Well, we’re a little more than halfway through the BEFORE WATCHMEN experiment, and while the question of whether or not the comics should have been produced at all remains one that people can argue back and forth for days on end, it has to be admitted that when it come to the creative result, this is one hell of a batch of really good comics, better by far than most everything else DC is publishing these days. Let’s break it down book by book and see how things are going, and any of you trade-waiters out there or sensitive types should consider yourselves duly spoiler-warned.
The anchor of the whole line is, of course, Darwyn Cooke’s MINUTEMEN. Which is really for all intents and purposes a Hollis Mason book, as the majority of the story is told through his perspective. Cooke takes us through the history of the team, providing some much needed spotlight and characterization of lesser-used characters like the Silhouette and Mothman, while also hinting to a larger dark secret to be revealed by Mason in a future issue as things continue to unravel (a secret also alluded to in the pages of NITE OWL as well).
He even fills in some of the blanks between Sally Jupiter and Edward Blake, humanizing one of the characters that is so easily written off as little more than a thug, a monster.
Cooke’s series is absolutely beautiful, and shows the level of artistry, technical expertise and writing acuity we’ve come to expect from his masterful PARKER books. MINUTEMEN is my favorite book of this event, and in the running for my favorite book of the year.
Right up there with it is Cooke and Amanda Conner’s SILK SPECTRE, focusing on teenaged Laurie’s adventures during the Summer of Love.
Getting a glimpse of a younger, more hopeful and positive Laurie as opposed to the more beaten down middle-aged version in the original makes for a very compelling read, and Conner’s art is just gorgeous, some of the best work of hers yet as she combines more humorous cartoony aspects to the storytelling, as in the psychedelic sequences in issue #3.
The sleeper book for me in this bunch has been NITE OWL by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert, which to my surprise has really been more of a team-up book with Nite Owl and Rorschach. The book here is some of JMS’ best writing in years, as it delves into Dan Dreiberg’s troubled childhood, his relationships with the original Nite Owl Hollis Mason and Rorschach, and his early days as a superhero.
The most recent issue dealt with Dan’s relationship with vice queen the Twilight Lady, and rather than feeling exploitative or seedy, the exploration of this first real romantic relationship in Dan’s life was surprisingly touching. With the passing of legend Joe Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz has taken over on inks, and his delicate touch here in this sequence is evident.
Another pleasant surprise has been Len Wein and Jae Lee’s OZYMANDIAS. Wein’s ability to so cannily replicate the original Alan Moore-penned Adrian Veidt voice is amazing, and Jae Lee’s art is exquisitely laid out and executed.
While it’s a little cold and aloof, much like Veidt himself, and therefore not quite as engaging, it’s so well done you have to admire it, and still come away satisfied.
Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’s COMEDIAN is very much tied in with the politics and history of the era, the early to mid 1960s, and tracks Edward Blake’s surprising friendships with John and Bobby Kennedy, as he winds up in various political hotspots like Vietnam and the Watts riots in L.A. It’s compelling and well told, if a little bleak.
While only I’ve only read one issue of JMS and Adam Hughes’ DR. MANHATTAN at press time, it probably does the best job of all the series of most closely replicating the WATCHMEN reading experience (even without the trademark nine-panel grid), often doubling back on established scenes from new angles, and like Wein on Veidt, JMS has the Dr. Manhattan voice down pat. And boy, is Adam Hughes’ art pretty.
The only series that doesn’t click with me is Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s RORSCHACH. Using the typewriter device for Rorschach’s journal is distracting and out of character, and the story doesn’t really shed much any new light on the character, or feel much like the WATCHMEN universe.
Instead, it just feels like a fairly standard gritty crime story with Rorschach plugged into it. And the voice sounds off as well:
That doesn’t sound like Rorschach to me.
But hey, six out of seven is a pretty good record. Looking forward to seeing how all these finish up, and hoping they manage to keep up the quality. I never thought I’d be enjoying new non-Moore& Gibbons WATCHMEN comics this much.
Scott Tipton loves him some Minuteman. If you’ve got questions about WATCHMEN or comics in general, send them here.