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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #3

Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Ozymandias #3 by Len Wein (writer), Jae Lee (art) and June Chung (colors).

Chad Nevett: Dr. Manhattan quickly becomes the centre of Veidt’s world in this issue and it’s a surprising turnaround as we see him shift from completely in control to scared/freaked out to back in control, spurned on by his fear. The framework for his actions come from the original story, but the way that Wein lays it out shows a consistent portrayal of the character: confidence, fear/surprise, response to subvert cause of fear/surprise in both the short-term and long-term. He obviously hasn’t stumbled across his ‘grand scheme’ yet, but his response to Dr. Manhattan is worth investigating some more before we get to his ‘saving the world’ plans. I get the feeling we could almost get an entire issue of him pondering Manhattan…

Which brings me to the weakest part of this issue, Wein’s prose. It’s been the weakest part of the series, but, my god, could you actually read the narrative captions during the opening fight? That is some awful writing. Just the worst example of purple prose placed in the wrong type of scene.

But, at least Jae Lee’s art is still great to look at…

Brian Cronin: Hehe, yeah, the dialogue during the fight was pretty funny, like when he narrated the stiletto flying into the barrel of Comedian’s gun. Because, you know, if there was no caption there we would have no idea that the stiletto was flying with unerring accuracy into the barrel of the Comedian’s gun, blocking it. No idea at all.

Honestly, in a lot of ways, the Comedian scenes made me think like Wein felt he had to have the fight because it was mentioned in the original Watchmen. Not that it really added much to the story, as it was more about a quick opening scene that was quickly discarded for the Doctor Manhattan plot. Then again, it was our only real action of the issue, so I suppose it had its purpose there.

The aforementioned captions were especially strange considering how well Jae Lee drew the fight. Damn, that guy can draw the hell out of action sequences. When you couple it with the marvelous way that he can depict the emotions on a character’s face (his work with Mothman and Captain Metropolis, in particular, was excellent) and it is almost unfair that a single artist can have all of these strengths. Design work, storytelling, he does it all. June Chung does a good job with the colors, adding a great deal of depth to Lee’s work.

It was interesting to see the beginnings of Veidt’s plans, although a few of the scenes felt like “The origin of ____!” which was weird (“The origin of the TV screens!”). It is also interesting to see Wein drop some hints that Veidt is having sex with his assistant.

But yeah, the Doctor Manhattan stuff is certainly the highlight of the series – it reminds me of a realistic take on how someone like Batman would react to the revelation of Superman. You’d be scared but you’d also be constantly trying to examine this new “god” to test his skills and, hopefully, weaknesses. And if there are no weaknesses, you’ll think how to turn him to your advantage. We saw all of that in this issue, which was to Wein’s credit.

CN: The fight scene also felt weird with the ‘revelation’ by Veidt that he ‘let’ the Comedian win — because he said he had in Watchmen — despite nothing in the captions leading up to that point suggesting it. It’s like he couldn’t let it end in a draw and had to go “Oh, but I let him do that well… because I’m awesome.” Same with his SHOCK at Jon knowing we had spying on him the whole time. It’s simply not possible that anyone is smarter or a better fighter or ANYTHING than the mighty Ozymandias!

Even the bit with Captain Metropolis felt oddly condescending. Was that necessary? It was a spacefiller that seemed designed to made Veidt look like a giant dick.

I imagine the rest of the series will be the ‘origin’ of his Great Plan. All we need is the Crime-Busters meeting and we can be off!

BC: Yeah, the “let you win” part was fascinating to me, because it showed what I’ve found to be an almost annoying tendency of these books to view Moore’s writing in Watchmen as a strict formalist approach. To wit, since Moore had Ozymandias say that he let Comedian win, Wein had to have Ozymandias let Comedian win. However, there is nothing in Watchmen to show that Ozymandias was telling the truth about letting Comedian win. In fact, for a guy with an ego like Ozymandias, wouldn’t it be just as likely that he was bullshitting and trying to excuse his defeat at the hands of the Comedian? And in fact, wouldn’t it be interesting if that earlier ass-kicking that Ozymandias got at the hands of the Comedian (which could easily be explained by Comedian not fighting fairly) acted as a little extra piece of revenge in Ozymandias’ plan? That he killed Comedian in part because he was pissed that Comedian beat him up years ago? Is Ozymandias holding a petty grudge really that out of character for him?

But even if Wein felt he had to make it be Ozymandias faking a loss, it is definitely true that, as you note, said faked loss is not evident in the actual fight scene, unless Ozymandias was lying to us in his narration captions. Which would be really weird.

And yes, the Captain Metropolis bit was harsh (with another writer, I’d almost wonder if that wasn’t a sort of meta-fictional zing at readers who have asked the same pronunciation question over the years), but I am okay with Ozymandias being shown as a dick. Dude is kind of a dick, ya know?

But yes, it is fair to say that this series has been the one that has clung the closest to the framework of Watchmen. Wein is hitting all the beats, one by one, checking off each of the references Moore made in Watchmen to Ozymandias’ past before Watchmen #1.

