Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan 1-4 (2012)

J. Michael Straczynski spends a lot of time dancing around the big events we know from the real Watchmen. More than Nite Owl, which told an older story and filled in some gaps, this series does a bit of that before rocketing into the Watchmen story we know and love. Scenes are replayed from different perspectives. Strong plot points from Watchmen are alluded to in order to play up the importance of the new story.

Basically, this is the sort of story I was worried about when I heard about Before Watchmen. If the best, most incredible parts of the story happen somewhere else, and these books just have people talking about them, or dropping hints about them? Then why not just read the original classic?

The other problem, of course, is that Dr. Manhattan is just an a$$ hole. The most interesting parts of his story come early in his life, from his heroic father and mother. Maybe when he started out, he’s an interesting 60’s era scientist. I liked reading about his early relationship with his sidekick and wife.

But my lord. When you take a fantastic concept, one that was touched on in the original Watchmen in a few pages, and drag it out into the core concept for a four issue prestige series? Aargh, it gets painful. The fact that Manhattan is experiencing all stages of his life at the same time is such a foreign, but still identifiable concept that it justifiably blows the mind of every 14 year old who reads Watchmen.

But watching the character travel up and down his own timeline to fix some vague problem? What? There is no villain here. Manhattan isn’t really working against anyone. And the closest thing we have to a villain did all of his best work in the core Watchmen series.

Adam Hughes’ art is beautiful. No surprise. He excels in the 50’s and 60’s time periods. Seeing all those scientists in their old west labs… the sense of bygone times is tremendously strong and nostalgic. Those scenes would not work half as well without Hughes selling the moment. Manhattan’s wife is radiant in the past, and her fading beauty is emphasized in the scene where the Minutemen form their first team-ups. All I could think while reading this is that Hughes would be a fantastic artist for a Barry Allen Flash series.

The worst part is the climax that shows Ozymandius’ scheme from a different perspective. That’s the danger of fluffing pages out around a core concept that can’t change. The best opportunity to read about this character is not in this series. EVIL. 

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