CCI: DC's "Before Watchmen" Panel

DC Comics continued its Comic-Con International in San Diego 2012 presence with a massive panel for its "Before Watchmen" mega-event. A panel including DC Entertainment co-publisher Dan DiDio, Vice President of Art Direction and Design Mark Chiarello, senior editor Will Dennis and creators Amanda Connor, J. Michael Straczynski, Len Wein, Darwyn Cooke and more gathered to bring the info on the "Watchmen" prequel to the assembled audience.

The panel, moderated by Senior Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham, kicked off with an introduction of the panel and a brief overview of the "Before Watchmen" initiative.

"I feel extraordinarily good [about it,]" said DiDio, who said he was nervous about putting out the series initially. "One thing I was never nervous about was the quality of the material. ... All the reaction to it has exceeded our expectations."

DiDio mentioned that many readers see "Watchmen" as an original graphic novel and as a result, DC thought the trades would sell better than the single issues, but according to the co-publisher, the sales have been above expectations.

"Nite Owl" was up first, and Straczynski spoke about where he plans to take the character now that the first issue has hit stands with the buddy dynamic between Rorscach and Nite Owl. "I know Nite Owl would be far too modest to go up to Rorscach and say 'We should be partners,'" said Straczynski, mentioning that he's not done covering the youth of Nite Owl and referenced the cover to "Nite Owl" #3, which depicts the Twilight Lady in an embrace with Nite Owl, which is a direct exploration of a photograph found in the original "Watchmen."

"There's this great scene where they kiss for the first time, and [it focuses on their faces] and then we pan out and they're not wearing clothes except for their masks," said Straczynski, who said the Twilight Lady will know Nite Owl's secret identity after seeing his unmasked face. Straczynski also said the story will continue to explore the question, "What makes a hero a hero?"

Straczynski commented on the art for "Nite Owl" as well and the family dynamic. "Andy [Kubert] will draw something one way, then Joe being the father will start to ink it a different way," said Straczynski, noting the competition between the two has probably made the book even better.

Len Wein, who joined the panel slightly late, said "it's fun to be home again" when it comes to writing "Ozymandias" and coming back to these characters. "Essentially, it begins with his birth and takes you up to the first moment you see him in the first 'Watchmen' book," said Wein. "Ozymandias" tells the origin from a first person perspective, but Wein says "he's a liar." "I'm having fun playing with that aspect of the character. He thinks he's the most noble guy on the Earth and he's not even seventeenth."

Wein spoke about his pleasure at seeing Jae Lee's pages come in for "Ozymandias." "I look at this stuff and go, 'I'm not worthy.' This isn't comic book art, this is fine art," said Wein. "The pencils come in and bear as much relationship to the layouts as I do to Wonder Woman."

At this point DC co-publisher Jim Lee came on to the panel and introduced a special announcement. A five issue miniseries by Quentin Tarantino -- who joined the panel at the last minute -- based on Django Unchained that takes the film and does it as a comic book -- but not an adaptation in the conventional sense of the word.

"We have worked out a situation where we're going to do a 'Django Unchained' comic. It's going to come out -- I think the first issue is going to come out a couple months before the movie opens and basically take the entire story of the film and do it as a comic book from beginning to end," said Tarantino. "What I'm really excited about -- not only do I love comic books, I always loved western comics in particular along with the superhero stuff. So I was really excited when it come up with doing a comic about the film. One of the things that I'm really excited about is that 'Django Unchained' is a big epic. When I write big epic scripts like 'Kill Bill,' there's a lot of stuff that doesn't make the movie because they're too f-ing big. They'd be four hour movies if I did everything that was in the script, so there always is this aspect that the script is this big literary piece that I'm always taking it out and changing it and transforming it to make it a movie by the time it's all finished. That's the process, I'm always adapting my movie every day, my unwieldy script into a movie every day as I do it, but what's really cool about doing a 'Django Unchained' comic book is that it's the entire script. Even though things might have changed in the movie, I might have changed something else, I might have dropped chapters, I might have dropped big pieces -- that will all be in the comic. The comic will literally be that very first draft of the script. All that material that didn't make the movie, all of that will be part of the piece. And I'm really excited about it. So, be looking out for 'Django Unchained' in a comic book store and 7 Eleven near you!"

After the panel calmed down from Tarantino's presence, Dennis spoke briefly about Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's "Rorschach." "It's New York in 1977, it's a rompy, crazy ride," said Dennis. "Lee's work just gets better every page. Of course he hates it. Every page is 'the worst page he's ever drawn.'"

