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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1

Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Nite Owl #1 by J. Michael Straczynski (writer), Andy Kubert (pencils), Joe Kubert (inks) and Brad Anderson (colors).

Chad Nevett: After three first issues that I enjoyed (even Minutemen was enjoyable despite its handbook nature), we’ve got one that’s pretty awful and, surprise surprise, it’s the first written by J. Michael Straczynski. A fact that, no doubt, surprises no one. I have a weird relationship with Straczynski in that Babylon 5 is one of my favourite shows of all time. He’s earned a lot of loyalty from me with that one and… I think Before Watchmen may finally expend all that’s left in the bank if things stay like they are in this issue. More than anything, Nite Owl #1 seems both parodic and like JMS really wants to be writing the story of how Robin became Batman… Daniel’s home life is so over-the-top that it feels like a joke somehow. Like one of those comics that took just the ‘grim and gritty’ elements from Watchmen without understanding how to use them or what they were meant to accomplish.

Of course his father was an abusive motherfucker who would try to rape his mother in the living room after burning all of his superhero stuff!

The ‘becoming the new Nite Owl’ part of the comic was no better from the Tim Drake origin (what happened to writing Mason a letter?) to Rorschach appearing right away, offering to be partners (I always got the feeling that they were more like Spider-Man and Daredevil and, sometimes, worked together) to his insistence that he felt some connection to Laurie at the Crimebusters meeting. All of it was so contrived and self-aware in the most obvious of ways. Really, really awful stuff. The kind of awful that everyone who trashed this project before it started was predicting. This was the cliched awful Watchmen prequel comic made real. Who at DC could have thought this was good?

Brian Cronin: It’s fascinating that you phrased it exactly that way, because what struck me while reading the comic was a term I picked up from Mike Nelson (of MST3K fame) in a movie review book he wrote about the film Wild Things, which was a bad thriller that the director later tried to sell to critics as an ironically bad thriller (I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were intentionally comedic moments in Wild Things, but the overall plot was not meant to be ironically bad – it was just bad). Nelson called it a “Cousin Larry Trick” (in reference to the TV series, Perfect Strangers, about two cousins – one who was honest and virtuous and one who always tried to take moral shortcuts), suggesting that the director was presenting the film as, “If you liked it, it was a thriller” and “if you didn’t like it, it was intended ironically.” That is what Nite Owl #1 read like to me, as if I couldn’t tell if Straczynski literally was being serious with the dialogue and the plot points or if he was sort of taking the piss of the project by intentionally going over the top. You typically have to figure a writer is being earnest unless specifically being told/shown otherwise, but yeah…if that was him being earnest, than that was a surprisingly poorly written comic. But I have now set the ground work for JMS – he can now say the whole thing was meant ironically!

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you the amazing plot idea I have for a time travel movie, but it is to have the two leads go back in time and everyone they encounter (everyone) will only talk in veiled references to the future. “Hi, how are you!” “I’d be better if someday there was a baseball team right here in Toronto, but I know that would never happen. Baseball in Canada! What a thought!” I thought of my incredible movie plot idea during Daniel’s interactions with Laurie.

As to the artwork. I am a yooooooge Joe Kubert fan, but I don’t really think he is used best as the inker of his son, Andy. Joe Kubert’s strengths are his layouts, which are not on display when he comes in after the fact to ink someone else, especially his son, Andy, who tends to excel in the design of characters where he is extremely stylized. His dad’s inks overpower that style. They did a good job, overall (after all, come on, it is Joe Kubert, people!), but I don’t think that they maximize each other’s skills.

I think a reverse of the art duties would look really cool.

Plus, one of the most famous sequences in all of Watchmen, from an art criticism perspective, is the wonderfully subtle interplay between the characters in the Crime-Busters meeting that Captain Metropolis holds. Dave Gibbons was masterful in the sequence. So why in the world would they decide to try to re-create that sequence in the comic – only not nearly as effectively? It was basically this over-the-top “HEY, EVERYBODY! I AM FLIRTING!!” bit. So odd.

