I will freely admit that there was one primary reason that I took a look at “Before Watchmen: Ozymandias” #2, and it’s two simple words: Jae Lee. It’s nothing against Len Wein, the writer for the “Before Watchmen: Ozymandias” mini-series, but when the dust settles, I think it’s fair to say that it’s not Wein’s script people will remember.
Lee’s art in “Before Watchmen: Ozymandias” #2 is simply breathtaking, every aspect of each page carefully thought through. The page layouts are fascinating in their own right as Lee uses a circle motif (shaped as perfectly as the circlet on Adrian Veidt’s head) on just about every page. After the first two pages have a large circular window front and center, we get a series of circular panels built into just about every page’s layout; sometimes near the top or bottom of the page, other times drifting through the center column of the page. What’s impressive is how strongly Lee controls the placement of these circular panels, so that they enhance rather than distract from the storytelling. The eye always flows perfectly from one to the next, and it’s all the more impressive when Lee places them through a full-page image. When Adrian’s fighting a bad guy on one page, Lee places three circular panels on top of the image; one at the top to kick off the page, one in the center of the page to be absorbed after you see the full-page image, and then a final one at the bottom to round everything out. There’s never a question of what order to read them in, because Lee’s simply that good.
“Before Watchmen: Ozymandias” #2 is more than just fancy page layouts, though. His figures move beautifully across the page, everyone so carefully crafted that you can stop and gaze at each person for hours. From the folds of a cape to the shadowed crossbeams, nothing’s out of place. When Lee goes to a big two-page splash that’s almost entirely black silhouettes of Adrian leaping across the page and dispatching bad guys, amidst beams and crates (also black silhouettes), it’s gorgeous. It’s a sign of someone who is the master of their craft, and you could use that splash as a teaching guide in sequential art programs across the planet. Colorist June Chung adds a soft touch to each page too with an end result that will leave readers’ jaws hanging open.
As for the script, it’s perfectly competent but nothing beyond. The plot of the book itself is a bit flat and predictable; Adrian Veidt fights bad guys, trains and eventually decides to try and track down a missing member of the Minutemen. Beyond that, it fades into the background of cliche and familiarity. Is anyone even trying to read the two-page installments of “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair” at this point? Sorry, Wein and John Higgins. I’m sure in a collected form it will be much more interesting than this perpetual start-and-stop nature of these snippets.
Two issues into “Before Watchmen: Ozymandias,” one fact has become crystal clear: Lee is going to be able to write his own ticket onto any project he wants. Similarly to how his work on the second “Hellshock” series and his “Inhumans” mini-series with Paul Jenkins pushed Lee’s work up in everyone’s estimation, “Before Watchmen: Ozymandias” #2 has done it again. This book is a visual masterpiece.