This will be the last batch of BW #1s I review. I was hoping to get the Ozymandias critique out earlier, as in, before the end of last month, but them there’s the brakes. Here’s my two cents on the latest…and semi-latest…from Before Watchmen.
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1
Smartest-man-in-the-world Ozymandias reflects on his early years – his struggles in being the smartest kid, fighting against a bully, meeting a woman, admiring Alexander the Great, and traveling the world. It’s all an incredibly trite origin story, right from the character’s goofy beginnings (somehow “smartest kid in the world” doesn’t have the same weight as “smartest man”) through to early adulthood. And while most of the other Watchmen characters received relatively comprehensive backstories in the original comic, writer Alan Moore wisely avoided Adrian’s for the sole reason that any kind of origin the character might have would be rather dull and unpleasant. So it is with Ozymandias #1.
Hell, even the walls of dialogue Moore wrote for Adrian in the original got a bit tiresome, and reading Ozy’s elitist, overwrought dialogue here is even more exhausting. Wein doesn’t add to the legacy in any meaningful way; the childhood backstory, love interest, and inclusion of a martial arts background are all he has to offer. For what it’s worth, I did like some of the art, which reminded me of a Rockwell painting…if Rockwell had painted a young child brutally shattering another child’s kneecap. Getting down to it, Ozymandias just isn’t an appealing character in any sense. The character worked in Watchmen because of his smugness; you just wanted to punch the guy. Basing an entire series around him is just grating and tiring. He’s not even a character I love to hate, I just flat-out hate him. And judging by this issue’s closing panels, hinting at an even more disinteresting conflict, this subseries has nowhere to go but down.
Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1
The vigilante Rorschach recollects moments of his disenchanting childhood, and reminds himself why he’s chosen to clean up a city ridden with crime. Upon doing so, however, he stumbles upon a crime lord’s hideout and ends up getting a beating. But Rorschach, ever the fighter, won’t go down that easy, and pledges to get right back up and follow through with the mission. Azzarello’s Rorschach, like his Comedian, still feels more like a fan rendering of the character than the character itself – he’s overly foul-mouthed, less meek, and far more brutish. Nonetheless, what’s compelled me to keep reading this subseries is the atmosphere, lending a brutal, Taxi Driver-esque world view to the Watchmen universe, a great fit for the character. Likewise, the artwork is fittingly gritty and detailed, with the neon of the lights seeping into the very air of the night, again reminiscent of the 70s Scorsese opus. My one quibble is that I vastly prefer Gibbon’s more flowing, liquid-y ink patterns on the mask over Bermejo’s edgy, jagged designs.
There’s a moment when, after the thugs beat up Rorschach, they move in to remove his mask. The head thug tells them not to, because “it doesn’t matter.” I smiled, and began writing about how smart Azzarello was to keep the character’s identity a secret on the off chance someone would pick up this book before the original Watchmen, refraining from spoiling that book’s big reveal. Then a scene later, we see the character in his civilian identity and I had to shake my head. You could make an argument that this subseries is more geared towards fans than newcomers, thus most people reading would already know who he is. But still, I can’t help but feel casually showing him as a civilian diminishes the impact of the original’s twist.
Most of my complaints with Rorschach #1 are, like Before Watchmen on the whole, that it’s not nearly as great or poignant as what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did. Even Gibbons himself recently dismissed the series as not canon and I’m very much in agreement; even at its best, the series amounts to nothing more than well-made fan fiction. Still, if you’ve been enjoying the best of what the series has to offer so far, you could do worse than pick this up.
Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1
At the Comedian’s funeral, Doctor Manhattan ponders the meaning of his existence. He thinks back on his nuclear origins, his childhood, and of relationships past, and discovers several truths involved with quantum reality. Who is Jon Osterman and who is Dr. Manhattan? The question takes him back to the moment of his birth, and subsequently alters the reality around him. Sadly, author J. Michael Straczynski, also authoring the Nite Owl subseries, once again proves that he has very little to contribute to the Watchmen universe outside of rehashing what came before. Sure, he can string together big words and pseudo-philosophical speak, but what’s the point if all it amounts to is a mere expansion of the Manhattan-narrated chapter from the original?
JMS is also the only author to straight-up rip off scenes from the original Watchmen – this time, he doesn’t just use the Comedian’s funeral, he literally takes the same Crimebusters meeting scene from the original Watchmen AGAIN, with the added story details he himself inserted when he first borrowed the scene for Nite Owl #1. It’s like he’s trying to embed himself into the legacy of a truly great literary work as deeply as he possibly can, likely just to feed his ego. What is it with comic book writers today having such huge egos? Do they think they’re writing Shakespeare?
I digress. At least Dr. Manhattan #1 ends with a rather interesting setup for the next issue, but I feel like the idea should’ve been presented at the start of the issue instead, saving us the trouble of flipping through what we’ve already seen. Above all, Adam Hughes’ artwork is great, largely capturing the spirit of Gibbons’ pencils, though with thicker inks and grainier colors. I also liked how the panels were structured to be just as even and in-line as Gibbons’. In the end, Dr. Manhattan is the last main BW subseries to debut (minus the newly-announced Moloch series, also authored by JMS and which I will not be checking out), and while it’s a significant improvement over the awful Nite Owl #1, it still leaves one with a sense that there’s just not a lot to this series at all. I may yet check out further issues to see what the end setup entails, but chalk me up to indifferent for this one.
More comic reviews coming up for DC’s zero issue month…stay tuned!