Before Watchmen: Nite-Owl #2
I’m honestly starting to think that the above title is a typo, that this was meant to be called Before Watchmen: Crimebusters or somesuch because honestly Nite-Owl is really not the focus here. Nite-Owl was always the most normal of the book’s characters, the straight guy to their super-heroics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he should simply be skipped over or cheated on; especially not with his best friend and partner in crime – who, by the way, has his own book coming up soon – Rorschach. Not only is Rorschach given dominant position on the cover of this issue but he also dominates the interiors with monologues, flashbacks and an origin story all of his own while droopy Dan Dreiberg spends most of his present either pandering to the psychopath or staring wistfully at wet ground or gawking at nude women.
The real problem with this resurgence of Rorschach (whom JMS was obviously more interested in writing about) though is that all of his material is repeated almost word for word from the original text. We have heard him talk about Kitty Genovese’s murder and the mute, immoral onlookers, we have seen his mother kick him out after he sees her having sex with a client and his speeches are too similar to those we already know. Worse though is that for the most part the Nite-Owl stuff is new; his character has no real history in the original tome and so here is a perfect place to provide it, but that doesn’t appear to be JMS’s intention.
There is however a point to the recycling of all these plots and panels; as Dan says, “It has to matter!” and it does. JMS has taken the subtle undertones of sexual violence and violent sexuality present in the original and used this theme as the basis of his tale. This is both brave thinking and bad for the book. Firstly, theme probably shouldn’t come first in a Superhero book, plot should. The scattershot nature of the scenes so far is staggering; there is no flow between them and so reading the book is fractious. Secondly the way that he handles these themes is so blunt that it is liable to break bones. Where the original famously had two of its heroes fail to fully arouse one another without their outfits on this book has Nite-Owl accidentally burst in on a completely nude Mistress mid-session with a middle aged man before the pair proceed to chat about their similar costumes and careers.
That’s not to say though that this is a bad idea, not at all. In fact there is some real power to the theme when here and there a few pages make good use of it. Juxtaposing the domestic violence of the Dreiberg home with the S+M club, Rorschach’s mother with a slaughtered whore and all of that with the pair’s super-heroics makes for strong and fascinating stuff; simultaneously gut wrenching and thought provoking in the best possible ways.
However I’m not so sure that JMS is the person best equip to handle such hard-hitting and possibly hurtful material, or if this is really the place for it (again, it seems like he had this story set for a Rorschach specific book) but then again he may well surprise me. Last issue I was left wondering whether or not I would bother reading any more of the series, so simple it was and so flat did it fall, but here I am discussing the thematics of the series after the second, so anything could come yet. Hell, Nite-Owl might even get some material…a man can dream.