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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1

by  in Comic News Comment
…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1

Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Ozymandias #1 by Len Wein (writer), Jae Lee (art) and June Chung (colors).

Chad Nevett: I’ll keep my opening thoughts brief: I liked Watchmen #11 better.

Brian Cronin: Ba-dum-bum!

I see that it must be such a great temptation to just do an ORIGIN STORY for the character in these Before Watchmen comics. I give Azzarello even more credit for his avoidance of doing one for the Comedian. That said, if you’re going to do an origin story for Ozymandias, Len Wein does at least produce an interesting one. Wein fully embraces the pulp novel inspirations of Ozymandias with a very pulp-ish origin. It even comes with a map, like the Indiana Jones films!

I presume the bit people will be most interested in is this comic is revelation that Adrian was romantically involved with a woman. By the way, we are five comic books into Before Watchmen and we’ve already had two cum jokes. Two out of five! That’s kind of nuts.

Jae Lee’s artwork is beyond amazing. In my estimation, he has done the best job of all the artists we have seen on Before Watchmen so far and there have been some really good ones so far. The man knows how to draw action, he knows how to set up a scene, he knows how to design great layouts, his characters are distinctly realistic but they are not stiff…he is a marvel to look at.

I also think that the idea of him becoming a superhero because he could not go to the cops to avenge his dead girlfriend because of the bad publicity it would bring him is a particularly interesting reason for a character becoming a superhero and one that I do not believe we’ve ever actually seen before.

What did you think of his origin?

CN: I loved the art. Jae Lee did some fantastic work (although, his style did mean that the school yard seemed like it was nothing but rotted wood and fog…), particularly with the layouts. It seems with the five artists we’ve gotten so far, every one of them is pretty far from Dave Gibbons in their own way and that’s been very interesting. When Adam Hughes and Lee Bermejo join the party, we’ll get a couple more un-Gibbons-like styles.

As for the writing… I’m torn. If it wasn’t basically an expansion upon Watchmen #11, I probably would have liked it more. But, it WAS that, so it fell into ‘needless expansion of an origin story,’ something that I have a hard time with in comics. I hate origin stories at this point, especially retellings of ones that I’ve already read. Most of this comic felt unnecessary in the information it ‘added’ to Adrian’s past. How he built his empire and segued into costumed adventuring is much more open and seems like it will work better in this ‘expanded retelling,’ because those parts in this issue were miles ahead of what came before. I would have rather the comic start with his return and expand the rushed relationship with Miranda and her death. Actually give that relationship a little meaning instead of introducing her, having her interact with Adrian a few times, and, then, die. She was a plot device instead of a character and that’s a shame.

BC: Yeah, I will certainly concede that the schoolyard did look like something out of a fantasy world. Awesomely creepy visual, but probably not the best choice for a schoolyard.

I totally agree regarding the relationship with Miranda. Their entirety of their relationship was four pages. She was nothing more than a cipher and a troubling aspect of her being such a cipher is that right before she dies, Adrian acts slightly different than what we expect from him – he suggests a chink in his steely exterior when he apologizes to her and insists that he will make it up to her somehow. I’d have loved to have seen THAT Adrian in this comic – the guy with normal human emotions that was forced to hide behind his austerity once the love of his life died. So much of the comic was cool, calm and collected – I would have greatly enjoyed some more passion from him.

CN: Definitely. Especially because Adrian in Watchmen wasn’t a cold, distant person. He was able to rise above his emotions and do things that he found horrible, but he was a passionate, warm person at the same time. Or, at the very least, able to come across as such. After all, his entire plot to save the world is driven by passion and you can see that in how he reacts to it working. The stuff with the bullies seems very cool as far as a scene showing how Adrian was always a badass schemer who could see twenty moves ahead and all, but it also showcases how he driven he is by emotions. That entire thing was an exercise in rage and teaching himself to control it. That he did so, seemingly, effortlessly is a little troubling. It would have been nice to see him learn to hide his true feelings and motives over time. To shift from letting his true self be seen by others to showing them the facade he wants them to see — which, in Watchmen, always seemed like a warm, caring guy. The sort of wealthy ex-superhero who would come off as genuinely interested in the lives of everyone he came across even if he wasn’t.

