Written By: J Michael Straczynski
Pencils By: Andy Kubert
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: OUT NOW IN STORES & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD (VIA COMIXOLOGY)
Last week Before Watchmen finally felt like something worthwhile. The Comedian’s first issue celebrated Edward Blake in great ways and it felt like this controversial new trip around the world of Watchmen had something to give us. This week, with Straczynski’s Nite Owl I felt a rush of nostalgia I never thought I’d get from this Watchmen prequel and suddenly I’m falling in love with this Before Watchmen series.
What I think has happened with this issue of Nite Owl, which begins with a young Daniel Dreiberg dreaming of a future with “TV’s the size of matchboxes that you can carry in your pocket” is that I’ve been taken by surprise. I thought going into Watchmen, all I’d really enjoy is the Minutemen story expansions, Amanda Conner drawing Silk Spectre and Rorschach (I’d also say Dr. Manhattan but I’m equally excited and worried about how that one will work) . I was wrong. The period of the original Watchmen I suddenly realised I want to see explored further are the Watchmen themselves and more specifcally the small period where it all started to go wrong.
Before we get there, we have a fantastically well told origin story of how mega Nite Owl fan Dan, tracked down the local legend Nite Owl (by bugging his Owl Car) and discovering the true identity of his hero, classic Boy Wonder style. From the moment we see Dan’s room, full of posters and toys and collectable Nite Owl stuff, I was overwhelmed with how much I love Dan Dreiberg as a character. He’s never been my obvious go to favourite in Watchmen but something about this origin, which expands what we know. Introducing us to an abusive father, a very Watchmen mother and a grittier depiction of the original Nite Owl than what we saw in Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen title, suddenly had me feeling 100% that this was a legitimate expansion of the Watchmen. Last week’s Comedian issue was close to that but this Nite Owl issue had an impact on me I never thought this Before Watchmen series would deliver. This felt like Watchmen.
Andy Kubert’s art captures Dan’s sense of wonder and grounds it in the real world (or the Watchmen world at least) all the same time. There are echoes of when we first met Dan as a retired Nite Owl in the original Watchmen and walking about the original Nite Owl’s “Owl Cave” was a nostalgic hug of a moment. The artwork is pure Kubert but it celebrates Watchmen (well other than one very odd feeling Dr. Manhattan expression). Add to that the blossoming friendship between Dan and Hollis and I was in Watchmen heaven. A place I never thought this series would take me.
Jumping forward to 1962 and the announcement of the original Nite Owl’s retirement was a wonderful little scene but however great this issue made me feel the jump forward two years to the dark times for heroes and an established Nite Owl II on top of a glorious Archimedes and I suddenly felt that hammer hit the nail on the head. This is the era I want to see explored. These characters. Pre-retirement. In the dark times. I didn’t really think like that upon the announcement of this series but this is what I wanted all along and when we’re shown the first meeting between Nite Owl and Rorschach (yes folks, Rorschach is in this issue in all his “Hurm” glory – and I’m not posting a picture because you need to feel as excited as I did when you first see him) I felt like I was reading a legitimate back story that I would refer to in my mind upon re-reading Watchmen. Sure this is all the same sort of expansion to elements we already saw in previous issues. The very same storytelling technique I criticised only two or three weeks ago but these character in this period of time. It works. Before Watchmen actually works.
It doesn’t stop there folks. Straczynski’s confident storytelling gets even braver as we see the before and after moments of the “Crimebusters” meeting. Seriously it takes some balls to go anywhere near such a classic scene but the expansion feels right and even though I’m 50/50 on Dan’s sense of destiny when he meets Laurie, I like how it plays out and it shows a real sense of understanding the material and honestly Watchmen fans, can we ask for any more than that? Straczynski and Kubert have impressed the hell out of me here and it makes me want to re-read every issue of Before Watchmen again, something I haven’t felt a need to do up until this week. Colour me with a smiley face, dash some red human bean sauce on my forehead, a Watchmen prequel might just end up being a good idea afterall.