Before Watchmen – Ozymandias 6

ozymandias 6 B4WToday, Michael and Shelby are discussing Ozymandias 6, originally released March 13th, 2013. Ozymandias is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Michael: What you don’t show is as important as what you do show. If a story is told well, you can thankfully take this writerly aphorism for granted. We’re free to focus on what we are shown, because it’s gripping and we care about these moments over others. The rest — the implied events — blends into the background. It might be important. It might be necessary we know about it, but it isn’t right in front of us, on the page, and that’s OK. Unless that story is Before Watchman: Ozymandias 6, then it’s not OK. Every grinding gear of a story must be on display. It’s my own fault. I crave the supplemental information and shifts in perspective — I’m just upset when it doesn’t work out.

Veidt’s master plan is entering it’s final stages and loose ends must be tied. After attending the funeral of the assistant he killed, Veidt assembles his island “film crew” — composed of scientists as well as creative-types — to make his world-crushing island clone-monster. He has everything in place — a PR strategy, a new assistant, and a desperate Moloch ready to be metastasized. Unfortunately, Blake the nosy Comedian stumbles upon Veidt’s secret island while looking for Sandinistas. When Blake finds a prototype of the squid-alien, he immediately understands the implications of what he sees and flees the island — whimpering quite a lot in Veidt’s telling — and runs to Moloch’s to sit creepily and disillusioned on his bed in that familiar scene. But now, we see that Veidt is listening — he has Moloch’s place bugged. Then Veidt displays his gift for making a big moral imperative out of everything, rationalizing endlessly to himself as he retires to his secret cave-locker to get his lucky black murdering hat. Veidt then scales Blake’s building in a needless display of skill, considering he bursts into the apartment from the hallway. As Veidt murders and justifies concurrently, he takes a moment to muse over the irony the he is the one (and not Blake I guess) tying up loose ends.

veidt scaling

This is not a bad Ozymandias issue. It contains a lot of trademark standing and thinking as well as action-delegating to subordinates. Unfortunately, just like other Ozy issues, this one pulls back the curtain too far, revealing Veidt’s fastidious involvement with every beloved Watchman moment of every level, from the grandest act of violence to the most banal administrative task. I usually don’t mind, but I love Blake’s murder in the original Watchman. It’s perfect — inglorious and mysterious (even if you know Veidt is personally responsible). I don’t need to know the soup-to-nuts details. I like the original scene because it held back some information and allowed to appreciate the starkness of the moment. As much as I resent the meaning behind the image, I do like this meek, Molochy-looking Blake drawn by Jae Lee.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 2.45.19 AM

It’s not just that Veidt is ruining other Watchmen’s stories, he’s also damaging his own reputation. I used to marvel at his impossibly far-reaching influence, his prescience, his strategy. But now, it’s a lot like when concert violinists or magicians warn you that if you had any idea how often or hard they practiced the thing you enjoyed for two minutes, you would be more dismayed than impressed. Veidt has revealed too much effort to maintain any mystique.

I always assumed that Blake had to be dealt with because he was just a crazy loose cannon, not because he ran screaming from Veidt’s island and couldn’t keep it together. I could have done without that. What do you think about this supplemental telling, Shelby? Also, what of Veidt’s status-obsession? I’ll bet he only agonizes over murdering his famous friends. He probably didn’t do that for his poor assistant.

Shelby: I am both happy and sad this mini-series is finished. I am extremely happy to no longer have to read Len Wein’s pedantic retelling of a story we already know. Of all the things I would want to learn about Adrian Veidt, the details of his meeting with Max Shea is not one of them. This title has alternated between telling us details we already know (often times verbatim from Watchmen proper), and telling us mundane, extraneous details that add nothing new to the story. Veidt’s encounters with Shea and the rest of the artists and scientists on his island are a perfect example. Michael, you say that Veidt has ruined his own image by telling us too much of what’s behind the curtain, like a magic trick that you just can’t enjoy once you know the secret. I’ll go so far to say that Veidt has rendered his own story too outrageous to be believed. I’ll be honest, even in my first reading of Watchmen, I thought Veidt’s plan extremely far-fetched. The concept of a greater enemy forcing the world to call off World War III makes sense, but a fake, telepathic alien created by a team of scientists and artists who believed they were making a movie? Wein, however, has showed me the way to push that hard-to-believe situation straight into Completely Unbelieveable Land: show me the mundane details of how he did it. Am I really supposed to believe that these intelligent people can be paid to abandon their families, to clone a human brain, and assume it’s all fine, it’s for a movie? That’s fucking dumb.

