Before Watchmen – Ozymandias 2

Alternating Currents: Ozymandias 2, Drew and Peter B4WToday, Drew Patrick and Peter are discussing Ozymandias 2, originally released August 8th, 2012. Ozymandias is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Drew: Patrick: Surprise! It’s actually going to be me taking lead on Ozy today. Drew had both his copy of Ozymandias and his computer stolen today. And that’s enough to make me want to put on an old Halloween costume and take to the streets for some righteous vengeance. And while I don’t plan on that leading to a life of crime fighting, there’s really no saying where life will take me, and which sources I will draw upon for inspiration.  Whatever the case, I just hope it will be consistently rendered in breathtaking beauty (because otherwise, what’s the point?).

If issue number 1 can be considered “How Adrian Veidt Became Ozymandias,” then issue 2 is “How Ozymandias Became Ozymandias.” The story here is presented in the same writing-it-in-my-journal format as the previous issue. The very first time Adrian donned the yellow and purple, he was out looking for information that would lead him back to the man who supplied his late-girlfriend with the drugs that killed her. He does half the detective work in costume, and half out, eventually tailing a thug back to Porcini’s drug-factory / abandoned warehouse. While Ozymandias is severely outgunned and outnumbered, he strips the scene down to all possible conclusions and enacts his moves necessary to trigger the most favorable outcome. To Veidt, a room full of armed guards, cocaine and one drug lord is a multitude of Rue Goldberg machines, you just need to know which domino to set in motion first.

When he gets clear of that adventure, his predictive skills reach out a little further: what is the life of the costumed hero? After a little too much depressing research at his local library, Veidt decides he needs to do whatever he can to escape the mistakes of those that came before him, and he seeks out Hooded Justice. The clues lead him to the waterfront, where he realizes he’s not the only cape out there hunting down HJ – Ozymandias has competition in the form of the Comedian.

The critical consensus around these parts was that issue 1 told kind of a lackluster story but that the mind-blowing art justified the book all the same. You can make a similar argument about this issue and not be totally wrong. But probing a little deeper – some interesting patterns are starting to emerge. Veidt was obsessed with following the trail of Alexander, and that’s part of what inspires him to live up to his potential, but he is also inspired here by non-ancient heroes. By looking into the more recent past, Veidt hopes to inform his own future and avoid the same mistakes. He reaches into the past to secure a better future. The groundwork is being laid for Veidt’s special brand of hyper-detached justice.

And that’s where I think this issue finds value not found in the previous. The challenge laid out by this miniseries is to explore the motivations of a man capable of executing the devious plot at the heart of Watchmen. The original material keeps a respectful distance from Veidt’s psyche, instead making him an instrument of cold, passionless logic. It’s that depiction of Ozy as logic-incarnate that had me squirming a little bit toward the beginning of this issue. The very fact that he mourned the loss of his lady-love rubbed me the wrong way. Further, the fact that it motivated him to costumed vigilantism seemed trite to the point of embarrassment. But the story that Len Wein weaves here quickly turns from one about a man seeking revenge to that of a man working out the ultimate puzzle. Veidt doesn’t like to editorialize, but he does have to admit that when he puts his marvelous room-clearing plans into effect, he is having “more fun that human beings should be allowed to have…”

Artist Jae Lee obviously agrees with Ozy’s assessment here. The sequence where Ozymandias takes out all of Porcini’s guards is amazing.

The extremely limited color palette, coupled with this really interesting two-dimensional look, emphasizes the similarity to a logic puzzle. But the whole thing is so kinetic, we don’t have any boring-residue on our hands. Not only can I see why Ozy finds this activity fun and engaging, I find it fun and engaging too.

The pacing of this issue is also much improved over the previous. While that told a long meandering story that we all already knew, this focuses largely on two specific outings, which focuses the narrative. Additionally, a lot of the storytelling was done via actions and dialogue, instead of inundating the reader with voice-over boxes. There’s still a fair amount of voice-over, but more of it takes on that Batman-quality of detailing his tactics (which is objectively awesome). Actually, in terms of technique, Batman and Ozymandias have a lot in common: they both know everything there is to know about their opponents and their resources.