BC: Yes, exactly. We see him rage as a kid over the cage his parents kept him in (a cage, by the way, that made little to no sense to me – who would ever hide an academically gifted kid’s intelligence? I don’t get the point of that. An academically gifted kid is still going to be given shit by bullies, so they did not need to have him hide his intelligence – just have him be a gifted kid who gets picked on – done deal) but once he seals it up, he is way too composed. Heck, when Miranda dies, he mentions crying over his parents but the actual flashback shows him totally composed over their graves.

Did you like the twist that he only became a costumed adventurer because he could not go public with how his girlfriend really died?

As as an aside – what the heck was he planning on dressing up as for Halloween that would have had THAT be the costume?

CN: Um… non-authentic Eygptian person…?

I don’t really like that reason, no. It’s too typical for me. The superhero who needs a person tragedy to give him the push to put on a costume and take down some bad guys… That it began as a slightly misguided attempt to make the world better was more in his character. He did it because it was fun and he was somewhat deluded into thinking that, by doing it, he made a difference — a delusion that was later shattered at the Crime-Busters meeting when he realised that his actions were on far too small a scale to really ‘save the world.’ He wants to unite the world like Alexander the Great attempted and a cheap revenge motivation seems out of place to me. It reminds me of Geoff Johns retconning in Barry Allen’s mom being murdered. Can’t anyone do this because they genuinely want to do some good, not because someone close to them died?

BC: Well, that, in a nutshell, is why I am so wary about the idea of each of these comics being ORIGIN stories in the first place. I half expected the last comic we read to end with an owl flying into Daniel’s boyhood window…at NIGHT!! DUH DUH DUHHHHHHHHHHHHH…

That said, I think Adrian did need a slightly bigger push than the others since he was already so prepared to do good withOUT the superhero trappings. Rorschach had little other options than to be, you know, Rorschach, if he wanted to do any good. Daniel was so myopic he couldn’t see the good he could do with his millions other than building a giant mechanical owl. Laurie was literally forced into her gig. Adrian, though, he not only was interested in doing good as just himself, he knew HOW to, so I think it is fair to suggest that he needed an extra little push. Preferably it would have been an extra little push after getting to know Miranda through something other than a few scenes of Jae Lee drawing how hot she is (which Jae Lee did a great job with, seeing as how he is Jae Lee and he is amazing).

CN: He got caught up in the romanticism of it. From his obsession with Alexander the Great, there was clearly part of him that could get swept up with something like this. He may be the smartest man in the world, but he’s still human. I could easily see him noticing the rise in costumed vigilantes and thinking that could be a fun way to use his abilities and help people, and, over the years, that romanticism is beaten out of him as he realises that it’s actual a pretty fucked up life that doesn’t do as much good as he thought. But, before that, he’s blinded a little by the idea of it… That’s how I see it, at least.

BC: Fair enough. I think he needed more of a push, but I certainly can’t say that your way doesn’t make sense, also.

The back-up continues to be a strong little piece of comic goodness. Higgins’ art is great and Wein’s bit about hell was powerful. What I especially loved was the historical accurate nature of the lack of shark knowledge by our hero. We knew so little about sharks for centuries. One of the great early American painters has this awesome drawing of a shark attack where the shark does not look remotely like an actual shark. So to our narrator, the shark is just, well, a sea monster! Also, how awesomely fucked up is it to be looking into the sea and suddenly see a dude you know coming at you because his dead body is being pushed out of the water while being in a SHARK’s MOUTH!?! The answer is…very, very awesomely fucked up.

CN: Hey, I’ve never seen a shark in person, so I’m basically taking everyone’s word on what they look like still… you could all be lying to me for all I know. And the back-up continues to rock my world.

BC: I think you and I might be the only two people who would have preferred it if Before Watchmen was just all pirate comic books. Azzarello would kill it on a pirate comic book. Jae Lee on a pirate comic book? HOL…Y…SHIT.

CN: It should have just been Tales of the Black Freighter as an ongoing series with a new creative team every issue. Would people have minded as much? I THINK NOT!

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