Hmmmm — I’ll be honest, folks, this third issue of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s six-part Before Watchmen : Ozymandias perplexed the hell out of me.
On the one hand, it was pretty well-written as far as its depiction of the principal players involved goes. Like Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke, Wein seems to have a better handle on the characterization of the Comedian than the writer of Eddie Blake’s own book, Brian Azzarello, does. And Wein has quietly managed to get his own central character, Adrian Veidt, pretty well spot-on by this point, too. He’s also got a fairly nice handle on Dr. Manhattan, who figures rather prominently in this issue, as well.
On the other hand — the plot really goes off the rails here. Again. Wein has Ozymandias all but abandon his search for clues as to what really happened to Hooded Justice — you know, the very plot device that led to his confrontation with the Comedian in the first place — and abruptly shifts gears here to focus on Adrian’s stalker-like fixation with and on Dr. Manhattan. All of which means that by the time we get to the end of this issue, which marks the halfway point of the series, it’s flat-out impossible to tell what the central storyline of this book really even is — assuming it has one at all. We’ve gone from an issue of needless origin recap to Ozymandias-gets-revenge-on-the-drug-dealers to the aborted Hooded Justice investigation to this latest Dr. Manhattan obsession, and while it’s all flowed together reasonably well, that doesn’t mean there’s an actual plot unfolding here. It’s all, frankly, a perfectly coherent mess, which is a bit of a rarity, I suppose, but doesn’t mean it’s any less messy. You’ve heard of throwing a lot of shit at the walls and seeing what sticks? Well, Wein seems to be throwing a lot of shit at the walls until something sticks.
As far as the art goes, well, it’s pretty much of a piece with the first two issues in my book. If you like Jae Lee — and lots of people seem to love him — then you’ll be in heaven. If you find his stuff fundamentally unimpressive and more than just a bit lazy, as I do, then you’ll continue to scratch your head and wonder what all the fuss is about. I still think it all looks pretty stiff and lifeless, and neither of the variant covers (as shown, by Lee and Massimo Carnevale, respectively) does a whole lot for me, either, although it would certainly be unfair to say that either is actively bad in any sense of the term.
So, again, I’m sort of in a quandary here. Thus far in this series we’ve gone from one plot point that’s quickly dropped to another — and this time around it doesn’t even take a transition to do so! No sooner is Ozymandias’ opening battle with the Comedian over than Veidt’s “voice-over” narration informs us that he dropped the whole Hooded Justice thing that led to the confrontation in the first place. I guess we can only hope that Wein decides to see through this new Dr. Manhattan-based plot thread to its conclusion, which at least means the last four issues, starting with this one, will have some sort of point — but even then you gotta wonder, why make this series a six-parter when four issues would do just fine?
Finally, it’s time, at least by my accounting, for another quick look at the pirate-centric backup feature in all these books, The Curse Of The Crimson Corsair, now being written, as well as drawn and colored, by John Higgins. The strip continues to look great — Higgins’ art has pretty much established itself as the high water mark of the entire BW enterprise in my book — but the story, while pretty much exactly the same as when Len Wein was writing it tonally, has quickly devolved into a standard “quest for the missing objects”-type of thing. It’s still an okay enough read, but that’s about all I can say for it at this point. Oh well, we’re four days away from seeing what Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo have in store for us in Rorschach #2, which will either be the point where they nail things down after a promising enough first issue, or where they just let it devolve into another pointless career rehash a la what’s happening over in Comedian and, to a lesser extent, here in Ozymandias, as well.