There are a few shared experiences in all of comics that we all have tucked away in our minds: the first comic that we loved, when a beloved character dies, the loss of an exceptional creative team. And, of course, the very thing that defines all comic fans: the moment when we wondered if there was more to Dollar Bill, the 19th most important character in all of “Watchmen.” Humanity finally has its answer: not really.
Written by Len Wein
Illustrated by Steve Rude
“Are you kidding? I’m only an actor, not a real crimefighter.”
David: So we’re back with what is, presumably, the last Before Watchmen launch, as we finally have that Dollar Bill one-shot we’ve always been waiting for, from Len Wein and Steve Rude. So Brian, are you buying stock in National Bank?
Brian: David, we read a lot of comics, and we get exposure to a pretty wide swath of them – indies, mainstream, licensed, webcomic, etc, so I think we have a pretty good grasp on the general state of comics publishing.
I say that to say this: I’m pretty sure that is the least essential comic I’ve ever read. And I read that Craftsman/Justice League bullshit.
David: Oh, definitely. It is undoubtedly not essential. Maybe not the most inessential, but it is hardly a must read.
That said, two questions for you: is any of Before Watchmen “essential” and is this comic bad?
My answer to both has to be no. In regards to the latter, it is certainly not great or even very good, but it is perfectly solid and functional as a decent comic.
Brian: To answer your first question, no. None of this run has been essential. However, I think it could be argued that all of the other minis – even the Moloch one, that was similarly tacked on – had a point of view and a story to tell. We may debate whether it was a good story or not, but there was a creative spark there, on some level.
This, while offering a little more clarity to the character I suppose, didn’t really bring anything new to the Before Watchmen universe, let alone the Watchmen universe. This was a cash grab from top to bottom, and it reeks of that.
As for whether or not it is a good comic? It isn’t a terrible one, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it good, either. I know this is an odd term, but what was the highlight of the issue for you?
David: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. It’s kind of fitting that Dollar Bill is a cash grab, but the biggest problem with this issue is just the fact that there isn’t really a story to tell. It’s a story about effectively Dollar Bill’s entire life, and it gives us insight into who he was.
As for the highlight, I’d say that there are two moments that I liked a good bit. One being the parallels between the commercial shoot and his death. That was obvious, sure, but it was still executed well. And I enjoyed the way they shared his legacy as an inspiration. Sure, he’s a sell out, but he eventually became a real hero and a real good guy, and I thought that was delivered well.
Wein and Rude by no means did a bad job with this. If there goal was simply to reveal a bit more about who Dollar Bill is, they did a solid enough job. I think that’s all it was. DC’s goal was to make dolla bills, y’all, but Wein and Rude did a fine job. I particularly enjoyed Rude’s art. It had a really nice feel to it.
I don’t think they intended it to be any more, and sure, it’s not compelling from a “expanding the Watchmen” universe angle, but it certainly is a far better comic than a lot of what has come out of this endeavor. So it’s hard for me to burn on it too bad.
Brian: I can blame Wein for at least one thing, and that is a healthy dose of stereotype throughout the issue. Between the (admittedly historically accurate) gay bashing to his cliche portrayal of Jewish bankers, everything felt like it was laid on just a bit too thickly. I’m neither gay nor Jewish, so I wasn’t personally offended, but it seemed to be unnecessary touches that really didn’t add anything to the story. It is no longer edgy to include the word “fag” in a comic set in the past. It has become shorthand for lazy characterization, and Wein is guilty of that all over this issue.
I think Rude did a great job capturing the feel of the era, and I’m always happy to see that dude get some work, so visually, it was a pleasure to read the issue.
David: Well, given the time period and the general feel of Watchmen as a whole, I didn’t think the gay/bankers elements were really that big of a deal. I thought they fit. The thing I’d burn Wein most on is how safe he played it. He didn’t challenge the subject matter to make it more interesting or to make it fit better or in a more fascinating way. He just kind of told the story of Dollar Bill, and it was about as straight forward as we would have imagined. It’s very vanilla, and this is a story in desperate need of something to mix it up. Like I said though, it’s not a bad book, it’s just not particularly that great.
Which makes it fit perfectly with oh so much of what DC is producing.
So what do you give this? On a scale of Washington to Hamilton (see what I did just there?), where does DB rank?
David: Dial down the center my friend. I’m going to give it a 5, because it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, it just was kind of…in the middle. What about you?
Brian: So you mean a Lincoln? (I’m making you fit into this bad joke)
David: Dear lord.
Brian: I’ll give it two Jeffersons – the art was great, but the story left a lot to be desired.
The Before Watchmen solicits have gotten weird lately, but we’ll be back at some point to wrap up the entire project, when it eventually wraps up (there was an epilogue one-shot promised, but as of yet, neither that nor the collected Crimson Corsair have release dates).
David: As per usual, we will not be talking about Crimson Corsair because, frankly, screw Crimson Corsair.
Final Verdict: 4.5 – Pass