Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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…
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.”
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.