Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1 (DC Comics, $3.99)

J. Michael Straczynski (w), Andy Kubert (a), Joe Kubert (i)

This is the first "Before Watchmen" that not only disappointed me, it bored me.

It really felt like someone was checking off a list:

* Introduce hero as a young man. Check.

* Introduce hero he will replace. Check.

* Have two meet, team up. Check.

* Training, equipment, strategy montage. Check.

* Hero's public debut. Check.

* Requisite scene from Watchmen proper, with requisite foreshadowing. Check. 

* Hero teams up with Rorshach, as he must. Check.

There were no surprises here for me at all. Which doesn't have to be bad -- most stories follow familiar paths. But this was just pedestrian. The foreshadowing in the Watchmen scene was unimaginative (Nite Owl is attracted to Silk Spectre. Wow, what a surprise!). The "hero's debut" scene was ho-hum, with Nite Owl defeating a large number of ordinary thugs (an implausible number, to be frank -- I let it go with Batman, but really, physically incapacitating that many people at once is hard to swallow for any other non-powered character). The training montage could have come out of a B-movie.

And the Rorshach dialogue lacked its usual unsettling spark. The short remarks didn't read like pithy insight, but instead like clumsy tweets. How can you write one of the most extraordinary characters in fiction in such an ordinary manner? 

At least the Kubert/Kubert art was nice to look at. Honestly, it was really nice. 

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Sounds like Dreiberg is both awesome and badass, though, so it should go down well in certain quarters...

 

"He's one tough Jew", as a character on The Sopranos once said.

 

I read Superman Earth One last week.  Putting it beside Superman:Grounded and your review here, sounds like JMS is going through a bad patch. 

 

      

Did you read my review of Superman: Earth One? I thought it was just terrible. Amateurish. Sad that it sold so well, because that just encourages more of the same.

I liked Nite Owl #1, especially the art. But remember, Moore wrote about these people when they were beaten and outlawed. They were depressed and demoralized, particularly Drieberg who lost his whole reason for existing. He was the fan made good, the son looking for a father that he could admire and a lost boy searching for direction and purpose.

Was his backstory overly melodramatic and maudlin? Yes but so were some from the original.

What's so wrong about showing the first Nite Owl as "badass" or "awesome"? He can't be an extraordinary man or an effective super-hero? Is he acceptable only as a man in silly shorts deluding himself? I'm willing to give the series a little time and faith.

@Cap.  Yes, I dug it up and reread your piece after reading SE1.  I'd originally thought you were just picking nits about newspaper man Perry not knowing his protocols, but as a former English language teacher I was just astounded that JMS built several pages around Perry blowing hard about active and passive structure when both he and JMS had got it spectacularly wrong.  I was prepared to overlook something like that which I'd heard about, but JMS based our entire impression of Perry on it.  Did JMS himself not have an editor?  Aren't editors supposed to know grammar and spelling?  I thought that was their job?

 

And then Superman was so entitled and selfish.  His dumb parents' lessons to him were all about pleasing himself before others.  It was pretty crazy!  Certainly a revolutionary take on the Man of Steel!

 

The sales of the second will be interesting.  I think a lot of the sales for the first one was ... ah ... 'pavlovian', but the sales of the second one will in part tell us if all the people who bought the first one actually liked it or not.

 

I loved the idea of a story structured more like one long story between 2 covers, even if JMS didn't quite do it justice.  Although in this case, it did read even more like a film than even the written-for-the-trade collections that get a bad rap around here. 

 

If I had been interested in buying Before Watchmen - if DC had found some way to make it palatable to folks like me - I would have wanted to see them doing something revolutionary or unusual with the format, exactly like the handsome hardback, straight-to-the-bookshops format of S:E1.  What they are doing just seems so timid compared to what Moore and indeed DC did in 1985.

 

I accept some of what you say about Dreiberg in his prime back in 'the good old days', Philip, and he must have been a half-decent superhero, but at the same time, the book implied that he was always a self-conscious pretender, playing a role.  And there was a certain amount of realism in Watchmen (always tough to get that just right in a superhero story) which would seem to be why our good Captain found himself questioning how realistic a fight was in the prequel to it, whereas I don't recall him making this complaint often about other cape-n-costume tales.

 

Sometimes Awesome and Badass are presented at the expense of story and character and proper motivation, and pulls the reader out of it - certain readers anyway.  I don't know if that's what's going on here.  Miller in Year One and Moore in Watchmen engaged us with stories about heroes who were in danger of being badly beaten or killed every time they got in a scuffle.  We still enjoyed the superheroics, but all the more when the difficulty of what they were trying to do was acknowledged.  That's the point where Badass and Awesome fall down.  That approach lowers the stakes for the reader.

