Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Adam Hughes
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
While there are still a few BEFORE WATCHMEN stragglers left to cross the finish line, I think we’re safe to declare the front runners and those that have valiantly moved us through the time before a time that never was. There frankly were no losers in my opinion, even MINUTEMEN which I didn’t give a good God damn about was a very well-crafted comic book. I respect those that ideologically objected to this series for purity of the story or in fear of offending Alan Moore’s beard, but please shut the fuck up already. We know, you object, but ultimately those objections mean nothing. The series still happened, comics have still continued, and the band plays on and on and on. This isn’t merely heady chiding on my part, more a purposeful segue into the infinite uncontrollable possibilities that were DR. MANHATTAN.
Despite my fervent enjoyment and subsequent defense of BEFORE WATCHMEN, I will cast one thorny barb; most of the tales were mired in a sameness of structure that was more than expected at the outset. After all, these were prequels and the human experience is what it is: I am born, I grow, I live, I die. Even DR. MANHATTAN, a being who scoffs at the constraints of time, needed to come down to our mortal plane to tell his tale of infinite possibilities. Now, where ole Doc zigged when every other story zagged, is that his timeline was an infinite parallel stack cascading to equally infinite destinations, if he so chose.
WATCHMEN, the original source material, remains revered to this day because it encompassed the spectrum of human experience in 9 panel layout. BEFORE WATCHMEN was merely a taffy pull of that original human resonance: SILK SPECTRE the human heart, COMEDIAN our lizard brain, OZYMANDIAS our civilized frontal lobe, RORSCHACH our fear, and DR. MANHATTAN the desire for all of us to find God within ourselves.
So where does God begin his tale? Anywhere he damn well pleases. Again though, for our understanding, JMS started the story with Osterman as a boy learning the watch making trade from his Father. We all know of course this is simply an analogy for the celestial mechanics that would one day allow him to rematerialize after his atoms were dispersed across the cosmos. This story lingered the least amount of time in “this is your life,” and the most amount of time on what could have been. Using the Schrodinger’s Cat theory to explain there are infinite possibilities until they are perceived, we spent the first three issues of this series with Dr. Manhattan perceiving and changing the events that turned him from geek to God. What if he never got to become a physicist and simply a watch maker – meh, boring, reset. What if he never forgot his coat in the tachyon (or whatever the fuck he was working on) chamber? A nice life, if not pedestrian. What if he never tried to slide his big blue hand up SILK SPECTRE’S costume? And on and on and on. I love a good “What If?” tale, and each issue of DR. MANHATTAN played the concept to the fullest.
Ultimately though, each scenario always led to the same place – the world devouring itself. Tempering human aggression seems to be even beyond the control of God. Of course this can lead us to even further speculations about a random universe versus a pre-determined course, but let’s save that ye ole theological debate for the TalkBacks and comments. So yes, DR. MANHATTAN ends where we expect it to – again folks, it’s a prequel. However, I do believe DR. MANHATTAN was unique in taking us one small step further than WATCHMEN, but this could be my lack of remembrance since it’s been close to fifteen years since I reread the book.
After the squid has attacked, after Rorschach is dust:
Ozymandias: “But you’ve regained an interest in human life.”
Manhattan: “Yes, I have, Perhaps I’ll go create some.”
And away Manhattan goes to a galaxy far far away; and like Q at the end of Star Trek, he makes the first amino acids make sweet sweet love to other acids to form the beginnings of new sentient life in the galaxy.
While that’s the end of the series, I should mention an interesting convention JMS played with half-way through the issue to get us there. Like when BATMAN lost his mind so many months ago, JMS makes the pages go topsy-turvy to reach the finish line. When Doc goes to tell Ozymandias of his wonderful journey into infinite possibilities we see the inception of their partnership to create a fuel source independent of the nasty nuclear annihilation side effect. Here we go Hebrew, Memento, whatever you want to call it, as we count backwards through the events of WATCHMEN that led to New York becoming Calamari’s lunch and their last fateful meeting when Osterman tells the earth to take a flying leap. I’m sure JMS had a specific intent in mind when doing this page flipping, but I think it best left to reader interpretation as to why this happens. Personally, I see it as a way to shift the point-of-view from Doc’s infinite possibilities to Ozy’s oh so human perception of how time passes. Also, it’s a countdown akin to that famous clock that struck midnight from the original WATCHMEN. Finally, life doesn’t simply beget life. Death and entropy are an intrinsic part of the cycle…or are they?
DR. MANHATTAN gets the award for the most thought provoking of the BEFORE WATCHMEN titles and the most original use of structure. Adam Hughes was able to keep pace with a complex topic and surpassed his past accomplishments with the reverse page order in the back of this issue. It’s a shame this one was only a four-parter.