Written by Len Wein
Art by Jae Lee and June Chung
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy B
Published by DC Comics
Ozymadias is the lynch-pin of the Watchmen book, without him Alan Moore’s super-hero revisionist opus is incomplete. So for me, I’m drawn to this book. I want to see how this twisted hero/villain got his world perspective and what motivates him. This probably the book that is most congruent with the original Watchmen series/ From the story to the art, to the paneling you can draw a direct line connecting the two works. Unlike its predecessors it doesn’t try to throw some wacky spin on an alternative American history, or distract you with continuity puzzle pieces and stands as the strongest Before Watchmen effort thus far.
We go back to Adrian Veidt as a kid being hyper-smart and learning faster than everybody, but warned by his father not to stand out or teachers will think he’s cheating. First lesson learned: life is not fair. So he does everything in his power not to stand out, but being a socially awkward kid, he does just the opposite and attracts the attention of bullies instead of the ire of teachers. Adrian takes up martial arts classes and eventually beats the crap out of the lead bully, busting out one his knee caps so he’ll never be able to walk right again. Second lesson: Might makes right. Adrian get’s in trouble of with the principal, who threatens to throw him out of school. Adrian’s upper-middle class dad steps in and offers to smooth things over by funding a new library for the school. Third Lesson: Everybody has a price. These formative themes are put thru rinse and repeat cycle as layers of Veidt are peeled back giving us a deeper and sympathetic understanding of his motivations. Like any well crafted tale it’s told in such an arresting and powerful manner you hardly even aware you being spoon fed plot threads and themes.
As Adrian begins to obsess about Alexander the Great away at school, his parents die in a terrible tragic accident. He gives away his money and decides follow in Alexander’s footsteps by traveling where he’s been. This is nothing new, as most of that has been revealed in the main Watchmen book, however we do get to see one of Adrian’s first love, Miranda, and the reason Adrian becomes a masked hero in the first place. Little Watchmen easter eggs pop-up a log the way. He meets Miranda at the Gunga Diner. Moloch makes a villainous cameo. There’s even a giant squid in “Thing From Outer Space” sci-fi poster in his room. All these details make for a great foundation for an epic origin story. It reminds a bit of Red Skull:Incarnate but further down the line in the tale. We get to see Adrian trying to become a hero before he succumbs to his misguided inner demons.
Jae Lee knocks it out of the park in a story book fashion. While Dave Gibbons relied on the highly structured and rigid 9 panel grid, Lee designs the page architecture in Art Nouveau manner with centered circles, arches, and domes. It fits the tone and accentuates the Egyptian themes inherent with Adrian’s Alexander the Great obsession. Lee renders in a wispy spiralled brush line, similar to Sam Keith, with a heavy use of chiaroscuro. His thin lines can be delicate and elegant, while his anatomy and composition is like sculptural like great Art Nouveau master François-Raoul Larche. June Chung colors in a bright Watchmen tertiary palette, but gives it a kind of 1930’s/40’s kind of spin. Like I said, it’s all very story book and has an undercurrent of Art Nouveau, Roman and Egyptian design elements.
I think that’s what is great about this book. It has it’s the look and feel of a bygone era, but one that could still exist within the Watchmen world as we know it. Not only does it make a strong contribution to the Watchmen Mythos, but this book could easily stand on its own two feet.
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