CN: Now, obviously, it’s possible that everything we mentioned IS meant to come off as the most simple of ego-driven actions. Maybe we’re meant to view Veidt’s note that he let Blake win as a lie — mental gymnastics that he has to undertake because of his ego. But, even if that’s the case, it seems… pathetic somehow? That THAT is the interpretation of the character we’re getting: this petty little ego-driven liar who can’t admit his place in the world, who has to be the best at everything (and always has been) and so on and so on. That’s not the character in Watchmen. Yes, he’s arrogant, but with good reason: he IS that smart, he IS that good of a fighter (the bullet catching scene demonstrated his physical abilities nicely). But, there was also a sadness and a humanity in Moore’ depiction that seemed like he wasn’t so small and petty about things like this. The fight scene reference in Watchmen made the fight seem more playful on Veidt’s end — that he CLEARLY wasn’t trying to beat Blake and was toying with him to learn about him. Nothing about this scene indicated that, except the final bit.

BC: It is only a problem, though, if Ozymandias is lying to the reader through his captions, which may be the case. If he lies to others, I have no problem with the notion of Ozymandias trying to cultivate the idea that he is essentially perfect in the eyes of others. Remember the way he talked to Laurie and Dan at the end of the series? He definitely worries about how he presents himself. If he lies to himself, though, then yes, that seems out of character.

One thing I liked is the notion that Ozymandias in 1958 had a different view towards the world than the Ozymandias of 1966 and especially the Ozymandias of the late 1970s/early 1980s. As you note, there is still a playfulness to him, a playfulness that will soon be extinguished almost completely.

CN: I guess what it comes down to is whether or not we think he’s a reliable narrator. That’s something that superhero comics don’t play around with as much as they should because of the use of ‘objective’ evidence like art. However, the art is filtered through Veidt’s journal — so, if he’s lying to us, the art would be, too. The more we talk it though, the more it seems like Veidt is an unreliable narrator right down to the art. Everything we read and see comes from him and we can’t trust it. It’s almost stupid that we would.

BC: But here’s my thing, even if we assume that his journal is just him lying to us (which would certainly be reasonable. Like you mentioned, we don’t see nearly enough unreliable narrators in comics these days. Remember how confused people were when Morrison used it for that Xorn solo story in New X-Men?), it still doesn’t work, because the journal both tells us that Comedian cheated to win and then it says that Ozymandias let him win. Unreliable narration I get, unreliable AND inconsistent, though, is just confusing.

CN: Survey says… BAD WRITING! DING DING DING DING DING!

BC: Oh, we’re already talking about the back-up?

CN: The back-up has lost me. I just don’t care anymore. The drop in quality has been stunning over its run. It had a few good weeks at the beginning, but, now, it’s just gibberish. Terrible gibberish.

BC: Yep, pretty much. Just pointless gibberish. Pretty pointless gibberish, at least!

12 Comments

I don’t know if Ozymandias is a reliable narrator, but he certainly is a horribly bad narrator. Remember how in issue 1, Len Wein had Ozy saying this line supposedly as part of his memoir while he was preparing for the end game in the original watchmen

“Sadly my boy, life is never fair” said my father as he stroked my SILKEN hair…

I mean, who actually remarks on the silken quality of one’s own hair as a child? Only Wein’s version of Ozymandias. Oh, wait, maybe Len Wein was writing Ozymandias as The Zohan.

Pretty certain MP5s (the gun the Comedian uses) were not invented yet in 1969. … Uh, because this is the internet I checked to see if I’m right and I’m not. It was developed in the 1960’s. But the variant (MP5K) the Comedian uses wasn’t made until 1976. So I’m still right, I’m just even more pendatic than I thought I was going to be. :(

Nixon wasn’t President in 1985!

“But, at least Jae Lee’s art is still great to look at…”I think CBR might be trying too hard to pay compliments to big name comics artists.
This art is not pretty. Not sorry.

Or observant.

I think CBR might be trying too hard to pay compliments to big name comics artists.

Or, you’re jumping to an ignorant (downright stupid, actually) conclusion about the idea that there’s somehow an edict from on high about what anyone writing on a CBR site is supposed is say. Hell, when I was paid by the site that never happened — nor would anyone in their right mind or with self-respect follow such a demand. But, here, I’m doing this for free because I want to. So, no, there is no site-wide conspiracy to present opinions that you disagree with. Because, guess what: they’re opinions and, believe it or not, people can have different ones than yours without it being some big conspiracy about pushing mainstream superhero comics. That you would jump to such a conclusion is pretty pathethic.

I love Jae Lee but his stuff here is lacking. For one there are a few shots here where his famed lack of backgrounds (should have been mentioned in the ‘he does it all’ stuff) really hurt him. Two, the light sources don’t make a lot of sense for the environment. Ozy’s hands are in complete shadow behind his back in profile view, but upon closeup in the next panel they’re fully lit? The Comedian’s arm in the first panel shown is also way off, as is most of his anatomy. Agreed about the layouts though, really great, kinetic stuff.

