Before Watchmen: DC’s spinoff prequel series to the 1986 genre-defying graphic novel that was Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. This is the first of the prequels I’ve read. I’ve been pretty reluctant to pick it up, because I’ve always seen Watchmen as being a standalone masterpiece, especially impressive as a closed-off, non-continuous work. I like books that are complete, elegant, finished, structured, polished. But the nature of comics universes is to expand and expand upon storylines…even if the original creators aren’t involved and don’t approve.
The lovely hardcover copy that I got my hands on (Thanks, local library! I have loved you since I was three years old!) collects several issues together in one lightweight book. The stories are all written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by various artists. There are some pleasing elements here and there, but overall, nothing astounded me.
I’ll review each character’s arc separately.
Nite Owl #1-4 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Penciller: Andy Kubert
Interesting glimpse into Dan Drieberg’s childhood life, his idolation of the original Nite Owl and eventual assumption of the superhero mask. Followed up by a rather trite and predictable homicide mystery where prostitutes are being murdered and the Nite Owl gets to boink a sexually liberated vice-queen with lots of gratuitous boobs and butt perspectives. The fragments of Rorshach’s past were exponentially more intriguing. 2 out of 5 stars.
Dr Manhattan #1-4 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Artist- Adam Hughes
Marginally more compelling. Straczynski takes Dr. Manhattan’s omniscient, omnipresent abilities and uses that to tell a story that breaks down linear time and unfolds into multiple possible narratives. Basically expands on the events and potential of Dr. Manhattan as told in Watchmen. We get to meet Dr. Manhattan when he was little Jon Osterman, and also his German father and Jewish mother. 3 out of 5 stars.
Moloch #1-2 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Artist – Eduardo Risso
Entire life story of Moloch the Mystic. Fairly cliche but reasonably entertaining. Not sure if the change of heart towards the end of his career was entirely believable, but I found myself feeling extremely sympathetic towards the poor, sad, pointy-eared chap. I liked this story arc particularly because it showed how Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (one of my favourite characters in the Watchmen universe for his fascinating personality) manipulated ol’ Moloch and many others. 3 out of 5 stars.
Overall, Before Watchmen seems to be a step backward into a more traditional form of superhero storytelling. There were elements that strongly repulsed me, and other elements that I enjoyed. Despite my mixed feelings, I’ll probably try another in the series. I would probably recommend this to Watchmen fans because you do get more fleshed out back-stories to some of the major events of the original graphic novel.