Review: Before Watchmen Deluxe Hardcovers Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan/Moloch
Earlier today we had a review for the first of two Before Watchmen Deluxe Edition hardcovers that are released today. I weighed in with my thoughts on Comedian/Rorschach (you can find that here) and now it’s time to take a look at Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan. The Moloch two issue miniseries is also included in this collection. All three stories are written by J. Michael Straczynski. Nite Owl features the art of Andy Kubert with Joe Kubert and Bill Sienkiewicz providing inks. Sienkiewicz stepped in, sadly, after Joe Kubert passes away. Brad Anderson handled colors and Nick Napolitano tackling lettering. Dr. Manhattan had art by Adam Hughes with Laura Marting proving colors. Steve Wands handled lettering. And finally, Moloch featured art by Eduardo Risso, colors by Trish Mulvihill, and lettering by Clem Robbins. So Comedian/Rorschach fared well enough, how does Straxzynski’s Before Watchmen entries hold up?
Nite Owl gives us a look into the life of Dan Dreiberg. We start out by seeing his troubled home life, his abused mother, and his despicable father. The one thing that has provided Dan any comfort is keeping up with his hero, the Nite Owl. Dan’s a really smart kid, so he uses his skills to track down Nite Owl and offers his aid in the war on crime. From there we see Dan train with the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and how he steps down and lets Dan take up the mantle. From Nite Owl’s earliest days as a hero, to his first meeting with Rorschach, we see how Dan become a seasoned hero. It’s when he and Rorschach start to investigate the murder and disappearance of prostitutes that we see how both men are troubled souls shaped by their horrific home lives. As Rorschach finds solace in religion and a fast-talking preacher, Dan teams up with a dominatrix called The Twilight Lady. As the new duo start to explore what form their relationship will take on, Nite Owl’s investigation will cross back over with Rorscach’s path again in an explosive way.
Straczynski does a good job of showing how messed up and damaged the people behind the masks are. That’s one of the big points Alan Moore nailed home time and again in Watchmen. Nite Owl isn’t so much about the investigation into the murders as much as exploring the relationship between the heroes and what decisions lead up to someone putting on a costume. And Kubert’s art, the late Joe Kubert’s inks, and eventually Bill Sienkiewicz’s colors are solid throughout the four issues. There is a definite shift when Sienkiewicz steps in, but they capture the look and feel of the original story while still making it fresh for a new audience. 3/5
Doctor Manhattan give an in-depth look into the god-like powers the good Doctor has and the responsibilities that come with them. When Doctor Manhattan decides to go back in time farther than ever before to witness the accident that gave him his powers, he splits time itself and starts to split off different universes and possibilities for what can happen based on his choices. We see what could have been, what will be, and what should never be. Doctor Manhattan learns that even the tiniest decision he makes can have catastrophic effects. After he learns this lesson, he goes to visit the only man that can understand what has happened- Ozymandias.
My mileage varied with most other reviewers on this one. Dr. Manhattan is one character that was pretty well fleshed out and explained in the original. The entire four issues show us how he learned the lesson he teaches everyone in Watchmen. Straczynski writes a daring story that shows us events before, during, and just after Watchmen. By the end nothing has really happened and it just gets us to the point made at the end of Watchmen. Oymandias’ decision is shocking in Watchmen because you don’t see it happening. If you read this first, you know it’s coming and you don’t really care. The art is absolutely stunning though, and therein lies its saving grace. 2/5
Moloch is a two issue story that shows us Moloch’s origin and how he played a huge role in the events of Watchmen. The first issue is a paint-by-numbers origin story for a villain. It’s nothing exciting and it actually feels like a burden to read. The second issue, however, is where the meat of it is. It’s a fantastic look at how Moloch was used as a pawn by Ozymandias to release the giant squid that destroyed New York and united the world. It fills in some gaps that fans have been curious about. Again, it takes away the surprise of Watchmen but it’s a solid story you should read after Watchmen. 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Straczynski goes big and presents daring stories. The problem is they only pay off in parts. Nite Owl is a good enough read, Doctor Manhattan is interesting and gripping with its Schrodinger’s Cat theme, but it ends up feeling kind of pointless in the end. Moloch offers up a great story in its second issue that makes you see why you were wrong about Moloch needing a miniseries.