…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan #2

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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan #2

All throughout the release of the project, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing each issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Doctor Manhattan #2 by J. Michael Straczysnki (writer), Adam Hughes (art) and Laura Martin (colors).

NOTE: That bum Nevett had the gall to get married last weekend, so we had to bump this back a week. Since there are no Before Watchmen books this week, we’re bumping the discussion of Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3 to Wednesday. – BC

Brian Cronin: In Dr. Manhattan #2, Straczynski has an interesting idea, the notion of Schrodinger’s cat, and basically does an entire issue exploring this idea. That would be fine with me, as it IS an interesting idea. However, wasn’t that just what we did with the PREVIOUS issue?

Chad Nevett: This issue was a playful bit of nothing. If you got the idea than this issue gave you as close to nothing as possible, because it was just showing the idea, usually in the most mundane and drab ways possible. Wow, in one situation, it was the Comedian and, in the other, it was Ozymandias and that led to different outcomes and why should I give a fuck? Nothing was actually SAID about the character or the idea behind the story that was of actual value. It was tedious masturbation. Do you get the idea? Yes? Well, shit, son, then you don’t need this comic to act it out in all its mundane glory.

This will sound incredibly bad on my part, but were you also surprised that there was a chance for Adam Hughes to draw a naked woman and he (or the editors, I don’t know) opted to conceal her, not showing her topless/fully nude? That surprised me for whatever reason things like that surprise people.

BC: Ha! I think I actually did notice that. Although it wasn’t like it was a sex scene or anything like that. THAT would really stand out. Hughes, by the way, did an amazing job on this issue. Strictly on a visual basis, it was amazing. The depiction of the parallel universes was striking, especially that stellar double page spread. It was just a matter of “Wow!” And Laura Martin’s colors? Holy shit, they were excellent. The whole thing was a lush, beautiful drawn spectacle of parallel worlds.

So on that level, the issue WAS a success. But yeah, that was exactly what #1 was and #1 actually managed to do other things as well. This issue was pretty much entirely the parallel worlds thing. I guess Straczynski thought it was such a good idea that he wanted to give Hughes a full issue to cut loose on it, and I guess in that regard I can’t blame him too much. Still, the end result was a whole issue of filler.

CN: I dug the art. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Hughes doing some interior work again and, while the writing of the alternate timelines is anything but impressive, I am a sucker for seeing what artists do with slightly different scenes, how they try to service both at the same time as providing obvious means of contrast. Huges does that quite well in this issue, making every split crystal clear visually.

I think what bothers me most about the ‘filler’ nature of this issue was the complete lack of depth. It was all surface concept. I’m at the point where I wonder if this story will ever amount to anything substantive. I guess I have to wonder if you can do anything with Dr. Manhattan that has any substance. He’s such a simple, straight forward character in many ways — and his past catalogued more than any other character in Watchmen — that it’s hard to say that there’s a lot there to expand upon. You can fill in the moments between the panels, but will we learn anything of value? Of all of the Watchmen characters, Dr. Manhattan seems like the one that lends himself the least towards a prologue series and we’re seeing that play out.

BC: Agreed, but that is exactly why Straczynski should just drop the whole “fill in the back story” angle that he’s been doing here and just tell a Doctor Manhattan adventure. Doctor Manhattan was a superhero, right? So what kind of things did he do? Who did he fight? Heck, what was the early stages of his relationship with Laurie like? Did they go on patrol together? There’s a lot you can get in by just telling a story featuring the character (like Azzarello is doing with Comedian) rather than just examining their back story.

In Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan was often in a contemplative reflective mood. However, that was where he ENDED UP. It made sense for him to be so reflective because he had a lot to look back on. Here, Straczynski is stating that Doctor Manhattan is so powerful that time is somewhat malleable to him so that he can look back on the past even before he gets to that point (as well as look at all the possible pasts and futures). But while that is an interesting point, it skips over the period in Doctor Manhattan’s life when he WASN’T like this. There was a point in his life where he did not realize the extent of his powers. There was a point in his life where he wanted to have sex with Laurie Jupitor because his wife was getting older. There is a whole area of his life that Moore glossed over because Moore had Manhattan think back to his past (rightfully so, of course, as it gave us Manhattan’s origins). So why not address that area? Why go back to the ground that Moore has already trod?

The more I think of it, the more ill-conceived this approach seems to me. A. This issue just repeated for a full issue an idea already explored in the first issue and B. Looking at Manhattan’s past PERIOD was done already. So do something different! I wasn’t thrilled with the last issue of Rorschach, but at least Azzarello is DOING something with the character instead of just examining the back story ad nauseum.

CN: As you point out, the tension between the humanity in the character and his growing inhumanity could have been a great driving force for this series. He wasn’t always cold and distant — for a time, he was very much an emotional man with great powers. Or, at least, he pretended to be. I hadn’t considered that perspective and it seems like the best place to look in a prologue book like this. How do you reconcile the man in this superman? I don’t know, but, instead, we get intellectual masturbation that’s about as worthwhile as actual masturbation. No. Actual masturbation has more value, I’d say.

BC: Yeah, exactly! If he was, in fact, just fooling himself into pretending that he was being emotional (think Moore era Swamp Thing fooling itself into believing it was Alec Holland and not a new being), then fine, ADDRESS that! Have THAT be the focus of your story. The Schrodinger’s Cat stuff is fine, but you did it in issue one so now move on to NEW stuff.

CN: Maybe we’ll get lucky and exploring the ramifications of the splintering of reality will lead to something reflective and emotional. Why would Dr. Manhattan viewing the accident change it so he doesn’t exist? The inner human wanting to come out and not be denied by the cold superhuman? But, even if we get something like that, forget about it being subtle. As we’ve seen, that is the one quality that Straczynski lacks completely. This issue was one big exercise in a lack of nuance and subtlety, throwing a single idea in our faces as much as possible…