The problem that persists is that it’s so damn hard to get close to this character. Ozy keeps his emotional distance from the reader, which is absolutely necessary for the character. But that does make it tricky to find a peg of humanity on which to hang our hats. I’m encouraged by the appearance of The Comedian – who better to tease out your beliefs than the man who appears to have none?

Peter: I too enjoyed this issue. Like you said, Patrick, the pacing was much better, and it wasn’t nearly as scatterbrained. I found this issue — in addition to being action packed and full of fantastic art — to be a bit more introspective into Adrian.

Ozy clearly has all of the angles figured out. That’s part of being the smartest man in the world. I would argue that he already has gotten into his special brand of hyper-detached justice. He shows no emotion, no remorse; he’s cold and calculating. He even has Rain Man-esque moments.

I think that my favorite part of this whole book, other than the awesome fight scene above, is Adrian’s clear obsession with perfection. Not only his own, but his perfecting of the art of the superheroics. He wants to study the other heroes that have come before him, and make sure that he doesn’t go the way of the dodo bird. Because of his obsessions, Veidt is already focusing on the imperfections of other people, thus leading him to want to blow everyone up.

I still felt that this book is lacking a bit. The central flaw with the focus on Adrian’s early years, is that it is very narrow. There really isn’t anything being said here that we don’t already know. As books like Batman: Year One prove, there can be a great deal of entertainment in watching a hero learn the ropes and struggle with establishing their reputation. The problem is that Ozymandias by his very nature doesn’t struggle. There is no sense of danger in the book. Even Batman can impart danger to me, but Ozymandias doesn’t.

However, Wein has Veidt’s voice down pat. There is a lot to like here. Unfortunately there is more to dislike. The introduction of the Comedian was a surprise to me, since there is never any mention of these two coming into contact with one another prior to the first Crimebusters meeting. With the Comedian being a very good foil to Ozymandias, the next two issues could prove to be very interesting. This book is continuing to be a solid representation of the Adrian Veidt character, and coupled with the phenomenal art, is still going rather strong.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

17 comments on “Before Watchmen – Ozymandias 2

  1. I think Peter nailed it with his observation that we’ll never feel Adrian’s struggle, since everything is so easy for him. However, the breakneck pace at which these have covered events in his life (and the fact that he’s narrating from 1985) suggests to me that the stories here will lead up to the inaction of his plan.

    I really don’t like the idea of the Comedian and Ozymandias having had any kind of substantive interaction before the first Crimebusters meeting. The only thing it really changes is the meaning behind the Comedian’s casual, flippant attitude, but that’s a pretty big aspect of that meeting, and one I’d largely based my opinion of the Comedian upon. Also, it’s interesting to think that Adrian hadn’t considered trying to stop global nuclear war until the Comedian mentions it in that meeting. Who’s smart now?

    I think my biggest pet peeve here, though, is the inclusion of the Shelley poem. Now, I’m not the world’s smartest man, but even I know “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” is meant to be ironic, appearing on the pedestal for a broken, sunken statue. Surely Veidt knows this, as well (he explicitly mentions Shelley before quoting the poem), so he must be aware that the hubris that he is really the king of kings and that people will look on his works and despair amounted to nothing for Ozymandias. Is he that self-assured, anyway? The fact that he is so disturbed by Jon’s “Nothing ever ends,” suggests that he hadn’t considered that his works would one day go the same way as Alexander’s statue, but it puts much too fine a point on the idea that Adrian is the Ozymandias from the poem.

    • I don’t mind the Shelley poem because it reflects Veidt’s attitude toward the past – specifically his own ability to improve upon it. Remember, his master plan IS successful in the end. Not only does he see a way to improve on Alexander, he finds a way to improve on the costumed hero thing. I mean, is it hubris if you actually are better than everyone else (moral relativism notwithstanding).

      In re: meeting Comedian at this juncture. I also hope we’re not looking at a team-up or a buddy cop moment here. What I am hoping for is a continued conflict between these characters as they separately search for Hooded Justice. The differences in the way they approach the search and the value they place in Justice should be an interesting point of comparison.

