Before Watchmen Omnibus
Collected by DC Comics in 2018
Writers – Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner, Len Wein, J. Michael Straczynski, John Higgins
Artists – J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo, Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Eduardo Risso, Adam Hughes, Jae Lee, Steve Rude, John Higgins
The Before Watchmen Omnibus collects the entirety of DC’s Before Watchmen comics in its entirety, including several mini-series, a one shot and the backup stories. I was on the fence about reading this for a few reasons. I love the original Watchmen, and Alan Moore as a writer. Moore was morally against this series coming out due to DC’s contract taking advantage of the success of the book to prevent him from ever getting the rights to his comic. Aside from the ethical issues, Watchmen is a complete story, and it really doesn’t need any additional set up to enjoy it, so what could this event add to it? The stories are presented in this book in I assume publication order, but as they are distinct stories that sometimes overlap I think it’s easiest to review them individual by mini-series.
Before Watchmen: Comedian #1-6 written by Brian Azzarello and art J.G. Jones – The Comedian has the most history to choose from for any character in the Watchmen universe, being part of the Minutemen, The Watchmen, and not being overly developed in the original graphic novel. The mini-series delves into his time of working with the Kennedy’s and going to Vietnam, showing the progression from effective killer to nihilist. This was my least favorite of all the mini-series in the book, particularly the war stories which were not very interesting. Also, between his character here and in the Ozymandias series, I had a hard time buying the Comedian’s reaction to figuring out Ozymandias’s plan. The art was very nice, as it was through most of this Omnibus. 1.5 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1-4 written by Brian Azzarello and art by Lee Bermejo – I really enjoyed the first two issues in this mini-series, but the ending was awful. Rorschach’s origin was hinted at in Watchmen, and nothing here felt inauthentic in that respect. His visiting the same diner over and over also felt true, as did his relentlessness. The art was good, but didn’t stand out compared to the rest of the Omnibus. The end of the book, along with the Rorschach ending in the Nite Owl series really took the invincibility out of the character, having him get his ass kicked and captured. Along with the Comedian, Rorschach was the character that was hurt the most by getting more story about him. 2.5 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1-6 written and art by Darwyn Cooke – One of the two stand out books in this set, this book succeeded for a few reasons. First, the art was gorgeous, with the late Mr. Cooke’s art being different from everything else in the book but perfectly fitting the early generation of heroes. Perhaps more importantly, many of the characters were here only mentioned in passing in Watchmen, so as a reader I was learning about interesting characters from a book I loved, with almost nothing conflicting with the original text. My only complaint was the final resolve on Hooded Justice was interesting, but I preferred not knowing what happened and keeping him a mystery. 4.5 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1-4 written by Darwyn Cook and Amanda Conner with art by Amanda Conner – The Silk Spectre was probably the least interesting of the Watchmen character in the original book (even in the greatest superhero story of all time, women characters get short changed). Nothing here changed my opinion, particularly with one issue being an extended acid trip. Most of her development felt like it took place more to show the relationship between her mother, the original Nite Owl and the Comedian. I did like Conner’s art a lot, with it being up there with the Nite Owl for my next favorite after Minutemen. 2 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1-4 written by J. Michael Straczynski and art by Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert – This was my second favorite book in the collection. Once again, I enjoyed getting to know original Nite Owl Hollis Mason more, and the additional story arc for the new Nite Owl was also solid. In addition, the early scenes with Rorschach were great. I probably wouldn’t have minded the ending, if the other Rorschach story hadn’t also neutered the character as a threatening presence. The art was also fantastic, jumping between both version of the hero and looking great either way. 4.5 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1-4 written by J. Michael Straczynski and art by Adam Hughes – Everything about this series felt like it was trying too hard. Moore’s version of this character was perfect, straddling the line between man and god. Stracynski’s was much more bogged down by the contradictions and was less interesting. The original that we’ve already seen gets retold, then split via a sliding doors style divergence. The end of the book gets flipped upside down for a few pages, which was fairly cumbersome with the massive size of this omnibus. Adam Hughes is obviously a superstar artist, and the art looked up to his normal standards but I don’t think it was the best match for the material, feeling too slick and removing the ethereal nature of the character. 2 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Moloch #1-2 written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Eduardo Risso – Much like the Rorsach mini-series, I loved the first half (issue) of this, and didn’t care for the second half (issue). Along with the Minutemen, Moloch was a great character to explore more of his past without worry of contradicting what was in the original series. When the first issue ended with Ozymandias picking him up from prison, I thought “that’s a perfect way to wrap that up.” The next issue felt completely unnecessary, and over-explained what Moore perfectly described succinctly in the original series. The art was probably the ugliest in the book but still more than adequate overall and very clear to follow the story. 3 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1-6 written by Len Wein with art by Jae Lee – Jae Lee’s art is the most polarizing in this book, and I’d normally lean to not being a fan. It can work with the right material, but here it was a touch more gothic than the character would require. The storyline followed the Moloch path of being interesting until it went into over explaining territory. When they said Before Watchmen, they meant right before, as this one leads up to the events of the book and even has several events taking place duringWatchmen. I prefer the over explaining to the stories that actively made me like the character’s less, but much of this felt unnecessary (particularly the Comedian portions). 2.5 out of 5.
Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill #1 written by Len Wein and art by Steve Rude – This was the simplest story in the book, giving the biography of a character that we basically only knew two things about. First, he was in the Minutemen, and second, he was shot and killed when his cape got caught in a door. Although there’s not a ton more to the character, what was there was good and didn’t detract at all from Moore’s initial thumbnail version of the character. Rude’s art was very good, and compared favorably to most of the Omnibus. 4 out of 5.
The Crimson Corsair backup stories by Len Wein and John Higgins and art by Higgins – Much like the original Watchmen, there’s a pirate story that goes throughout the book that is seemingly unrelated to the rest of the series. Here it’s about a Gordon McLachlan tries to stop an execution then gets tried for mutiny, before being thrown off a boat and ending up on a ghost ship and needing to track down three items to get his soul back. I felt the first few chapters (written by Wein) were better and more clear, advancing the story more each time. The latter ones involved in tracking down tattoos and baby ear rings were less interesting. The art was very stylized which was nice to set it apart from the rest of the book but at times the storytelling wasn’t the focus. 2.5 out of 5.
As a whole, in case it’s not clear from above this book worked when it took the Minutemen or Moloch and expanded on the events from Hollis Mason’s book. Aside from the second Nite Owl (who also benefited from being tied into the Minutemen), the rest of the characters were less successful in telling interesting and worthwhile stories. This is a huge book to carry around, but help up well over a two week reading. I would have preferred if they grouped the mini-series together in a semi-chronological order, and then put the pirate story together as well. If I reread this book, that’s how I will approach it.