Archive for January 31, 2013

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Just when I’m starting to lighten up a bit on the entire Before Watchmen enterprise, along comes a one-two punch from Len Wein to fully hammer home this project’s essential pointlessness all over again. It’s honestly tough to pick which is a bigger gaping black hole of nothingness, script-wise — the Dollar Bill one-shot, which I savaged in an earlier review today, or the fifth installment of Wein and Jae Lee’s Ozymandias mini-series. I’m happy to call it a draw, bag and file both books away, and not think about either one ever again, thank you very much.

I know, I know — this is a review, so a plot recap of at least some sort is in order, but seriously : nothing fucking happens here. We continue with Adrain Veidt’s narrated recap of his life and exploits and more a little bit closer to and ending that was already given to us 25 years ago by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. That’s it, barring a couple of admittedly somewhat interesting wrinkles, the first being that we get to see the origin of Ozy’s genetically-engineered super-cat companion, Bubastis, and the second being that we get to see how a famous episode of The Outer Limits that Moore’s often been accused of cribbing his conclusion to the original Watchmen from actually fits into the so-called “smartest man on Earth”‘s master plan.

Apart from those quick little touches, this is a dull and lifeless affair, in terms both literary and artistic, from cover to cover. Hell, even the supposedly climactic scene where Veidt reveals the secret of his dual identity to the press — and, by extension, the world — seems to catch none of the assembled media throng by surprise. And while Wein is bombarding us with his by-now-standard purple prose that says a lot but communicates nothing of any actual value, Lee dishes up 22 pages of artwork that frankly fits the bill perfectly by again being all style and no substance. Once again his work is completely stiff and lifeless, devoid of backgrounds, and he resorts to mere shadow-outline images whenever and wherever possible. There’s no flow to any of it, and it would all work so much better as a text story with an accompanying illustration or two on each page, because as a sequential narrative the marriage of Wein’s words and Lee’s drawings is a complete failure.

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Hell, even the covers this time around — by Lee and Jill Thompson, respectively, as shown — suck. This series has been struggling to prove its relevance from the outset, and with its fifth issue, Before Watchmen :Ozymandias seems to have finally given up altogether and Wein and Lee seem happy to just cash their checks and run out the clock.

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The fine comics blogger J. Caleb Mozzocco, whose work can be found at everydayislikewednesday.blogspot.com, among other places, had this one pretty much pegged : he said that the very existence of a Dollar Bill one-shot as part of the Before Watchmen project is proof positive that DC comics in 2013 has become effectively immune to parody, because they’re spoofing themselves without even knowing it.

It makes sense, when you think about it — Dollar Bill, after all, isn’t even so much a character as he is a quick little cautionary tale in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen : he’s the guy who got shot by bank robbers when his cape got caught in a revolving door. That’s pretty much all we need to know about him. Expanding his story into a book-length tale literally can’t be seen as anything other than an exercise is complete and utter fan-wank. It’s a move that would only be made by a company absolutely bereft of anything that even smells like a new idea.

Still — who knows, right? Maybe writer Len Wein and artist Steve Rude have something up their collective sleeve when it comes to Bill Brady. Maybe there’s something we don’t know about the guy that wasn’t revealed in Moore’s “Under The Hood” text pieces back in the original series. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a treasure trove of great stories to be told about the guy who was a superhero-for-hire employed by the fictitious National Bank chain.

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Or, hey, maybe not.

Honestly, Before Watchmen : Dollar Bill makes the two-issue Moloch series look relevant by comparison. There is quite literally nothing in the 26 pages of story and art in this book that Moore doesn’t cover in a couple sentences back in his “Under The Hood” backup text pieces, which I’ll prove in the wrap-up to this review (no skipping ahead). What’s even worse, Wein hasn’t even bothered to disguise the fact that he’s completely mailing in his effort here. While playing college football for Dartmouth, for example, Brady suffers a career-ending injury, and his team then “declines an invitation to the Rose Bowl,” because they know they have no chance to win without him. Excuse me? No college football program has ever turned down any invitation to any bowl game for any reason, even if they know damn well they’re probably going to lose, and sorry, but even in the “Watchmen Universe” it seems unlikely that an Ivy League team would play in the Rose Bowl — that’s been strictly a Big 10-vs. Pac 10 (now 12) affair from day one. And while little touches like naming the three executives who run National Bank Misters How, Dewey, and Cheatem, respectively, is a clever little touch, it also shows just how “seriously” Wein is treating this assignment.

The same, fortunately, can’t be said for Steve Rude (who also, for the record, handles the lettering chores on this book). Ever since his days drawing Nexus, “The Dude” has been, well, the man in my book, and he absolutely knocks it out of the park here. For proof of how far and wide this guy’s artistic influence has been, look no further than the work of Minutemen writer-artist Darwyn Cooke (who just so happens to be responsible for the second variant cover, shown directly above, for this book, the first — at the top of the post — being by Rude himself, and the third — reproduced below — being the handiwork of Jim Lee), whose style owes a very heavy debt to Rude’s retro- visionary stylings.

As a matter of fact, it’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of the mainstream comics industry in 2013 that Rude has to stoop to this level to find work. If this were a just world, he’d still be ranked among the top talents in the business and names like Jim Lee would be forgotten to history. He hasn’t “lost a step,” “fallen behind the times,” or any of those other quasi-polite ways of saying “this guy just plain can’t draw anymore.” His work still looks as crisp, fresh, and vital as ever. Seeing him waste his talents on a project like this is, frankly, depressing.

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And now for that wrap-up I talked about earlier that will prove the utter pointlessness of this one-shot beyond any shadow of a doubt — Bill Brady was a star college athlete who was hired by a bank chain to be its resident “super hero” as a PR stunt. He got shot by some robbers when his cape got caught in a revolving door. That’s what we knew about Dollar Bill going into this book, and that’s what we know about him going out. We get some very pretty Steve Rude illustrations here to accompany these two sentences’ worth of information, but that’s it. Waste. Of. Time.