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    Review: Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1

    By and | August 24th, 2012
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments
    Logo by Tim Daniel

    The final miniseries starts here! Will this look through all things quantum fix the watch that is “Before Watchmen,” or will it spill all the gears onto the ground?

    Written by J. Michael Straczynski
    Illustrated by Adam Hughes

    “I watch as a box containing a mystery is lowered into the soil.”

    David: So we’re back with the last (right?) Before Watchmen #1, as Dr. Manhattan from JMS and Adam Hughes is now here. The former is a man known for writing bad comics recently in my mind, while the latter is known for saucy women in his art. Yet, this comic is about a stark naked quantum conundrum. An interesting fit, but did it work? Did the first issue starring Big Blue jive with you, my friend?

    Brian: Before I answer your question, you have to answer mine. If the name J. Michael Straczynski wasn’t on the cover, would you have ever guessed that this was written by him?

    David: While I wouldn’t say it felt explicitly like a JMS joint, I could see elements in there for sure. What about you? You’re a bigger fan of him than I am. Did it tickle your fancy?

    Brian: To say I’m a fan is a bit much; I loved his “Brave and the Bold” run, but other than that, I’m pretty meh on his work.

    To me, this didn’t feel like a JMS comic, and that is a good thing. While this is far from a perfect comic, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the elements in play. What about you?

    David: Loved the art…the rest was okay. It all kind of read like an impersonation of the Dr. Manhattan issue of Watchmen where he was kind of weaving in and out of time narratively. The reminders of that were pretty great, as was the revelation of his present from when he was a kid. I liked the business about him visiting a place where he was never created. There’s a lot of potential on the table here, and it could go a lot of very interesting directions. But after one issue, it was a good issue mostly for art but the story so far is kindling for a potentially great fire.

    What did you find surprising, in particular?

    Brian: I was surprised by, frankly, the balls that JMS showed here. While this is not nearly a “Before” Watchmen story, it is the first story to do something totally unexpected, and that is to mess with the story in a way that could only work in a Dr. Manhattan story. It took all the potential that Moore had put into the character and, shockingly, utilized it. The box motif was well used and not too overkill, which I feared it might be. I really can’t believe I’m this positive about a JMS book. I had my opening line for this review planned, and JMS proved me so wrong I’m not going to get to use it. (For the record, it was going to be “Do you still think that Azzarello is the bane of Before Watchmen?”)

    You’re right about the art – Adam Hughes was absolutely spectacular here. Clean lines, nice layouts, and his signature character work.

    David: Well, I think that’s the thing about Ol’ Blue Balls. There are no limits to where a writer could, in theory, take the story. I figured with JMS involved it would be pretty safe, by the numbers storytelling, and there was a mix of that with some really cool, audacious stuff. I think it will get better from here, but to start it was solid, not great in my book.

    I’m not sure what your Adam Hughes experience is, but did you think that he was switching/merging styles more so than usual? I felt like there were subtle but fantastic differences between his art styles depending on era, and I loved the dichotomous storytelling when it showed the timelines if he had been paired with Rorschach and if he had been paired with Silk Spectre. He really killed it. Are we getting to a point where this is really an endeavor defined by its art?

    Continued below

    Brian: In terms of Hughes, I thought he did just about everything spot on and, yes, that includes subtly reflecting each era in his work.

    This project is almost entirely defined by art – from the beginning, I was shocked at the sheer amount of talent they were able to secure on the art side, and it hasn’t disappointed at all.

    I have to ask – am I the only one that could only hear Brad Pitt screaming when I saw the title of the issue?

    David: Yeah, the art really has blown me away. Well, for the most part. Hughes is up there with Cooke, Lee and Connor for best artist in this series so far. Maybe a step below, but still, that’s some serious firepower.

    What’s the title of the issue? I’m trying to think of what it could be based off things Brad Pitt has screamed. Dags? I want my scalps?


    David: Oh my god, how did I miss that?! Of course I would think of Brad Pitt. Who wouldn’t? I hope Adam Hughes easter egged Gwyneth Paltrow somewhere in there.

    Brian: We can only hope.

    So, before we score this issue, let’s take a look at the line as a whole. Now that we’ve seen part of all of the series, how do they live up to your expectations?

    David: I can’t really say that I had expectations. I don’t even really know what they were. I didn’t know what to expect from any of this, save I would like Darwyn Cooke’s contributions and I couldn’t really guess as to what else might happen. And that’s pretty much what happened. Minutemen is fantastic. The first issue of Silk Spectre was superb and the second was…less so. Nite Owl is tremendously terrible. Everything else is sort of somewhere in the middle. It’s a mixed bag, but I guess that’s to be expected. What’s your take?

    Brian: To me, the line has been much better than I thought, but it still isn’t something I would call “successful.” The art has been, overall, excellent and the non-“Nite Owl” books have had something worth looking at, even if it was just art paired with vapid storytelling (“Rorschach”). Is this totally unnecessary? Of course it is; but I am impressed that the art has been so great.

    So what do you give this issue? I’ll give it a 7, which is about 6 higher than I expected to. The art was great, the story surprised me, and I’m actually excited to keep reading.

    David: Yeah, I’ll give it a 7 too. Great art, nice kindling for future story beats. We’ll see where it goes, but like the rest of these series, it has a lot of interesting potential.

    Final Verdict: 7.0 – Buy

    Brian Salvatore

    Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).