Bailing on Before Watchmen

Review by C.J. Bunce

An initial reaction to the Before Watchmen series, after first learning of all the spinoff prequel titles, could have been “Where is the Crimson Corsair?”  He is of course not missing but his story got relegated to two-page issues in the back of the other titles.  So the problem is sifting through titles to connect the story together.  The result is you probably just give up.  Especially if you’re not reading all the Before Watchmen titles.  I planned to read them all but have decided to throw in the towel after the first issues of all the new titles have finally been printed and I finally made my way through them all.

I have read comments online now from those who loved Watchmen and then either love Before Watchmen or hate it.  Then there are those that merely like or hate Watchmen and either love or hate Before Watchmen.  For me, I appreciate the original–but don’t love it–and the verdict is still out on all these mini-series titles.  So far I have liked Minutemen, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl.  The Comedian was grim but compelling to the point of making me continue coming back for more.  But with Ozymandias, particularly the bizarre story and equally bizarre artwork, DC Comics started to lose me.  The eagerly awaited title Rorschach should have been a slam dunk, yet the grim for grim’s sake story didn’t work for me, and Lee Bermejo, whose incredible work included Batman: Noel last year, seems to have been wasted on this title.   Then the crown of all books, a J. Michael Straczynski and John Hughes pairing no less, landed on my stack with Dr. Manhattan. 

Straczynski is a writer that comic book writers look up to.  I doubt I know any comic book writer that doesn’t plain idolize this guy’s work.  So it’s a struggle to not rave about something he writes.  Did I miss something?  Is it me?  If the question is whether this Before Watchmen title, in its first issue, has captured the original character from Watchmen, then I answer: absolutely.  The problem is that I already knew this guy, this monotone, unfeeling, detached, all-powerful entity.  And he is still as bland as ever.  I was hoping Straczynski had something more to add and Issue #1 hasn’t given me enough to look for Issue #2 next month.

If you know the background of Dr. Manhattan, he was originally based on Captain Atom.  Captain Atom is a character I have read off and on since I was a kid.  I found him interesting, far more than Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, and as mirrored here in Before Watchmen.   There are countless directions to take such a dangerous character in, and instead we get a Schroedinger’s cat retread story.  I love time travel and parallel universe stories in books, comics, TV and movies.  But Dr. Manhattan’s story seems done before.

Admittedly, when I heard Adam Hughes was taking on Dr. Manhattan instead of Silk Spectre, I thought, huh?  Folks at my local comic book store asked the same question.  Why wasn’t Hughes chosen for Silk Spectre?  It wasn’t just me.  So I figured it was because Silk Spectre would have a key role in Dr. Manhattan.  Not so, at least from what we see in the first issue, despite the cover.  Hughes is known for his retro-realistic drawings of women, and his Batgirl covers over the past year have a stunning 1940s magazine cover quality, just beautiful work.  So an editor selecting Hughes to draw the first and second Silk Spectre is a no-brainer.  Yet Issue #1 is all Dr. Manhattan.  And hey, the pencil work is solid.  My eyebrow frown comes from wasting Hughes on such a basic story.  It’s not like Hughes has time to churn out unlimited work.  And no doubt Dr. Manhattan, or any Before Watchmen book, was unthinkable to pass up for any young or old comic book professional in DC Comics’ arsenal that was asked to work on the series.

I will give Dr. Manhattan one more try with issue #2, but I will be bailing on Rorschach and Ozymandias, despite Rorschach being the Boba Fett of the Watchmen universe.  And instead of letting the rest of the Before Watchmen series stack up, I will be taking a second look at the other titles.  With so many New 52 titles continuing with good storylines, these “event” series need to remain interesting and even exciting to continue to earn my ongoing support (aka dollars), and unfortunately that hasn’t happened.

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