Today, Drew and Mogo are discussing Ozymandias 4, originally released November 28th, 2012. Ozymandias is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).
Drew: I don’t envy Len Wein. The thought of writing a prequel to one of the greatest comic books of all time is daunting enough, but Wein faces the additional task of writing the thoughts of the smartest man on the planet. Super-intelligent characters like Sherlock Holmes are difficult to write realistically — the writer has to come up with problems whose solutions aren’t already apparent to the supporting cast and audience — but Adrian Veidt is an order of magnitude more difficult. This is someone who predicted the end of the world, then devoted years to realize a convoluted plan to divert it. Anything shy of that level of planning and premonition is going to feel like a letdown, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what we get inOzymandias 4.
Part of the problem is that the fateful meeting of the Crime busters — ostensibly when Veidt first confronts the idea that the world’s problems might be bigger than gang violence — doesn’t come until the end of the issue (which, incidentally, is well after the middle of this series). Did Veidt honestly make it to the spring of 1964 without considering the inevitability of all-out nuclear war? I believe that would make him the most delusional man on the planet. What’s especially strange is that Veidt is bored with fighting crime from the first page of this issue. Never mind that he’s incredibly smart AND ambitious — he can’t be bothered to come up with anything better to do with his time.
Fortunately, John F. Kennedy is here to give him a purpose. That purpose, as it turns out, is to negotiate the end of the Cuban missile crisis. I suppose having Veidt solve that particular problem is a clever way to integrate him into history, but that action actually undercuts its own point by calling attention to the fact that we actually negotiated things just fine without him. The thought that Veidt is the ONLY advisor to Kennedy smart enough to advocate against armed conflict is kind of insulting, and relies on us all forgetting how the crises actually ended.
Other tidbits of history seem to be added for the sake of adding them, like the presence of Marilyn Monroe. She comes up twice: once at Kennedy’s birthday celebration — where Veidt is singularly astute enough to draw the never-before-seen conclusion that the two were sleeping together — and her death, which Veidt studies intently, concludes that it was murder, then does exactly nothing about it. WHAT WAS THE POINT OF EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT IF HE’S NOT GOING TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT WHATEVER HE DISCOVERS?
I have smaller, more specific gripes, but I really can’t excuse the totally boneheaded way Wein attempts to convey Veidt’s intelligence. Even after expressing that his heart wasn’t in crime fighting and stepping into the world of geopolitics, Veidt advocates for why the Crime Busters might be a good idea. It just doesn’t make sense. In Watchmen, I’m willing to accept that Veidt was still naive in that meeting — he was still smart, but he wasn’t really aware of how that could be directed. Here, Wein suggests that Veidt was quite jaded by the time of that meeting, but without naiveté to excuse his blindness, we have to conclude that Veidt is just dumb.
Maybe I’m relying on hindsight here. Maybe presuming that he could save the world was a bigger conclusion to come to than I think. Even so, the blundering attempts to depict Veidt as intelligent are just embarrassing. I mean, really, are we supposed to be impressed that Veidt thinks there’s something going on between Kennedy and Monroe?
Jae Lee’s art continues to impress (though I feel like the half-circle establishing shot motif he uses is often totally redundant), but it’s not quite enough to pull this issue out of the gutter for me. This just isn’t how I know Veidt would think or act.
Of course, if anyone is going to convince me I’m wrong, it would today’s guest writer, Mogo. Regular readers will already be familiar with Mogo, who offers insightful, in-depth comments regularly. Mogo, I know you’ve been enjoying this series — am I being too hard on it? Are these moments more consistent with Watchmen than I’m giving them credit for?
Mogo: Thanks, Drew. Actually, this issue does find my opinion of Ozymandias turning a corner. As you’ve already pinpointed, Len Wein hasn’t yet successfully shown that he can advantage the plot by utilizing the special qualities of a super-genius type character. Judging from the first issue, I thought that he might get there, but he hasn’t — he’s taken steps backwards in this regard. I think the mini could be enjoyable without this quality, but it couldn’t be perfect without it. Unfortunately, on top of this, the book’s other flaws have now become myriad.
You’ve touched on many of my complaints already. I would like to add, though, that the Kennedy/Monroe element is not just ham-fisted but also redundant considering that this particular historical tidbit is already covered explicitly in Comedian. And it doesn’t just stop with just the Earth Prime history, this issue spends so much time treading back over events we’ve already seen in the original Watchmen comics that the sheer ammount of narrative redundancy makes this issue a complete snooze-fest; here we have an entire page dedicated to Nite Owl in the blackout and 3 more pages dedicated to the Crimebusters meeting. It really starts to become Comic Pages You’ve Already Seen As Re-Interpereted By Jae Lee.
And let me tell you, I love the work Lee is doing in this series. His light realism and stylistic elegance are perfectly matched to accentuate that special type of pretense inherent to an Ozymandias solo. I don’t fault Lee one bit. But, between all of the pages dedicated to rehashing the Kennedy history that everyone already knows (I count 5) and the revisiting of Original Watchmen sequences, I’m not sure I can find a single new idea to sink my teeth into. All that’s left to ponder is the editorial inconsistencies. Let’s remember here that Wein spent much of his career as an editor, was the editor of the original Watchmen issues, and that this issue supposedly went through another set of editors as credited within. Huh.
You’ve tackled the most problematic continuity concern, which is Ozymandias’ characterization during the timeframe of the Crimebusters meeting. This is crucial, because this is an Ozymandias book. I’d also like to point out that I was relieved, at first, to see Wein using normal, rational, intelligent speech for Rorschach during the Crimebusters meeting. He did speak rather eloquently and, judging from the lettering, even-voiced during this time period. This meeting was clearly conducted at a point in time before he “snapped” in the Moore series. But Wein just had to throw in that “Hurm” right at the end there. Now, I’ve always seen that tick as being specifically post-insanity for Rorschach, and if you can find an instance of him using it before his lettering gets wonky in the original book then I will happily eat crow.
I guess my biggest editorial complaint is that this issue seems to be the worst of both worlds — it slavishly combs over old plot points and ideas in fear of straying too far from the original series, and yet it somehow fumbles both broad characterization and minor situational details in the process. It’s both stale and inaccurate.
Getting wordy, so I’ll wrap this up; the gorgeous artwork and servicable plots for the first two issues had me feeling okay at first, but now I’m getting to this place: In the mid 1980’s Alan Moore took a DC-owned character that Wein created (Swamp Thing), rattled out the book’s most legendary run, and did so while having the guts to completely reinvent the character’s origin in that first issue — the masterful “Anatomy Lesson.” And while doing so he seemed to even invent a new subtype of horror, something a bit like a vegetable inversion of David Cronenberg’s body-horror films. Moore seemed to understand that there’s no point in writing something if there’s nothing you can add to make it your own. I’ll give Wein the liscense that he absolutely has the right to use a character created by Moore and owned by DC Comics — but his writing here is what doesn’t justify the existence of the book.
By day he’s Aaron Cale, office worker and average citizen. By night he’s Mogo, pop culture enthusiast and collector.
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