Posts Tagged ‘len wein’

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I could start this with a cheesy pun, I suppose, and say that when I  heard that DC Comics was planning on bringing back Swamp Thing yet again — this time in a six-part mini-series written by the character’s co-creator, Len Wein, and illustrated by Kelley Jones, who probably does the closest stylistic approximation of anyone out there to the work of Swampy’s other co-creator, Bernie Wrightson — that it sounded to me like the big green muck monster was “going back to his roots,” but I dunno — is it still a pun if it’s absolutely true?

When it was first announced, however many years back now (about five, I think),  that the one-time Vertigo “supernatural characters” would be folded back into the “proper” DC Universe as part of the “New 52” initiative, I honestly thought that Swamp Thing was the only one who could potentially benefit from such a move, especially given that Scott Snyder was going to be writing the then-new book, but let’s be honest — the results have been far less than impressive on the whole, with Snyder and his successor, Charles Soule, both doing their level best to immerse the character ever-more-heavily into a shallow contemporary version of the “Parliament” mythology established back in the 1980s by Alan Moore and modified, with ever-diminishing results, by just about every writer who took a crack at the book (in any number of newly-numbered “volumes”) since. I’ve read ’em all, of course, but about the only time I think they came close to getting it right in terms of moving the character forward (by moving him back, but I’m getting ahead of myself) was during  Nancy A. Collins’ criminally-overlooked run on the Vertigo version of the series back in the early ’90s. Her approach was very much a “fundamentalist” one, if you will, essentially choosing to simply ignore the already-convoluted-by-that-time continuity that had been piled on top of her charge and to go back to just telling good old comic book horror stories with a decidedly “Southern Gothic” flair, and ya know what? It worked. But they could just never leave well enough alone, and one failed re-launch after another has left Swamp Thing well and truly bogged down at this point.

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Enter Wein, Jones, and colorist Michelle Madsen (with a nod to variant cover artist Yanick Paquette), who have again chosen to blow off, rather than blow up, what’s come before, and have given us an all-new Swamp Thing #1 that, to be perfectly blunt, feels anything but. And wouldn’t you just know it? I’m not complaining in the least. From page one on, this comic feels like stepping back to about 1976 or so, but it’s not a pale imitation or lackluster approximation of the real thing (I’m looking at you, The Force Awakens), it absolutely is the real thing — and that, my friends, makes all the difference.

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Wein’s prose it still as deliriously purple as ever, with the “show, don’t tell” school of modern comics storytelling  nowhere to be found in these parts, and while that may be frustrating for some given that Jones’ art is more than capable enough to do most of the “heavy lifting,” this is a book that knows what it wants to do from the outset and proceeds accordingly — and as your options as a reader are as immediately apparent as they are simple : go with the “old-school” flow, or put the book down. I chose the former, of course, and so far it’s proven to be a very wise decision.

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The story’s nothing complicated, of course, nor should it be : Swampy, his supporting cast completely absent, is hanging out in the bayou doing nothing more than contemplating his newly-stripped-down existence, when The Phantom Stranger shows up, warns him of some typically-ambiguous bad shit about to go down, and then we get familiarized-by-force with the goings-on at a local college where an unorthodox (to say the least) professor has decided to take it upon himself to resurrect the dead — but first he’s gotta kill one of his student “volunteers” to do it, as you’d no doubt expect. And while some among you may feel that the inclusion of a zombie in this story is indeed some sort of nod to modern horror tropes, I assure you that this typically- tragic villain would in no way be out of place in a 1970s horror comic, be it CreepyEerieTomb Of Dracula or, of course, Swamp Thing, Plus, this particular zombie seems to owe more to Herbert West, Reanimator than to The Walking Dead — thank goodness.

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Look, it’s no secret which way things are going in terms of the overall trajectory here — we’re headed for an extended confrontation between two slow, shambling, supernatural foes, with a bit of dime-store occultism and “secret college cult” shit thrown into the mix for good measure. A guest appearance or two from the likes of Deadman and/or The Spectre is certainly not out of the question. And Jones will have plenty of gooey and gory scenes to sink his still-considerably-sharp artistic teeth into. He and Wein previously teamed up, with unspectacular results, for the two-part Convergence Swamp Thing mini-series early last year, but there they were hamstrung by heavy editorial constraints related to the “one alternate reality vs. another” over-arching theme of the predictably-rancid crossover “event” of which it was a part Here, there’s a definite feeling that they’re just being allowed to do their own thing — and that “thing” hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.

