Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Ozymandias 3, originally released September 26th, 2012. Ozymandias is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).
Drew: Part of what made me so resistant to the idea of a Watchmen prequel series is my immense respect for the original series. Not that it was a sacred cow — though, arguably, it is — but that anything that failed to meet that very high level of respect for the material would feel inherently disrespectful. I understood that maintaining that level of respect would be incredibly burdensome to creators, narrowing narrative possibilities to a knife’s edge. To my surprise, many titles have not only matched my respect for Watchmen, but have exceeded what I thought would be possible while doing so. Other titles have not fared as well, failing to justify their own existence, or — worse yet — failing to hold the source material in the proper esteem. Ozymandias has managed two issues without falling firmly into either category, and while issue 3 falters a bit, I’m still unsure if it is a success or a failure.
Another burden of these Before Watchmen titles is my general preference for questions over answers. Or, rather, my opinion that answers are often less satisfying than questions; questions allow for imagined possibilities, answers limit them to one (and not, necessarily, the most interesting one). For narratives, this often means an impatience with answers to questions I’m not interested in (“who the fuck cares what the island whispers were?”), but for Watchmen, that essentially applied to everything about the series. The most successful prequel titles have managed to come up with their own conflicts — here’s what happened to Laurie when she ran off to San Francisco, here’s what happened to Eddie when he showed up at the Watts riots — but the failures have hinged on details from Watchmen nobody cares about, delivering the exciting tale of just who the Twilight Lady is. Unfortunately, I see Ozymandias 3 as veering perilously close to the latter category, giving us the DL on how Adrian built his Antarctic lair.
The issue picks up in the midst of Adrian’s initial encounter with Eddie, as the two fight for no damn reason. Veidt — who mastered every form of martial art while he was in grade school, mind you — has seemingly found his match in the completely undisciplined Blake.
Never mind that, not three pages prior, Veidt had jammed Eddie’s gun while he was pulling the trigger, or that Veidt can catch a fucking bullet with his bare hands, he can’t figure out how to beat up a guy whose only sensei was the school of hard knocks. It doesn’t make sense for these characters, but it especially doesn’t make sense in light of their next fight — where Adrian easily pummels and defenestrates Eddie. Wein has an explanation, of sorts, for that:
Okay, so this fight taught him how to beat Blake, but “I had allowed him to win”? Um, no you didn’t. You couldn’t beat him. You said so yourself. I’m left with the distinct impression that Wein only put that “evenly matched” bullshit in so the two could fight for a while, even though it makes absolutely no sense.
We then jump to Veidt’s office on the day of Dr. Manhattan’s unveiling. Wein makes a point of showing that Veidt already knew everything about the Doc, but for whatever reason, Veidt only jumps to action after the totally unnecessary announcement has been made. His plan? Build a big, TV-filled fortress in Antarctica. You know the one.
In the meantime, Veidt attends that charity event we’ve now seen a few times over. Here, Wein reinterprets Adrian and Jon’s interactions from one of mutual respect to one of fear and fascination, which I think profoundly misses the point about Veidt’s eventual plan. He didn’t alienate and drive Jon away out of fear or a personal vendetta — he did it because it was necessary to his plan to save the world. I’m way less interested in how the machinations of that plan fell into place than I am in his motivations for coming up with that plan in the first place. Was it out of a kind of selflessness — a genuine fondness for humanity — that we have yet to see Veidt display in this series, or was it because, to paraphrase the Comedian, he didn’t want to be the smartest man on the cinder? That’s an interesting question, but instead we get the story of where Veidt got the idea for his wall of TVs.
The one glimpse we get of Veidt’s opinion of humanity is NOT flattering:
Why would this contemptuous being deem it worthy of his time to save us lowly masses? I prefer to think that Veidt has a fondness for humanity alongside his coldly calculating moral relativism, but I think a case could be made that saving humanity was an act of private vanity — a problem he might have fun solving. Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t make that case — it simply presents Veidt as a horribly pretentious shit because…you know…he’s smart.
I’ve learned enough hard lessons in my arguments with Shelby to withhold judgement for now — who knows? maybe Wein will focus more on Veidt’s motives in the coming issues — but the focus on explaining his actions has not impressed me. Shelby, I know this title was receiving your qualified praise largely because of Jae Lee’s art — which is strong as ever in this issue — but I’m wondering if we’re reaching a tipping point for you, as well.
Oh, and I’m only including this because I know it will bug you, but as far as infidelity to the original, you can’t get much worse than botching a direct quote:
That’s “The superman is real, and he’s American,” and you know it.
Shelby: Drew, I’ll only admit it because I like you; I think you’re right about the story and writing in this title. Not only am I rapidly loosing patience with the detached narration, what dialogue there is is hackneyed and occasionally contradictory, as you pointed out in the fight between Comedian and Ozymandias. Though, I will say that the fight between Adrian and Eddie, and Eddie’s short term win are in the original; the unbelievable situation of Eddie beating Adrian in a fight was established by Mr. Moore himself. I don’t know that Wein handled it as gracefully as he could have, but there you go.
The problem in understanding Ozymandias lies in reconciling his cold devotion to necessity with the fact that he does actually care about humanity. In Watchmen, we get a couple of brief moments: the newspaper interview, his statement to Jon that he made himself “feel every death,” etc. I’ve never really believed it; I’ve never been able to understand how someone can make such a cold yet logical decision to kill so very many people and at the same time claim to do it for humanity’s own good, to claim to care. I was really hoping to get some insight with this mini-series, but Wein is just focusing on the dispassionate, heartless nature of Ozymandias, and that is just not interesting. As far as reserving judgement goes, we do have 3 more issues to go. Maybe there’s some event yet to come in Adrian’s life that will give him renewed hope in humanity? Something that will drive him to plan to save humanity instead of invest in fall-out shelters? Only time will tell.
Lee continues to rock the shit out of the art in this title. It is wholly unique and beautiful, but I think we are getting to the point where the art alone can’t carry it. For issues one and two, even though Wein didn’t really give us anything new story-wise, I still considered this a great title for Lee’s art. If this were a four issue series, I would probably still consider it to be great, but Wein needs to give me something more for this character for me to consider this a successful and worthwhile addition to Before Watchmen.
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