      • But the point of that poem is that time makes fools of us all. In the end, even Veidt’s legacy will crumble and fall, just like Alexander’s statue. I just can’t see referencing that poem and not being acutely aware that projecting your greatness into the future forever is an act of hubris. Jon points this out at the end of Watchmen, which somehow surprises Veidt, who clearly has read this poem. The act of hubris isn’t that he thinks he’s better than Alexander (or greater, perhaps), but that he thinks he’s so much better that the moral of Alexander’s story doesn’t apply to him.

        • Well that’s what I think he is suggesting – that he’s so much better (or greater, because that’s hilarious) that the moral doesn’t apply to him. I can’t recall how the conversation between Veidt and Doc plays out at the end of Watchmen, so I’ll have to comb back through it to see how it reads against this series. I’ve long thought that the master-plot behind Watchmen was one of the weaker parts of the series (especially when held up against the fully-realized world and a rich tapestry of deep, interesting, troubled characters).

          I do like that this forces me back to the original text though. Facilitating discussion of the Watchmen universe is a noble goal in and of itself. Also, it’s pretty neat if Ozy thinks he’s so fucking powerful that lessons about hubris don’t apply to him. That’s fucking meta.

        • I think it’s fair to call that — presuming you’re so much better than everyone else that the rules no longer apply — hubris. Still, Jon doesn’t need to say much to unsettle Veidt, making it almost seem like Veidt hadn’t considered that “everything ends,” which goes beyond hubris and into ignorance. I’m okay with Veidt being confident in himself, but not at the cost of considering all possibilities, which is what Veidt does. It’s a good poem, so I could see being tempted to make the association (more) explicit, but it’s both too on-the-nose and nonsensical for me to buy.

        • We have to consider, though, that Veidt is having that conversation with an entity who sees all time. No matter how far out Veidt can think, he can’t see everything like Jon can. It’s a confrontation between a god-like man and a God.

  2. The fact that Ozy’s got all the angles covered – and is therefore in essentially no danger – is fascinating. All superheroes have a weakness, it’s sort of horrifying to imagine one without. He’s so far ahead of the curve as to render irrelevant the risk/reward trade-off: Veidt knows he’s going to succeed at whatever he takes on. I think it’s just the right take on his psychology to lead us to the end of Watchmen.

  3. Also, Peter do you have some insight into how long Comedian is going to be around in this miniseries? Or did you just assume he’d be kicking around for the remainder of Ozymandias? IF SO, note that this is one of the 6-issue series (not 4).

  4. But Ozy and the Comedian DID meet once before the Crimebusters meeting. They got into a fight because Eddie mistook Adrian for a criminal, or so the original story goes, anyway. I was way more surprised by Veidt’s decision to investigate the end of Hooded Justice than the Comedian showing up at the waterfront.

    • In Watchmen, Ozy was actually tracking Blake, since he heard from his government contacts about Blake’s official report that his investigation of Hooded Justice’s disappearance was unsuccessful.

      Instead, Wein has Ozy scouring the docks for dried blood… from a murder that would have taken place years ago. Just add forensics to piñatas and carbon monoxide in the list of things that Len Wein doesn’t understand.

  5. The fate of Hooded Justice has always intrigued me. Between Veidt’s investigation here and seeing the relationship between HJ and Metropolis play out in Minutemen, I’m really looking forward to finding out what actually happened.

  6. I was thinking about this a lot last night. I think I have fairly high expectations for Wein since he has been pretty influential in my comic book life, mostly due to his work on X-Men. I feel like someone of his caliber could easily be given a compelling character like Ozymandias, and with 6 issues craft something really great. Since this one of the longer series (6 issues), I hope it doesn’t read like more than 1 story arc. That would just justify the scatterbrain-ness that we are beginning to see. If the Comedian is substantive in this story, not necessarily sticking around for the entire thing, but making a worth while contribution to the story and more importantly, the character of Ozymandias, then I’m all for it. But, if it just turns into, “Ozy meets the gang” over the next 4 issues, I will be rather disappointed.

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