…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!