The BW Review : “Before Watchmen : Dr. Manhattan” #2

Posted: October 14, 2012 in comics
Tags: , , , , ,

After last issue’s stunner of a cliffhanger, there seemed to be several ways for writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Adam Hughes to go with their four-part Before Watchmen : Dr. Manhattan series, and while I was rather hoping for a more out-and-out mindfuck that would positively shake up everything we at least thought we knew about the “Watchmen Universe” (I still have a hard time saying that without gagging), the more conventional “alternate realities” angle that they go down with this installment, first popularized in comics with Marvel’s old What If —? series, is hardly unexpected.

In fact, when we branch off into multiple possible realities about halfway through the issue, as Jon Osterman chooses one doorway over another, etc., one is more or less reminded of exactly The Watcher’s screed delivered way back in What If — ? #1 when he tells us that every decision ever made by every person — whether or not to cross a street, etc., results in a complete alternate reality where the person decided differently. Straczynski tries to give the premise a bit more teeth here by relating it to the famous Schrodinger’s Cat quantum physics scenario, but in truth extrapolating that very same thing out onto a universal scale has already been done in comics before, as well — and quite nicely, truth be told, in Peter Milligan’s criminally-overlooked fine six-issue run following up Grant Morrison on Animal Man.

So, yeah — there’s essentially nothing new going on here. Dr. Manhattan, observing a reality in which he never came into being, is changing it just by looking at it, and it all ends in tears for the particular quantum reality he chooses to hang out in for a bit, one in which he and Janey Slater are happily married and he splits the Gila Flats military test lab for a university teaching gig. Still, it’s all so nicely rendered by Hughes and believingly scripted by Straczynski — he seems to have a real handle on these characters as opposed to the ones he’s working with on Before Watchmen : Nite Owl — that I can’t complain about things too terribly much, even if I wish they’d chosen a — dare I say it? — different, more inherently challenging direction to take their story. What If — Dr. Manhattan Had Never Existed ? is, in fact, kind of a cop-out given all the options available to them, and reading the two issues in succession as I did later only drove that point home all the more plainly, but it’s a well-done cop-out, and as rote and by-the-numbers as most of these books have been, a well-done cop-out stands out above most of the “well, that’s this month’s mortgage taken care of”-type “efforts” we’ve been getting from the likes of Brian Azzarello.

All in all, then, Dr. Manhattan (with variant covers, as shown, this time around provided by Hughes and comics legend P. Craig Russell, respectively) continues to be the high-water mark for the entire BW enterprise, and Straczynski and Hughes have given us another solid cliffhanger with some real possibilities this time around, as well. But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s another quantum reality out there where the story took a really unexpected turn, and in that universe this series really set the comics world on its ear and it’s got absolutely everyone talking.

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