Finally, yeah, Rorschach…wow…thank goodness someone else is writing the Rorschach mini-series. I would otherwise fear an entire comic filled with “Hurm”s.

At least the back-up story by Wein and Higgins was once again excellent. Such awesome artwork! And the story continued to pack quite a punch in just two pages.

CN: My only problem with the ‘Cousin Larry Trick’ is that I can’t figure out why you would try to use it here. Why in the world would ANYONE spend time doing a Watchmen prequal that’s designed to be ironically? Okay, as a short gag thing, I’d understand, but an entire comic by professionals as part of a sincere effort to expand upon these characters? It makes no sense. That only leaves REALLY SHITTY COMIC as the only explanation. Let’s stop and thank everyone involved for proving every detractor of this project right. Because they did. Right here.

And the art didn’t wow me either. I dug the rougher line work that Joe inking Andy provides, though. The only thing that was missing was Adam. Hell, since the writing was so bad, they should have had him write it (he has experience with that Sgt. Rock strip he wrote for his father to draw as part of Wednesday Comics). It really could not have been worse than this. I would have preferred the all-Kubert Nite Owl, I believe.

Rorschach was so poorly written here that it’s kind of funny. Nothing but “Hurm” and awkward attempts to be Daniel’s friend. But, in a creepy stalker way where it’s like Daniel is an attractive woman who just walked into a bar and Rorschach immediately runs up, sits next to her, and asks her if she wants to move in with him and, surprisingly, she says yes even though she’s clearly a little freaked out and scared of what will happen if she says no.

I love the back-up strip. I do. Every week, it grows on me more and is the big surprise of this project. When it was announced, it was just some weird thing they’ve attached that no one could figure out why. Well, now we know: because Len Wein and John Higgins are doing a great job. That final panel was very, very creepy.

Besides the back-up strip, I did think of another positive of Nite Owl #1: only three issues to go. It could be worse and be a six-issue series.

BC: Yeah, honestly, I think this is one that is so straightforward that there is not much for us to talk about. Straczynski spent half the issue with a cliched, overwrought origin for Nite Owl (it is hard to recall which bit was the most strained – I think I vote for the “light in the darkness” one) and the other half split between a really bad take on Rorschach and some more overwrought stuff with Daniel heavily alluding to events of Watchmen for no real reason. This was a poor comic book (but at least we had Joe Kubert!).

40 Comments

I am sooooo glad I am skipping this! I am just sad to see a huge legend such as Joe Kubert attached to what sounds like a massive train wreck.

Comic Book Resources is bashing it? Okay, now I’m sure this is a REALLY great book.

Same here (meaning: ‘sooooo glad I am skipping this, too!’). I initially had a not-that-good feeling about JMS being involved in this whole ‘Before Watchmen’-thing, and it seems my gut didn’t prove me wrong…

This was the one book I was going to skip until my LCS offered the whole package at a good discount.

On the one hand, Daniels back story in Watchmen was a little thin, but it seems like a huge change in tone from what I would have expected. Its more like JMS saw the Watchmen movie instead of reading the original work.

Great analysis. I think this is now the poster child book for the BW project critics.

It seemed like the weakest of the bunch, but I don’t think it was really that bad, especially since I’ve heard enough stories about abusive people in real life (and seen examples of them as well as meeting some myself) that I know some are crazy enough to be like Dreiberg senior. I certainly, however, appreciated that JMS didn’t waste pages rehashing the first-and-last meeting of the Crimebusters.

Looks like a first issue buy, discount bin thereafter.

Travis Pelkie

June 29, 2012 at 7:19 am

It looks like the art would look fine if the colors weren’t overpowering. It looks too … painted or something, and it should be grittier with Joe Kubert’s rough inks. I love Joe inking his son, like that one cover of Batman (664 or 665, I think), and probably Moose Baumann on colors would have made this look better.

