When the Zack Snyder movie adaptation of the writer Alan Moore and the artist Dave Gibbons' Watchmen was released in 2009, publishers DC Comics reportedly shifted an additional one million copies of the original story.
First published in 1986, the universe created in Watchmen was something to be looked upon in awe, rather than revisited and tampered with like other superhero comics.
But almost 30 years later, DC's prequel, Before Watchmen, will be released this month. A poor imitation? A mindless cash-in? Whatever the reason, its announcement has been met with a largely negative reaction, but Len Wein, the editor of the original and writer on the prequel, claims there are numerous reasons to buy the new series of comic books.
You'll learn the secrets of the Watchmen universe
Many view the original as complete, but when we asked Len Wein if he had always felt there was more story to tell, his reply was absolute: "Oh gosh, yes. And now we finally have the opportunity to play out some of these untold scenarios on the page."
So expect to see many of the significant events in the lives of such characters as Rorschach, Dr Manhattan, Nite Owl and the Minutemen revealed for the first time.
Wein himself is writing the story of Ozymandius, the main antagonist of the original. "He is an interesting character - he's a hero, but he's also the villain," laughs Wein. "He'll say: 'OK, I'll kill 10 million people, but if it's to save six billion then I can live with that.' We discover his childhood, and the fact that he is an extraordinarily patient man."
It's more Watchmen than ever before
The original Watchmen was a 12-issue series, before it was collected into one volume as a graphic novel. With Before Watchmen, the story will be told across seven different titles, each focusing on a specific character.
Rorschach, Nite Owl, Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre will each get a four-issue series, while the stories of Ozymandius, the Comedian and the Minutemen are told over six. Coupled with the epilogue one-shot, that means 35 new Watchmen comics compared to the 12 of the first series.
As an added bonus, there is a new pirate story, Crimson Corsair, similar to the original's Tales of the Black Freighter, serialised across all the books. No doubt these will be collected into graphic novels of their own later on. "The stories all tie together, and there is an incredible continuity there," says Wein.
The talent involved is a who's who of the industry's finest
To live up to the complexity and quality of the original, DC Comics hired the biggest guns in the comic book industry.
Sadly, the original writer Moore could not be involved because of a continuing dispute with the publishers over ownership rights of the Watchmen characters, and artist Dave Gibbons only appears in the press release announcing the prequel. So to craft these seven stories, the very best writers and artists were chosen. "Everyone loves the work of Alan and Dave, and we just want to do as good a job as Alan and Dave," says Wein.
It's packed full of cliffhangers
Part of the Before Watchmen project saw Wein writing Crimson Corsair, the pirate story that will be serialised across all the prequel titles. In the original Watchmen, Moore created Tales of the Black Freighter, a pirate comic woven into the pages of his larger story. So how did Wein find writing this tale?
"When I finished the last part I thought, well I'm going to have a nervous breakdown and I've earned it," he says.
"It has 36 cliffhangers in all. But what made it easier was working with John Higgins, who not only did a tremendous job of the artwork, but is constantly making suggestions. And where the story has ended up going I've based a lot of it on John's ideas, because they are terrific."
There may be a new ending for the original
Many fans object to a Watchmen prequel because they feel it exacerbates Moore's alleged mistreatment over his rights to the characters. There are rumours his original work may even get rewritten. Wein and Moore were said to have disagreed on the ending to Watchmen, but Moore's version is the one that printed.
Could Wein's Ozymandius series, where the finale is so important to the character, redress the balance? Wein chooses not to comment, but says he is treating the original with respect. "I always loved the characters and always loved the book," he says.
"It's one of the most extraordinary works that anyone has ever produced, and I think to go back and play in that particular playground, knowing that there are things we can't change and shouldn't change, we just get to do the best we can."
Visit www.dccomics.com/watchmen for more information