We are not here today to debate the wisdom of DC Comics attempting to produce prequels to the most revered graphic novel of all time. That debate continues on a host of other sites all throughout cyber-land. No, I wish to dispel, instead, the notion that the mere existence of "Before Watchmen," no matter its quality, will somehow diminish Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original. The truth, most likely, is that in a year's time, Watchmen will continue to be a bestseller and "Before Watchmen" will be all but forgotten.
After all, who remembers As Time Goes By?
See. I didn't think so.
I loved Casablanca the very first time I saw it on television. Of course, I was high at the time, so I didn't quite trust my judgment. Therefore, I went out and rented it on VHS a few days later and found myself loving it even more. I've enjoyed it just as much each of the countless subsequent times I've seen it. The most recent was just a couple of weeks ago, when Casablanca kicked off this year's CAPA Summer Movie Series at the Ohio Theater in downtown Columbus, Ohio.
Anyway, back in the 1990's, there was a minor trend of producing novels that were sequels to classic motion pictures. This was around the time that Scarlett, the follow up to Gone With The Wind, showed up in bookstores. As Time Goes By by Michael Walsh serves as both prequel and sequel to Casablanca. It seeks to answer all the questions that fans of the film were supposedly dying to have answered. The novel begins by detailing the exact events that made it impossible for Rick Blaine to return to America, then picks up after the movie, reuniting Rick and Louis Renault with Ilsa Lund and Victor Lazlo.
The problem with the book is not that its bad, because it really isn't. It's just completely unnecessary. Like Watchmen, Casablanca is a whole unto itself. While there may be some questions raised as to Rick's past, the film leaves the answers up to the viewer's imagination, rather than spelling everything out in dreary detail.
Another problem is that the book's revelations are so painfully obvious.
In spinning his tale of Rick's past, Walsh draws inspiration from the moment in the film where Renault ventures to guess the circumstances that brought Rick to Casablanca. Louis wonders, "Did you abscond with the church funds? Run off with a senator's wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the Romantic in me." Rick replies that it was a combination of all three. Well, Walsh strained his somewhat limited imagination to come up with a scenario that truly is a combination of all those elements.
Of course, its really no spoiler for me to reveal that this festival of fan wish fulfillment culminates with Rick and Ilsa ending up together, and Lazlo dead for good measure.
For me, As Time Goes By adds absolutely nothing to my appreciation of Casablanca. More importantly, and more to the point of this post, it takes nothing away from it, either.
The same is true of "Before Watchmen." I broke down and bought a copy of the first issue of Minutemen last week. I'll have a full review of it coming up. However, whether I liked it or not, just the fact that DC published it in no way affects how I will view Watchmen in the future.