STORY: J. Michael Straczyinski
ART: Andy and Joe Kubert
Who doesn’t love an old-fashioned origin story? The most successful entry into Before Watchmen so far has been Minutemen #1, an issue that simply gave a succinct overview of each member of the eponymous team. It’s minimalistic, straightforward, and sincere. Nite Owl #1 almost reaches the same heights as Darwyn Cooke’s series, but starts to falter when it’s focus is split near the end of the issue.
Dan Dreiberg was always characterized as a hero with a decent level of restraint. He doesn’t obsessively cling to his work like Rorschach or Manhattan, and he’s not as strong as Ozymandias or Silk Spectre, but he does what he can. A look into Dan’s childhood reveals a history of domestic abuse that obviously influences his decision to figure out the identity of Nite Owl. J. Michael Straczyinski does an apt job writing Dan’s father, a stereotypical ‘man’s man’ of the era who justifies his violent nature with bigoted ideals about the social order. One of the best elements of Before Watchmen is the backdrop of the 1960s, a time that significantly affected every member of the Watchmen, how they perceived criminal justice, and why they come together in the first place.
Dan Dreiberg’s friendship with original Nite Owl Hollis Mason is an obvious parallel of Dan Garrett and Ted Kord, the first and second Blue Beetle, respectively. And though this analog is strongest, the Nite Owls’ relationship is meant to reflect on the nature of the ‘Golden Age’ heroes passing on the legacy to the ‘Silver Age’, and the simpler nature of good vs. evil in an age of more distinguishable heroes and villains. Jay Garrick and Barry Allen are another pair of heroes who come to mind – they share common ideals and strive for the same brand of justice. More than anything, Dreiberg and Mason’s style keeps their respective teams grounded. While the other heroes tend to operate at extremes (think Comedian’s merciless attitude, Rorschach’s unstoppable drive), Nite Owl walks a fine line between heroism and blind vigilantism. Hollis Mason retires, for Pete’s sake – a change not many heroes have the sense to make.
The father and son Kubert duo of Joe and Andy is a superstar team that very much brings Nite Owl’s origins to life in a dynamic and energetic way. The Kuberts always have a way of expertly capturing a mood or tone for whatever’s written. Andy’s work – from Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Iron-Man to the Flashpoint and the ‘New 52’ Action Comics – is always fantastic and with his father finishing with the inks, the panels almost jump off the page.
Rorschach shows up in the latter half of the issue to befriend Dreiberg before they attend the first meeting of the Watchmen, an event that takes place in this very issue and seems to come and go a bit too quickly. Sure, Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias also make their (cameo) debut appearances in Before Watchmen, but the entire scene feels rushed. This is the kind of the event that really shouldn’t feel forced – isn’t this kind of the whole idea behind this prequel event?
It’s hard to reflect too much on an event that’s only really getting started. 35 weeks is a lot longer than is sounds before you think of it as six solid months of weekly content. There’s a whole lot more story coming that will weave into all the titles already begun. While last week’s Comedian did an absolutely awful job creating a satisfying character history, Straczyinski and the Kuberts do a awesome job giving Dan Dreiberg and Hollis Mason meaningful development. It’s also interesting to note that the seeds of Silk Spectre and Doctor Manhattan’s relationship are planted within the pages of this issue, an element that’s probably going to be a common one throughout this event.