Posts Tagged ‘Adam Hughes’

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Remember the first issue of this series? When it looked like, out of all the various Before Watchmen books, this one might be the most relevant? That it might actually fulfill the entire project’s supposed remit of “getting us to look at these characters in a new way?” That it might  have something  to add to our understanding not only of  Dr. Manhattan , but the entire Watchmen “universe” itself? That it might have some genuine ambition? That it might, at the very least, have something to say?

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Yeah, I don’t remember that anymore, either. J. Michael Straczynski took that intriguing cliffhanger he left us with way back at the end of the first ish and followed it up with a second installment that basically took us into Marvel Comics What If —? territory, with Dr. Manhattan filling The Watcher role, then gave us a third that was basically the Watchmen equivalent of (a very condensed) Crisis On Infinite Earths, with “Big Blue” as The Monitor, destroying all other possible realities to save our own, “real” one. Now we’ve come to the “big” finale, and — well, the whole thing just kinda limps out the door with a cheap, gimmicky, completely uninvolving supposed “plot twist” that tries, in a clumsy way, to bridge the variant endings between Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series with Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film and ends up doing a disservice to both.

And speaking of cheap gimmicks, artist Adam Hughes — whose work on this project has been, and remains, generally superb — actually resorts to flipping his work upside down halfway through the book when the narrative perspective “flips” from Dr. Manhattan to Ozymandias. I don’t lay the blame on Hughes for this painfully obvious stunt, since it was likely and editorial call, but it’s certainly as dumb as it is unsubtle, and I hope that either the artist himself or at the very least somebody, somewhere behind the scenes kicked up at least a little bit of a stink about it.

Beyond that, there’s nothing much to report here. The alternate covers by Hughes and Bill Sienkiewicz (respectively, as shown) are both fine, even if Hughes’ makes it look like something interesting might be happening in this book when, in truth, nothing is, but that’s just basic comic book hucksterism 101 and again, I’m not gonna lay much blame for that at the artist’s feet when the writer — and editors — are clearly the ones with no vision here.

We finally leave things off with the old “Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends” line, and see Dr. Manhattan walking around on his new faraway planet, contemplating the idea of creating some new life form of his own. In other words, right smack-dab  where we started. Which is probably Straczynski’s point, I suppose, but it’s a point that Moore had already made 25 years ago and it renders these past four issues not only totally unnecessary, but meaningless.

Nothing ever ends? Fair enough. But I’m glad this series is over all the same.

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Continuing this series’ pattern of being the BW book most determined to exactly ape Alan Moore’s writing style (albeit with only the most limited handle on the quantum physics-related concepts The Bearded One was attempting to explore with the title character), the third issue of J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes’ Before Watchmen : Dr. Manhattan is at least readable, and certainly beautifully drawn, so I’m not going to gripe too much here.

Things kind of took a turn for the duller last time around as we ventured into purely Marvelesque What If —? territory, but in this latest issue Straczynski decides to have “Big Blue” go about the business of consolidating all possible alretnate realities into one (at least apparently) definite one. Which makes the proceedings at least reasonably interesting for the most part, apart from the horrendously predictable decision to make the point at which all realities diverge be — you guessed it, that goddamn fateful first meeting of the Crimebusters again, a scene we’ve seen replayed in just about every one of these prequel series now.

But hey, maybe I’m just feeling the Christmas spirit or something, but I feel like being (mostly) generous with this book. The variant covers by Hughes (above) and Neal Adams (below) are both well-executed and rather striking in their own way, and the interior art continues to impress with Hughes drawing Dr.. Manhattan in a style vaguely reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, sure, but with his own singular stamp. Combined with a perfectly competent script, the overall impression is one of two creators at least trying to bring their so-called “A game” to the project, which is more than you can say for a lot of the others involved with this enterprise (hell, it’s more than you can even say for Straczynski himself when it comes to Nite Owl).

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And yet — the ending to this issue is pretty flat, leaving us off at the point of Dr. Manhattan’s creation yet again, thus ensuring that there’s basically no dramatic tension heading into next month’s wrap-up. We’re most likely in store for the kind of story that ultimately leaves us exactly where we started, which might make for a pleasant enough diversion, but in no way advances an argument for this book’s necessity. Straczynski and Hughes are at least not actively detracting from our appreciation of their title character in the same way that, say, Brian Azzarello is doing over in Comedian, but they’re not adding anything to our knowledge or appreciation of him either. It’s all just so very — there.

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.