Of the various mini-series, I've been enjoying Minutemen the most because I'm much more interested in finding out more about those characters than I am in more examination of the primary characters from Watchmen.  However, I enjoyed this one a lot more than you did Cap. Also, the Rorhschach dialogue worked for me too, as he was "still Walter Kovacs" at this point (or perhaps I'm giving JMS too much credit and he's simply ignoring everything established about a character to tell his story).  I guess we'll find out more when the Rohrschach mini comes out.

I thought it kind of dragged in the beginning, but picked up steam near the end. The part were his eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw Silk Spectre was almost cringe worthy. I had no problem with him taking out a large group of thugs, because I have accepted it for nearly 40 years with all of my other heroes.

This was one of the series I had the most trepidation on, because I haven't read a JMS comic I've liked in years. This was the weakest of the bunch so far, for sure.

I agree with Cap that this one didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know, but I agree with Randy that Rorshach was "still Walter Kovacs" at this point. That’s one of the things I was looking for in this story, for Nite Owl and Rorshach to be more like Charlton characters than Watchmen characters.

I understood Rorschach to be "still Walter Kovacs" at this point, so I still stand by my complaint. It didn't read like he was a man of few words, but -- seriously -- like he was tweeting, and trying to keep his sentences under 140 characters. At best that's a sort of performance, perhaps to be scary, but not a very good or effective one. Perhaps, as randy sorta suggested, the Rorschach mini will add sufficient context to make his scenes in Nite Owl more palatable to me.

And I think Figs is right that I subconsciously expected Nite Owl's fight scenes to be more plausible, because -- well, this is Watchmen. "Realism" is a tricky term, so I'm sticking with "plausible," which is how fight scenes were depicted in the original work. Many Watchmen characters died in fights, or were killed when they weren't on their guard. (Dollar Bill, Nite Owl I, Silhouette leap to mind.) Now that Figs made me think about it, I realize the silhouette scene in Minutemen is the sort of thing I expect in Watchmen books -- she appeared to be in general peril, she didn't entirely win, and it was hard. Reading that scene, you know Silhouette doesn't have much of an edge and is going to lose one of these things eventually, and you admire her more because she does it anyway. Reading the Nite Owl scene -- well, he's Batman, and he's not going to lose. He doesn't even seem to break a sweat. And I wanted him to, because this is Watchmen, not Batman

And someone said I haven't complained about that sort of thing before, but I have -- especially with archers. I've said a million times that Green Arrow is a ludicrous character who keeps bringing a bow & arrow to a gunfight. In the more than 40 years I've been reading him, I've been waiting for a writer to give him some sort of way to deal with plain old guns -- which aren't all that plain any more. Three thugs with Mac 9s should take GA out without a problem. You don't even have to aim those things, and they fire a lot faster than a bow. I think GA, like Hawkeye, works better in super-teams where someone else is on the front lines and he can hide and shoot, and works better fighting aliens and robots moreso than ordinary bank robbers. He should be dead by page two in a street fight.

I've also voiced that complaint about Giant-Man/Goliath. Unless getting bigger somehow makes him bullet-proof, he's just that much bigger a target. Even if his skin gets tougher, what's to stop a crook from aiming at his ginormous eye? It's a helluva target. Again, unless Giant-Man has some sort of resistance to bullets, he should stick to fighting giant robots from the future and that sort of thing.

I have, in fact, subconsciously developed what I'll dub "The Bullet Test," which is adjudging a character's plausibility by how much of an edge they can muster against someone with a rapid-fire gun. If they don't have one, I can't muster much suspension of disbelief for that character.

But, as I noted above, I give Batman a pass. Because, you know, he's Batman.*

*Seriously, now that both Marvel and DC have established lightweight bullet-proof Spandex, I can squint a little in the gun-battle scenes and get by. Also, I'm going to give Batman a little more of an edge, because he trained for years to do this sort of thing and has essentially given up a real life to do it. Like an Olympic athlete, he's been relentlessly focused on this one thing. What disgusts me is characters who decide to fight crime in their 20s and instantly have Batman-level skills the minute they pull on Spandex -- Hellcat leaps to mind, who was able to fight Roxxon security successfully in her debut because she'd been ... a cheerleader. (Later stories retconned in some fighting skills, but that was the explanation in Avengers #144.)

The more I've thought about it, the more that implausible fight scene bugs me. It struck me as incongruous when I read it, but I just glossed over it. This being Watchmen, though, it should have been more realistic.

I liked this issue. I was surprised to learn both owls worked together. I knew the younger idolized the older but not that they had this history.

Yes, I agree. I didn't get the impression that the two Nite Owls ever worked together in the original to the extent they were shown to here.

Hellcat leaps to mind, who was able to fight Roxxon security successfully in her debut because she'd been ... a cheerleader.

 

I rationalize it that these characters are low-level mutants, whose power is improve their fighting skills and general physical condition improbably quickly.

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