I’m becoming more convinced, the more issues I read, that Before Watchmen should have been a series of one-shots; and Ozymandias #1 is just more fuel for that fire. There’s exceptions, sure, particularly Minutemen #1 where I’m eagerly awaiting the second issue. But every subsequent entry in the Before Watchmen series of series could easily have been distilled down to one over-sized issue on its own... More than that, and they’re going to start losing their power.
Let’s talk about Ozymandias #1, though, before we get into the greater issues of Before Watchmen - or what we assume may end up being the greater issues. The real star here, perhaps more than any of the other BW books, is Jae Lee’s stunning art. That’s no big surprise: the guy has been a revelation on everything from Marvel’s Dark Tower books, to The Inhumans, to The Sentry has mixed dark imagery with perfectly suited subject matter.
Here, he’s drawn a story that plays out like the best of H.P. Lovecraft, as a madman - Ozymandias, aka Adrian Veidt - reflects back on his life, and what led him to the moment where he’d convinced himself that to save the world, he has to unleash a giant squid monster on New York City. Throughout, Lee peppers images of the squid, and squid like creatures, from an old movie poster, to the wall-paper in Veidt’s childhood home leaking paint to form tentacled beasties. Even the trees at his school seem to be reaching out for him, trying to pull him under the ground to join them in the darkness.
Lee also takes control of potent imagery involving Veidt’s idols, particularly Alexander The Great. Veidt makes a great journey over the course of the book to visit the sites his idol visited, and whenever we see an image of Alexander, it’s cracked and broken. In fact, throughout, up until Veidt starts taking control of his own destiny, there are cracks everywhere. He strives to make himself perfect, but even when he does... Lee always shows that there’s flaws, even if they’re microscopic.
The problem is, that’s not the story Len Wein is writing. I mean, sure, maybe it is, but he writes a story of a kid with superpowers, beaten down, who ends up standing up for himself, training his body and mind, and eventually becoming the superhero he was meant to be. There’s some darkness throughout, but really, this isn’t that much different than Batman’s origin - or really any other superhero origin - we’ve ever read in comics.
It’s a shame, really. Wein writes in the same stilted narration he’s been using for the Crimson Corsair back-ups throughout the Watchmen books, which suggests that that’s just how he writes, not a style he’s necessarily choosing to use. For the first bit, it’s pretty jarring, but once I got into the rhythm of his speech, it did start to feel like - as I mentioned above - an H.P. Lovecraft tale, particularly when matched with Lee’s incredible art.
In Lovecraft, you always have the upstanding proper gentlemen trying to hold onto his sanity, plumbing the depths of the world and eventually getting lost in them. And for the middle section of this issue, Wein and Lee sync up perfectly and nail this tone. I was getting excited to read about how Veidt slowly descended into madness, summoning a Lovecraftian Elder God of his own creation into the world... But that’s again, not where Wein was going.
This ties into the argument I was starting up top, that these should have been one-shots. In this issue, we start with Veidt at the end of his story, zip through his life up to becoming a superhero, and now we have five solid issues to go. I could be totally wrong, but that’s too much time spent on too little of Veidt’s timeline. We’ve already seen what he’s like in Watchmen; to really make this Before Watchmen, we need to see what happens, well... Before Watchmen.
Look, I can’t speak to how they’re going to structure the next five issues, but I imagine at the end of issue six, we’ll return to the moment in the beginning, where Veidt is about to unleash hell on the world. That’s - in the real world - five months from now. If instead, we had that whole span, revealing the life of Veidt we didn’t know, in one solid issue, it would be all the more powerful.
I get that what DC is doing is aiming for the bookstore here, in order to have solid trades of all these series sitting right next to Watchmen on the shelves, and from a business standpoint that makes sense. But from a storytelling stand-point? For most of these books, there’s just not enough story there. I’m dreading reading Dr. Manhattan’s title next week, because Watchmen tells us nearly every facet of Dr. Manhattan’s origin and life - what else do we really need to know? With Veidt at least, he’s mostly just the engine for the plot, so there’s more you could get to know about him... But I’m not sure there’s one hundred twenty pages worth of things we need to know about him.
Ozymandias #1 is worth picking up just for the superb art by Jae Lee, but particularly as the middle is so enjoyable, the book instead stands as an artifact of what could have been, but isn’t. The fact is, Before Watchmen: Ozymandias IS a six issue mini-series, so this issue - like Silk Spectre, and Comedian, and even Nite Owl - doesn’t stand on it’s own. I wish that it did.
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1 hits comic book stands from DC Comics on July 4th.