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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I thought Patsy Walker's "cheerleading skills" were enhanced (somehow) by electronic circuitry in her costume...?

That's how I remember it too.

As Mermaid-Man said "The powers are all in the costume. Why else would we walk around in colored undies?"

I really don't know where Straczynski gets such a esteemed reputation as a writer.  I liked Babylon 5, but many, many times the pontificating made me cringe.  Rising Stars was okay, I guess, but it had a very weak ending (though not anywhere near as weak as The Twelve).  His Superman and Wonder Woman were just plain stupid, and his screenplay for Changeling was filled with the exact same kind of "checklist" characters and plot points that Cap named above.

[SPOILERS for Mighty Thor 1-6 below.]

 

I think that 100 Baddest...  book is a supplement to some edition of CBG.

 

It does go to show that these trends are being embraced by the fans, that a book like that would be produced.

 

I had thought that Badass and Awesome were useful terms for describing what is going on in modern comics and why they detract from the engagement and enjoyment of many of us.  My one mental reservation for their use as critical terms was that the fanboys who obviously love Badass and Awesome in their comics don't quite realise that this is what they are responding to, and/or they would see an analysis of the comics they love in terms of B&A as insulting.

 

But a book like that shows that they acknowledge themselves that this is what they are looking for.

 

As for Kick-Ass, you are right that it does put some elements of B&A front and centre, as well as right there in the title!  Still, I'd plead a special case for it.  Well, partly. 

 

In some ways its meant to be read as a satire.  Millar sprang from the 2000AD stable of writers.  Dark, overly violent, iconoclastic satire is in their wheelhouse.  Kick-Ass also worked as a cartoonish spaghetti-western style cod-realistic superhero story.  The lead character falls into a mire of immoral, violent, troubling situations.  Although Millar tries to show early on that his superhero career is a foolish, life-threatening one, the character wins out in the end because Millar wrote it with one eye on Hollywood.

 

Like the Spaghetti Westerns, Kick-Ass takes place in its own moral universe.

 

Badass and Awesome in superhero comics however, often work at odds with whatever moral or social order the comic is supposedly trying to present as a laudable status quo.

 

We are supposed to think of Thor and Captain America as benevolent and astute leaders of their people, but in order for the stories which they star in to have the appropriate B&A moments they often have to act in selfish, dumb and bloody-minded ways.  In the first arc of Fraction's recent Mighty Thor, after everything that was laid down beforehand about it being Thor's time to govern Asgard and get out from under Odin's thumb, Thor resurrects Odin just so that he gets a big scene where he hits something with a hammer and then later have many scenes of arguing and sulking with his Dad.

 

Then for some reason they send only Balder and Tyr to stop the baddies getting a beachhead on Midgard.  The two almost stop them, in a truly B&A set-piece where SPOILERS they die (for now).   As two Asgardians were almost successful in stopping the invasion, the reader is left wondering why Thor didn't send 4 or 10 or 100 Asgardians to fight the World-Eaters.  Answer: Not Badass enough!  So the logic of the story is sacrificed for B&A.

 

I'm sure if I went through Captain America's various choices since the Heroic Age, there would be plenty of similar places where the depiction of him as a good leader and strategist were sacrificed in order to bring on the BADASS.

 

I thought Spider-man's whole schtick was doing the right thing no matter how hard that was, but in a recent comic he willingly takes part in the torture of someone while he quotes the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib playbook. 

 

He comes across as very badass, doing what has to be done like a tough guy, but I don't think the character will ever recover from that as far as I'm concerned.  Shows how far we have come since 9-11.  And how far Spider-Man has come since his first appearance.  With great power comes the opportunity to force others to to do your will under duress.

 

I do have problems with Kick-Ass, but at least the lead character isn't depicted as a paragon of virtue or good sense while he gets submerged in a murky world of violent nihilism and internet narcissism.

 

Similarly, it sounds like depicting Dan Dreiberg as such a hardnut would seem to be working against how he was originally portrayed, and how the fictional world that Moore and Gibbons had so painstakingly set up worked, all in the name of giving the B&A crowd their jollies.

Still it's easier to understand his depression perhaps if we see how far he's fallen. Going from a badass, buffed hero who was feared to a flabby, timid has-been because he was ordered to quit doesn't invalidate Moore's vision. It just says the character wasn't always a joke!

Figserello said:

I don't think the character will ever recover from [condoning torture] as far as I'm concerned.

Frankly, I don't think Spider-Man will ever recover from sacrificing his marriage to the devil (AFAIAC).

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Figserello said:

I don't think the character will ever recover from [condoning torture] as far as I'm concerned.

Frankly, I don't think Spider-Man will ever recover from sacrificing his marriage to the devil (AFAIAC).

But wasn't it Mary Jane who did that?

Philip Portelli said:

Still it's easier to understand his depression perhaps if we see how far he's fallen. Going from a badass, buffed hero who was feared to a flabby, timid has-been because he was ordered to quit doesn't invalidate Moore's vision. It just says the character wasn't always a joke!


'Buff and feared' sounds like a complete misreading of the flashbacks and implied history in every Nite-Owl scene of Watchmen to me, and of what Moore was trying to say about the character*, but there's nothing stopping people having different interpretions of the scenes.

* Dan Dreiberg was essentially a superhero fanboy like you or me, Philip, one who got all the toys and made the effort to meet the Silver Age greats. I've never thought of myself as 'buff and feared'. How about you?
ClarkKent_DC said:

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Figserello said:

I don't think the character will ever recover from [condoning torture] as far as I'm concerned.

Frankly, I don't think Spider-Man will ever recover from sacrificing his marriage to the devil (AFAIAC).

But wasn't it Mary Jane who did that?


'The woman bade me do it' is an old excuse. Note that it's some woman that convinces Spidey that torturing somebody would make his old Uncle Ben proud too.

I suppose it is only a short step from making deals with the devil to supporting the Cheney/Rumsfield line on 'enhanced interrogation'.

Not me by a long shot.

But I'll take you up on that challenge of what Moore stated:

  • Watchmen (WM) #1--Hollis Mason, who seemed to be the most respected of the elder heroes, says that Dreiberg was "a better Nite Owl than (he) ever was."
  • WM #1--Rorschach genuinely misses their partnership and he wouldn't team with a wanna-be.
  • WM #2--he is paired up with the Comedian in a flashback who appears to take him seriously.
  • WM #3-- he and Laurie take on a street gang and fairly easily.
  • WM #3-- in the prose section, Hollis says "I've visited his (Dreiberg's) home since then and seen some of the fabulous technology he intends to bring to bear on the war against crime."
  • WM #6-- Rorschach again recalls his partnership with Nite Owl as a "good team."
  • WM #7-- His technology certainly is impressive, functional and very serious.
  • "Air-to-air missiles, auxiliary costumes, radiation shields...'
  • WM #7-- the Flight of Archimedes and the Rescue from the burning building seems very heroic to me as does Drieberg when he finally decides to take action, in more ways than one! ;-)
  • WM #8-- after his mission, his whole demeanor and posture changes. He researches, analyzes and deduces.
  • WM # 10--he's the one who discovers the true mastermind.

I think Moore portrayed Dreiberg as a man who lost his purpose, the one thing that gave his life meaning and didn't fight for it which crippled him emotionally. But he also showed Dreiberg realizing his mistake and by becoming Nite Owl again on his terms, heals him and he finds happiness at the end.

Do you genuinely believe that Nicholas Cage was trying to immitate Adam West? And was it something you genuinely enjoyed about the movie?

 

Since hipsterism came in, I don't know what anyone really means anymore...

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