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Look, I won’t kid you — there may not be a ton on offer in this first issue (entitled, awesomely, “The Dead Don’t Sleep!”) beyond pure nostalgia — and certainly as the basis for a new ongoing series, this “throwback” approach would probably get pretty old pretty fast to modern readers, but never fear — Alec Holland will be getting back to his gig as “Avatar of the Green” or whatever in due course, I’m sure. And us old dinosaurs will probably take a pass on it at that point and let you kids have your fun. I hope the next inevitable re-launch of this character will be good, sure — but given the track record of the Jim Lee/DanDiDio regime at DC, I wouldn’t bet on it.

For the next six months, though, there’s absolutely no harm in letting how things used to be play-act at being how they are again (however temporarily). Swamp Thing #1 was a blast, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest.

 

 

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Hmmm — maybe it’s just the so-called “soft tyranny of low expectations,” but the fact is that I wasn’t quite as offended by the sixth and final issue of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Before Watchmen : Ozymandias  as I was expecting to be and it didn’t quite piss me off as much as the previous five had.

Oh, sure, it’s still more than fair to say that nothing actually happens here, and that we’re just spoon-fed a bunch of over-written flashback scenes that don’t even do much to flesh out events as initially presented by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons over a quarter-century ago — as a matter of fact, Wein even goes down the ultra-lazy route (one he’s traveled before) of including a scene previously written by Moore verbatim here (in this case it’s the Comedian’s famous late-night visit to Moloch’s apartment and it takes up two of this issues 23 story pages), which I hope resulted in a commensurate docking of his pay.

And Lee’s art still sucks, too — it’s as stiff, lifeless, and devoid of backgrounds as ever. How this book ever ended up getting behind schedule is beyond me, as his panels are the most basic thing you’ll ever see. His cover (as shown above) is decent enough as far as these things so, as is Ryan Sook’s variant (shown below), but honestly, where all the “ooh”ing and “aah”ing in fandom comes from in regards to the art on this series is absolutely beyond me.

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So, what did I actually like  about this concluding chapter? Well — nothing, I guess, but I actually don’t recall saying I liked  it, only that I didn’t actively dislike it as much as I had some prior installments. Look, Wein actually has Adrain Veidt say “heavy is the head that wears the crown” in this issue and seems to be writing the scene with a straight face! So, no, this isn’t a good comic. In fact, it’s a decidedly lousy, completely unnecessary one.

But hey — it’s not as lousy and completely unnecessary as parts one through five. The conversation Veidt has with writer Max Fisher, and the explanation Wein provides for the pretext under which he recruited the artists, writers, scientists, and other “visionaries” to work on his hidden island, are actually somewhat interesting — if not terribly surprising or imaginative. So this book has a couple of things going for it, I guess (sort of), and that’s more than you can say for the segments of the story which preceded it.

Yeah, I know — that’s definitely damning with faint praise.  It’s also the first and only praise I’ve had for this series — and since this is the final issue it’ll be the last, as well.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

As mentioned briefly in the write-up I did the other day for the second issue of Nite Owl, it seems that Ozymandias artist Jae Lee is getting all sorts of “ooh”s and “aah”s for his work on this book  and has firmly established himself as the “artist to beat” as far as this whole Before Watchmen thing goes, and while his cover for our guy Adrian Veidt’s second solo outing, as shown above (the alternate cover, by one Phil Noto, I’ll insert a paragraph or two down the road) is certainly — uhmmm — striking, to put it mildly (not that it has anything at all to do with the actual contents of the book itself, mind you — that sound you hear behind you is the Asian-women-in-gas-masks fetish crowd (assuming there is such a thing, and Christ, for all I know there probably is) closing the door behind them in bitter disappointment on the way out),  it’s also indicative of what I think is both right and wrong with Lee’s art — it’s got the ability to really grab your attention right off the bat, but spend any extended amount of time actually looking at it, and you’ll realize that not only is it stiff and lifeless as all get-go, but that there’s really just not that much going on with it, either.

