Comix Month, Take II : “Before Watchmen : Nite Owl” #1 (And Various Blog-Related Matters)

Posted: July 15, 2012 in comics
Tags: , , , , , , ,

First off, my apologies for the fact that things have been a bit quiet around these parts for the past couple of weeks. I offer no excuse other than the fact that things have been insanely busy at your humble host’s “real” job — which, as far as excuses go, is actually a pretty good one, especially since it also happens to be the truth. However, I’m pleased to report that things have, for the most part at any rate, settled back into their normal groove, and I intend to make up for lost time by reviewing a boatload of stuff here over the next couple of weeks.

Notice I said “stuff,” not “movies,” which brings me to my second point — I didn’t get all the comics I was hoping to do last month done, so we (okay,I) have elected to extend “comix month” here for another 30 days — even 60, if need be. Which doesn’t mean I won’t be reviewing films. I’ll still be doing a fair amount of that while comics continue their takeover here, I’ll just do it over at my other main online haunt, Through The Shattered Lens, and I’ll repost them here, as well, so you won’t miss a thing if you’re not following that site (even though you should be). Sound fair? Good.

And a last bit of business before we jump back into the swing of things here — and a very sad bit of business it is, at that. In case you hadn’t heard (and even if you had), it’s with a very heavy heart that I note the passing of Sage Stallone. More than just a garden-variety vacuous celebrity’s kid, Sage was one of the guiding forces behind Grindhouse Releasing, along with veteran film editor Bob Murawski. I sincerely doubt that there are any regular readers of this blog who don’t have one or two GR titles on their shelves, and while they were never the most prolific of companies, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. think about it — whether it’s Cannibal HolocaustPiecesA Cat In The BrainI Drink Your Blood — Grindhouse releasing DVDs were always loaded with superb and relevant extras and were unparalleled in terms of their technical quality. Sage and Bob’s stuff was the gold standard in exploitation, period, and while I do regret that his passing means we’ll probably now never see the likes of Gone With The PopeAn American Hippie In IsraelDeadly Games,  S. F. Brownrigg’s Scum Of The Earth, or any of the other long-promised titles that GR owned the rights to ever come to pass, I’m extremely thankful for the masterful releases that Sage and Bob did manage to get out there, and all of us who are fans of exploitation cinema lost a friend when Sage passed away the other day at the far-too-young age of 36. Circumstances of his death are still unclear, and frankly don’t interest me in the least. We lost a passionate connoisseur of B (and lower) grade films who shared his passion with the rest of us through his work, and we’re all of us poorer for his departing. My thoughts go out to his family, friends, and loved ones, and even though he’s gone I just wanted to say “thanks, Sage” one more time.

Now. To the business at hand. I’ve fallen behind by a few weeks on my Before Watchmen reviews, but that’s all gonna change over the next few days, starting right here and now. I don’t know a whole lot about J. Michael Straczynksi, except for the fact that he was one of the creators (hell, maybe the only one for all I know) of the TV show Babylon 5, which I never watched. Apparently some time after that ended or got cancelled or whatever, he decided to come play big fish in a small pond by, to paraphrase LeBron James, “taking his talents” to the world of comics writing. Evidently some of his stuff has been very well-received and some of it  — uhhhmmm — considerably less so, and that rather unsteady track record, combined with a reputedly oversized ego, has led him to become something of a divisive figure in the industry.

Well, there’s no need for any divisiveness when it comes to his work on the Nite Owl portion of this whole Watchmen prequel “saga” — it sucks, plain and simple. Honestly, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons should actively look at suing the guy for misuse of intellectual property, except I don’t think there’s any such thing. The first issue of this book is everything those of us who had qualms about this project feared, and more.

But before I go any further down that road, I want to say for the record that none of what’s wrong with this book is the fault of the artists, namely Andy Kubert (pencils) and his legendary father, Joe (inks). The art on this first issue is flat-out great, and the heavy linework and thick, almost syrupy (in a good way) look to everything has me actively wondering how much Andy did at all. Maybe he just did rough breakdown and the old man took it from there, because this stuff looks like pure, unfiltered Joe all the way, and to my mind that’s always a good thing.  The comic itself may be unreadable, but it sure is a pleasure to look at.

