I know there’s already been a lot of argument and discussion over DC’s impending release of the Before Watchmen prequel series, and that there’s bound to be a great deal more. Far be it from me to enjoy adding fuel to the fire (heh, heh, heh…) but I think I’ve discovered some not-so-veiled evidence that not everyone in DC’s offices agrees with the move between the pages of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #6 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli. If you haven’t read the issue and plan on doing so: DO NOT PROCEED. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. I have to talk about the plot in detail if I want to make my point.
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Frankenstein’s mission in issue #6 of his title is to assassinate a former S.H.A.D.E. Agent with atomic superpowers by the name of Col. Quantum. Frankenstein, Velcoro (the vampire), Griffith (the wolf-man), and Khalis (the living mummy) travel to Vietnam where the Colonel is hiding out, and Frankenstein informs the others of Quantum’s checkered past with S.H.A.D.E. This is where things started to remind me of Watchmen. In a flashback sequence, Frankenstein tells the tale of how he and Quantum were deployed to South Vietman in 1969 during the war to back up U.S. forces. We are immediately treated to a panel that’s an almost exact replica of the one from Watchmen depicting Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian fighting in the Vietnam War. This image was so iconic that it even made it into The Watchmen movie. In Frankenstein, we have the red (instead of blue) Col. Quantum in Dr. Manhattan’s position blasting Viet Cong with vague atomic energy while Frankenstein strikes The Comedian’s pose with the rail gun. Anyone who was ever obsessed by The Watchmen should have been hit with déjà vu by this image and by what followed.
The next sequence had Col. Quantum, this time, mimicking The Comedian’s role in The Watchmen. Frankenstein finds the Colonel in a Vietnamese bar of ill-repute being attended upon by a lady of the night. This scene is strikingly reminiscent of the moment in Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan confronts The Comedian in a Vietnamese bar only to witness The Comedian being confronted by and then gunning down a young woman he impregnated. In Frankenstein, there’s no pregnant young woman. Col. Quantum only informs Frank that he has no intention of fighting in the senseless war any longer, but you can see that Quantum is channeling some weird amalgam of Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian’s personalities in this scene. Later on in the issue, Frankenstein even informs the others that they originally mistook Col. Quantum’s energy signature for Captain Atom’s. I took this as a reference to how Alan Moore based Dr. Manhattan after Captain Atom when DC banned him from using the Charlton superheroes in his Watchmen story. All of this convinces me, as I hope it does you, that the character of Col. Quantum is supposed to in some way represent Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
The climax to the Col. Quantum adventure is where I see Jeff Lemire making his criticism of Before Watchmen. Frankenstein and his group find the Colonel in a mansion by the bank of the Mekong River. When Frank confronts Quantum, he finds that the Colonel has mutated into some grotesque atomic monster since the last time they saw each other. Quantum laments the fact that he cannot die and only becomes more hideous as time goes by. He begs Frankenstein to kill him. In this way, what started out as an assassination becomes a mercy killing. Frankenstein shoots Quantum in the head with an anti-nuclear payload given to him by Ray Palmer, and Quantum eventually succumbs to it thanking Frank with his last breath. Now, I could be reading too much into this or I could be misinterpreting it completely, but here’s what I think Jeff Lemire is trying to say with this whole Col. Quantum episode: Let The Watchmen die before becomes a grotesque parody of itself. If that’s what he’s saying, then I completely agree with him. The Watchmen was an important book for me. It probably changed my life. I know many of us feel that way, but we need to work past it. Otherwise it will just mutate into this monster we will never get over to move on to something new. In the end, DC is going to put out these Before Watchmen miniseries and there’s nothing I nor Jeff Lemire nor even Frankenstein can do about it. I urge all of you to ignore them because if comic books are to deliver something fresh again then we need to move on. The Watchmen was a masterpiece, but it’s been finished for almost 25 years. Let’s look toward the future and take up the challenge to find something new.