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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #2

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 #2 by J. Michael Straczynski (writer), Andy Kubert (pencils), Joe Kubert (inks) and Brad Anderson (colors).

Chad Nevett: After a fairly terrible first issue, we have a second issue that’s not really any better. What is this comic supposed to be? I’m genuinely curious, because, so far, it seems to just want to wallow in the absolute superficial grime of the original, offering nothing but a stained, broken picture of the characters and this world. When the first issue came out, we both agreed that it seemed like it was exactly the sort of comic that people feared when Before Watchmen was announced and this second issue does nothing to change that. I’m not even sure what it’s about per se except the origin of Rorschach’s sign and the time that Nite-Owl fell in love with a costumed prostitute after being warned to stay away from her, because superheroes busting up prostitution rings means they’re suddenly corrupt or something? Oh lord…

At least Andy and Joe Kubert delivered one of the unsexiest naked women in comics history. It goes beyond the ‘unsexy’ reality of Dave Gibbons’s art and into something where they seem a little ashamed to be drawing it.

What did you think?

Brian Cronin: Two things fascinated me with this issue.

The first was, was this issue better than the first? I think it is fair to say that it was not particularly good, but it was interesting trying to weigh which issue of the two was better. I think I lean toward this issue being an improvement. I’ll explain why in a bit.

First, though, I wanted to mention the second thing that fascinated me, which was Straczysnki making it pretty evident that there was a certain book that he wanted that he was not given. This series has practically become “Nite Owl and Rorschach,” as Straczynski is spending a whole lot of time on the most popular Watchmen character.

As to why I felt that this issue was an improvement, I thought that the scene with young Daniel emulating Nite Owl in being able to take a beating and keep going was a powerful piece of writing. Perhaps a bit overwrought, but after the first issue, it was practically subtle in comparison. I think Andy Kubert’s page layouts were better designed than in the first issue. More in league with his father’s brilliance as a layout artist – not quite to that level, of course, but still, an improvement over the first issue. Heck, the first couple of pages I thought for a bit that maybe Joe had done the pencils for the issue.

Something that amuses me is the fact that while Stracznyski sure seems interested in using Rorschach, he doesn’t seem to be especially good at writing Rorschach. I mean, what was Rorschach going to do in the beginning? Beat the shit out of the Dominatrix for the heck of it? How silly was that?

CN: Him screaming “WHORE!” as he lunges at her is hilarious. Taken out of context, it could read as a sex-crazed Rorschach not knowing proper prostitute etiquette.

You’re dead-on about Straczynski writing a “Nite Owl and Rorschach” title. It’s very much about both of them and how they react to the same events. Rorschach zones out in front of the TV and attends a cheesy church service, while Nite Owl decides to maybe get his kink on, driven partly by a cop not caring that a hooker has been murdered. It’s really heavyhanded, overwrought writing. It’s like the word ‘subtle’ has been deleted from JMS’s mind.

What did you think of the Twilight Lady stuff? It seems like JMS is making it into something bigger than Moore hinted at. It always seemed like she was some villainess that Dan tangled with a few times that would, most likely, flirt with him as a way to throw him off-balance and he secretly had a crush on, but would never act on it. That picture being a little taunt in his direction. Instead, he seems ready to just dive into bed with her. A little strange…

Story continues below

BC: I think it is a bit too soon to see how Stracznyski will play the Twilight Lady stuff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that my hopes were high, but still, he has a lot of room to maneuver in the next issue.

Question – I guess I am possibly just blanking on a piece of Watchmen history, but what was Hollis flashing back on when he told Dan about things that would “make you realize that an awful lot of your life was just a lie?” Was that something we were shown/told in Watchmen? The only thing I could think of was Hooded Justice’s beating of the Comedian, and that doesn’t fit. Is it something new? If it was something new, that’d be interesting. A secret Hollis kept from his book? That’d be an interesting side of Hollis – “telling all” in his book except a moment that he was too ashamed of to share.

CN: I thought that was hinting at some stuff in Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen series. In that series, Hollis alludes to some big reason for the group splitting up, some dark secret. It didn’t SEEM like anything we’ve been told yet, but maybe I’m forgetting something.

I have no hopes for the Twilight Lady stuff. None. Hell, this series has almost dashed any hopes I had for the Dr. Manhattan mini-series.

BC: Oh, okay, phew. I thought I was missing something. Well, in that case, we have to give them some credit for adding some mystery to Hollis’ background which, admittedly, was a bit on the light side, right?

