Near the end of “Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill,” one of the characters states, “Six months from now, who’s even going to remember Dollar Bill?” It’s hard to keep from feeling like Len Wein and Steve Rude’s comic is commenting on itself, and on its rather futile nature of even existing.
When “Before Watchmen” was first introduced, there were a lot of jokes made about to what extremes the series would go center around different characters. But in the flurry of proposals for secondary and tertiary characters, the idea of a comic about Dollar Bill was brought up. Because of all the Minutemen, the character that existed the most in the background was Dollar Bill. Dollar Bill is a character who not only has no dialogue in the original “Watchmen,” he actually only appears in 3 panels. This is, to put it mildly, a character that virtually no one was clamoring to read more about. And now he has his own comic.
So why, then, read the “Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill” one-shot? That answer is at least pretty clear: Rude’s art. His classic, old-school styles are actually perfect for Wein’s story, telling the tale of a young man named Bill Brady who wanted to be a star. There are so many gorgeous artistic moments throughout this comic it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. Take, for instance, the moment where Bill auditions for a Broadway musical. The montage of Bill dancing across the page is beautiful; the leaping and sliding poses in the front, with the more traditional chorus shuffle in the background, all rotating around the central image of Bill singing. If you look closely, you’ll even see the last of the background images having Bill tripping and falling in the middle of his act. Rude’s long been a master of the medium, and the amount that he can pack into not only a single panel, but one that only takes up a third of the page? It’s outstanding.
Ultimately, that’s the attraction to “Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill.” Rude’s character designs all look gorgeous, with everything from the teller at the bank to the cheesy mobster in the commercial. You would probably never want a checkerboard patterned suit until you saw it here, but Rude’s attention to detail and period fashions is spot-on. Even the rest of the Minuteman somehow feel a bit more glamorous and visually exciting under Rude’s pen in a way that they didn’t in the other “Before Watchmen” comics.
The story from Wein isn’t bad, although it’s not that exciting either. Ultimately it takes the extremely limited information we have about Dollar Bill and builds a tale about the lengths someone will go in order to be a star. Aside from a sudden peppering of anti-gay slurs in the middle section said by several different characters regarding the Dollar Bill costume, there’s nothing that will jump out at you for good or ill. Will anyone remember “Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill” six months from now? Probably not. But if they do, it will almost certainly be for Rude’s gorgeous art.