For one thing, not since the (thankfully long ago) heyday of Rob Liefeld has there been a “hot” comic artist so apparently constitutionally predisposed to drawing more or less no backgrounds whatsoever. For another, while his page layouts are innovative and eye-catching, nearly 25% of the panels in this issue alone consist of nothing but shadow-outlines of figures, so it’s not like he’s technically skimping on the details — it’s that he doesn’t actually draw any in the first place! And finally, like I said, it’s all stiff as a board. Even the supposed “action” sequences of Adrian taking down various low-level thugs involved in the “drug racket” have the look of still-life illustrations of people striking action-oriented poses, and not like people in the midst of actual, fluid motions themselves.

All of which puts me in the rather uncomfortable position of saying that I think Jae Lee is an incredibly lazy artist, even though he probably spends a lot of time poring over his work. Two issues in, this guy’s full bag of tricks is on display for anyone and everyone to see, and how much longer he can keep hoodwinking readers into thinking they’re looking at something really special here remains, perhaps, the most intriguing mystery surrounding Before Watchmen in general.

It’s certainly a more interesting one than the one writer Len Wein shoehorns into this book at the very tail end, now that he’s written two issues of nothing but origin-recap crap and realizes he’s still got four more issues to fill up, to wit : Ozy decides to put his “smartest man on Earth” skills to use figuring out what actually happened to Hooded Justice. I’ve got a pretty damn educated (even if I do only say so myself) guess going in that regard, but I’ll keep my mouth shut about it for now. Suffice to say anyone paying attention to the last issues of Minutemen and Nite Owl is probably thinking more or less the same thing I’m thinking here, and the sudden appearance of the Comedian at the end of this story ( in a truly wretched splash-page illustration by Lee that looks like he’s trying to ape Kyle Baker in a big way) pretty much confirms that my (and probably your) hunch in this regard is fairly solid.

 

Apart from that, there’s really not much worth talking about here story-wise — there’s a scene where Veidt takes on a black drug “pusher” that would have felt comically over-the-top even if it appeared in an old ’70s issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, so ham-fisted is Wein’s “street thug” dialogue, and the book’s overall anti-drug tone is preachy, lame, and would probably have both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in stitches assuming they were ever to actually read this thing (especially Moore, who’s about as far removed from a “Say No To Drugs”-type guy as you’re ever likely to find). So anyway, yeah, more abject pointlessness all around is pretty much the order of the day here.

I’ll close out this (mercifully, I suppose) brief review by once again, as I do at the close of every four-issue cycle, looking back at the Curse Of The Crimson Corsair pirate story back-up feature by Wein and artist/colorist John Higgins (who apparently will soon be taking over the writing chores on it, as well). After a couple of installments where more or less nothing happened, and then another that got bogged down in some heavy-handed exposition, things seem to be moving along in an interesting enough direction with this once again. The art’s remained stunningly gorgeous and evocative throughout, as has Higgins’ use of color (his only rival for “best colorist” on this whole BW project is June Chung, in charge of the digital hues that are making Lee’s art on this particular book look so much better than it really is — she’s the real star artist on Ozymandias, never mind what anyone else says!), and with the story heading back into “near-enough to intriguing” territory , it’s safe to say that Crimson Corsair is still the best thing about any of these books so far, period. Hopefully the first issue of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Rorschach mini-series, which I’m about to read as soon as I’m finished posting this, will have me back here tomorrow saying something quite different.

For reasons that I’ll expound upon before this paragraph ends, the six-issue Ozymandias mini-series was the one Before Watchmen title apart from Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen that people who were supportive of the whole enterprise would point to in order to say “hey, look, these books probably won’t be so bad.” I know Jae Lee is a fan-favorite artist, and writer Len Wein was the editor of the original Watchmen series as well as the guy who brought Alan Moore’s writing to America in the first place when he commissioned the Bearded One to take over the scripting chores on Swamp Thing, a character that Wein himself had co-created along with legendary horror artist Berni Wrightson. And then there’s the fact, of course, that Ozymandias himself is the most supposedly “cerebral” of the Watchmen characters, so having the imprimatur of these two established and well-respected creators on this series is, indeed, somewhat more impressive than leaving it in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski and, I dunno, Rob Liefeld or something. Yeah, it’s still not Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, but the thinking amongst the general comic-buying public apparently was something along the lines of “this is probably the best pairing they could come up with for this book apart from the original creators themselves.”

