As mentioned briefly in the write-up I did the other day for the second issue of Nite Owl, it seems that Ozymandias artist Jae Lee is getting all sorts of “ooh”s and “aah”s for his work on this book and has firmly established himself as the “artist to beat” as far as this whole Before Watchmen thing goes, and while his cover for our guy Adrian Veidt’s second solo outing, as shown above (the alternate cover, by one Phil Noto, I’ll insert a paragraph or two down the road) is certainly — uhmmm — striking, to put it mildly (not that it has anything at all to do with the actual contents of the book itself, mind you — that sound you hear behind you is the Asian-women-in-gas-masks fetish crowd (assuming there is such a thing, and Christ, for all I know there probably is) closing the door behind them in bitter disappointment on the way out), it’s also indicative of what I think is both right and wrong with Lee’s art — it’s got the ability to really grab your attention right off the bat, but spend any extended amount of time actually looking at it, and you’ll realize that not only is it stiff and lifeless as all get-go, but that there’s really just not that much going on with it, either.
For one thing, not since the (thankfully long ago) heyday of Rob Liefeld has there been a “hot” comic artist so apparently constitutionally predisposed to drawing more or less no backgrounds whatsoever. For another, while his page layouts are innovative and eye-catching, nearly 25% of the panels in this issue alone consist of nothing but shadow-outlines of figures, so it’s not like he’s technically skimping on the details — it’s that he doesn’t actually draw any in the first place! And finally, like I said, it’s all stiff as a board. Even the supposed “action” sequences of Adrian taking down various low-level thugs involved in the “drug racket” have the look of still-life illustrations of people striking action-oriented poses, and not like people in the midst of actual, fluid motions themselves.
All of which puts me in the rather uncomfortable position of saying that I think Jae Lee is an incredibly lazy artist, even though he probably spends a lot of time poring over his work. Two issues in, this guy’s full bag of tricks is on display for anyone and everyone to see, and how much longer he can keep hoodwinking readers into thinking they’re looking at something really special here remains, perhaps, the most intriguing mystery surrounding Before Watchmen in general.
It’s certainly a more interesting one than the one writer Len Wein shoehorns into this book at the very tail end, now that he’s written two issues of nothing but origin-recap crap and realizes he’s still got four more issues to fill up, to wit : Ozy decides to put his “smartest man on Earth” skills to use figuring out what actually happened to Hooded Justice. I’ve got a pretty damn educated (even if I do only say so myself) guess going in that regard, but I’ll keep my mouth shut about it for now. Suffice to say anyone paying attention to the last issues of Minutemen and Nite Owl is probably thinking more or less the same thing I’m thinking here, and the sudden appearance of the Comedian at the end of this story ( in a truly wretched splash-page illustration by Lee that looks like he’s trying to ape Kyle Baker in a big way) pretty much confirms that my (and probably your) hunch in this regard is fairly solid.
Apart from that, there’s really not much worth talking about here story-wise — there’s a scene where Veidt takes on a black drug “pusher” that would have felt comically over-the-top even if it appeared in an old ’70s issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, so ham-fisted is Wein’s “street thug” dialogue, and the book’s overall anti-drug tone is preachy, lame, and would probably have both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in stitches assuming they were ever to actually read this thing (especially Moore, who’s about as far removed from a “Say No To Drugs”-type guy as you’re ever likely to find). So anyway, yeah, more abject pointlessness all around is pretty much the order of the day here.
I’ll close out this (mercifully, I suppose) brief review by once again, as I do at the close of every four-issue cycle, looking back at the Curse Of The Crimson Corsair pirate story back-up feature by Wein and artist/colorist John Higgins (who apparently will soon be taking over the writing chores on it, as well). After a couple of installments where more or less nothing happened, and then another that got bogged down in some heavy-handed exposition, things seem to be moving along in an interesting enough direction with this once again. The art’s remained stunningly gorgeous and evocative throughout, as has Higgins’ use of color (his only rival for “best colorist” on this whole BW project is June Chung, in charge of the digital hues that are making Lee’s art on this particular book look so much better than it really is — she’s the real star artist on Ozymandias, never mind what anyone else says!), and with the story heading back into “near-enough to intriguing” territory , it’s safe to say that Crimson Corsair is still the best thing about any of these books so far, period. Hopefully the first issue of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Rorschach mini-series, which I’m about to read as soon as I’m finished posting this, will have me back here tomorrow saying something quite different.