BEFORE WATCHMEN Replaces Summer Event Comics at DC in 2012 [Cover Gallery]

After months of speculation, DC Comics confirmed in USA Today that Before Watchmen, colloquially referred to on Internet forums and at Bleeding Cool as "Watchmen 2," is taking over comic shops this summer. Click on thumbnails below to see cover images from the project rounded up from numerous stories DC has done with the media this morning.

Featuring the talents of original Watchmen colorist John Higgins, Eisner winner Darwyn Cooke, superstar creators J. Michael Straczynski, Len Wein, Brian Azzarello, J.G. Jones, Amanda Conner, Lee Bermejo, Adam Hughes, Jae Lee and two generations of the venerable Kubert family, the ambitious project will tell stories of the early days in the careers of the characters who would inhabit Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's classic Watchmen.

The book is poised to replace the traditional summer "event" comic, a phenomenon important to publishers' bottom line but something that DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio had said was not forthcoming in the world of the New 52 right away. Between now and the beginning of Before Watchmen, Marvel is marketing an Avengers vs. X-Men crossover and DC has smaller, character-centric crossovers happening in the Batman and Superman families of titles. According to DC, each week a new Before Watchmen issue will be released, and will be held together by a Crimson Corsair backup story that continues from week to week, written by Len Wein with art by John Higgins. There are a total of 7 miniseries as well as a The Curse of the Crimson Corsair one-shot by Wein and Higgins and a Before Watchmen: Epilogue one-shot that will bookend the series.

The original is one of DC's best-selling collected editions and was named to Time Magazine's top 100 English-language novels of all time, and many fans, critics and professionals have long held the position that it need not, and should not, be added to. Newsarama's Dirk Manning recently wrote a column disagreeing with that notion.

“The original series of Watchmen is the complete story that Alan Moore and I wanted to tell. However, I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire,” said Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons at DC's blog, The Source.

Moore, however, who has long been resistant to any follow-ups to Watchmen, told The New York Times, "I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago."

Moore claimed in 2010 that DC had offered him the rights to Watchmen--something that he had wanted in 1989 after an ugly conflict over royalties drove him away from the publisher--in exchange for his work on a follow-up project. While Moore declined the offer and mocked the project, it sounds as though these prequels were in early development as much as a year and a half ago.

If history is any indicator, fans would be likely to make Before Watchmen a best-seller, while complaining about it on the Internet every step of the way. When Frank Miller followed up his watershed The Dark Knight Returns with The Dark Knight Strikes Again in 2001, it failed to impress fans or critics and became a punchline on the Internet almost immediately--but every issue was a top seller the week it was released. Fans will be quick to point out that Alan Moore is not involved with Before Watchmen, but the consent of co-creator Dave Gibbons (who was involved with the Watchmen film and subsequent home video releases, which Moore refused to acknowledge at the time) as well as the top-tier talent they've got lined up for the project seems likely to negate that.

“After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told," said DC Co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee in  statement. "We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”

While much of the speculation surrounding a Watchmen sequel has revolved around the fact that the actors in the 2009 Zack Snyder movie had language in their contracts allowing for follow-up projects, an insider close to the film told Deadline's Nikki Finke last year that there was "not a chance" of a movie sequel.

On Christmas Day, Bleeding Cool obtained concept art by Adam and Joe Kubert for a Nite Owl miniseries as well as J.G. Jones's take on The Comedian. Shortly after those images hit the Web, DC Entertainment's lawyers asked for them to be removed.

When DC recently rolled out its new logo, many fans took the presence of a "Watchmen variant" to be final and clinching proof that the rumors and speculation were true. Last night, that logo reportedly popped up on a Facebook note posted by J. Michael Straczynski, who had long been rumored to be a part of the creative team on the project. The post was quickly removed.

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Straczynski's blog post was the source of much conversation at the Bleeding Cool forums, where fans were already speculating about the contents of what Bleeding Cool reported as a mysterious, major DC announcement due today.

When DC recently announced that its Second Wave titles would be previewed in their DC Comics: The New 52 Free Comic Book Day offering, the blog post hinted that there was something yet to be revealed that would appear in that volume as well; whether it is Before Watchmen or not remains to be seen, but it doesn't seem unlikely.[gallery link="file" columns="2" orderby="title"]