Watchmen‘s more recent follow-ups, we’re taking a closer look at these miniseries.
Written and illustrated by comic book legand Darwyn Cooke, Minutemen was the first and arguably most successful series released under this banner. The six-issue story stars retired hero Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, as he prepares to publish his autobiography Under the Hood, despite widespread opposition. Although it features a rosy account of the 1940s adventures of the Minutemen, the Watchmen Universe’s superhero team, the story strongly suggests that the book presents a falsified version of events in order to cover up a dark truth.
Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner, Silk Spectre followed Laurie Jupiter for four issues as she fled to San Francisco to avoid her mother’s efforts to force her daughter to take up her old superhero identity. Laurie attempts to discover herself alongside her boyfriend within San Francisco’s 1960s counterculture. However, Laurie ultimately fails and ends up where readers find her at the beginning of Watchmen.
Written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by J. G. Jones, Comedian‘s six issues were not generally well-received. The series tells the story of Edward Blake’s close relationship with John F. Kennedy and his family and Blake’s sorrow in the wake of J.F.K.’s death. This addition to Comedian’s narrative contradicts Watchmen‘s suggestion that the man was responsible for Kennedy’s assassination, a fact that angered many Watchmen purists.
The four-issue Nite Owl miniseries was written by J. Michael Straczynski and featured art by Andy and Joe Kubert. It tells the story of Daniel Dreiberg’s ascension to the Nite Owl mantle and explains how he and Rorschach first became partners and, eventually, friends before their moral drift apart from each other in Watchmen.
Written by original Watchmen editor Len Wein and illustrated by Jae Lee, Ozymandias is a six-issue miniseries that served as the character’s autobiography and detailed his attempts to save the world with the infamous plan revealed at the end of Watchmen.
Before Batman: Damned, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo offered their take on the early days of Watchmen’s most famous figure, Rorschach. The four-issue Rorschach miniseries told the story of Walter Kovacs’s attempts to defeat the crime lord of Times Square while also contending with a mysterious serial killer known only as “The Bard.”
Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Eduardo Risso, Dr. Manhattan is a four-issue miniseries that explores Jon Osterman’s bizarre perception of time and reality while also further exploring the character’s past as Jewish-German immigrant whose family fled to the United States to escape the Third Reich.
Written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Eduardo Risso, Moloch tells the villain’s origin story. Edgar William Jacobi was an ugly child with deformed ears who was constantly bullied. Watching and studying the tricks and trade of stage magicians and illusionists became his only escape, and he grew up to become a magician himself named Moloch the Mystic. When his career tanked, Moloch used his skills to become a career criminal and eventually come to blows with the Minutemen.
The two-issue miniseries revealed that Moloch was the reason Ozymandias murdered the Comedian. When Blake learned of Veidt’s infamous plan, he told Moloch, knowing that the former villain would not be on Ozymandias’ payroll. However, Moloch ultimately told Adrian anyway, prompting Comedian’s assassination and Moloch’s agreement to die at Veidt’s hands.
A one-shot written by Len Wein and illustrated by Steve Rude, Dollar Bill explores the story of William Brady, a promising football player whose injury during his final college game cut his sports dreams short. After a failed attempt at Broadway, Brady answered a listing from National Bank to become its new marketing figure.
Noticing the rising popularity of superhero-type characters, National Bank wanted to create its own masked character for its advertising campaigns and chose Brady to become their new hero “Dollar Bill.” When the call to form the Minutemen went out, Brady was asked to join the team despite the fact that he was a mere corporate figurehead. Brady joined the Minutemen on multiple missions until he was killed during a National Bank heist when his cape became stuck in a door.
Written by Len Wein and illustrated by Watchmen‘s original colorist John Higgins, The Curse of the Crimson Corsair was a two-page back-up feature that appeared across the publishing line. Inspired by the original’s “Tales of the Black Freighter” segment, the Crimson Corsair followed the haunting story of the pirate Gordon McClachlan.
Before Watchmen remains one of DC’s most controversial publishing initiatives to this day. Despite featuring top-tier talent working on some of the company’s most famous characters, the various miniseries introduced many continuity issues that contradicted the original story in a variety of ways, which ultimately kept them from achieving anything close to the acclaim of their parent story.
Before Doomsday Clock and HBO's Watchmen were acclaimed sequels to the Alan Moore comic, Before Watchmen tried to expand the classic comic's world.