REVIEW :: BEFORE WATCHMEN

August 27, 2012 at 10:13 am By:

What makes a good comic book is up for debate. Content-wise, there is no real consensus to be polled. But if the prevailing business model at the Big Two is any indication, good comic books come¬†from the Big Event. There’s a definite thrill to seeing our humble little industry mentioned in grown up newspapers when editors pull stunts like guest-starring the President, but the constant barrage of reboot and crossover can also grow tiresome and desensitizing. It can leave an audience a little cold, especially after the initial buzz of the press release.
It almost goes without saying that no event straddled the gulf between content and concept quite like DC’s Before Watchmen. When the project was announced, the Interwebs lit up with endless¬†flame wars about the merits of such an undertaking. The¬†lines were drawn with a clarity and conviction that was palpable, even for the obsessive comic book fan. Now that DC has completed the roll-out last week with the first issue of Dr. Manhattan, here’s a bucket list of how the books¬†measure up to their source material. (Note: the following views are the author’s own and do not represent Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, Inc. or any of its affiliates – ed.)
Click through for Justin’s Before Watchmen Report Card!
Minutemen #1 – It’s hard not to love Darwyn¬†Cooke. The man seems incapable of setting a foot wrong. The Watchmen Universe’s one and only super team are prime¬†fodder for his clean retro style, in both script and art. But where Minutemen really succeeds is in its employment of Hollis Mason as narrator and de facto main character. Out of all the Watchmen supporting cast, Mason was the only¬†character that begged to have more of his story told. Grade: A+
Silk Spectre #1 – Again, Darwyn turns¬†in a¬†pitch perfect script, if only in its marked difference in tone from Minutemen. Amanda Conner’s usual offering of attractive art and masterful storytelling is on stunning display, matching the story beat for beat. Silk Spectre may in fact be the only book of the bunch that could be said to read the most like an Alan Moore comic, were he to channel superhero mythos through an Archie sensibility. Grade: A+

Comedian #1 J.G. Jones drawing anything is cause to sit up and take notice, and putting him on¬†Edward Blake is as much of a no-brainer as Darwyn on BWMM. The political intrigue is the real seller here, even if it does lack the satirical bite of its predecessor in that regard. The stark conservatism of¬†Blake and his famous politician buddies reads more like glorification than observation, and that makes the book creepy on a level it shouldn’t be. Tying it too closely to real live history dampens the proceedings, but also makes for a beautiful ending.¬†Grade: C

Ozymandias #1Len Wein is a real coup to have on this outing, but he leans a bit too heavily on Moore’s original script in this first issue. And while I’m not personally a huge fan of Jae¬†Lee’s work, it’s hard to deny that his art is a snug fit for the subject matter here. Ozy is the villain of Watchmen, however, and¬†lending any insight or sympathy¬†to Adrian Veidt is a mistake that will falsely color the original. A compelling character is suddenly less so. Grade: C
Rorschach #1 – As with Jae Lee, I’m not smitten with the work of Lee Bermejo. Surprise upon surprise, he turns in some pretty inspired stuff on BWR. Where the book really suffers is the writing. Brian Azzarello’s filter isn’t really on, and he tries to own the character a little too much, directing Rorschach and alter ego Walter Kovacs out of character far too often. It is certainly not¬†ideal for every book to be Everybody Trying to Write Like Alan Moore (I mean, how futile, right?), but it’s not necessary to rub your stank all over it, either. Grade: D-

Nite Owl #1 – It’s hard to say anything negative about¬†this book, now that its original creative team can no longer work together (RIP, Mr. Kubert). Dan Dreiberg isn’t a character that¬†really¬†required further exploration, but¬†at least the portrayal of Rorschach is a little more on-point than in his eponymous¬†title. Straczynski and the Kuberts tell a serviceable adventure story, resulting in the most conventional book of the bunch.¬†Grade: B+
Dr. Manhattan #1 – Unless your blood is frozen in your veins, then your heart jumped when you heard, “BUT ADAM HUGHES IS DRAWING IT.” To say that this was the event-within-the-event is probably too obvious. And naturally, Adam doesn’t disappoint. His work as a cover artist has only served to sharpen his compositional skills, and it shows from panel to immaculate panel. Laura Martin does a lovely job of framing it all, from the slight discoloration of the white spaces to her subtle, tasteful use of color holds. J. Michael Straczynski encapsulates the distance of Watchmen’s only true superhuman well, and even though he misses the mark a couple times in making Jon sound a bit too human, these are forgivable missteps in light of the tremendous pressure writing such a title must engender. Grade: A-

So I’m not taking a stand of principle, and I’m not saying the project is a rousing success. Like most of those aforementioned “events”, it’s a bit of a mixed bag (Avengers vs. X-Men, anyone?). Sure, you’re better off just reading the original again, but if you’re a fan of any of the creators involved here, provided you at least casually enjoyed Watchmen proper, there’s something there for you. Don’t deny your curiosity just¬†to win Internet arguments, because we all know…nobody ever wins those.
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