(UPDATED with photo of the books in question)
Barbara Kesel, one of the original editors of Watchmen once committed a personal act of sabotage against DC Comics over planned Watchmen prequels when they were first proposed in the nineties. She secretly leaked the news to Alan Moore, who phoned up then-DC Comics President Jenette Kahn and put a kibosh on it. Possibly by shouting “Kaaaaaaaaaahn!” down the line.
But that wouldn’t work any more. So what can you do if you work in DC PR? Damn the project with faint praise?
That’s what Bleeding Cool correspondent “J.P.” seems to think. He got the PR package and writes;
This week, DC is releasing the first of their Before Watchmen deluxe edition hardcovers. They’re formatted to match the recent deluxe edition reissue of the original Watchmen graphic novel, and it’s clear from the trade dress and design that they’re doing their best to present these not as after-the-fact prequels, but as essential parts of the saga, equally important and every bit as valuable.
It seems like DC’s publicity department didn’t get that memo, however. I’ve gotten advance looks at all four of the Before Watchmen hardcovers, and they chose some striking pull quotes for placement on the back covers – quotes that don’t make me especially inclined to pick up these books, and in fact, are pretty impressive in their damning-with-faint-praise qualities.
The Minutemen/Silk Spectre volume features a couple pleasant quotes from MTV Geek and IGN, but then drops to featuring extremely measured compliments:
“You’ve… got a team of experts cracking this story, working to the top of their powers.” – MTV Geek
Some odd editing there, especially considering that it comes from a hugely positive review that features a quote like ‘The Best Work Of Amanda Conner’s Career” right in the headline. But we’ll let it slide.
“It’s hard to resist the notion of Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner working together, because when Amanda Conner is drawing a comic book series, you don’t want any reason not to love it. Her work is so irresistibly beautiful and evocative.” -Craveonline
This is a problem: it cobbles together three separate lines from an upbeat review to make a single blasé quote, including;
As skeevy as it feels to go ahead with a prequel project against the expressed wishes of the creator of the original masterpiece, the fact remains that some very top-shelf artists are writing and drawing stories based on very familiar and beloved characters, and it’s hard to resist the notion of Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner working together, even if it’s giving us a Silk Spectre miniseries many of us never thought we needed
The Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair volume fares no better, with these quotes about Ozymandias given a place of honor on the back:
“Jae Lee’s artwork makes Ozymandias the most visually distinct of the Before Watchmen titles.” -The A.V. Club / The Onion
Okay, did the reviewer actually like it? Spoiler: no.
“This book has a compelling sensibility about it… beautiful, classical fine art style really serves to elevate the proceedings, bringing an air of legitimacy. The story has a suitable epic feel to it, thanks in no small part to Lee’s artistic choices.” -Craveonline
This story clearly needs isn’t legitimate, but the pictures are nice. (And the Crimson Corsair story apparently isn’t worth mentioning, as it doesn’t even get a pull quote on the cover.)
There’s still two other Before Watchmen hardcover collections, which hit stores in July. Let’s look at the Comedian/Rorschach volume:
“Comedian is a surprising approach for one of the most maligned characters in the history of comics that lets the reader be interested in Eddie, rather than disgusted by him.” -IGN
Most maligned? Eddie/The Comedian is a well-established rapist and murderer, right? But that’s just the first quote.
“J.G. Jones has been gone from the DC fold for too long, and it’s a travesty. The way he brings history alive in this book from the real-life visages of the famous to the backgrounds to the cars – everything in simply 100% authentic.” -Ain’t It Cool News
Praise for the art, none for the story.
“Bermejo expertly captures the grit and general sense of hopelessness in this world. The book is almost pretty in its ugliness… If any Before Watchmen book could be read and enjoyed with no knowledge of the original Watchmen, it’s probably this one.” -IGN
If you could like this sort of thing, you’ll probably be able to enjoy this?
One volume left to go. Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan/Moloch.
“Dan’s introduction as the new Nite Owl will perk you up.” -Newsarama
“This issue is a good addition to the Before Watchmen collection. The tragic elements keep the reader engaged.” -Newsarama (again)
“People waiting for this specific title won’t be disappointed. The alternate reality writer J. Michael Straczynski looks to explore will make a unique read for fans of the original graphic novel.” -Yahoo! Voices
Let me summarize what’s being said here: If you’re waiting for this, you’ll be satisfied. You’ll only care if you’ve read the original. And the introduction of one character will perk you up, and keep you from falling asleep while reading. Out of the entire internet, these are the quotes they pulled? (And ‘Yahoo! Voices’? Really?) DC’s PR staff is either really struggling, or they hate Before Watchmen as much as some fans do.
But let’s just check out DC’s press release that went out to journalists along with their complimentary copies of these books. Surely Pamela Mullin, the Publicity Manager of DC Entertainment, can present Before Watchmen in a way that gets our attention. In fact, let’s just skip to the final two sentences of the press release, to see how she sums it up:
“…So, no matter what side of the controversy you think you’re on, now is the time to read, judge and find out what they’re all about for yourself. We look forward to your coverage timed to publication.”
Well, then. Mentioning the controversy (without describing it), inviting writers to pass judgement – that’s admirably candid, and not at all encouraging. If you didn’t know about the controversy, you do now, and you’re probably googling the topic and reading about the shabby way DC has treated Alan Moore. Is this really the way to sell these books?
I read press releases expecting to told why I will enjoy a specific work. PR isn’t about being completely honest, it’s about spinning a product to its best advantage, and presenting it in a positive light. And this looks to all the world like DC has given up on Before Watchmen… The spin cycle is broken, and they might as well cop to all the dirty laundry they’re carrying.