Yesterday, we finally heard DC Comics' official announcement that they're launching a rather hefty set of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' landmark comic Watchmen. A lot of us didn't take the news very well in light of Moore's total lack of involvement. But what a lot of people forget is that a Watchmen prequel that was actually created with Moore's help already exists ... sort of.
Back in the mid-'80s, before Watchmen's September 1986 debut, DC Comics contracted RPG creator Mayfair Games for an edition of their DC Heroes series focusing on Moore and Gibbons' creation. The first, Who Watches the Watchmen?, was started while the comic was still just in the outline stage. Two others—Taking Out the Trash and The Watchmen Sourcebook—followed a bit later.
The RPG projects began well before Watchmen became a seminal work of comic book storytelling, or even a bestseller. At the time, Mayfair considered the project a risk, but the writers who worked on the sourcebooks saw the potential to do something unique with new Watchmen stories.
"I set out to adapt Watchmen to the role-playing game format with the odds stacked against me," Who Watches the Watchmen? author Daniel Greenberg told CBR. "I had to convince Mayfair Games to agree to publish the game [at a time] when Watchmen looked like a much bigger risk than game adaptations of DC's flagship characters.
"It was especially important to me that I land the project and to get it done right. I worked very hard to convince everyone—Mayfair and DC and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons—to support my approach to Watchmen so we could publish simultaneously with the comic."
The story within Greenberg's sourcebook focused on the first and only mission of the Crimebusters and former Minuteman Captain Metropolis' choices for the greater good. The sourcebook was released in the midst of Watchmen's 12-issue run, giving players the opportunity to experience parallel stories—Metropolis' schemes and Ozymandias' schemes—before they knew how the comic would end.
"That way, players would have experienced Captain Metropolis committing a terrible act in the name of a greater cause before they read Ozymandias's terrible act for a greater cause," Greenberg said. "But where Captain Metropolis makes a mess of it in the RPG, Ozymandias learns from him and figures out how to make it work. This deepens the implication in the comic that Ozymandias begins to formulate his ideas about how to 'save the world' after Captain Metropolis' abortive attempt to form a team of heroes. So the game not only grows out of the ending of the comic, but also foreshadows the ending of the comic."
Writer Ray Winninger, who authored Taking Out the Trash and The Watchmen Sourcebook, also focused on Captain Metropolis and his choices, and even contacted Alan Moore to get approval on his plot ideas for the RPG.
"The idea to have Captain Metropolis engineer a plot to force the characters to work together popped into my head in the middle of my first phone call to Alan Moore," Winninger said. "I blurted out the idea while we were brainstorming, and he approved the plotline on the spot. He even made helpful suggestions which I adopted—like using Moloch as the logical fall guy for Captain Metropolis. Making Moloch a double patsy—first for Metropolis and then again for Ozymandias—could lend another layer of poignancy to the Moloch-Comedian scene in the comic."
Both Moore and Gibbons seem to have been quite helpful with the RPG scenarios. Gibbons contributed cover art and new interior art for each of the books, while Moore made himself available to the writers for consulting. Greenberg remembered that Moore was "particularly generous with his time and patience in giving detailed answers to my inexhaustible questions. I was especially honored when he started calling me to talk about his latest ideas."
Winninger remembered that Moore even went so far as to lay out the entire Watchmen story for him before the comic had finished publication.
"Shortly after I picked up the Watchmen assignment I called Alan in Northampton," Winninger said. "He was unbelievably nice and excited about the project. During that first call he spent almost two hours telling me exactly what was about to happen in the next nine issues of the comic, down to the level of individual panels and page layouts. I still remember him saying 'Right, issue 12. We open with six pages of corpses.' I spoke with him several times thereafter to bounce my ideas for the adventure off of him, to clarify details to get his approval on the manuscripts and such."
Today those Watchmen RPG books can sometimes be found on eBay, where they sell for a hefty sum. It's well known that Moore was interested in expanding the Watchmen universe with things like a Minutemen series or even perhaps a Tales of the Black Freighter spinoff, but his falling out with DC killed those projects before they ever got off the ground.
It's unlikely that Moore will ever reconcile with his former publisher, particularly now that they've used their Watchmen rights to prequelize his characters on such a large scale. So if you want to know what an Alan Moore-approved Watchmen prequel looks like, you can always try to track down these books.