Best Shots Extra: BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS, IT GIRL, More

 

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #2

Written by Len Wein

Art by Jae Lee and June Chung

Lettering by John Workman

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

He might have been one of the least-developed characters in the original Watchmen, but damn if Ozymandias doesn't pack a hell of a punch today. With Jae Lee giving the World's Smartest Man some serious killer instinct, this prequel is a visual tour de force.

Chronicling Adrian Veidt's first forays into costumed crimefighting, Before Watchmen: Ozymandias is an interesting mix of average superhero action and something much deeper. Thankfully, artist Jae Lee and writer Len Wein are pretty good at balancing each of these parts, giving the book a kick in the pants when it needs it.

Wein, for example, is at his best when he starts adding the mythology of ancient kings to what is otherwise a fairly standard Batman story — when Adrian tells the authorities he must leave because "I still have worlds to conquer," well, it both establishes a depth of character as well as a grim foreshadowing of things to come. I also like the Beautiful Mind-esque way he has Adrian look at the world, constantly evaluating possibilities and trajectories in any arena.

That said, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of this book is also fairly standard Batman fare — an ultra-competent normal beating the snot out of some nameless thugs while he searches for a big-time drug dealer. That's where Jae Lee comes in. Lee makes this book look superb, a sort of haunting spirit inhabiting a seedy city too grim for the real world. There's a page of Adrian flipping and tumbling across a rusty pier that is the best fight choreography I've seen this side of David Aja — Wein's words slow you down just enough to really drink in these gorgeous details, as you see how Adrian moves from leap to impossible leap. June Chung's colorwork is also superb, with a royal purple motif that then explodes against bright yellow action panels.

That said, Adrian Veidt might be perfect, but his book isn't. This is gorgeous action, but the first crime this book commits is it never really goes past that standard action, never really diving deeper into what Ozymandias means, or why his approach to heroism became so broad, so sweeping and so cruel. Wein's script also lacks a little bit of polish, with random associates telling their bosses in public about the size of their drug takes? There's exposition, and then there's being clunky, and this book is occasionally clunky. Perhaps an even bigger oversight is Adrian's motivation — his girlfriend from the last issue, Miranda, is barely an afterthought here, making his decision to become a costumed superheroes seem even more ridiculous.

Even with a cliffhanger that seems far from revolutionary, there's still plenty to like about Before Watchmen: Ozymandias. This is one of the best-looking books that DC Comics publishes today, with a fantastic sense of mood and movement that makes you almost a little wistful that, say, Superman couldn't get the same treatment. But that visual panache makes Adrian Veidt special, makes him memorable, makes him strong. Ozymandias may have operated largely behind the scenes in the original Watchmen, but this prequel book is giving the King of Kings his due.

 

It Girl and the Atomics #1

Written by Jamie S. Rich

Art by Mike Norton

Colors by Allen Passalaqua

Lettered by Crank!

Published by Image Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Jamie S. Rich is in the driver’s seat for this spin-off of Mike Allred’s Madman and although the ending delivers on some of the zaniness that marked the source material, getting to that point is a problem. And Mike Norton’s excellent cartooning can only do so much.

We are immediately thrust into some by-the-numbers superhero-ing as the eponymous It Girl dispenses the Biff! Bang! Pow! on a couple of goons who look like, well, The Goon. But thankfully, Rich offers us an escape route by making the experience a videogame that the real It Girl is playing. Instantly, we are clued into her situation: she’s a superhero who’s gotten pretty bored without her hero buddies around. Her boredom ends up serving as the catalyst for the rest of the issue to little avail.

Suddenly, It Girl is simply acting out the video game scene we saw earlier just with a trio of more colorful villains. Unfortunately, the Hedgehog, the Weasel and the Otter re laughable instead of actually being funny and Rich isn’t able to make It Girl or reformed criminal, The Skunk, likable characters. They mostly just exist. The final scene, set in Doctor Flem’s office, ups the ante a bit for the book and right there it seems that Rich might be onto something. But we’ll have to wait for the next issue to see any of it come to fruition.

Mike Norton’s art i what really carries the book. At points, it’s very clear that he’s doing his best Allred impression but that completely works for the world and inhabitants of Snap City. Simple deisgns and clear lines provide the most amount of clarity to the story. By following Allred’s lead, Norton (with the help of master colorist Allen Passalaqua) are able to make it feel like a Madman comic right from the beginning. Norton gets a few moments to shine as well. Aside the for the final splash page, a scene depicting It Girl’s power set provides one of the most dynamic visual moments in the book.

It Girl and the Atomics is by no means a bad comic. It’s just one that takes a bit too long to get going. It treads water because of a lack of humor and originality until the final scene. But the art is beautiful. Norton knows his way around Snap City and Rich is lucky to have such a talented collaborator.

 

Spider-Men #4

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

I like Peter Parker. I like Miles Morales. But even I have my limits.

Spider-Men #4 preaches to the choir, and the choir only. Almost purely exposition — but exposition we already know, it's all just for fictional characters' sake — this comic is the equivalent of your best friend showing off slideshows of their spring break vacation. You get it. You've heard the stories already. Do you really want to pay $4 for the privilege of hearing it again?

This comic didn't have to go this way, of course. Brian Michael Bendis's premise actually has a ton of potential: the mainstream Peter Parker has a visit with the Ultimate universe's May Parker and Gwen Stacy, who watched "their" teenage Peter die in front of them. There's a lot of room to talk about second chances to say goodbye, of seeing promises fulfilled, of certain tragedies and triumphs translating across entire lifetimes and universes.

That's not quite what happens here. It's purely continuity comparison here, with Peter basically just telling May and Gwen what's different in his world (like Mary Jane Watson being a model instead of a budding journalist) and what's the same (Uncle Ben's still dead). Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, meanwhile, adds almost nothing to the story, aside from a couple of panels with him playing around with some webshooters Peter left lying around. Gwen's death in the mainstream Marvel Universe doesn't even cause a blip in this script.

The art is the only thing that's truly memorable about this book, but that's pushing it. Sara Pichelli's self-inked artwork is often smooth, but her faces occasionally have a scratchy quality that reminds me of Billy Tan. When she's on, she's on, particularly a scene with Tony Stark that looks better than just about anything else here, and that final splash shows that she's committed to making Miles look like a spectacular Spider-Man. Yet there is a ton of room for solid acting and expressiveness, and that doesn't come across in this book. That said, Justin Ponsor's colors are a highlight here, giving that sort of realistic tone with his cooler palette.

This issue is an interlude, through and through, but with the series already moving so slowly, you can't help but feel like this is filler. Bendis is often praised for his talky character work, but this is literally the moment to tie up some serious emotional loose ends, and the end result is minimal at best. What's the point of Spider-Men, if not to show how each character can affect each others' worlds? I love both Peter Parker and Miles Morales, but this comic is the very definition of a missed opportunity.

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