Before Watchmen Review: Ozymandias #1
Like almost any smattering of comic books, Before Watchmen has been a mixed bag so far, and for the most part, to even begin to accept the stuff that's good, you have to mentally separate it from the actual Watchmen masterpiece its trying to exploit. Alternate reality Watchmen is really the only way any of these stories can feel palatable, and even that doesn't always work (see Comedian, Nite Owl).
With original Watchmen editor Len Wein returning to write Ozymandias #1, however, we get the first issue that actually sounds somewhat like the original series when reading it. Of course, Jae Lee's art is nowhere close to Dave Gibbons in style and isn't even trying to be, so it still feels like a completely different beast, but this book has a compelling sensibility about it. It still needs that crowbar separation from the original, but it's one of those that stands fairly well on its own.
It's been a while since I've seen anything from Jae Lee, so in my head, his art was still a lot of the heavy-shadow stuff from his Inhumans run and things around that era, and that's the reason I've continually compared Andrea Sorrentino's work on I, Vampire to Lee, as it looks exactly like the stuff I remember. However, I think I'll have to stop doing that, because this doesn't look anything like that, aside from the occasional chin-raised look-down-the-nose angles he seems to enjoy – and those certainly fit for Adrian Veidt. The beautiful, classical fine art style really serves to elevate the proceedings, bringing an air of legitimacy to the book – something the whole prequel project sorely needs. Sure, it's just an air, not actual legitimacy – that's not something Before Watchmen can ever manage – but it really gives the story a weight it might not have managed on its own.
Wein uses the helpful conceit of having Veidt narrate his own life story shortly before undertaking his "great mission," and he has a pretty good sense of Veidt's voice. Relating the story of his parents leaving "the old country" in 1938 to escape the rise of the Nazis, giving birth to him in America and christening him with the middle name of Alexander, giving him the role model he would aspire to in Alexander of Macedonia. Showing his genius at the age of 2, he would spend his childhood trying to hide that fact from the world, lest they think he was cheating to be as impossibly brilliant as he was. That is, until the day he had endured enough bullying and crippled his tormentor – an infraction his father was forced to bribe his school to smooth over. His ambitions soared, graduating at 14, doing post-grad work at 17, when he lost his parents to a car crash, and set forth on his travels around the world to make himself a man.
The story has a suitably epic feel to it, thanks in no small part to Lee's artistic choices, influenced by the art of Alexander the Great's era. In Tibet, it's implied that Veidt is at least bisexual, but no significance is really applied to it. He gets a steady girlfriend named Miranda later, only to lose her to a tragedy that inspires him to take up an identity as a costumed crimefighter. Veidt's self-narration is as overwrought as it should be, considering his general sense of self-glorifying pomposity. While Wein's story choices might be questionable here and there, overall, it feels the most like Watchmen than anyone else's scripts have yet.
But it still has to be the Watchmen of an alternate reality to be acceptable. This entire project would likely have been a little better received if they'd conceived it as such, rather than a straight prequel. It would have served the purpose of exploiting these characters without directly trying to change the original story. Sure, Alan Moore still would've thought it sucked, but fans could likely swallow it much more easily.