Going back to Dan, the “which one of you wanted to abort me” discussion was pretty weird, no?

CN: Oh god, I forgot about that… What’s even weirder is that it seems like his MOM didn’t want him, while his dad did. I’m going by his mom’s reaction there and, wow, that’s cold. I guess she didn’t encessarily want to be tied to an abusive asshole like that, but I can’t picture him wanting a kid based on how he acts. JMS has definitely turned a semi-normal guy with problems fitting into a weird world into this fucked up thing with a childhood that would make most people seek decades of therapy. I can see that JMS is trying to show that he’s just as screwed up as the rest of them, explaining why he would think it a rational thing to put on a costume, but… Again, ‘subtle’ is not in the man’s vocabulary.

BC: I do think that we have to give him a bit of the benefit of the doubt in the sense that I think that there’s a good chance that he’s intentionally making everything really over-the-top. That doesn’t excuse the comic from being bad, of course, as the end result is the important thing, not Straczynski’s motivations behind the end result, but still, it would at least be a good sign for future projects from Straczysnki that we wouldn’t automatically have to presume he would be this heavy-handed with other comics, like Doctor Manhattan.

Of course, once Doctor Manhattan is released and it is written the exact same style, then it will be a real shame.

CN: Other comics he’s written have had similar over-the-top moments. His Superman work was nothing but this sort of writing. Even something I enjoyed like Rising Stars had a lot of ‘in your face overwrought’ bits in it. JMS seems to work a little better with live actors that can play his writing in more subdued, nuanced ways. On the page, it just screams in your face.

Like I presume Manhattan’s giant blue dick will in that series…

BC: Yeah, “Grounded” definitely was all about this style of writing, which was a major part of what made Grounded so disappointingly bad.

You’re probably correct that he might put a lot of the burden of a scene/line working on the back of the actor in the scene/reciting the line. It’s too bad.

It looks like the back-up, by the way, is finally moving past this rough patch of exposition. So next week will hopefully be back to cool stuff happening and not recitation of the basic plot of the comic, like the last three or so weeks were. Still great art from John Higgins!

CN: Viva Higgins!

Funny how introducing the actual plot stopped that story dead. I went from loving it to dreading it and it’s all because of the eponymous Crimson Corsair. I hope we never see him again.

BC: I’m okay with seeing him at the very end, but yeah, not until then, Wein and Higgins! Just give us lots of cool adventures until we have to see the Crimson Corsair again!

CN: And JMS and the Kuberts should…. uh… make a better comic? Stop being so obvious and over-the-top? Draw better naked ladies? I don’t know…

BC: I like the advice of “just make a better comic.”


“Subtle deleted from JMS’ mind?” What nonsense is that? Have you not read his Brave and The Bold run and Superman Grounded? That stuff was subtle as a small and silent fart. Clearly, You are just jealous and overwhelmed by his astounding depth that your mind can not comprehend. For comic critics need be there when comic critics are here, but when they are there, here will have to be good as there.

Rorschach: Hey, Nite Owl! You know why I wear a mask? Let me give you guys a quick background on who Kitty Genovese was as though you guys were from some distant future, say the year 2012, and might not have heard of her before…

I kind of agree with Brian that this issue was … less bad than the first one. I found the Twilight Lady stuff a downright odd choice but the origin of Rorschach’s sign was the only part I found downright painful. (Although Dan’s dream sequence in the original DID give me the impression that his relationship with Twilight Lady wasn’t the one-sided flirtation he claimed when Laurie asked about the photo – it’s open to interpretation but the dream seemed, to me, to indicate that she was at least an object of fantasy to him, whether or not he ever acted on it.)

The Rorschach’s sign thing though: My two pet peeves with retroactive superhero backstories (i.e., stuff we find out about after we’ve gotten to know the character, especially when written by someone other than the character’s originator) are (1) when writers feel the need to “explain” things that seemed perfectly reasonable as just something the character came up with (I mean, doesn’t carrying a “The End Is Nigh” sign just SEEM like the kind of thing Rorschach would do? Especially since people generally make a point of not looking at crazy people on the street, so it’s practically a form of urban camouflage?) and (2) when the “origin” for why a character does/says/wears/uses something is that … someone else told them to. That doesn’t explain anything, it just moves it back a generation.

