Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #2
I mentioned last month that the one defining quality of this book was its class, the way that it felt like reading a classic canonical novel and not some cheap cash-in comic book. This second issue in the six part series very much follows on in those same stylistic footsteps, despite drastic changes in both the books structure and content. The panels no longer depict the picaresque tales of an ubermensch in puberty, the pace is no longer that of a montage, moving rapidly though the years, but no matter what the wicked but wildly unrepresentative cover suggests this is still the classiest comic on the stands…for better and worse.
First lets deal with the latter. Last month’s issue was dealt a lot of flak for its verbal density; in particular the dirth of narration and sparsity of dialogue, the ratios were out of whack for a lot of people. Personally I loved it, but I can understand the issue some would have. So it pleases me to say that though those long sentences do still flow from caption to caption this is a much lighter issue than the last. Instead of monologues over montage, wherein each panel was a new narrative, here they are heaped atop action which means that only one half of the story, the text, is taxing to the brain. This approach though does come with a certain downside in that adding all of those words to scenes of violence is very impactful to their flow. Early on there is a prime example of this; in less than a second Veidt, fastest man alive, disarms an attacker and this is the text attached to that single image:
“I remember, his finger tightened on the trigger and, in that eternal fraction of a second, I moved, grabbing his .45 automatic with one hand, expelling the ammo clip from the handle with the press of a thumb, ejecting the single remaining cartridge from the chamber with a rack of the slide then disassembling what remained of his weapon with a few deft motions and scattering the now-useless pieces at his feet like so much scrap metal.”
Eternal fraction of a second is right, that is ridiculous and yet it is also a really cool moment that has been carefully considered and laid out as perhaps the smartest man alive would if he were reciting it. Instinctively we always wish to expedite action sequences to the extreme, we flash through those pages faster than any others and this eloquence acts against that urge, so it is only natural to feel stymied by it slowing you down. That though is the exact point of its implementation, Veidt is so smart that he can play through these scenarios seventy times in the second before they occur and Wein is trying to replicate that through his pacing; he’s holding you back so that you too see things as Adrian does.
There is of course something else interesting about that particular sequence; a superhero disassembling a gun, doesn’t that sound familiar? It is of course a callback to the infamous introduction to Dr.Manhattan’s magical powers in the original series, wherein he does the same but on an atomic level. Though they have been appearing everywhere it feels kind of funny that this kind of reference is featured here because otherwise the book is entirely underivative, or original. If you had simply said to me that it was a new superhero book by Len Wein ( or for that matter an old one, written in the thirties or forties; the era which Lee’s art and Len’s politics – racism anyone? – seem best suited by) then I would have wholeheartedly believed you. Though I wouldn’t have last month, at least not about the ‘superhero’ part. This issue though, being as action centric as it is, seems to slip much easier into that mold, albeit in a very different way then Watchmen ever did.
Then comes a two page splash ad for some unrelated upcoming DC event issues, right after Ozy closed out a short pulpy crime story with a sly quip, and you think to yourself “Huh, well the issue must be over,” but then a whole nother chapter begins after that and this one is intrinsically linked to the original Watchmen novel. Veidt, unchallenged by the classless criminal underworld and its pun based personalities (Len letting loose with an old-school sensibility), chooses to tackle the mystery of a masked hero instead. He digs up the clues surrounding the disappearance of the now missing Hooded Justice; a quest that is interrupted by yet another familiar mask, one worn by an anachronistically vulgar villain of sorts (He uses swears!) and the story of this series swerves again, a constant surprise.
This is going to sound like the faintest of praise but Ozymandias stands at the top of the Before Watchmen pile because unlike any of the others it actually has a story running through it. So when it swerves like this it is the turning of a corner and not a jumping of the track. Perhaps the way that Ozymandias most resembles a classic novel is that it continues the same story from chapter to chapter whereas the rest are simply a series of vignettes, small ideas strung together by the need to sell an issue, the cost of making comics. Wein seems to be the only writer (perhaps excluding Cooke) who really sat down and thought their whole story out with the precision required, though maybe we are simply yet to see how the other series tie together.
Ozymandias is the smartest man in the world of Watchmen though and so it only seems fitting that he have the smartest book and hell, the handsomest too. I said this last week, but it bears repeating right off the bat; this story is better off being a comic than a book though because of Jae Lee. His art here is simply incredible, every panel befitting of intense study and yet able to convey the story with relative ease. So all up another stellar effort I would say but not a stolid one, the pair took risks but were still able to notch another word up there alongside ‘classy’ and that is ‘consistent’. Bring on Chapter Three… in two months, thanks to the strange introduction of two new series to the roster.