Your time travel movie is reminiscent of that one definition you came up with (I forget the term), where the stories of the past have a ton of references to the future — like that Sandman story where everything in his life dealt with sand stuff. That “predictive” element is SOOOO annoying in comics. I’ve been reading some X stuff lately, and it’s damn annoying when it turns out that everyone (like Wolverine) has met EVERYONE in the past.

How come there aren’t any superheroes who had good relationships with their parents?

Superman had a good relationship with his parents.

Also, Joe Kubert should not be inking Andy Kubert. Andy Kubert should be inking Joe Kubert.

For better or worse, Andy is a bigger draw right now than his father so we should likely just be pleased that we get to see Joe’s work at all! That said, as noted, I would be very interested in seeing Andy ink Joe, as well.

That’s so interesting! I’ve been writing up the first issues on my blog (http://theidiolect.com/comics/who-killed-the-kennedys/), and I basically felt the opposite about this one. I thought it was a pretty solid Robin story that just wasn’t very interesting as a Nite Owl story. I thought the abusive-dad stuff worked just fine–it wasn’t needed and feels a bit overdone these days, but there’s nothing about this whole Before Watchmen project that is needed. It’s all just extra stuff thrown around the original story, but taken on its own I thought this issue was a decent standard-issue superhero book. I actually kind of loved the incredibly corny stuff with the original Nite Owl, the stupid crowd cheers and all. I did think that most of the running gags fell flat–the “hurm” bit and the supposed-to-be-poignant-I-guess thing about free lunch, and the foreshadowing was pretty clumsy. But all in all, I enjoyed it much better than I expected it, and certainly better than any of JMS’s other DC work.

But the really funny thing is, by far the best thing about this book for me was Joe’s inks. Andy’s pencils are fine, but those deep textured inks really made the whole thing work for me.

I don’t care for Before Watchmen, but I really enjoy your superhuman reviews.
If DC will get that pirate comic in a separate trade, I’ll be getting it for sure. You’re hyping it up so much and I’m very intrigued.

JMS has grown into a very specific style that you need a certain mindset to enjoy. He is concerned about getting emotional response from his readers and when it fails, it fails spectacularly. The worst is that he concentrates so much on getting the emotions out, that he does not care to avoid cliches, and the greater meaning of the whole work usually goes to hell.
But I still do enjoy an occasional JMS comic.

Speaking of a “Cousin Larry Trick,” I am reminded of a story surrounding the Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive. As I understand it, when it was first released, King intended it to be a serious horror/sci-fi movie. But after it performed poorly in the theaters and was bashed by the critics, he did a 180 and said something along the lines of “No, this was a parody of / homage to all the bad sci-fi B-movies I grew up watching.” Oh, well, I found Maximum Overdrive an entertaining enough piece of cinematic cheese, and it was cool that the leader of the evil trucks had a Green Goblin face:)

What all this has to do with Before Watchmen, I do not know. But I guess I’d still rather re-watch Maximum Overdrive than read JMS’s Nite Owl miniseries.

Hey, Bruce Wayne had a pretty good relationship with his parents, for all the good it did him. I guess there was that one time he threw a fit about not getting to go to a movie, but nobody remembers stuff like that.

Come to think of it, when Frank Miller wrote All-Star Batman & Robin, I seem to recall some of the people who defended it argueed that “if you didn’t like it, it was intended ironically.”

I liked it. Compared to how writers milk their stories now a days I felt that there was a lot of value in the progression of the story. I liked how it tied into the watchmen story. The character is now more interesting and has greater depth. Easy read. Fantastic art. I’ve been a fan of Joe since I was a kid. So just seeing his inks is enough for me. Signing on to the rest of this story.

this was the only book out of all of them that I’ve enjoyed so far, and I’m counting the original 12 issue series in that statement.

What was up with that weird pose Rorschach had when he first met Nite Owl?

jacksyattering

June 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm

This is the first review I’ve read, ANYWHERE, that has mentioned the blatant disregard for continuity. The issue WAS bad…no way around that. But the fact that it actually ret-conned the original story, takes away from the whole project (which, I went into with no preconceptions and have loved up to this point).