And hey, there’s certainly some truth to that. As far as these first issues go, this one wasn’t half bad. Lee’s art is rich, expressive, and even haunting in spots, evoking a classsical fairy-tale feel that’s as at home portraying the majestic and wondrous as it is the harrowing and frightful. Each individual panel (and Lee’s panel grids are both innovative and intelligent) is suitable for framing, especially complemented as they are by June Chung’s lush, digitally-“painted” colors. But therein lies the problem : this stuff has no sequential flow to it at all, and really would work better as a series of individual prints than displayed in a manner that’s supposed to blend seamlessly together — but doesn’t — on the  page. Each image is gorgeous to look at in its own right, but they’re all so stiff and devoid of movement or dynamism that it all feels more like looking at (and reading) a series of word-captioned gallery hangings than, you know, an actual comic book. Which is still what this is supposed to be, after all.

In addition, Lee doesn’t seem too concerned at all with backgrounds — most panels have more or less none at all — and his style doesn’t translate well into everyday situations. A scene where a young Adrian Veidt is being picked on by some bigger kids at school for his lunch money looks more like it’s taking place in the darkest recesses of an enchanted fucking forest than some suburban playground, and weird touches Lee throws in like having a map in Adrian’s classroom with China missing from it make no sense at all (I’ve seen some overly-obsessive fans speculating about whether or not this might mean that China has somehow been destroyed in the Watchmen “universe,” but I don’t buy it — Veidt is seen in Tibet just a few pages later, and that region/country isn’t on the map in question, either).

So yeah, it’s all damn near painfully pretty to look at, but it doesn’t exactly work when presented in this context, that context being — a pretty straight re-telling of Ozy’s origins as already related in Watchmen #11. Okay, a few new details are thrown in for good measure — like about Adrian having a boyfriend in Tibet and a girlfriend when he gets back to the US — but frankly his sexuality, like his hero Alexander the Great, was already pretty ambiguous to begin with, and all the other stuff presented here, such as his giving away of his inherited fortune, his travels around the world, etc. are all old hat. About the only thing revealed here that we didn’t already know is exactly why the so-called “Smartest Man In The World” decided to put on a mask and fight crime on his own when he could buy all the cops and private protection he wants and/or needs ten times over. The explanation Wein comes up with is, to his credit, pretty plausible, but it’s also kind of limp, all things considered. Just because something makes sense, in other words, doesn’t necessarily make it the best possible explanation.

In all fairness, though, Wein’s scripting is at least competent here, which means it’s got last week’s Nite Owl beat by a damn sight, but it’s certainly far from anything like inspired. It’s just a well-written re-hash of a comic that came out just over a quarter-century ago. Readable? Most definitely. But necessary? Most definitely not. And frankly, like Nite Owl, it’s pretty hard to see where this is all going apart from being an extended (in this case six-part) origin story. That might make for interesting enough reading, but really, weren’t we all hoping for something a little bit more — from all of these titles?

Finally, since this marks the last of the “first issues” of this whole Before Watchmen circus (at least until Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan make their way onto the scene in August), I thought I’d conclude this entry by finally talking, albeit briefly, about the other feature contained within the multiple covers of these books (in this instance said covers, as shown, being provided by Jae Lee, Phil Jimenez, and Jim Lee, respectively), namely the so-called “pirate story back-up feature,” Curse Of The Crimson Corsair, scripted by Wein and illustrated and colored by original Watchmen colorist John Higgins. Simply put, this kicks ass. I wasn’t too sure about where it was headed at first, and in two-page snippets, as presented, it still feels like pretty insubstantial stuff — but when read it’s consecutively, it becomes pretty clear that we’re witnessing the makings of a pretty solid little old-school supernatural adventure story here. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but very well-written, and Higgins’ art is downright exceptional and perfectly suited to the material, as is the muted color palette he’s employing. It’s no reach at all to say that as far as some of these books go, this strip is the best thing about them, and I sincerely hope they’re all collected into a single-issue special/annual of some sort when all is said and done here.