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Tag Archive: Nite Owl


Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer/artist and New Frontier creator Darwyn Cooke is the visionary of Before Watchmen in the first two books released over the past 8 days, Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1, and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1.  In Minutemen, he serves as writer and artist, and he shares writing credits on Silk Spectre with Amanda Conner, who also serves as artist on Silk Spectre.

We know Amanda Conner from her run as artist on Green Arrow/Black Canary during the duo’s attempt at marriage.  My take was that her art style was a bit too cartoony for the serious story of Oliver Queen’s doppelgänger trying to kill Dinah on their wedding night.   Here, her artistic style is perfect for Silk Spectre, and this is high praise considering I had pegged Adam Hughes as perfect for the Silk Spectre standalone mini-series (but we can look forward to his work on the coming Dr. Manhattan series).  In this retro/throwback world of Before Watchmen, when innocence reigned in America, the young Silk Spectre and her new boyfriend would easily fit into the pages of Archie Comics.  That may not sound like a good thing but it works perfectly for the story being told.  In fact, this may be Conner’s breakout project, showing her character depth as we’ve seen with Gail Simone’s complete command of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and Oracle, and the retro portrayal skill we’ve seen from… Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke’s artwork on Minutemen reminded me over and over again of his retro look at the golden age of DC Comics in his New Frontier series.  It had to have been the easiest decision in the world to tap Cooke for the retro world circa 1939 of the Watchmen back story.

Skipping over the contrived controversy surrounding Before Watchmen, anytime you mess with people’s icons you’re going to get people who won’t even check it out (like someone I knew who loved Star Wars the original trilogy so much they completely ignored and avoided any subsequent books and movies), they’ll give it the ol’ college try, or if it’s good, flat-out embrace the nostalgia of it.  Unlike my pal Jason McClain, I don’t hold Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with any particular reverence (see Jason and my earlier discussion here), so my hope is a story like this could stand on its own.  Presumably the entirety of this new line of mini-series will intersect according to some grand master plan, culminating with the Watchmen series itself.

  

I have read Watchmen twice across a span of time so I do not remember all the nuances, other than Gibbons’ nine panels on a page that had symbology and often contrasting images with dialogue.  I caught enough in Minutemen to know I am missing a great amount of the subtlety and symbology that I assume is present here.  For those reading Before Minutemen before trying out Watchmen (yes, I am sure those people are out there!) I won’t give up spoilers here.  But the future of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, to me, was the best part of Watchmen, and these two were my favorite characters in the movie adaptation.

As to Minutemen issue #1, Cooke excels at giving us a Justice League-worthy back story for some Captain America era characters.  The dialogue in both Minutemen and Silk Spectre is appropriate to the time period, better than I am finding in Ed Brubaker’s noir Fatale series, for example.  Minutemen #1 introduces these Minutemen superheroes through the eye of an aged Nite Owl and his tell-all book Under the Hood.  The innocence quickly fades as we meet Edward Blake, the Comedian, a seemingly well-intentioned do-gooder with serious psychological issues that forecast his ultimate downfall.  Other characters are less familiar but entirely interesting despite getting less time devoted to them: Dollar Bill, who might as well be Captain America, a very cool Space Ghost mixed with Batman-type character called Hooded Justice, Mothman Byron Lewis who seems to foreshadow a sad and brief story, the slick-looking and tough avenging angel Ursula the Silhouette, and Captain Metropolis, wealthy ex-Marine who will put together the team.

Silk Spectre #1 flashes forward to the origin of not the original Silk Spectre of the Minutemen group, but her daughter, and the elder’s priming of the daughter to take over the Silk Spectre superheroine role.  The elder’s public and disreputable past is thrown at the daughter from every angle, and we witness her breaking apart from the Kato-like training practice and peers that have casted her out of favor.  With the bits of darkness and tragedy, Conner’s pencil work also draws out plenty of humor surrounding the angst of being a teenager in 1966 (applicable to any other time period, too).

Other interesting features include a tucked in ongoing secondary story in each issue (not enough to make any judgment on yet) and a higher quality cover shiny card stock.

