Digital Spy caught up with DC co-publisher Dan DiDio to discuss his hopes for the series, the controversy surrounding it, and more.
Watchmen has been around for some 25 years, so why did you feel that now was the right time to do a prequel?
"When Jim Lee and I came in as co-publishers we came in with a very strong mandate, to make DC the premier company, but also we asked ourselves, 'How do we get people excited about comics again?' The New 52 was part of that, which was a roll of the dice that turned out well.
"There was a reverence to Watchmen that I understood, but didn't fully understand. It's a wonderful, incredible project, and the desire not to do more has always had me scratching my head a little bit. I also knew that if we were going to do it, we had to do it right, we had to do it special, and we had to make sure that it was going to be something that could hold up under the very hot spotlight. By building the teams that we did, it think we've managed to achieve that."
Would you say this is bigger than The New 52?
"I think so. The New 52 was interesting, but most people were so focused on the superficiality of the changes, such as the new costumes and things of that nature. The goal for The New 52 was to capture everything that made the characters great, and hopefully just contemporise them without changing them.
"Here, this is such an emotional issue for so many people, but I'm hoping everybody walks in with an open mind, because I think they should. There's so much love and care put into these series. My hope is that people will see them for what they are, and then from there see if you enjoy them or not."
So why a prequel rather than a sequel or spin-off?
"It's the attachment you make to the characters, you want to see more of their lives, so that's why we went for the prequel rather than the sequel. The existing series shows the characters very late in their careers, but they had a whole life that took place before that I think is incredible territory, and if we mined it properly we could stay close to the core material without having to change it."
And why the interconnected miniseries format?
"Everybody has to remember that Watchmen was a periodical first before it was a trade, even if most people read it as a graphic novel. I love creating storytelling in a weekly format, and that was an interesting challenge for us.
"We tried something along those lines with Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers and had some success with that. So I wanted to come back to that with this series, and I wanted to explore the individual characters. I also didn't want to overwhelm the fans with seven titles all at the same time. One book a week over an extended period of time will create a rhythm, and might be something people are willing to buy into."
There are some top writers and artists working on Before Watchmen. How did you go about selecting the creative team?
"We wanted creators that I had what I call impeccable résumés, so if people said, 'Why did you choose them?' you can point to their body of work and say, 'That's why'.
"I wanted creators who aren't afraid to face controversy, embrace it and run with it. I wanted creators that were able to bring their own voice but still be fair to the pre-existing material. You want to be able to put together a talent group that really work together as a unit.
"At the start I was going to do a different writer on every book, but then as it developed, we realised we had a group of four core writers who were able to handle all the products, and it was much easier to co-ordinate."
We understand that Darwyn Cooke initially turned the job down. What made him reconsider?
"One of the people I felt was integral to putting this project together was Darwyn Cooke. When I approached him, he initially said no because he didn't feel he had a story to tell. Then we looked elsewhere, but soon got sidetracked because of everything we were doing with The New 52.
"Once that launched, we turned our attention back to Before Watchmen and decided to readdress the issue with Darwyn. At that point, he started laughing and said, 'You know what, this time I think I have a story that I think could work really well, not just for me, but that can become the cornerstone of what's happened across the different titles'. At that point I knew we were up and running again.
"He had a very specific story for Minutemen. That was the hard one because people know the characters, they know what happened to the characters, but we don't know anything about the characters. So he had to craft a story that explains who they are and why the things that occurred to them did in a logical sense that's true to the original product."
How do the titles differ to each other tonally?
"I think that's what makes the Before Watchmen product exciting. Each writer and artist brings their own voice to the books, and you can have something that's extraordinarily graphic in the Rorschach book, but something touching and coming-of-age in the Silk Spectre book. Each one has a particular feel and sensibility that is unique to that, but still feels cohesive as a whole with the other material."
Do you have any concerns that Alan Moore's condemnation of the project might deter readers from picking it up?
"I can't worry about the reaction to what he says because I'm more concerned about the reaction to the actual physical product when it gets created. I understand what his concerns are, but being in the position I'm in right now, the goal is to create the best books possible and the creation speaks for itself."
Were there plans in place to handle the inevitable controversy the announcement of the project would cause?
"It's a reaction we expected, and my goal for everything that we do is that we have a reaction. The worst thing that can happen to any company is an apathy, nobody caring, nobody talking about it. If we went out there and announced this property and nobody spoke about it, I think there would have been a bigger problem than people speaking negatively.
"It shows that people still care and are still aware. So we have to build on that sensibility and prove to people that we are still able to handle this in the proper fashion in a way they feel is true to the core material."
There has been talk of a Moloch book. Is there any truth to this?
"It's always the discussion believe it or not. We have ideas for Moloch and have a couple of plans in place, whether it's a special at the end of the year, where we can hopefully give the spotlight to someone else."
The original Watchmen was adapted as a film by Zack Snyder. Do you feel that the prequel would work as a movie?
"One of the things I have to be strong about is that I have absolutely no idea what the plans are film-wise. I'm always focused solely on publishing and my goal is to make our publishing as strong as it can be so that people have the opportunity to use us as source material going forward from there. So we'll see where we are."
What would you say to the fans who have expressed concerns that Before Watchmen may not live up to the original?
"What I know is that we are doing the best we physically can with the property right now. That's one thing I'm so intensely sure of. I'm so sure that these creators are approaching the project with everything they have. Everyone has attacked it with such a level of attention that, for all intents and purposes, they are putting their best work on the table."
Before Watchmen kicks off with Minutemen #1 on June 6.
Move through our Before Watchmen covers gallery below: