Before Watchmen – Nite Owl 4

nite owl 4 B4W

Today, Patrick, Drew and Shelby are discussing Nite Owl 4, originally released December 26th, 2012. Nite Owl is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Patrick: As the year comes to a close, we tend to look back favorably on what we experienced in the last 12 months. There have been some highs and lows, but through the goggles of nostalgia, I’m mostly going to remember how much fun we had starting this site and cultivating this little community of comic book nerds (hi guys!). It’s been over three months since we last saw an issue of Nite Owl, and I guess some of that rose-tinted optimism crept into my memory, momentarily distorting the quality of this series in my head. Luckily, this issue was kind enough to feature crazy, murderous Reverend Taylor Dean on page one. That’s the confused, pedantic narrative I remember! Oh, Nite Owl, it is so miserable to see you again!

Now that the Twilight Lady is in full-on superhero mode, she and Nite Owl descend on the church of the homicidal reverend. The clues, it turns out, all point to him (his finger prints were on that pay phone a few times!). Nite Owl and Twilight Lady were ready to rain down some fiery justice on the preacher. Only, they’re EXACTLY ON TIME to catch the Rev. in the act of burning a pyre of sinners with Rorschach as the cherry on top. Reverend Dean is no match for three fucking superheroes, so he’s easily over-powered. Rorschach finishes the fight by impaling Dean on his favorite blunt object: the “The End is Nigh” sign.

Rorschach kills the good Reverend Dean

There are a few different codas to this main story, but the stupidest one reveals that this “The End is Nigh” sign is the “The End is Nigh” sign. That’s right, Rorschach hangs on to the murder weapon, and spends the rest of his non-costumed life waving it around on street corners. Y’know, because he’s careful. There’s a crowd starting to form outside the church when NO and TL show up, it’d be insane to assume that no one sees the superhero leaving the burning building brandishing a sign that foretells the end of the world. That’s a striking image, and it connects Walter Kovacs (both his past and his future) to Rorschach. Boy do I hate that.

The other loose ends that this issue tries to wrap up all revolve around the following theme:

Nite Owl and Rorschach, making big mistakesHollis’ single mistake remains a mystery, as Dan burns the revelatory pages of Under the Hood. (That’s clumsy storytelling here, but it’s also merciful. The smart money says that we’ll get the whole story in Minutemen and that it will be devastating. I’m glad it hasn’t been preempted here.) Rorschach’s big mistake is killing the Reverend and Nite Owl’s mistake is… not really taking any action ever. He lets everyone else get away with their mistakes, including letting Twilight Lady essentially blow him off forever.

But seeing as we’ve been so keen to find meta-commentary in the Before Watchmen minis, it’s hard not to chuckle while applying the same process to this issue. Nite Owl asserts that everyone is allowed to make mistakes and deserves to be forgiven for those mistakes, no matter how atrocious. The message here seems to be that we should forgive DC Comics — and the Before Watchmen event in general — for employing J. Michael Straczynski in the first place. After 2 issues of Moloch and 4 of Nite Owl, it does seem like a “very big mistake.” This may make me a Dan Dreiberg-level push-over, but okay: I forgive you, DC. Just don’t let it happen again.

We’re letting all of our editors weigh in on this one, so I’m passing off to Drew now. Drew, which was your favorite juvenile sex joke?

Drew: Hahaha. I love that reading — that this issue acts as a mea culpa for this title sucking so damn much — especially because it implicates us just as much. Sure, Straczynski made the mistake of committing this atrocity to paper, but we made the mistake of reading every damn word of it. As Obi-Wan put it: Who’s more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?

Of course, there’s way more shittiness going on here than any one mulligan could excuse. This issue features juvenile sex jokes, pedantic origin-of-boring-shit explaining, and gratuitous nipples galore, but my the thing that really pissed me off (and the moment that takes the “worst scene in Before Watchmen” in a walk) is the reveal that Rorschach killed his own father.

Walter kills his dad

As adorable as I find baby’s first murder (and as much as I relish the opportunity to use a word like ‘patricide’), this scene misses literally everything there is to know about Walter Kovacs. Sure, he was a violent kid who eventually became a sociopath, but he wasn’t born that way. Treating him as a born killer completely ignores the significance of the Blair Roche case — the case Rorschach himself credits with creating Rorschach as we know him. It’s in that moment that he loses faith in humanity, becoming a remorseless hammer of justice.