That “and your pals” panel? That is a superhero comic book fight scene punch. That punch could not happen in real life. Was this comic actually the work of people who never even read Watchmen?

It’s definitely a strange approach, Richard.

Ugh, after reading some of the reviews and responses to these “Before” books I am infinitely thankful to the comic Gods that I am not picking and of these up and never had an interest to do so. Rebooting the entire DC universe, ok, i’ll apprehensively go along with it as a loyal fan. Defacing the greatest work and disrespecting the greatest writer the medium has is something i force myself to get behind. plus, i was never the slightest bit interested in this project to begin with. I have been reading more indie stuff lately, and this garbage reminds of why. . . .

JMS pretty much lost me on this project with this quote: “I mentioned my belief that there are five kinds of truth: the truth you tell to casual acquaintances, the truth you tell to you family and close friends, the truth you tell to only a very few people in your life, the truth you tell yourself and the truth you don’t admit, even to yourself.”

It just strikes me as HORRIBLY presumptuous to even think that, nearly 30 years after the original WATCHMEN series, he thinks he’s going to show us any sort of “truth” to these characters. Anything Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons told us was the truth. This entire project is just professionally published Watchmen fan faction, IMO. I wish all involved were telling their OWN stories instead.

Judge Fred MANSON

June 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm

So, I was thinking if I will drop or not the BW for the July pull list.

In reading this article, thanks to all of you, I will… order the rest of these collections!!!! If you do not like it, then there is something here, in these comic books!!!

I agree on a point: Joe Kubert layouts mustn’t be inked at all. They could have played like for the excellent Dong Xoai graphic novel or reduce at its minimum the palette of paint colours.

What I am smiling at actually is that I have under my nose, a bunch of Italian comic books from this month. They are bigger in story pages (~100/120), drawn in glorious B&W, printed in a Deluxe Royal edition, with no ads, a SC cover and… they cost much more less than a fucking US comic book sold at $3.99!!! A coloured one cost $7.99, with more than 132 story pages and in the same Deluxe Royal edition but printed on a thick glossy paper…

So, finally, I think to drop almost all my US comic books from my monthly pull list and only keep the most interesting ones. My money will go to these excellent Italian artists and their top notch publishers!!!

Ciao looser!!!

Cheers from Europe!!!

Ho HO!!! Trollissimo!!!!

Don’t know why Andy got a pencilling credit on this. It’s clear that Joe did the pencils and inks, and Andy might have done some roughs at best

I really liked the part about Nite Owl feeling a connection to Silk Spectre. It was like in the Star Wars prequels where Obi-Wan said that Anakin would be the death of me. Solid Gold!

I had a lot of the same problems you guys did. I hated the stuff about him instantly feeling a connection to Laurie – it reminded me of the most self-indulgent parts of the Star Wars prequels, where characters appeared or things happened for no other reason than that the same character or a similar event appeared in the original trilogy – and I got the feeling that in JMS’s mind, domestic abuse happens in the Watchmen universe the way casual sex happens in latenight Cinemax movies or people burst into song in musicals: it’s just part of the wallpaper of daily life. And while I actually did think Nite Owl and Rorschach were “partner” partners, I always assumed that their relationship STARTED as a Spider-Man/Daredevil thing rather than a “hey, do you have a lab partner yet?” thing, and that at the very least Nite Owl had more than one night on the job as a solo act before they paired up.

I think the bit with Dan leaving a message on the typewriter in Mason’s headquarters was supposed to be the “wrote a letter” part but I suppose it’s just as likely JMS just forgot about that detail. The Crimebusters scene has such a bizarre mix of exacting detail (specific quotes from the original, the characters standing in the same locations relative to each other) and continuity errors (Dr. Manhattan and Janey teleport home from inside the house while the original shows them walking outside, Rorschach talking in his distinctive halting style while in the original he was still speaking like a normal person at that point) that it really feels like it was written by someone who was such a big fan of the original work that they thought they could recreate it from memory without double-checking to make sure their memory was right.

