Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yet More "Before Watchmen" Action

Nite Owl #2, by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert
Ozymandias #2, by Len Wein and Jae Lee
Rorschach #1, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
Dr. Manhattan #1, by J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes
Minutemen #3, by Darwyn Cooke

Just in case you like comics but have been living under a stone, these Before Watchmen comics are DC's cash-in prequels to the popular Watchmen comic of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. To many they are something of a travesty, as taking characters created by Moore and Gibbons and giving them to other people is seen as a terrible form of creative theft, for all that Alan Moore in particular has made a career out of appropriating characters created by other people.

I like to think I have approached these titles with a somewhat open mind, but for the most part they are not that great. As I was saying last time, my original plan had been to buy all the issue ones first and then decide which, if any, were worth sticking with. Unfortunately, some of the issue 2s started appearing before the issue 1s had all appeared, forcing me to prematurely go ahead with some of the titles. This has led to good and bad results.

I was ambivalent about issue 1 of Nite Owl, but decided to plump for the second issue. Now my feelings are less ambivalent. This is pretty much a pointless filling in of back-story that never needed to be filled in. I will not be bothering with issue 3.

Ozymandias #2, like #1, has really gorgeous art. Really lovely. I think this would be worth buying even if it was just a succession of pictures of Ozymandias reading a book. It strikes me, though, that there is a slight woman-in-refrigerator aspect to this one. In issue 1, Adrian Veidt's girlfriend died of a drøg overdose. Now he has decided to become Ozymandias and to join the freaks fighting crime while wearing funny clothes. I am not entirely convinced by this. First of all, I always had the suspicion from real Watchmen that Veidt batted for the other team, though nothing was ever stated overtly. Secondly, his motivation for fighting crime there is presented straightforwardly as being to apply his amazing intellect to the betterment of the world by throwing bad guys into jail. The "oh noes my girlfriend is dead, I know I will fight crime now" motivation seems a bit petty for such an Olympian figure.

Still, the story bops along and the art is nice. And the art is not just pretty, there is some clever stuff in it as well, like the two page spread where a fight in a drøg factory is rendered in silhouette. I'm not sure what the fetishistic cover (a gasmask wearing women in her underwear pulling on a string looped around Ozymandias' neck) is all about - nothing like that happens inside and if you bought the issue hoping for something a bit saucy you would be rather disappointed.

Rorschach is one of the most fascinating characters of real Watchmen. On the one hand he is a maniacal thug, on the other a maniacal thug with an unyielding and uncompromising sense of right and wrong, albeit one that allows him to kill anyone who gets in his way and torture randomers to extract information. And he is a character driven by his own past (one whose adult life is arguably a pathological response to that unfortunate past). He is a character with the potential to front a title on his own. Unfortunately, Rorschach #1 is not that great. The story sees him chasing down some drøg suppliers, while in the background some other maniac is murdering women (prostitutes, perhaps) and cutting messages into their skin. The main story is a bit ho-hum, while the woman-killing nutter stuff is a bit distasteful, the classic comics thing of showing that someone is BAD by having them commit violence against women.

And the Rorschach art is all a bit lurid. I do not mean by that it is explicit and grotesque in what it depicts, just that the combination of art and colour is a bit too in your face. I reckon the character would be more suited either to something that is almost completely black and white, creating a shadowy noir atmosphere, or else drawn and coloured so as to emphasis his grottiness. This art does not suit.

With story and art failing to impress me, I doubt I will be bothering with issue 2 of Rorschach. And that brings me to the first issue of Dr Manhattan. Again, Dr Manhattan is one of the signature characters of real Watchmen. The only one of the superheroes with actual superpowers, a large part of the book follows this godlike individual's alienation from and then reconciliation to the human race. Presenting him in his own comic presents a challenge - what do you do with him? In this one they largely seem to copy the great chapter 4 of real Watchmen, following him as he jumps backwards and forwards over his own life. It seems very inessential, largely giving us stuff we have already seen (or slight variants thereof).

The only real difference is giving the character a tendency to go on about quantum mechanics in a manner not seen in real Watchmen - all that Schrödinger's cat stuff. This seems like fluff until he jumps back over his life to before his creation as Dr Manhattan, when he was still Jon Osterman, a physicist working on Government science projects in the 1950s. He comes up to the moment of his creation as Dr Manhattan, when he is accidentally trapped inside a field and apparently destroyed by the removal of his intrinsic field - only now the quantum dice somehow roll differently and he sees his younger self walk out of the chamber before it closes on him.

So he has created, or witnessed the creation of, a divergent timeline from the one in which he lives. That is basically the end of the episode and I suppose it is a pretty big cliffhanger. Given that Watchmen is itself alternate history, we now have another alternate possibly being presented to us. It's funny, but I was going to say that this title was as inessential as the others already mentioned, but writing this has got me thinking that maybe there is a bit more to it, so maybe I will persevere and have a look at the second issue when that comes out.

And finally we have Minutemen #3. I have already said that this is the one definitely interesting Before Watchmen title, and this continues to be the case, thanks to Darwyn Cooke's retro visual sense and focus on characters left rather undeveloped in real Watchmen. See discussion of previous issues here and here.

Ozymandias cover

An inuit panda production

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