For over a month now DC has been churning out Before Watchmen titles. Some of them are mediocre and enjoyable; others are atrocious (Minutemen in particular). Although I’ve been quite critical of this venture, especially since Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore disapproves, and was certain the books would fail, I’ve been pleasantly surprised a few times. The Silk Spectre book has been decent so far and Nite Owl’s story is actually pretty good (god, I can’t believe I’m praising anything in this line). This week Oymandias’ book hit comic stores and like the Nite Owl series I’m somewhat impressed, not just because it isn’t absolutely terrible but because writer Len Wein (a comic book legend responsible for Swamp Thing, the second X-Men team, and much more) and artist Jae Lee (Inhumans and Namor the Sub-Mariner) have crafted an intelligent homage to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ character.
Beginning towards the end of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen, Ozymandias finds the book’s protagonist (Adrian Veidt) sitting in his Antarctic retreat recollecting his early years. Although Veidt’s origin is revealed in Watchmen, Wein and Lee elaborate on Moore’s story, showing a young Ozymandias retracing Alexander of Macedonia’s footsteps, learning a great deal about martial arts, and his own nature. The book also explores Veidt’s adolescence, showing how he excelled mentally from a very young age, leaving his classmates behind and becoming a target for bullies. It’s these early physical altercations with those schoolyard tyrants that compel Veidt to improve his physical skills and become a tough, skilled fighter. The book ends with tragedy, providing the impetus for Veidt’s transformation into Ozymandias.
The artwork by Lee is excellent. I haven’t look at his work in years, probably since his time on Namor or X-Factor, and he has excelled artistically. Lee has really improved on a style that was rough at the beginning of his career, turning his peculiarities into something setting his work apart from other comic book artists. His depictions of Turkey, the arctic wastelands, and New York City are breathtaking and I hope the next few issues of this miniseries feature a great deal of these landscapes.
I wasn’t familiar with Len Wein before reading this book and I’m actually embarrassed to say that. He co-created Swamp Thing, Wolverine, and most of the X-Men who first appeared in Giant Size X-Men—why wasn’t I familiar with him? Wein is a comic book legend, responsible for books and characters I’ve enjoyed for a long time now yet I’ve never uttered his name once. I’m certain I’ve seen his name before but didn’t notice. Wein also edited the original Watchmen and worked with Moore on Swamp Thing in the 1980s. The man’s knowledge of history and comic book writing make this inaugural issue of Ozymandias a good, intelligent read, paying homage to Moore and Gibbons’ creation rather than being mediocre fan-fiction. At this point I’ll say this is probably the best title in the Before Watchmen series.