It’s a shame, because I enjoyed the first three Before Watchmen books, and like you guys alluded to, this (and any others like it) could well end up being the book(s) that people point to as “proof” that the whole project was doomed from the start.

Continuity in comics will never happen. You can have all the board meetings you want. You can examine every detail but something will be missed. Comic books are fueled by the unbridiled imagination of the writer, artist and the reader. I say unbridled because I think that most artists feel stabled in following guidelines and continuity. I thought the story was well done. I didn’t like the repressed Night Owl in the Watchmen but this was fun to read.

Read Before Watchmen Night Owl. Overwrought. Terrible. Lacks substance. Did not talk this way back then. Hurm. Obvious by reading original book. Thumbs down.

I think I would have preffered ‘V for Vacation’. While JMS is capable of decent writing, most of the time he is really sub par. The general tone of this comic is pandering and ham fisted, with no respect or regard for the source material. The other Before Watchmen issues have been pretty good so far. I agree with general consensus that penciling and inking duties should have been reversed, but maye Joe had fun inking his sons art. I wish Liefeld had done this so I could really full on hate this. I think this story deserves his art. At least there wasn’t an owl totem.

I can’t decide what’s worse: That we are surprised that JMS has once again wrote something off-key, poorly-executed, and that does not do justice to the characters he was entrusted with, or that a LOT of people have gone out and spent money on this comic – thereby encouraging the guy

Another opinion

June 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Continuity was alive and well back in the days when editors edited, and the only reason we don’t have it now is because this era of ‘creators’ is a hell of a lot lazier than those who came before. There’s no excuse.

JMS is a one-trick pony. B5 was great. Everything he’s done then has sucked–and this is no exception.

I’m not sure why a reviewer would bash the first installment of a 6 issue miniseries this way. It seems this guy has it in for JMS, like a personal grudge.
I really enjoyed NightOwl #1… great art, good storytelling and I really feel it enriches the main Watchmen series. And for those saying things like “I’m glad I skipped buying this series and this review enforces my decision, blah blah” really, that’s just lazy and stupid. You skipped it because it didn’t interest you? fair enough, but reviewers are like a**holes, every comicbook story has one and these anal retentive nerds who review stories love to bash stuff! I like to make my own mind up. Also, I’m buying these series for fun, to see more of the Watchmen universe. I’m not expecting each story to b reak ground. It’s stupid to expect that at every turn.

Of all the reviews Ive read online for this issue, the overwhelming majority have been negative. Most reviews on CBR are really positive, this is just a really lame duck issue. I dont think the reviewers have any personal stake in this, but it seems like MANNY does. Calm down dude, its just comics.

@Manny said:

“Great art, good storytelling”

The preview pages above alone disagree with you Manny. Stupid, superhuman punches, mind-numbingly cliched dialog.

A hooty-hoot-hoot to anyone crazy enough to defend this trainwreck of a comic

What’s up with bashing Wild Things? Who ever called that a bad movie? When did people try to promote it as intentionally bad? I know there are some out there who think the plot twists are over the top but it’s a pretty complex thriller that beautifully plays on several noir tropes…and it features just about the best scene Denise Richards and Neve Campbell have ever done, if I may be a sexist pig for a moment. I love that movie. Also, yeah, sad to follow the career of JMS. Babylon 5 was awesome.

I too am a huge Bablon 5 fan (I wonder if it still stands the test of time after Battlestar) but JMS’ comic career has gone from promising (early Risig Stars) to disappointing (Superman, Wonder Woman and yes, Spider-man). So sad.

MST3K were wrong about This Island Earth, and it sounds like they were wrong about Wild Things, too. Any movie with Kevin Bacon’s bacon as a plot point is definitely aware of irony.

The only interesting thing Mike Nelson has ever done is put Morrissey in tupperware.

Midnight Nation was a great read. But, yeah, most of JMS’s work in the comic book field over the last several years has really been underwhelming.

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