And it still bugs me that JMS has Rorschach speaking in halting fragments. though I admit that’s more my interpretation of the original than anything I can say for sure is “wrong.” The original doesn’t say exactly when he started speaking that way, but I’d always assumed it wasn’t until 1975, when the incident took place in which Rorschach said “It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach opened them.” He was definitely speaking normally – at least in private – in 1966, and this issue should have taken place sometime between ’66 (the Crimbusters meeting) and ’68 (when Nite Owl says he busted Twilight Lady).


August 6, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Doesn’t ring true, Don. Rorschach must talk in his “Hurm. Disjointed Sentence. Talk like this,” style even though in Watchmen he didn’t speak like that yet. Because that is what JMS wants to write because he never could create something that interesting himself.

The layouts of the pages here have Joe Kubert all over them.

Have you kids read his Tarzan stuff? It is a master class.

Oh, it wasn’t THAT bad. I’ve been enjoying the BW books, for the most part – (except the \minutemen and I love Cooke but jeez – you want a BAD comic, it’s that one.) Silk Spectre is great – Amanda Conner, is that her name? Top notch. I’d buy more of her stuff, if only she didn’t work for DC, whose comics I WILL NOT BUY, outside of BW DON’T ASK WHY.. THEY know why.

Joe Kubert must be 90 years young and he still hits it outta the park. His kid’s not bad, either. (Are all naked women supposed to be pretty? She wasn’t “pretty” enough for you? That’s criticism? Really? Has your feminist columnist seen this?)

The Comedian is worse than this comic. And don’t get me started on Ozymandias. (Looks great. No story.)

PS – didja notice, in the back house ad for the next round of BW books, they mislabelled RORSCHACH #1 as RORSCHACH #2″? A mis-print? A typo, in one of the most overhyped projects in years? Heaven forfend. Oh, comics. Will you EVER win?

And one cannot tell the story of Nite Owl without recounting his history with Rorschach. R. didn’t get nutso till “that kidnapping thing in ’75” according to the Comedian (who barely knew him.). Dan knew him better and could see, early on, him getting weirder and weirder.How is this bad writing? Ever have a friend get into something SO MUCH, they bent your ear about it till you wanted to not be friends with them anymore? Be it religion or excercise or a girlfriend or a diet or whatever? Dan seemed afraid of Rorscach in Watchmen, probably with good reason. This is the beginning of the reason.

Issue #2 was worse than issue #1, and that is saying something.

Nite Owl gets the distinction of being the only Before Watchmen comic (so far) that I won’t be finsihing. I’m done.

Thank goodness for Silk Spectre, Minute Men, and too a lesser extent Ozymandias so there are actually GOOD BW books.

Reading this review makes me VERY glad I’m not reading this comic.

Brian and Chad,
Although I have no interest in getting Before Watchmen (don’t hate me!) I enjoy reading these reviews – is that weird, yeah that’s probably weird! No, it’s kind of fascinating reading your views on these things, particularly the more egregiously bad elements (schadenfreude? Maybe ;-)) and it seems that JMS is really hogging those, which is nice. Chad’s description of an enraged (and engorged?) Rorschach screaming “Whore!” made me spit-up, man that is the kind of absurd Rorschach that could *really* sell a series, get on it DC! (oops, better not give Didio ideas, heh) Yep, Rorschach spends a scene being relatively normal until he suddenly shouts “Whore!” for no reason, aifdifferent setting for each scene : a bank, a shoeshop, a convenience store, a doctor’s office, a kindergaryen. That Crazy Mr Rorschach. Hurm. Etc.
Chad’s line about Dr Manhattan’s giant blue dick “screaming in your face” was both hilarious and nightmarish, well done! I wonder if you will see a perceptible difference when Wein isn’t on Crimson Corsair? By the way Brian I enjoyed your new book, nice work. Much to my horror I perhaps enjoyed Mark Millar’s piece most of all, if only for the great “Buggernaut” punchline :-). Keep yp the sterling work on these reviews, sirs, your sacrifice is not in vain!

Look at all my typos, whatta maroon…

“R. didn’t get nutso till “that kidnapping thing in ’75? according to the Comedian (who barely knew him.).”

Also according to Rorschach himself, though he didn’t say nutso.

“Ever have a friend get into something SO MUCH, they bent your ear about it till you wanted to not be friends with them anymore?”

Nite Owl continued to work with him until he hung up the cowl, according to Rorschach and Nite Owl.

I think Hollis is talking about the firework fiasco in MM#2

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