What happens when you devote the first issue of a four-issue mini-series to pointless set-up and needless backstory that achieves nothing? Well, not only do you get a crappy first issue, you end up with something on the other end like Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #3, which has to do waaaaayyy too much because that opening installment didn’t even get the overall plotlines that are being set up for conclusion here going in any way, shape, or form.
Seriously, if J. Michael Straczyski had just started with the second issue, and split the various components of this third issue into two, we’d be in a much stronger position as readers to actually give a shit about how this is all going to wrap up — instead what we got was a first issue that didn’t need to exist, followed by a second issue that finally decided maybe this series had better have an actual point to it after all, followed in turn by a third issue that actually isn’t all that bad but has to cram an awful lot in before we finish up next month. All this, as is the case with all these BW titles, from a series that has three fucking editors working on it, none of whom seem to actually show up for work.
Anyway, what we’ve got going this time around is Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl 2, working side-by-side with costumed criminal/madame Lady Nightshade to crack the case they’re working on involving the murders of several prostitutes, a case the cops obviously don’t give a shit about. Meanwhile, Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach, has taken a job as a janitor at the church he attends, while elsewhere on planet Watchmen, for reasons we don’t know, grief and anguish are eating away at Nite Owl 1, akaHollis Mason, who’s taken to hitting the bottle. By the time the issue is over, we’ll see Dan and Lady Nightshade get it on (although essentially get nowhere on their case), Dan get some free bedside psychoanalysis from his surprsingly well-adjusted new ladyfriend, Mason turn the first draft of his by-now-legendary Under The Hood autobiography over to Dan (it’s apparently far more confessional than anything we’d previously been led to believe, ‘cuz reading through it seems to send Dan to the edge of a nervous breakdown himself), and Rorschach come much closer than his erstwhile crime-fighting partner to solving the murdered-hooker case when he makes a seriously grisly discovery in the church basement.
Like I said, compared to that first issue especially, it’s all quite readable. But it would read a lot better spread out over a couple of issues, where Rorschach’s grim find in the basement and Dan’s heartbroken reaction to Mason’s book could both have served as pretty solid little separate cliffhangers. Instead, what we get is Dan breaking down as he reads Mason’s manuscript (which, let’s face it, probably has a lot more to do with the supposed “big revelation” coming up in Minutemen #5 than it does with anything going on here, and in fact won’t be “resolved” in this series at all) while there are still a few pages to go, and then Rorschach’s —- uhhhmmm — “situation” serving as the cliffhanger at the end of this book, which is pretty absurd when you think about it because — this is supposedly Nite Owl’s book, not his!
Ain’t that just the breaks for poor ol’ Dreiberg, though? Always kind of an “also-ran” character in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series, here in his own fucking book he can’t even score the penultimate issue three cliffhanger, and is effectively reduced to being of secondary importance in a series that bears his name on the cover! Again, I gotta ask — three editors “worked” on this?
On the creative front, Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #3 (variant covers, as shown, by the Andy and Joe Kubert and something called Chris Samnee, respectively) sees, sadly, the departure of the late, great Joe Kubert on inks about halfway through the issue. Not sure if his health had taken a turn for the worse and he literally couldn’t continue beyond that point or if these pages by his son Andy weren’t inked at all before he passed away, but whatever the case may be, the remainder of the issue is inked by — Bill Sienkiewicz? Holy shit there’s a name I haven’t heard in ages, and I just have to ask — what happened, Bill? To go from Elektra : Assassin and Stray Toasters to last-minute fill-in work like this where your primary job is to ape another guy’s tyle? Man, it just hurts to even think about a fall that steep. Bill gives Joe’s incredibly distinctive look his best effort, sure, but it’s still nowhere near the same because, well — it just can’t be. But Bill, seriously, if you’re ever reading this (ha! as if!) — dude, you’re better than this. You really are. You’ve written and drawn some of the most unconventional, envelope-pushing stuff ever published by the “Big Two.” I know a paycheck’s a paycheck, but seriously : this kind of thing isn’t your forte, man. I’m as sorry as anyone that Big Numbers didn’t work out, but to go back to work-for-hire quickie cash-grabs like this? Well, I’m gonna remember you as you were, rather than what you’ve been reduced to.
Anyway, don’t get me wrong — this series has, on the whole, improved dramatically, apart from the immeasurable loss of Joe Kubert on “inks” (I still think he was essentially drawing the book over Andy’s rough breakdowns), but that waste of a first issue put Straczynski’s story in such a hole that climbing out of it’s been a pretty steep endeavor and left us with a cliffhanger in the book’s biggest moment that , again, absurd as it sounds, doesn’t even feature the (at this point nominal, truth be told) title character. It’s not so much that this is a bad series per se, just that it could have been so much better and stronger with a few quick fixes that are so readily apparent that anyone can see them.
Except, apparently, a DC editor.