Today, Drew and Scott are discussing Dollar Bill, originally released January 30th, 2013. Dollar Bill is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).
Drew: Before Watchmen: Minutemen was good. It helped that it was one of the least explicitly fleshed-out corners of the Wathcmen universe, but much credit belongs to the unblinking moral greyness Darwyne Cooke imparted to the series. His warts-and-all approach stayed true to the spirit of the original series, but blended it with the sheen of reverence we hold for our golden-age heroes. He gave us compelling takes on many of the Minutemen, most notably Nite Owl, Mothman, and the Silhouette, creating fully-formed characters from the brief snapshots we see in Watchmen. Minutemen didn’t bother much to explore much of Dollar Bill’s back-story, which is unfortunately the only similarity Dollar Bill has to that series.
William Benjamin Brady was an athletic phenom, but his football career ended with a knee injury in college. With no other marketable skills, William pursues a career in acting, where he also has no marketable skills. Desperate for cash, he answers an ad for the National Bank, where he’s convinced to become Dollar Bill, spokesperson extraordinaire. From there, the issue is essentially a checklist of things we already knew about Dollar Bill: he joins the Minutemen, they botch that fireworks factory mission, and he’s killed when his cape gets caught in the revolving door of the bank. Len Wein even throws some homophobia in there to pay lip service the the limited characterization we saw in Minutemen, but does it with embarrassingly little conviction.
Not only is Bill’s judgement never mentioned before or after, it’s not even consequential to this scene — he negates the sentiment as soon as he expresses it. For fun, here’s my re-write of this scene:Panel 1: “I really hated Silhouette and everything she stood for.” Panel 2: “But she was actually a very good person.” Panel 3: FARTS
This scene serves exactly no purpose, since we’ve never seen any of what he’s talking about. Hell, we never even see Bill and Silhouette interact. He might as well be talking about his childhood dog. Wein picks the absolute worst way to dramatize what could have been an interesting conflict, all so he can cut to the excitement of Bill enjoying a beer by himself.
Part of the problem may be Wein’s decision to tell the whole story in the past-tense. That’s a move that has the potential to offer a propulsive sense of inevitability to the action, but is totally undercut by the fact that we’ve already seen literally every development here before. Instead, Wein’s choice of tense exaggerates the sense that this is simply a poor retelling of Minutemen.The bigger problem stems from Wein failing to identify any actual conflict in his story. Is Bill a bumpkin with country morality, forced to confront his beliefs when he moves to the big city? Is he a convictionless schlub willing to become a corporate shill for a quick buck? Was he taken advantage of by the National Bank? Not only would any of these conflicts made for a more interesting story, they also could have served to elucidate Bill’s character by giving him something to react to. Instead, we’re left with tepid reactions to boring events, which leaves this issue pretty lifeless.That would be a big enough problem in itself, but Wein has the audacity to suggest that Bill will live on in the hearts and minds of his adoring fans.I appreciate the symbolic significance of what Wein is going for with the kid’s dialogue, but I actually think it’s telling that he’s got his facts 100% wrong. The only thing these kids know about Dollar Bill is false, and that’s partially because he was a corporate symbol (imagine all of the fucks the world would give if Ronald McDonald stopped existing), and partially because he doesn’t actually represent anything. “Hey kids! Remember that one time Bill kind-of-sort-of shrugged off his homophobia? Let’s reenact that!” It’s a narrative stretch, but the meta-text — that we would care enough about Dollar Bill to look back on him fondly — is simply incomprehensible. Dollar Bill isn’t even close to being a timeless hero we can all aspire towards. Scott, what did you think? Did you read Minutemen? I know this issue sucked either way, but I suspect that some of the developments might play better if you aren’t familiar with them already. Is this issue as bad as I think it is, or should I start looking for a Dollar Bill costume for you?
Scott: To be fair, it’s gotta be tough to take a guy whose only established trait is his homophobia and try to flesh out a character worthy of his own comic. It’s a sentiment that could easily alienate a huge portion of this series’ audience, so I can appreciate Wein’s attempt to downplay that aspect of Dollar Bill’s personality, but he manages to touch on it just enough to make it seem totally awkward and forced. So Bill doesn’t know any “straight guys” who would wear the Dollar Bill costume? Did they really need to toss that line in? Or maybe this is meant to imply that he does know some gay guys and, further, is aware of what outfits they like. Yeah, I think I’m getting to the root of the issue: Dollar Bill is really a closeted homosexual, a conclusion which is totally supported by the headline of this article that I didn’t read.
Anyway, Drew, you’re right. This issue sucked. Even without having read Minutemen, there wasn’t much to get excited about here. Bill’s about as passionless as can be. I understand he becomes Dollar Bill just to make some cash and not because he has any desire to fight crime, but his real “dreams” don’t seem all that important to him either. He basically decides on a whim that he wants to become a famous actor, which isn’t exactly a unique aspiration. Then, with minimal effort he achieves incredible fame, but still goes to see if he can make it in Hollywood, where he is rejected for the exact reason that the Minutemen want him.
He’s “absolutely crestfallen”? Really? Seems like he gave up pretty easily. And c’mon, what porno casting director would turn away Dollar Bill? “Sorry, you’re too recognizable, but we are trying to cast somebody who looks just like you for this Minutemen-parody we’re doing.” And that’s it for character development. He sticks with the Dollar Bill persona because he couldn’t manage to luck into another gig he liked a little better. Like a true hero.
The best thing about the idea that Dollar Bill’s legacy will live on is that it overlooks the fact that he died in the most humiliating way possible. It’s a little embarrassing to get your coat caught in a door even if no one else notices. Now imagine if instead of your coat getting caught, it’s your stupid cape that you wear around because you’re pretending to be a superhero. And instead of no one noticing, you get shot in the face and you die. I have to think that would tarnish your reputation a little. At least to the point that kids wouldn’t continue to believe that you “cannot be beaten”. If anything, I’d think the other kids would be teasing the kid in the Dollar Bill get-up. It’s a pretty gay costume, after all.
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?