Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan by J. Michael Straczynski [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews the Before Watchmen Omnibus which collects Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl’s pre-Watchmen adventures, as well as a two-part Moloch storyline.
“Now this is how Before Watchmen should be done. Awesome stuff.” ~The Founding Fields
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski | Art: Joe Kubert (Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1-4), Andy Kubert (Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1-4), Bill Sienkiewicz (Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1-4), Adam Hughes (Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1-4) | Cover: Adam Kubert, Joe Kubert, Adam Hughes, Eduardo Risso (Before Watchmen: Moloch #1-2) | Collects: Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1-4, Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1-4, Before Watchmen: Moloch #1-2
Writer J. Michael Straczynski is joined by artist Andy Kubert in flight with the gadget-savvy hero known as Nite Owl, as Dan Dreiberg inherits the role from Hollis Mason…but can Dreiberg work with the vigilante called Rorschach?
Then, JMS teams with fan-favorite artist Adam Hughes for a tale of Dr. Manhattan. For Dr. Manhattan, past, present, and future are one and the same. But as he observes the events of his life, do they remain the same?
If you read my thoughts on Comedian/Rorschach a couple of days ago, then you’ll learn that I wasn’t too pleased with Brian Azzarello’s take on the characters, and I was wondering if J. Michael Straczysnki would ruin Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl as badly as Azzarello did the previous characters. But thankfully, JMS manages to tell an interesting storyline in all three camps – even if the Moloch story is probably the weakest and the one that really isn’t needed for a character that’s barely featured in the original Watchmen. It was like they tucked this on at the end to fit the Before Watchmen: Deluxe Edition hardbacks, but the other stories were certainly very interesting and enjoyable.
First, I’ll take a look at Before Watchmen: Nite Owl. I liked how Straczynski has Rorschach feature in the series, and actually deals with the character better than Azzarello. It’s a fun storyline, and focuses on how these two characters become accomplices. The talent put to work on this series really pays off here, with JMS proving that he’s one of DC’s high-quality writers delivering consistent storylines with some interesting narrative that firmly puts this collection as the best Before Watchmen tale that I’ve read so far (I’ve only read two though, and am in the middle of Minutemen / Silk Spectre, so this could change. The Nite Owl storyline also provides a nice contrast between Rorschach and Nite Owl, and really allows for an interesting character study of both heroes, and what makes them tick. Among other things, Straczynski weaves in several hints towards the main Watchmen graphic novel, with including the look at how Rorschach found his “The End is Nigh” sign that you see in his human disguise, as well as Nite Owl’s first love interest.
However, I should take this opportunity to point out one of the few problems that I had with Nite Owl, is Straczynski’s choice of using the Twilight Lady, the aforementioned love interest for Nite Owl. For people unfamiliar with the Watchmen universe, this character’s story may at first initially seem unbelievable, and not in a good way, especially as such an important thing – you’d think, would be brought up in Watchmen if the said book had been written after Before Watchmen. But, no. Don’t expect it to show up there.
On the other hand, The art provided by Joe and Andy Kubert is awesome, and really one of the strongest additions to this tale. It’s grim, dark and atmospheric, and really enhances the setting and the world in which Watchmen is set, serving as a strong opener to the Dr. Manhattan story which follows. It’s a fantastic opener to the Deluxe Edition, one that which I really enjoyed.
Following on from Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, we have Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan. Again written by JMS, but this time with artistic duties handed to Adam Hughes, it’s different to Nite Owl in many ways – and is another firm, and solid addition to the Before Watchmen universe. Whilst like Nite Owl, it’s good – I still don’t think it’s quite as epic as it should have been – as genre defining as the original Watchmen was. Then again, both mini-series are fairly strong reads, and I can recommend this collection as a whole – but if you’d rather read about one character than the other, I advise you to either wait for the inevitable TPB, or buy them on Comixology. I should point out that I was lucky to get all of the Before Watchmen graphic novels from NetGalley. Dr. Manhattan’s story, like Nite Owl before it and Moloch after it, despite baring the titular character’s name at the start, doesn’t always have the character as the main focus. Ozymandias shows up towards the end of each, and really helps add to the connectivity of the series in question.
Dr. Manhattan itself, unlike the adventures of Rorschach, Nite Owl and Comedian in their respective titles, is more of a character study. JMS plays well with the whole setting and plants an interesting idea that I won’t spoil it for you here if you haven’t read the volume already, dealing with an interesting theory, and handling time travel pretty well indeed. In the non-linear narrative style employed by JMS, Adam Hughes manages to effectively provide the reader with pretty awesome artwork, even if it may not quite be as strong as Nite Owl. However, it’s still put the artist on my list of work to look out for, and I can’t wait to see what Hughes comes up with next.
The third part of this Deluxe Edition is the Moloch storyline, and tells a story that really, I think – didn’t need telling. Moloch was used in Watchmen as a way of showing the reader that the characters had somebody to fight against in the past – he was never meant to be fleshed out like he was here. In doing so, JMS rounds off the collection weakly, when they should have just ended on a high with Dr. Manhattan. However, across all three tales though, all are a lot more enjoyable than the Comedian / Rorschach storylines – and I wish that they could have been as strong as the ones presented in this Collection.