Straczynski is clearly comfortable having Rev. Dean be a massive fucking hypocrite, but Rorschach actually believes in his own righteousness. Again, this stems back to his past as was shown in Watchmen, where we see a young Walter first lash out against a pair of bullies calling him “whoreson.” Walter is profoundly shamed by his mother’s sin, and has channeled that into a deep-seated distrust of women in general. The one thing this series got right is that he would NOT get along with the Twilight Lady. Unfortunately, it’s the only thing, and Straczynski doesn’t even keep to it — he has Rorschach show some humanity to TL by offering her a hand (mind you, this is before he reveals that Rorschach never had any humanity to begin with).

The Rorschach stuff has always bothered me with this title primarily because I never really felt like Straczynski had any business ruining anyone but Nite Owl here. He does a fine job ruining Nite Owl, too, but I just can’t get over why he added all this Rorschach stuff only to fuck it up so horribly. What do you think, Shelby? Did any of this work for you?

Shelby: Not even a little bit. While your guys’ meta-commentary read is interesting, I don’t buy it, because I don’t credit JMS with enough talent to encourage that deep of a read. I also have zero interest in spending any more time than necessary with this issue, so let’s get this over with.

While the treatment of Nite Owl and Rorschach is grossly out of line with what we know about these characters, I am again astounded by the attitude JMS has towards women. Sure, we’ve got the good reverend’s horrific hypocrazy (a mistype that is actually pretty accurate, so I’m sticking with it), but everything the Twilight Lady does just makes me cringe. She seems to embody the twisted feminism that finds strength in being “a slut.” Is she supposed to be somehow empowered by embracing the male fantasy and “reclaiming” it? To me, it just seems she’s still acting out a male fantasy.

twilight lady nite owl

Her whole encounter with the Reverend reeks of forced, fake mysogeny; JMS is trying so hard to show us the evil man of power and strong independent woman that he falls back on generic, damaging sexist tropes. And that panel Patrick shared? With the sex pose and o-face, except that it’s the man being penetrated and called a whore? Gross.

The worst part is the way the Twilight Lady leaves Dan. Again, we’ve got a couple of sexist stereotypes to unpack. First of all, we’ve got the strong woman who’s weakness is love. She can be as tough as she wants, but once a good man enters her life and she falls in love, then it’s all over; obviously a woman can’t be both independent and involved with a man. And why would he lie to Laurie about the backstory of that photo? Is he so embarrassed by associating with this woman of “questionable morals” that, despite falling in love with her after sleeping together once, he needs to lie about his relationship with her?

Nite Owl has proved to be a perfect example of why Before Watchmen should not have happened. Its overly sensational story was obviously gritty and edgy for grittiness and edginess’ sake, and was completely out of line with what we know of the character Dan Dreiberg. I’ve always thought Dan was pretty square, and I would have loved to learn what sort of inner well of strength he needed to draw on to become a costumed hero. Instead, JMS has given us a Watchmen version of Batman, a character who’s story is so dark it’s unbelievable. Add to that character distortion a bizarre abundance of Rorschach (also poorly characterized) and a healthy dose of unhealthy ideas about women, and you’ve got a hot mess of a mini-series. I am so glad that’s over.

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?

4 comments on “Before Watchmen – Nite Owl 4

  1. Look at that, we all have our own discrete thing to complain about. And that’s just the story – no one mentioned the art, which I continue to find super sloppy. Why is it – in particular – that bare breasts look so horrifying in this style? God, I hate them so much.

  2. Also, Shelbs, I’m not saying that JMS knew that he was going to make a mini-series so shitty that it needed an apology and then included that apology in the text. I’m just pointing out that a terrible issue of a terrible series includes the phrase “we’re all entitled to one really big mistake.” Clearly, that line has unintended meta value AND it makes me chuckle like a motherfucker.

  3. For the record, my favorite juvenile sex joke was TL telling NO to “go down,” referring to attending to the fire in the basement of the church, before adding “that’s your specialty,” implying that he’s good at oral sex. HILARIOUS.

    • I knew you were setting me up for that one, but I just fucking needed to talk about Rorschach. I know I’d be madder right now if I hadn’t already forgotten most of it.

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