FAN EXPO: JMS & Risso Launch "Before Watchmen: Moloch"

Despite waves of debate, discontent and dissent from many commentators and readers within the comics industry, DC Comics series of "Before Watchmen" prequels debuted to, perhaps unsurprisingly, strong sales. And today, the publisher revealed that the story won't stop there.

At Fan Expo in Toronto, DC announced that the publishing initiative that already counts seven mini series and 35 total single issues will add another two-issue series to its ranks this November. J. Michael Straczynski -- already writer of the "Doctor Manhattan" and "Nite Owl" series -- and Eduardo Risso will team for a "Before Watchmen: Moloch" series focusing on the "mystic" villain who played a key role in the original comic. The first issue ships November 7 while the second follows on December 26.

CBR News spoke with Straczynski about the move, what parts of Moloch's life on the page he feels are worth expanding upon and why he believes the large amount of "Before Watchmen" comics don't detract from the original work.

CBR News: From its start, we've been told that "Before Watchmen" was planned as a group effort with several of the creators discussing their plans in unison. What brought about an expansion of the effort with this new series?

J. Michael Straczynski: In our early conversations, Dan [DiDio] indicated that he really wanted to explore Moloch because he's central to the mythology of the original "Watchmen," even though only see him at the end of his life, and the rest is just a few facts and dates tossed around in text or dialogue. He would've liked to have included this from the git-go, but felt that everybody was maxed out on what was already on our plates. Fortunately, I got my scripts finished, done and in before anybody else, and long before they were due, so when I was done Dan asked if I'd be willing, and of course I said yes.

While an important character, Moloch is also a somewhat tertiary player in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons original series. What about his story and background warrants his own spotlight in your eyes?

If you step back and just look at his story, it's a real tragedy, in a way the most tragic of all of the characters. He started out in great difficulty, turned to crime, was sent to prison repeatedly, found religion, converted to Catholicism, and came out of prison determined to lead a changed life. It was a new beginning, a fresh start...and what happens? He falls prey to Ozymandias' plans and becomes one of the first sacrificial lambs to that slaughter. How is that not a compelling story worth telling?

Thanks to the original backup material, there is a wide range of time periods and crimes the Moloch character has been connected to. What's the specific focus of this two-issue series, and why did you pick that place in the timeline as opposed to any others?

Most of what we know from the material in the first book is expressed in narrative, in bits and pieces in "Under the Hood" and elsewhere -- we don't actually see any of it, and thus we don't understand the why of the what. Yes, we know he went through all these changes, but what prompted it? How did it happen and what did it mean? I wanted to give his history the same serious treatment we were giving to all the heroic characters.

Your artist here is Eduardo Risso, best known for his noirish/crime comics work. What about his style compliments your story here?

I've always said that my scripts live and die by the degree to which you can see or feel emotion from the characters. Eduardo plays a lot with silhouette and suggestion, but manages to convey a tremendous amount of emotion in his work. It's sly, subtle, evocative...there's a magical quality to it, which fits with the sense of Moloch the Mystic, the Magician.

As I'm sure you're acutely aware, these books remain a source of controversy and contention for a number of the readership. DC's argument for "Before Watchmen" has been that building a "universe" of stories from the original series worthwhile and necessary effort. In what ways do you feel expanding the publishing plan as you go justifies or bolsters that argument?

I don't think we're, or this, is really expanding the publishing program. I think -- and I'm only speaking for myself, I have no inner knowledge of any of this -- it's not so much a portent of things to come as really just a matter of filling in the corner that Dan wanted to fill since the beginning. Ultimately, these are great characters about whom compelling stories can be told, and are thus as worthwhile or necessary as any other book out there.

Last week with the publication of your "Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan" #1 marked the twelfth issue of the entire "Before Watchmen" project, meaning that by next week, the initiative will have published more comics than the original series with many, many more installments to come. Considering the fact that the original series provides a pretty definitive end point to these stories, what do you think is the limit of series that can be published under this banner? Do you fear a risk of spreading these characters too thin?

There was a pretty definitive end point to Alan's story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns." If we're going to talk about spreading characters too thin, shouldn't we put Spider-Man in that category, having been published now for 50 years? Or Superman? How many times have their origins been told and re-told? How many permutations of Flash and Green Lantern and Thor and other characters? We've had the original "Watchmen" GN, and these prequels. By comparison to the others, that's nothing. That there was an end point to that story doesn't mean there aren't a million other stories that can be told before and afterward. Some say "well, we can't care what happens in the prequels because we know from Watchmen that they don't die." Does anybody picking up a mainstream comic of any title think the main character is going to die anytime soon? (Or die and stay dead?) Of course not, their survival is a foregone conclusion. So that part also seems to me illogical.

A character is stretched too thin when you can't tell any more good stories about them, and with the Watchmen characters, we've barely scratched the surface, even though I kinda doubt they're going to go back to the well on this again too often or too soon.

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