My biggest problem with this title continues to be the expository narration. On the one hand, Adrian’s approach does make sense for him as a character. If there’s anyone who thinks his every minute act is so important as to be recorded for posterity, it’s going to be Adrian Veidt, especially the cold, arrogant asshole we see here. On the other hand, no matter how much sense it might make for the character, the constant exposition is so boring to read.

adrian tells us what he is doing

Honestly, anytime I realized the dialog boxes were just going to describe what I could see Adrian was doing, I didn’t even bother reading them. If Wein were writing a novel, an expository journal-style narrative would probably work well to show the character as particularly detached, but this isn’t a novel. When I have beautiful images of what is happening in the story, hundreds of unnecessary dialog boxes only get in the way.

It’s those beautiful images that make me sad this miniseries is over. While Wein’s word-for-word retelling of Adrian’s story bores and frustrates me, I would happily stare at a retelling of Watchmen as drawn by Jae Lee. Really, I would happily stare at anything as drawn by Jae Lee. I was so pleased with his interpretation of Moloch’s encounter with Eddie.

eddie and moloch

Now, that is gorgeous. We aren’t covering any new ground, but Lee has interpreted the scene in a way that is new and fresh. The silhouettes are graphic and eye-catching, and the red and blue haze calls to mind both Eddie’s costume and his perceived patriotism in his role with the U.S. government. It’s simple, elegant, and stunning: now if only it wasn’t mucked up with all those silly speech balloons…

This title has ended up on the negative side of the Before Watchmen spectrum for me. As much as I adore Lee’s work, Wein’s sluggish, expository story has left me far less than impressed. It’s a shame; Adrian Veidt is the closest thing to a villain Watchmen has got; Wein could have shown us a man tormented by his choices, a man whom I believed truly understood how “heavy the head that wears the crown.” Instead, we got nothing more than we already had; less than that, even, if you consider the coldly impersonal Veidt we see here.

I saved the post and closed my laptop with satisfaction. I knew then that finally they all would truly understand my feelings for Ozymandias. Satisfied smile still on my face, I got off the couch, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.

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?


16 comments on “Before Watchmen – Ozymandias 6

  1. Another issue with the constant journal narrative is that, from a writing perspective, Wein has basically painted himself into a corner if he ever wants to tell a part of the story that Veidt isn’t personally witnessing. Think about how much stronger Comedian discovering the island would have been if Veidt wasn’t forced to talk about how he “imagined” it went down.

    • We brought this up last time, but it’s extra-silly that Veidt’s journal is an audio journal. There are two reasons to make a journal audio – it can be more actively presented on film and/or the character is too active to write it down (so it lends an immediacy to his words). But Veidt is recounting his life here, well after the fact, and it’s being presented in a written medium. I just don’t get it.

    • And what would be wrong with just taking a break from the journal narrative? Something like “I’m not sure how he found out…” Followed by beautiful panels uncluttered by Ozy’s bullshit.

      • That actually would have been awesome. There’s nothing suggesting that the images we’re seeing are drawn by Veidt – the “camera” can have a perspective that is not his own.

  2. Wow, that page with the bookcase: you could drop every narration box and it would be so, so much stronger without losing a bit of meaning. Talk about not trusting your artist, and with Jai Lee, why would you ever do that?

    This kind of storytelling bugs me. This isn’t a story, its a collection of deleted scenes. This is a DVD bonus feature. There are so many stories that could be told with Ozymandius, yet somehow this mini ended up featuring the least imaginative story possible. We didn’t need our hands held as you walked us through Watchmen, Wein.

    • Maybe Wein can’t really think about Watchmen any other way. As the editor of the original series, maybe all he’s ever really been concerned with is presenting the information. As much as this is a frustrating re-telling of Watchmen, his Dollar Bill one-off is an EVEN MORE frustrating re-telling of Minutemen. Dude’s just not a storyteller.

