Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More issues of Before Watchmen

Nite Owl #1 by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert, and Joe Kubert
Ozymandias #1 by Len Wein and Jae Lee
Minutemen #2 by Darwyn Cooke

Danger, Danger, here be spoilers. Not spoilers to the Watchmen prequels, but to Watchmen itself. If you have never read Watchmen then don't waste your time reading about the prequels, get a copy of Watchmen and read that instead.

Yes, readers, three more issues of the widely hated prequels to Watchmen. Nite Owl seems to be primarily about dorky superhero Daniel Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl and one of the main Watchmen characters. It shows him at the point of taking over from Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. He seems like an ironic version of a real life comics fan - whereas nerds now obsess about fictional superheroes, Dreiberg obsesses about real superheroes, in particular Nite Owl 1, seeking originally to become his sidekick and then carrying on his work when Mason retires.

In and of itself it is not unentertaining, but it is not really doing much more than pointlessly filling in Watchmen back-story. I did like how Mason is presented as being a bit more edgy than he is in the original Watchmen, with the Kuberts' art helping to make him feel like a more dangerous character. But I thought the straight lifting of a frame from Watchmen was a bit poor. Overall I would judge this title to be quite good, but I am not sure I will bother with #2.

Ozymandias presents itself as being Ozymandias recording his thoughts just before he triggers the climactic giant squid attack on New York. The framing device is something of a supervillain cliché/trope, but it does not really work for Ozymandias. His plan only works if no one finds out that he did it, so why would he record his thinking? That aside, the title is quite entertaining, mostly thanks to the art. It is sumptuous coloured work but has a stylised quality that stops it being merely pretty. The story is grand - part of it is rehash of the Watchmen stuff about Adrian Veidt travelling the world before he became Ozymandias, and then we have the now incredibly rich Veidt deciding to become a costumed crime fighter because his girlfriend dies of a drug overdose. That was a bit of a surprise - not so much the overdose, but the Veidt having a girlfriend, as I had come round to the idea that the character is meant to be homosexual (mainly based on the idea that he is a smart dresser and knows how to look after himself, unlike the other losers in Watchmen).

One thing that I find amusing about Ozymandias is that it is written by Len Wein. Wein was the original writer on Swamp Thing, the comic with which Alan Moore later made his US writing debut. Some people have objected to the Before Watchmen comics on the basis that it is just wrong for other creators to use the characters created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. As Moore had already taken over Wein's Swamp Thing, you could see this title as the favour being returned. Wein was also the editor on original Watchmen, so his involvement with these characters goes back a long way.

Again, though, there is the question of whether Ozymandias is doing anything other than providing an unneeded fleshing out of back-story already sketched in Watchmen. At the moment I would say probably not, but the art and feel of this are sufficiently strange that I will probably keep buying this one.

And then we come to #2 of Minutemen. The appearance of this issue annoyed me. Not because of anything contained in it, but because I wanted to read all the #1 issues of the Before Watchmen comics before having to think about which ones I wanted to keep buying, if any. But then this came out, before the first issues of Rorschach and Dr Manhattan. Bah. I bought it anyway. This continues to be an enjoyable read, set among characters who do not get too much of a look-in in real Watchmen, so you miss that annoying "yeah yeah I know all this" feeling. Instead we have the late 1930s heroes teaming up to fight crime and stuff. Only the team is being run to create favourable publicity for the heroes, ultimately as an income-generating project. Darwyn Cooke's vintage-themed art continues to be perfect for this kind of thing. The story is impressive too, particularly the later section where Nite Owl, Silhouette and Mothman investigate an unsavoury case of the kind that does not generate feel-good publicity.

I think of these three, Minutemen wins. It feels the most like something that has an independent existence from real Watchmen, even if it contains characters from it.

I should also mention the short Curse of the Crimson Corsair stories that appear in the back pages of each Before Watchmen title. They are two page episodes in an ongoing tale that is meant to be another of the pirate comics popular in the Watchmen world. They are drawn by John Higgins, original Watchmen colourist, and written by Len Wein. Back in the 1970s and earlier Wein would have been working on this kind of lurid fare, so this must be an amusing journey down memory-lane for him. I will need to read more of them before passing any real judgement on them.

More Before Watchmen chit chat coming soon… though not too soon, as I am skipping the second issues of Silk Spectre and Comedian.

An inuit panda production

Nite Owl image source

Ozymandias image source

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