Saturday, September 7, 2013

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair

 And so I reach the end of my seemingly random but accidentally alphabetical BEFORE WATCHMEN reading binge, and it seems I've saved the worst for last.

 BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS/CRIMSON CORSAIR is written (Mostly...) by original WATCHMEN Editor Len Wein, a name that's sure to be familiar to fans of 1970's Marvel and DC Comics. I've never really been a fan of Wein's overly-wordy scripts, but I kept an open mind, mainly because, I wrongly assumed, he might have some special insight into the Watchmen characters, since he was involved with the original and all.

 One day I'll learn to go with my gut. (Not that the collector in me would have allowed for the horrific possibility of skipping this questionable volume and not having a complete set!!!!! Shudder.....

 Anyway, the book starts with Wein and Jae Lee's six-part Ozymandias story, which basically regurgitates Bruce Wayne's trek around the world to learn  how to fight crime and kick ass before it settles into a pattern of Wein presenting WATCHMEN/BEFORE WATCHMEN greatest hits, where he shamelessly presents large chunks of other Writers dialogue without any kind of credit being given. The asshole in me did enjoy seeing the big "Fuck you!" that Wein gives Alan Moore by showing Adrian Veidt getting his whole evil scheme from an old episode of "The Outer Limits", which is an accusation that has long dogged Moore and the original series. Artwise, Jae Lee has never really clicked with me, for some reason. His work here is good, beautiful in places, but something about it seems cold and sterile to me. He always seems to pick the most bland way to execute a scene, as evidenced by the totally lazy sequence where we see Edward Blake discover Veidt's Squid-Beast. That could have been an amazing page, but it just kind of lies there and does nothing.Wein continues the trend of making Veidt another mustache-twirling megalomaniac, which was never really the impression that I got from Alan Moore, who presented him more as a man who has to do bad to achieve the ultimate good. And as much as I felt "Meh" about this story, I thought that Wein chose to end it too soon...I would have preferred to see it through to Veidt's Arctic showdown with his old compatriots. Not a terrible story, but not an especially good one, and not one that needed to be told.

Next up is the story that ran in two-page increments as a BEFORE WATCHMEN back-up, THE CRIMSON CORSAIR. This is basically a repeat of the TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER story that Moore wove though the original series, and it's pretty terrible, and gets worse when Wein is booted off and replaced by Co-Writer/Artist John Higgins, after what I read was a pretty nasty behind-the-scenes power struggle. Higgins is a talented Artist, but he's no Writer, and the already weak story is virtually crippled by the hideous, hideous color palette that Higgins uses. It makes his art look muddy and ugly, and left me puzzled as to why the Editors let it go to press as is.

 Finally we get the totally unnecessary DOLLAR BILL one-shot. (Yes, I know that you could argue that the entire BEFORE WATCHMEN run has been unnecessary.....) This one is also Written by Wein, with art by Steve Rude. Rude's cover is fantastic, but his interior art seemed rushed, which would make sense as this story was, to my understanding, basically a last-minute afterthought. We get Dollar Bill's origin, and Wein once again uses scene after scene that we've already seen Moore and various BEFORE WATCHMEN Writers show us. The ironic end of Dollar Bill's career is almost entirely ruined by the puzzling perspective that Rude uses, so much so that Wein had to use dialogue to tell us what we are supposed to be seeing. Sloppy, boring stuff.

 Overall, there's little to recommend to anyone but anal-retentive collectors in this last volume. I'd say that you should read this one first, so you can go out on a high note with one of the other volumes.

 BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS/CRIMSON CORSAIR collects all six issues of the OZYMANDIAS mini-series, the complete CRIMSON CORSAIR back-up, and the DOLLAR BILL one-shot, complete with all covers and variants. The extras here are pretty sparse, with two pages apiece of Jae Lee and John Higgins sketches and preliminary art.

 DC provided a review copy, but I bought a hardcover anyway. Shame on me.