All eight titles in the series were met with mixed reactions from readers and critics. Overall, I believe Before Watchmen succeeded to do what Alan Moore thought was impossible. It breathed life into characters that were supposedly never meant to stand on their own outside of the Watchmen graphic novel.
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias is definitely my favorite of the titles. Original Watchmen editor Len Wein took the reins and penned a compelling story that took what I considered the most uninteresting character in the original book and gave him a colorful background which explained his slow descent into calculated madness. Penciler Jae Lee’s unique blend of classic American artwork in the vein of Norman Rockwell and modern precision not unlike Jim Lee made each panel suitable for the wall of a museum.
Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan comes in at number two because of an excellent and complex tale spun by J. Michael Straczynski. He transports readers to alternate realities and shows them what might have been had Jon Osterman taken different paths in his life. Straczynski’s side-by-side comparisons of different key events are captivating. Artist Adam Hughes did a great job combining his own drawing style while keeping in line with Dave Gibbons’ original visions of the characters.
Coming in third is Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen. I can’t imagine how mentally and physically exhausting it was for Cooke to take on the art and scripting of this six issue series. He did an incredible job shining light on the crime fighting careers of the first masked vigilantes. His use of sex trafficking as a story vehicle shined a light on a problem that is more serious today than it ever has been. Cooke’s art is reminiscent of the golden age works of Jack Kirby, Dick Sprang, and others.
I was immediately intrigued as soon as Before Watchmen: Moloch was announced. Alan Moore didn’t go into detail on the origins of the character. This two issue series digs deep into the painful childhood and criminal career of Edgar Jacobi. Eduardo Risso’s illustrations are unique and don’t lean too heavily on Dave Gibbons’ artwork for Watchmen.
My only real complaint about the entire batch of Before Watchmen books was the unnecessary use of nudity. It felt as if each issue was trying to push the envelope every month. It was a distraction from the great writing and storytelling. In some ways it seemed to undermine the intentions of the writer and even contradict some of the messages being presented.
Those who didn’t keep up with all the Before Watchmen titles as they were being published over the last year will get the chance to read them in collected editions soon as DC Comics is releasing all eight in four volumes. Only time will tell if they will have the enduring shelf life of Alan Moore’s celebrated graphic novel. I believe all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears the individual artists and writers put into the books is evident on every page and worthy of a spot right next to it.
Before Watchmen: Minutemen / Silk Spectre, Before Watchmen: Comedian / Rorschach, Before Watchmen: Nite Owl / Dr. Manhattan, and Before Watchmen: Ozymandias / Crimson Corsair are available now in hardcover editions.