While I see both sides of the argument being made against the “Before Watchmen” movement, there’s simply no denying that the line has done a decent job of attracting some great comic book talent. In this case, that talent makes “Before Watchmen: Nite Owl” #1 a straightforward, by-the-numbers origin story.
The story looks timeless, thanks largely to the incomparable linework that Joe Kubert puts down atop his son Andy’s layouts. Although he is credited as an inker in this issue, the elder Kubert really takes over artistically. The longer, curved lines defining texture and shape that are the trademark work of Joe Kubert are evident here and help to pull this story out of any contemporary foundation, playing instead to the era as defined in the pages.
As the analog character for the Ted Kord incarnation of the Blue Beetle, Dan Dreiberg makes his case for aiding the current Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and, like Kord, eventually replacing his mentor to continue the legacy. DC has always had the ability to use legacy as a plot device. J. Michael Straczynski does so with great flair here, making me more than a bit nostalgic for an appearance of Dan Garrett and Ted Kord. Alas, this story isn’t about Garrett and Kord, but rather about Dreiberg and Mason.
Over the course of the story, Straczynski is not immune to comic book cliche, inserting a rather unnecessary scene with Nite Owl’s abusive father that is shoehorned in to provide additional motivation to drive Dreiberg in his quest to be a hero. Sure, that might be a necessary component of Nite Owl’s formative experience, but it’s a two-panel throwaway scene that could have been handled in a more dynamic manner.
“Before Watchmen: Nite Owl” is an enjoyable enough story with the focus tightly drawn in on Nite Owl. This is a good start to the heroic adventures of a character. Unfortunately, Rorschach comes in and the story goes on autopilot, with Nite Owl becoming less important. From there the story veers away from the development of Dreiberg as a hero and expands to include more of the team that will eventually become the supporting cast around Nite Owl.
Using the artistic legacy of the Kuberts to define the heroic legacy of Nite Owl is a conceptual stroke of genius. It’s a shame the story itself doesn’t live up to the art. By and large, I have not been partaking of the “Before Watchmen” comics. The first half of this issue made me think I might be missing out on some good reads, but the remainder of the book quickly doused any concerns in that direction. I’d like to see more tales like the first part, especially if DC can include a celebration of legacy once again.