Well, whaddaya know — I certainly didn’t see this coming.

Oh, don’t get me wrong — I saw the first 21 pages of this 23-page comic coming from a mile away. As the last of the Before Watchmen titles to debut, J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes’ Dr. Manhattan four-parter probably had the lowest set of collective fan expectations surrounding it of any of these books. After all, Hughes is best known as, essentially, a “cheesecake,” pin-up style artist (his hyper-sexualized cover for issue one, as shown above, being entirely par for his course — alternate covers, by the way, as will be posted here in a minute, are by Paul Pope and Jim Lee, respectively), and Straczynski is busy making a mess of things over in the Nite Owl series, so hey, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons probably weren’t losing too much sleep about the prospect of these two guys surpassing their Watchmen work.

Which, of course, they don’t. Not even close. And like I said, the first 21 pages here are pretty much Straczynski doing what he does in Nite Owl — the lead character is just standing around reminiscing about various chapters in his past, many of which we’ve already seen (including the first disastrous Crimebusters meeting that was already shown for the second time in Nite Owl #1 and gets replayed yet fucking again here), for pretty much no reason whatsoever. To his credit, “JMS,” as he’s apparently known in comics cirlces, at least gets the tone of Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan’s characterization right, which is more than you can say for what he’s doing with Rorschach in that other book, but nevertheless, this series essentially starts life as,  more or less, Watchmen #4 all over again — only not nearly as good.

As for the art, Hughes is a perfectly competent and capable draftsman, and he probably draws Dr. Manhattan in “blue form” better than anybody this side of Dave Gibbons, but he’s still, crucially, not Dave Gibbons, quite obviously, and the heavy reliance of the script on images directly out of the original Watchmen series makes such comparisons between the two artists more or less inevitable — comparisons that Hughes is going to come up on the short end of every single time.

The other annoying thing that Straczynski ports over into this work directly from Nite Owl is his wretched use of foreshadowing to demystify aspects of Moore and Gibbons’ original work. Just as he’s given us the “origins’ we never cared about of Rorschach’s “The End Is Nigh” sign and Nite Owl’s fixation with chicks in costume, here we learn that the cool clockwork-ship Dr. Manhattan either creates from thin air (as some have theorized) or finds buried under the sand (as I’ve always maintained) on Mars is, in fact, unambiguously a work of the Big Blue Naked Guy’s own creation, based on a fancy clock his dad gave him as a birthday gift when he was a kid. So there’s that cool, unexplained, open-to-interpretation event from the original wrecked forever, then.

And hey,  now that we’ve hit the point where it sounds like I’m more or less completely down on this work, let’s get back to that “hey, didn’t see this coming!” that I opened things with here, shall we? Because really, I didn’t see this coming — the “this” in question being this issue’s amazing, awesome, mind-blowing, genuinely surprising “cliffhanger”-style ending.

An ending that, asshole that I am, I will now remain completely silent about. Because seriously — you’ve gotta read this book. I mentioned that Straczynski pretty much nails his characterization of Osterman/Dr. Manhattan here, and that includes his “quantum perception” (or whatever we want to call it) of time. Moore did it better, sure, but “JMS” does it well enough. And that’s key here because when, in the midst of his unforced, apparently entirely self-indulgent, idyllic reverie, “Big Blue” decides, on a wild hair, to go back to the moment of his own creation and watch himself be “born” again, it feels like a “natural” enough thing for him to do. You can do or see anything you want at any time since it’s all happening simultaneously anyway, right? Okay, fair enough, for reasons unknown he encounters a brief “blip” of resistance for what you or I would perceive to be a “moment,” but then, presto! He’s in! He’s back at the lab! He’s going into the intrinsic field generator to get his coat! And then —

Everything we know, or thought we knew, about the birth/creation of Dr. Manhattan changes in an instant, right there, on  the last two pages of this hitherto-wholly-unremarkable book. And I’m cheering and fist-pumping-the-air at the ending of a comic book in a way that I haven’t done since, hell, I don’t know when. And while I’m still apprehensive, based on his track record to date, that Straczynski could, and maybe inevitably will, find a way to fuck this whole thing up, the fact is that he’s given us an ending for the ages here, and the first genuine “shocker” moment in any of these BW  titles. It could all end in disappointment, sure, but for now, well — I’m something I had recently resigned myself to feeling I never would be when it came to anything to do with any of this Before Watchmen stuff : genuinely, eagerly, can’t-wait-see-what-happens-next excited. Bring on the second issue now, already!