Shelby: How do you tell any kind of story about a man who sees all of time at once? He knows his past, his future, and everything in between; how do you find a compelling narrative in the story of a man who knows his whole story? J. Michael Straczynski has tried to do that by exploiting Dr. Manhattan’s kooky relationship with time. “Doc Manhattan knows every possible future? FINE. I’ll WRITE every possible future!” JMS seemed to say. This title hasn’t been terrible (especially compared to the othermonstrosities JMS had his hand in), but it hasn’t been great, either. At best, this book has been conceptually interesting, but has fallen short in execution. This issue is no different; JMS tries out something new that’s interesting, but ultimately the story doesn’t go much of anywhere. Continue reading →
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!
Michael: Breaking the Before Watchmen project into character-specific series makes is a novel but logical way to approach the prequel. After all, each of the Watchmen characters are their own distinct protagonists, each with a different set of skills, challenges, ethics, and goals. And while the technique might be somewhat novel in the comic book world, the last 20 years of cinema have acclimated us to disparate, chronologically skewed vignettes that reveal more of the story as they overlap. It’s a fun narrative technique that can enhance a nuanced story, allowing the storyteller to layer information and keep the reader interested with shifting perspective. But what of Watchmen? It wasn’t initially conceived in that fractured vignette style and not all the characters are equally interesting. This was my initial concern when starting Moloch/Edgar, because I barely remembered who Moloch was from the original Watchmen. Once I did recall him, I got bummed out, because he’s a sniveling pathetic character, a witless victim, and a dubious subject for a series. However, the second issue — which mercifully brings us all the way to Moloch’s death — crystalizes the series as a sober portrait of a sincere, tortured pawn amidst the narcissism, swashbuckling, and grand-scheming of the other Watchmen characters. Continue reading →
Michael: One of the themes of almost any time travel story is exponential chaos. Messing with the space time continuum can get out of control fast. The time-travel narrative can get similarly disordered as alternate worlds open and paradoxes proliferate. When the protagonist can exist in and explore these permutations, like Dr. Manhattan, drama gets complicated and the context needed to recognize a satisfactory ending gets fuzzy. In this issue, “Ego Sum”, J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes try to gracefully execute a clunky, inelegant story solution to the reckless splitting of worlds that results in a nuclear holocaust. Continue reading →
The Retcon Punchers weren’t exactly thrilled when Before Watchmen was announced. But then, against all odds, the experiment proved largely successful. The original line-up contained many titles that went well beyond justifying their existence — a few even transcend their inherently exploitative premise. Last week saw the release of Moloch #1 and the announcement of a Dollar Bill one-off. What does this mean for the legacy of Before Watchmen? Any additional titles you want to see?What if there’s a chance to get additional issues of existing titles? Welcome to the Chat Cave. Continue reading →
Shelby: Moloch has appeared in a few of the Before Watchmen titles. While it’s been kind of nice to see him referenced, I’ve never really thought he fit in these prequels. Alan Moore’s stage magician criminal mastermind represents a comic book villain trope; to see this caricature inserted into the realities of Before Watchmen has been jarring at times. Even though introducing a new mini-series at this point seems like a cheap cash-grab, and even though it’s written by J. Michael Straczynski, I planned to keep an open mind as I read it. Moloch is an important character in Watchmen, I was mildly intrigued by his origin. Then I read the issue, and now all I can think is how I never want to read anything like it ever again.
Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing the Superman: Earth One 2, originally released October 31st, 2012.
Patrick: You remember that scene in Mallrats where they’re talking about how Clark has sex? I believe the term “Kryptonite condom” was applied rather liberally to that sequence. It’s a funny conversation, and certainly sparks one of those “oh yeah, how does Superman have sex?” questions. So when J. Michael Straczynski explores the issue of Clark’s sexuality, you can’t say he’s answering a question that no one asked. After all, human sexuality is an immensely complicated subject, and there are countless works of fiction that ask uncomfortable questions about it — throw an all-powerful being with unknown limits into the mix and you’ve got yourself some compelling story-fodder. Right? Turns out that when you address Kryptonian sexuality, you need the same maturity and attention to subtlety that you would need to explore human sexuality. I’ve never known either of these to be qualities of Straczynski’s writing, so Superman Earth One 2 is less a disappointment and more an inevitability. Continue reading →
Patrick: The first issue of Dr. Manhattan has sort of become Retcon Punch’s go-to example of something about which we can neither agree nor be civil. At its best, the issue was clever homage, setting up a daunting narrative structure with dazzling artwork. At its worst, the issue was reductive, inaccurate and repetitive. The centerpiece of our contention: Schrodinger’s cat. The thought experiment posits that an unobserved cat in a box is simultaneously dead and alive, and only when the cat is observed do the realities collapse into a single universe. Schrodinger came up with this puzzle partially to illustrate how silly the field of quantum mechanics is. Which isn’t to say that he didn’t buy into it, just that you live in a profoundly weird universe if a fact can be simultaneously true and not true. I’ve been thinking about it all evening, and “profoundly weird” is exactly how I want to describe Dr. Manhattan 2. Continue reading →
Patrick: Look, not everyone’s a superhero. Right? That’s the point of Watchmen — it takes a special psychology to don a cape and cowl and fight crime by night. With each character-revelation, Alan Moore seems to say “look how fucked up these people are.” Moore employs some pretty blunt tactics to deliver this message, going so far as to devote an entire issue to Walter Kovacs’ therapy sessions. J. Michael Straczynski attempts to explore Dan Dreiberg’s mind with a similar blunt force, but ends up losing Nite Owl and Twilight Lady in the process.
Shelby: Dr. Manhattan is a tricky character to deal with. He is all powerful; he can control any matter in any way, can see all time, and knows how everything will happen. That’s difficult to even really comprehend as a reader, let alone to understand it enough to write about. Once you get over the hurdle of writing about an infinitely powerful being with seemingly no weaknesses, there’s the fact that you’re writing a prequel story that the readers already know. Dr. Manhattan gets the most detailed origin story in Watchmen, so how do you write more about a story that we already know without completely derailing the character? I will admit, I was doubtful J. Michael Straczynski would pull it off, solely based on my disappointment in Nite Owl so far. I was surprised and immensely pleased to find this title is very, very good. Continue reading →