But sheesh, enough with the compliments. The story here’s a complete mess. Dan Dreiberg’s nite Owl character is the only one that didn’t get a dedicated “origin issue” back in the original Watchmen series, and they should have taken that as a sign. There’s just not much of a compelling tale to be told here. We see young Daniel, who we knew came from a well-to-do background, survive an abusive upbringing — the kind where his old man beats the shit out of his mom right in front of the kid — and emerge apparently not all that bitter about it all, we see him track down the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and essentially blackmail him into becoming his junior partner, we see Mason pretty quickly take a shine to the whole idea and retire ASAP to hand full reins over to the kid, we see Nite Owl go into action during the New York police strike, we see him team up with a terribly written Rorschach (in the original miniseries he was still shown as being pretty lucid at this point, but Straczynski has him “hurm”ing and dropping the articles off the front of words from the outset — I’m all for contradicting established continuity (see my review of Comedian #1) if it actually achieves something, but to have it happen as the end result of a writer just being too fucking lazy to reread the scenes that he’s structured his entire book around is just plain inexcusable — and I gotta ask, where were the editors when the script was submitted in this shape?), we see the two of them go to the first-and-last ever “Crimebusters” meeting, where Dan has a needless and frankly cheapening-to-the-original series “premonition” about a future with Laurie Juspeczyk that I guess Straczynski thinks will reek of profundity rather than desperation, the meeting ends, and that’s it.

If you’re searching for a point to Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #1 (with — yawn! — three variant covers, as shown above, by the Kuberts, Kevin Nowlan, and Jim Lee, respectively), and feel silly for not having found one, rest assured — there is none. Apart from a neat little three-panel sequence where the heroes at the “Crimebusters” meeting are drawing names out of a hat to see who they’re partnered up with and Dr. Manhattan manipulates the molecules on the slip of paper Captain Metropolis is holding to ensure that he’s paired with Silk Spectre rather than Rorschach, this is a story that has absolutely nothing to recommend in it. to call it “pointless” is being too kind, really — it strings a few needless new details over a framework composed of scenes we’ve seen done both a)before and b)much better. The story seems to have no actual trajectory of its own and what we’re apparently headed for here is just a by-the-numbers overview of Dan Dreiberg’s time in costume. Even if you’re one of the folks who thinks there’s nothing morally or ethically reprehensible about the whole idea of opening up the Watchmen “universe” to other creators, based on the evidence of this book alone — a literal dead end from the outset — you’d have to concede that the critics who have been trashing the project since the moment it was announced probably have a point. This is the Seinfeld of comics — 25 pages about nothing, going nowhere, with absolutely no purpose whatsoever.

  1. Super Dave says:

    To me the Watchmen movie was really a good movie. I am sure many think otherwise but then ask me if I care. I sure would like to see another one.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      I liked the film, as well. But so far these prequels to the comic just aren’t grabbing me, for the most part.

  2. Aaron Babcock says:

    I’ll be adding Through the Shattered Lens to my subscriptions once I submit this here comment.

    Otherwise, I’ve got nothing to add, you covered pretty much everything there is to say about this one. Of all the Before Watchmen issues I’ve read, this one most made me want my money back. But its my own damn fault, I should’ve known better.

    I fully expect Dr. Manhattan #1 to be equally disastrous because its also Straczynski who isn’t about to become magically less lazy. Rorschach #1 at least as a chance to be interesting, as its written by the same gent who did the Comedian #1. In any event, I’ll probably end up picking both and regretting one of the purchases (Manhattan).

    • trashfilmguru says:

      I’ve never read any of Straczynski’s comics work, but I understand he’s had a spotty record at best. The guy at the comic store told me he’d been pulled off a couple other titles that he’d worked on, but that his Spider-Man run from a few years back is still considered one of the better runs any writer has had on that book. I dunno. It felt to me like this ish was written by a guy who was a tremendous fan of the “Watchmen” movie, but had never even read the original comic. I think the editors share much of the blame, they should’ve caught this stuff,as well as Cooke’s shifting verb tenses in “Minutemen,” some of the questionably-phrased stuff in Wein’s writing on “Ozymandias,” and the redundancy of some of the language in the “Crimson Corsair” backup (which is otherwise one of the better things about any of these books). Comics editing is getting pretty damn sloppy these days. I like Azzarello’s work on “Comedian” enough to pick up some of his other stuff — unfortunately, by “other stuff” I mean his “Joker” graphic novel. It was brutally lame stuff. I hear “100 Bullets” is better — maybe I’ll give that a go next.

      • Aaron Babcock says:

        I haven’t read any of his other work at all, and I’ll take that warning about the Joker graphic novel to heart. But to be fair, it seems like writers either do the Joker extremely well, or very poorly. I don’t think I’ve ever read something in between the two.

      • trashfilmguru says:

        For my money, nobody’s ever nailed the Joker the way Moore did in “The Killing Joke.” the only writer who even came close was Stevve Englehart back on his old classic “Detective” run with Marshall Rogers. The main problem with Azzarello’s graphic novel, though, isn’t so much the characterization — although it’s certainly nothing special — but the plot. There literally is none. The Joker gets out of Arkham for reasons that are never explained, runs around town for a little while, then gets in a fight with Batman that, apparently, he loses, although we’re never shown the outcome specifically. End of story. There goes your twelve bucks. Pretty lame stuff.

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