Archive for December 4, 2012

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Here we go again.

Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Before Watchmen : Ozymandias mini-series is getting so far beyond redundant at this point that I really ought to have my head examined for still buying it. Every issue more or less completely drops and/or disregards the various plot threads that had snuck their way in the last time around and swaps them out for another set of themes that are sure to ultimately go nowhere as well. You doubt me? Consider the evidence:

The first issue centers around a leaden retelling of Adrian Veidt’s past, then throws in a wrinkle about his girlfriend OD’ing on unnamed “drugs.” In issue two, Ozy sets out to KO the drug trade, then gets sidetracked into finding out what happened to long-lost mystery man Hooded Justice. In issue three, after tussling with the Comedian while looking for answers to HJ’s ultimate fate, the so-called “Smartest Man In The World” gives up that quest and begins obsessing over Dr. Manhattan instead — all of which brings us up to the current issue, which sees  Ozy drop his fixation on the big blue guy and instead go into service as an unofficial adviser to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis before briefly turning his attention to finding out “Who Killed JFK?” after he’s assassinated and then taking notice of some new costumed vigilantes when they arrive on the scene, namely Rorschach and the Dan Dreiberg-model Nite Owl.

The entire by-the-numbers affair concludes with the iconic first meeting of the Crimebusters, which we’ve also (and already) seen “re-interpreted” from the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons original in the pages of  the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre books, as well, the key difference here being — it’s actually not “re-interpreted” at all, just fucking redrawn. Seriously. The last two pages of this book are a word-for-word cribbing of the scene as originally scripted by Moore, it’s just that Jae Lee’s drawing it this time.

And speaking of Jae Lee — his art is as stiff, lifeless, and frankly downright soul-less here as ever, even if his take on Nite Owl and his ship, Archie, is pretty darn cool-looking in the most strictly formal sense.

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If I had to sum up the problem with Before Watchmen : Ozymandias in one simple phrase, I would just say “lack of inspiration.” Both Wein and Lee seem content to go through the motions and leave it at that, and the flat , neo-classical faux-romanticism of both  Wein’s embarrassingly purple prose and Lee’s moribund interior art has even managed to bleed its way into  the cover artwork (variants this time around by our guy Jae and Micheal William Kaluta, respectively, as shown), as well. Four issues in and we’ve gained no particular new insights into the character of Adrian Veidt, and his motivations have been more or less revealed to be exactly what we always figured they were. All in all, this book’s principal creators have expended who the hell knows how many hours of time and effort in telling  and showing us exactly what we already knew, and it’s getting duller and duller by the page.

Speaking of which, so is the “Curse Of The Crimson Corsair” back-up strip. This little pirate story was really rolling along quite nicely for awhile there, but ever since John Higgins took over the writing as well as the art, the basic plotting (and it is, indeed, fairly basic, considering it’s designed to be delivered, and consequently digested, in two-page snippets) has suffered considerably —- so hey, maybe Len Wein’s not all bad, after all. At this point, while it’s certainly still amazingly cool to look at, the story has degenerated into a bog-standard “quest for lost items to save a damned man’s soul”-type thing, and reading it has become an absolute chore. Again, the inspiration factor seems to be running decidedly low here.

Oh, and while we’re talking of all things uninspired — if you’re wondering just who, indeed, killed Kennedy in the world of Before Watchmen, the answer is (no drumroll, please) — Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Of course.

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I hope I’m not giving too much away right off the bat here, but Frank Sinatra is dead in the so-called “Watchmen Universe.”

Okay, fair enough, he’s dead here in the real universe as well, and has been for a good long time now, but he died a lot sooner — and a lot more hilariously — in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ fictitious world than he did in ours. As a matter of fact, the Tarantino-esque one-two punch that does in the Chairman Of The Board in the fourth and final issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries is the single-most effective sequence in any of the BW books to date as well as being the only laugh-out-loud funny moment in any of them so far (it honestly wouldn’t feel out of place at all in, say, Marvel’s new ultra-absurdist Deadpool book) and it’s worth the $3.99 cover price in and of itself.

Fortunately, this book has some things going for it, as well, most notably Conner’s superb artwork, which started out great and has been getting more confident and assured with each issue. She’s saved her best for last, however, and really hits it out of the park with this concluding chapter. My only slight quibble is that in the final splash-page page panel that winds things up (the only splash in this series, come to think of it) she depicts Laurie as being considerably younger than she had appeared previously, which could be explained away as a realistic-enough choice on Conner’s part since this is an image of her iconic first meeting with Dr. Mahnhattan and depicting their age difference in such a stark manner would really drive home Janey Slater’s famous “chasing jailbait” line, but — she makes Dr. Mahnhattan look like some sort of love-struck teenager, as well. Seriously. He looks more like a blue kid sidekick than the most powerful man in the world. So the image, while amazingly well-rendered, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Still, that’s it for gripes as far as the artwork goes. Conner’s pencils and inks, coupled with Paul Mounts’ superb colors, are all in top form here and I hope the two of them are teamed up on another project in the not-too-distant future. Now, as far as the story is concerned —

Well, whaddaya know? I don’t really have much cause to bitch on this front, either. Yeah, things get wrapped up a bit quickly and conveniently, and it does at times feel like Cooke and Conner are rushing to get things in the can ASAP before they run out of pages, but it at least all makes a kind of sense, and the characterization of Laurie and Sally Jupiter and Hollis Mason is spot-on throughout. Even when Mason is stoned off his ass (yes, you read that right). All in all, it’s an admittedly inconsequential, but nevertheless damn fun little read.

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And that word right there — fun — is what sets apart not only Silk Spectre #4 (variant covers by Conner and Bruce Timm, respectively, as shown), but this entire mini- series as a whole from the rest of the Before Watchmen pack. Conner and Cooke didn’t set out to trump Moore and Gibbons here, nor were they so slavishly beholden to what had  gone before that they were hesitant to add their own stamp on the character. They just seemed content to tell a simple story well and have fun while they were doing it. The end result? The BW series that I frankly had the lowest expectations for going in has ended up (at least to this point) being the best of the bunch.