So far the scope of Before Watchmen is epic, and the storytelling poignant.  It makes this reader want to go watch the Watchmen movie.  Nice work so far!

I’m probably not going to be the first to say it, but I think it is great that DC Comics is going to pursue prequels.

Did I really write that?

When was the last time you saw a good prequel to anything?  Godfather 2 was sort of a prequel and a sequel all in one.  Hrm.  I’m not thinking of much else.  OK, Star Trek 2009 was fun and good for an odd-numbered Trek film.  And Enterprise is a decent TV series if you give it a chance.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the prequel to A Fistful of Dollars, so there’s a good one.

   

The Star Wars prequels—you either like ‘em or hate ‘em.  But would you rather never have seen them, or were they more fun as an experience than the other films out of that decade?  (Hold your answer for a later discussion).

So last week DC Comics announced prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ highly regarded (and revered, by some) Watchmen comic book series.  The new series will consistent of seven titles, all under the banner Before Watchmen.  Mainstream press has reported that comic book readers are all “up in arms” over this—“the debate rages” they say.  I call baloney.  I know more comic book fans that will be interested in checking out Before Watchmen than not.  Lots of highly regarded works have been revisited time and time again.  Why not Watchmen?

The mainstream press says Before Watchmen is all about money.  I call baloney again.  Sure, everything is about money to an extent.  Business is business and comic books are a business.  But what comic writer or artist wouldn’t want to get their hands on the Watchmen characters?  Why do some people think Watchmen is sacrosanct?  Our greatest superheroes are constantly re-imagined.  Does anyone really value Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl over Superman and Batman?

   

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Watchmen comic book, but I see the possibility for some cool things from the prequels.  If anyone is angry I’d think it would be other DC writers and artists that don’t get to work on this project, as there is a lot of doubling up at least as writing duties are concerned.

By way of background, DC Comics announced the following details of who will be creating what books:

RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

CRIMSON CORSAIR will be an added story in the various series.  Writer: Len Wein. Artist: John Higgins

I will be checking out two of the books in particular.  First, Rorschach, because I think he is the best character from Watchmen.  I thought Lee Bermejo did a great job painting the standalone work Batman: Noel last year.  I had been looking forward to his next project and Rorschach should be an interesting subject for him to take on.

Second, Adam Hughes is doing not just covers, but an ongoing series. (!)  One of my favorite things about the New 52 is Hughes’s covers for Batgirl.  His style is very 1940s, so he is a perfect choice for this retro-era comic book series, and since Silk Spectre must factor in greatly to Dr. Manhattan and his backstory, this might make the whole project worth doing.  My question is why Hughes isn’t drawing the Silk Spectre title? I wasn’t a fan of Amanda Conner’s work on Green Arrow/ Black Canary and Silk Spectre was in part based on Black Canary, so I can think of a lot of other artists I’d like to see on that title.  But I won’t pre-judge this one—her work on this new series may be great so we’ll just have to check it out when it is published.

   

All of Azzarello, Straczynski, Cooke, Lee and the Kuberts have their fan bases, so I am sure they will be pleased with these picks.  But honestly, to join–for a second–the other camp, you do have to ask, if you really want to see what these characters are up to, why not check out the characters Alan Moore based these characters on, in their current, New 52 or other recent books?  If you want to check out Dr. Manhattan, check out the awesome current Captain Atom series.  If you want to read about Nite Owl, check out Blue Beetle (especially Ted Kord back-issues).  If you want to see Silk Spectre, check out Nightshade in recent Suicide Squad back-issues, or Black Canary in the current Birds of Prey.  Want to see the Comedian?  Just look at Peacemaker in the pre-Flashpoint Blue Beetle series.  Want to see Rorschach?  There are tons of great series featuring the Question, and the recent Question, Renee Montoya, is as great a character as any.

   

Controversial news?  Sure.  A comic industry earthquake?  Umm…. no.  But they are prequels, so the odds are stacked against them from the get-go.  Ultimately, they will succeed or fail because they have good stories (or don’t).

Tomorrow, Jason McClain and I will dig a little into Alan Moore and Watchmen.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

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