Love or hate Before Watchmen, it’s loud, it’s proud and it’s here to stay. So we might as well take a peek now and then to give it a chance, right? For the most part these have underwhelmed me when it comes to story. Being a prequel certainly isn’t helping, considering it puts the writer in a box. The art on the other hand has been exceptional nearly every issue. Last week we saw the first issue of Rorschach and it seems they’ve left the best character for last, Dr. Manhattan. We all love the character, but what about the comic? Is it good?
Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 (DC Comics)
This issue sets to accomplish a few things and it actually raises the stakes far better than any other Before Watchmen that has come…well, before it. First off, it poetically ties Dr. Manhattan’s narrative to the beauty and mystery of the box. If you haven’t seen J.J. Abrams’ presentation on the box, view it here:
Dr. Manhattan is a very unique character, especially since he isn’t tied down by time. This allows writer J. Michael Straczynski to do anything he so desires. Knowing that a character can break the laws of space, time and reality, you’d be hard-pressed not be interested in what this story can deliver. Thankfully Straczynski was a great choice for this work. Comics like Midnight Nation and Rising Stars were all about breaking conventional storytelling and any expectations.
I want whatever it is he’s smoking.
The major problem he faces in writing for this series, though, is the same inherent problem every issue in this series has and will face: How can I take anything these characters say as real when it’s not written by Alan Moore? How can I take a prequel seriously when I know the masterwork that is Watchmen never intended to have the backstory divulged? There were only two moments where I felt this book was sullying the original work, but I eventually let go of that thinking, largely because Dr. Manhattan is such an easily malleable figure. The man doesn’t abide by any rules of time or science, so any new adventures he may go on seems okay in my book.
Dipping into alternate reality is a neat trick in this issue.
With my conscience salvaged and my brain telling me it’s okay to like this book, and only this book of all the Before Watchmen books, the art is typically the first thing I like and here it doesn’t disappoint. John Higgins and Adam Houghes do a great job capturing the book’s theme of time. Pages that take place in the past, for instance, employ a sepia brown border. When we see Dr. Manhattan on the moon in the future, it uses a white border. The art does a great job with facial expressions, and human emotion is an important part of this story, which makes the art a success.
Time Travel: Dr. Manhattan style.
The art also takes some liberties to showcase the mind-bending narration visually. For the most part I think it works.
The box aka our perceptions.
The most impressive part of this issue, however, is its playful interpretation of the box as seen above. His powers were born, or created from a box and ultimately the mystery that is our perceptions of the box can change reality itself. It’s a brain teaser to say the least, which makes this read enjoyable. There’s a delectable twist at the end that plays with the entire issue being a box that helps set up an interesting second issue but also makes the entire issue worth a look on its own.
There’s only one story: “who am I?” Or in his case, “why am I?”
This issue works because it’s capable of breaking space and time and thus actually mattering…seeing as it’s not necessarily taking place before Watchmen. In fact, in the image above we get resolute proof this is taking place at least partly during Watchmen since his glass palace is created.
Why this issue works so well, though, is because it’s much more authentic to the original Watchmen. The narrative is intelligent and makes you question things and above all think about life. The other books have quintessentially focused on the hero and their identity. Maybe it’s because this character is godlike, but so far it’s doing everything that made the original such a masterpiece. Check back later today to see if it’s good enough to make it into our 10 dollar budget in our ComiX Weekly reviews.
Is It Good?