Straczynski took the helm back for "Dr. Manhattan" and said the moment where Dr. Manhattan gets paired with Silk Spectre will come into play in the series. "He's the most powerful being in the universe, but he's in a prison from his own point of view," said Straczynski, referencing Dr. Manhattan's ability to see past present and future.

"I think the book is astonishing," said Wein.

"We all know how Dr. Manhattan was born," said Straczynski, saying Dr. Manhattan will go back to the moment of his creation where he doesn't get created -- the man who would becomes Dr. Manhattan grabs his coat and walks out of the chamber, which informs the story.

The panel showed some pages from Adam Hughes, which Mark Chiarello commented on. "He's not here at this convention because he's home drawing," said Chiarello. "He's taking this seriously."

Chiarello also said Jim Steranko said he'd rather do a variant cover for Rorschach when Chiarello called to see if he would do a variant for Dr. Manhattan.

Cooke was next to talk about "Minutemen." "In a way, I was kind of lucky because most of the work I've done leading into this project has been an idealized look at the past," said Cooke. "Particularly with the first issue of the project, I wanted to give the readers that wonderful glorious sense of what the good old days have been like, but by the time we get to issue two, we know that's all there is to what you see." Cooke also said the book would start to get really dark, characterizing the experience as "kind of cool." "I'm now working in an area that I've never done before. I feel like I did back in 2001. 'Can I pull this off? Have I got what it takes?' The challenge is driving me. It's fun dealing with this type of material."

"Read it carefully and don't jump to conclusions," said Cooke of the series.

Amanda Connor took the mic next to talk about her work on "Silk Spectre," which Cunningham characterized as "'Watchmen' at Riverdale High."

"I'm playing with them all," said Connor in reference to literary references. "I've done a lot of research on rock and roll back then. There's a lot of stuff that directly involves her, but also stuff that doesn't directly involve her because it's fun. With her, you're seeing her growing into somebody she doesn't start out as." Connor also said the sheltered version of the girl readers see in issue one goes away in issue two.

"I just want people to know how hard she's working on this book," said Cooke. "Her husband won't talk to me anymore. He's eating alone, he's sleeping alone, he's showering alone --"

"You know what else is your fault, everyone in this room is picturing Jimmy Palmiotti showering," said Connor, who said Palmiotti characterized the comic as "the biggest pain in the ass I've never been on."

Dennis stepped up to talk about the "Comedian" series from Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones. "Is there a chance that a person like that can make a change in his life?" said Dennis. "Can Eddie do anything differently or is he just going to do the same sorts of things. I can't think of many people who can explore that like Brian can."

The panel opened everything up for questions as Straczynski attempted to explain quantum mechanics and Schrodinger's Cat to Cooke in terms of Hockey.

"She has one line of dialogue in the entire book," said Cooke, who said he thought about the one tidbit about the Silhouette trying to break up a child trafficking ring, calling it "really heroic." "She's definitely the moral center of the book. ... By the time 'Minutemen' wraps, Silhouette's going to be one of the [strongest] female characters in comics."

One person asked about the possibility of Alan Moore being involved in a future "Watchmen" sequel.

"There's about the same amount of chance of that as seeing the 30th of February," said Wein.

"Alan preferred not to be involved in any of this. We did reach out, but he didn't want to be involved," said DiDio. "There would be no 'Before Watchmen' if these gentlemen didn't sign onboard. To be perfectly frank, I was extraordinarily confident we would be able to match 'Watchmen' with the talent we have here."

Apparently the only creator who didn't get the book he requested was Adam Hughes, who wanted "Nightwing" (according to Chiarello), which DiDio quickly corrected with "Nite Owl." Amidst laughs, Straczynski joked "Wanted: Editor, DC Comics."

The final question of the panel asked about whether the creators ever got nervous about doing "Before Watchmen."

"It took two years for me to commit to it," said Cooke. "This is like the Olympics. This has been going on for a long, long time. None of us underplay the magnitude of this undertaking. ... Of course, everyone had to take the time to consider whether they had the game to bring to this thing. ... What you had was a group of people that were really willing to challenge themselves."

"We did not rush this," said DiDio. "This was done and scheduled and re-scheduled until we were ready to go."

With that, the panel wrapped. Stay tuned to CBR for more from Comic-Con International at San Diego.

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