I think Jae Lee is one of the best artists in the biz.

So… When do I get my money?

First let me say that as you know, I find these books to be ethically suspect, at best, and I’ve been vocal about not liking the idea that they’ve been done, I don’t plan on buying them, yadda yadda yadda.

That said, the examples you’ve shown of the art from the books shows that it IS great stuff, I can’t deny that. Lee here, Cooke, Hughes, and particularly Amanda Conner kicking ass. So yeah, even those of us who don’t like that these books are around can admit, without anyone “telling us”, that this is sweet looking art.

Anyway, I find this series fascinating. One thing I wonder is how much Wein may be bringing in stuff from the original scripts into this series — he was the original editor, we all know Moore’s scripts are…hefty, and Moore also approved some of the back story matter for the RPGs. So perhaps Wein is making explicit some of the issues that played into Moore’s characterization of Adrian but weren’t fleshed out so much within the series (but were in the notes/scripts originally). Just a thought.

I also find it interesting that you guys either aren’t picking up on or aren’t really discussing outright that some of this word/picture tension stems from what I think must be Adrian’s narration (for his autobio — do we know when this is being written?) and the pictures, which seem to be showing us what “really” happened. You’re discussing it, yes, but didn’t come right out to say that of course Adrian is going to present himself in the best possible light in his autobiography. Therefore the words we’re reading are Adrian’s own purple prose/love letter to himself, while the pictures are showing us the “real” story. It’s the text from a prose bio, so things like the stiletto into the gun might be “doubly” depicted. However, perhaps those are the things that DID in fact happen as stated in the autobio. Anything else, therefore, is suspect. Does that cast a different light on things?

I wonder if this autobio is being done by Adrian as a way of showing that what he did was right — if he’s the smartest man, he should think that there’s a possibility that his plan would eventually be made public, so perhaps he’s trying to do damage control here, preemptively. “Look at what happened in my life, of course I’m awesome and that’s why I HAD to kill all those people.”

As I said on the first issue post about Adrian, if he’s really so smart, howcum he couldn’t come up with a plan that didn’t involve killing thousands/millions?

And also, if his plan is so good and perfect, how the hell does it shock and sicken the Comedian? If HE thinks it goes too far, maybe it’s not such a good plan.

And maybe that’s why Adrian has to present the Comedian as a cheater, and that he “let” the Comedian win. Because he couldn’t process that someone like the Comedian getting the better of him, both physically in the fight, and later morally by being sickened by the big plan.

As to the hints about Veidt and his assistant, maybe too the stiletto in the gun barrel panels play into that. It’s a bit homoerotic, innit? It “slid into the [gun] barrel…as if it belonged there”. Ummm…ok?

And finally…

so…

is this a recommendation for this issue? :)

I don’t have my copy on hand, but doesn’t the Comedian win by basically using the “look behind you!” tactic then cold-cocking Ozymandias when he does, in fact, look behind himself? I thought that’s what he meant by Blake “cheating” (using deception instead of just relying on his fighting skills) and also Veidt letting him win (pretending to fall for a ploy he would never in a million years actually fall for).

I keep getting pulled out of the scene by the journal giving the date of the fight as 1959. That would mean that Adrian has done all his world-travelling Peter Cannon/Kent Allard/Bruce Wayne training, returned to America, built a financial empire, decided to become a masked vigilante and built a repuation in that identity ALL BY THE TIME HE’S 20 YEARS OLD?? His having been born in 1939 was established in the original series.
I think it’d work better if he’d put on the costume about the time the second Nite-Owl emerged (1962-63-ish) and had the fight with the Comedian shortly after that. There’s nothing in WATCHMEN that makes it essential that Ozymandias is around before Dr. Manhattan goes public in late ’59 (or even early ’60–it took Osterman a couple of months to reassemble his body, so by the time his existence is announced we’re probably into 1960). As long as all the players are in place by 1964 (when Walter Kovacs first becomes Rorschach) or ’65, we’re still set up for the Crimebusters meeting in ’66.

Brian Cronin:”However, there is nothing in Watchmen to show that Ozymandias was telling the truth about letting Comedian win. In fact, for a guy with an ego like Ozymandias, wouldn’t it be just as likely that he was bullshitting and trying to excuse his defeat at the hands of the Comedian? And in fact, wouldn’t it be interesting if that earlier ass-kicking that Ozymandias got at the hands of the Comedian (which could easily be explained by Comedian not fighting fairly) acted as a little extra piece of revenge in Ozymandias’ plan? That he killed Comedian in part because he was pissed that Comedian beat him up years ago? Is Ozymandias holding a petty grudge really that out of character for him?”

Frankly, I always assumed that that was the case, that Veidt’s rematch with the Comedian was not just a matter of taking out a potential threat, but also revenge for an ignominious defeat.

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