  3. Michael, thank you for pointing out that Ozy scales the building only to come in through the front-motherfucking-door. It’s so silly! But exploring this incident does raise a bunch of questions about why Veidt would feel the need to perform this execution in person and at such close range. With FISTS. In retrospect, something should have happened to make this confrontation personal for Veidt – something that would make it so it didn’t want to just have Eddie killed or poisoned or shot or whatever. The frustrating thing is that the groundwork for a personal grudge is laid back when they fight is issue 3. Just never followed through on.

    • Yeah, you really do need a “this time it’s personal” moment for that series of events to look like anything other than an elaborate waste of time.

      • Also, Patrick, I was trying to find Simpsons clips that feature homer in his black cap and turtleneck anytime he does anything nefarious (stealing moe’s car, robbing flanders, stalking lenny and carl, et al).

      • It would have been so easy to establish this too. Eddie could have kept his cool and confronted Veidt about the monster (instead of, as you point out, magically understanding the implications of such a beast existing), and the two of them not coming to an agreement on it. Especially with what we’ve seen in Azz’ Comedian, it seems remarkably un-Eddie-like to just break down at the thought of wiping out half of NYC to save the world. WE HAD TO DESTROY THE VILLAGE IN ORDER TO SAVE IT.

  4. Great review as always. And just as you say, it’s like deleted scenes. The kind that was deleted for a reason.

    Same thing goes with Nite owl. The stuff that isn’t bad or completely off is just lazy retelling.

    Either way. Will definitely buy the Minutemen/Silk Spectre and Comedian/Rorschach books together with the new ed. of Watchmen. The good stuff 🙂

    • I’m considering getting the Len Wein book if for no other reason that I’d like a way to actually experience the Curse of the Crimson Corsair stuff – and not fucking two-pages at a time. That thing is essentially unreadable as it is, and while I don’t totally expect that to change when its collected, I would like to have a solid impression of the ENTIRE Before Watchmen experience.

      But that’s the kind of collectorly impulse I HAVE to learn to keep in check.

      • I tried to read it, but got nowhere just as it felt like it went nowhere.

        Could/would be cool if they released some slip case for 2 books or more to fit in. Then Dr Manhattan/Nite Owl and Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair could serve as expensive stabilizing pieces to the thing (glued to the sides or something)

        It’s almost bizarre how well Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke’s stories work on their own compared to Straczynski and Wein’s.

        Comedian and Minutemen each tells a different era in a different tone.

        Silk Spectre not only adds a fun background to Laurie but also expands the idea that’s she’s Blakes daughter. Where he does the things he do to shit on everything she does it to piss her mum off haha.

        And where Silk Spectre does a love story in hippie’nfested California I think Rorschach did wunderbar with/in New York dirt. Even if he considered it “his last mistake” and let it die just as the last piece of Kovacs in him did (something btw I think too many have missed that the tale is about!)

        • The Cooke/Conner/Azzaraello Before Watchmen stories are definitely on a different level than the rest. It shouldn’t really be a surprise, but it’s a lesson that I personally need to learn over and over again – good writers write good stories, bad writers write bad stories. A crossover isn’t going to elevate Ann Nocenti or JMS’ writing, just as its not going to drag down Brian Azzarello or Jeff Lemire.

          I definitely think there’s a cool spread with the decades and eras explored in the good books – Minutemen giving us a solid WWII era story, and Comedian and Silk Spectre giving us opposing views of Vietnam and drug culture in the 60s (how appropriate, by the way) and Rorschach rounding it out with a 1970s extravaganza. None of the other series have a firm sense of time about them (Dr. Manhattan by design, but the other two have no excuse).

        • Good that you mention Conner (I forgot she co-wrote Silk Spectre). She earned it to be mentioned together with Azzarello and Cooke!

          I’m thinking the same thing about the eras too. Played solid in those books and very fitting the originals 80s. Only shame is that these books arent out yet. Collected in glorious HCs 🙂

          Hopefully in time to that I’v forgotten what a stinker Nite owl is. Just thinking about it… Rorschach making a speech about Kitty Genovese, killing his father (which contradicts the bad upbringing his mom gave him but also his belief his father was a good man), attacking Twilight Lady…

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