Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1 Comic Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, June 29, 2012
When DC Comics announced that they were going to produce more Watchmen stories without Alan Moore, it created a huge controversy. Issues such as creator’s rights and touching the holy bible of comics being the two biggest. We decided to not just give you one opinion on the first issues, but several. With a subject as broad and diverse as the comic, its characters, and the controversy behind it, we thought this was only fair. This week we look at Nite Owl, issue #1.
Review: Before Watchmen was going a sweet 3 for 3 through last week, and exceeding all my expectations. Well, the fourth time at the plate is a lazy fly ball to center field. The center fielder catches it with no problem because he knows exactly what to expect, and that ball arcing through the air carries no surprises.
Not every Before Watchmen book needs some kind of twist, but surprising us as readers (skeptical or otherwise) is very important. The creators of Before Watchmen have the unfortunate task of delivering to us books that have to prove a large majority of people wrong, and Nite Owl #1 ends up proving a lot of people right. This book is about as straightforward as you can get, and moves through so time so quick that by the end one has to wonder what else there is to write about. Hopefully in subsequent issues is where J. Michael Straczynski will surprise us, but as of now we get some reheated Batman and Blue Beetle origins. Dan Dreiberg being mentored by Hollis Mason (The original Nite Owl) is exactly what we're hoping to see, but it's over before it even begins, and it feels like a ton of missed opportunities. There's a scene where a young Dan uses his ingenuity to track Hollis back to his lair, only to find that Hollis knew Dan was on his tail, and has already left a message for him to meet at a local park. The following scene where Dan and Hollis first meet should be the stuff of legend, but instead it's quick and incredibly predictable. Even worse are the scene's with Dan's father. The first time we meet him he's a shlubby Wall Street millionaire who cares more about the stock market than his son. The next time we see him he's forcing himself on Dan's mother, and clad in a wife beater like a trailer park nightmare. He wants Dan to see all this to show him "How a real man behaves". Huh?
It's not all bad- Seeing the Nite Owl and Rorschach team-up bloom is cool, and their banter is a highlight. The most interesting thing about this book is the art. In a very cool nostalgia trip we have Joe Kubert inking over his son Andy's pencils. It give's everything a retro feel, and some of the inks are downright fantastic. Unfortunately the writing is by the numbers, and it's a story we've read countless times before.
Review: Nite Owl #1 does something that the first three Before Watchmen titles haven’t done and that is to give us an honest-to-goodness origin story. Set in the early 1960s, it traces the footsteps of teenager Daniel Dreiberg, an introverted but brilliant young man growing up in the shadow of his wealthy but abusive father. Daniel’s a dreamer and a bit of a nerd but also ingenious. When the original Nite Owl busts of a ring of car thieves, Daniel manages to track the hero back his secret lair in the city.
Struck by the boy’s ingenuity the Nite Owl, i.e. Hollis Mason, decides to take the boy under his wing (no pun intended). When his father dies, Daniel inherits the family fortune and begins to not only devise new gadgets for Nite Owl but begins to train and become his protégé. Nite Owl is a bit like Batman and Robin in reverse. Here it is the sidekick who is the wealthy, creative genius. Eventually we’ll see Nite Owl meet the other heroes of the 1960s: Rorschach, Silk Specter, Dr. Manhattan, etc…
J. Michael Straczynski has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me as a comic writer. Some of his work I’ve loved and others, not so much. But I think he’s a good fit for this book that has a very Silver Age look and feel. In many ways it’s a very old school style story in the old Marvel style where we have a young man who rises above his troubles to become a hero. Helping to maintain the old style look is the art team of Andy and Joe Kubert. The venerable Kubert at 85 years of age can definitely teach a thing or two to many modern artists. It was so refreshing to see detailed line work and shading, hallmarks of Kubert’s style. Nite Owl #1 was an old-fashioned first issue that developed both character and origin and I enjoyed it a great deal.
Review: It always marvels me how J. Michael Straczynski can pull me into a story so fast. With his legendary pen, he spins a terrific Nite Owl (modern) origin tale that is engrossing. The beginnings of Dan Dreiberg and the slow retirement of Hollis Mason gives a peek into what made Nite Owl Nite Owl. Dreiberg is an ordinary teen, the first fanboy you might say who is fascinated by the Nite Owl’s body of work. Seeing the teenage sleuth track down the real identity of the masked crime-fighter gives us a clever vision of the hero that will come to be. In a scene from Dreiberg’s family life, we see his mother being savagely beaten by his own father. After suffering a heart attack while beating her, she tells Dan: “At some point you should call the hospital. Looks you’re your father’s had a heart attack. I’d do it myself, but for some reason I just can’t remember the phone number.” Classic. After the funeral, Mason takes on Dan as his apprentice and trains him to completion after his retirement.
What I thought was so genuine about the tale was the father-son connection between Dan & Hollis. It was an organic relationship that had Hollis playing the father that Dan never had. The chemistry is there and Straczynski spins it into comic gold. The first meeting of the Owl and Rorschach is one that leads to a fruitful partnership. Rorschach is written just like Moore wrote him, “Hurm’s” and all. When the formation of “The Crime-Busters” begins, we are treated to the first meeting of what will become the WATCHMEN. Doctor Manhattan, The Comedian, Silk Spectre—they are all in attendance anxious to pick up where the Minutemen in the 40’s left off. The Owl is immediately taken with Silk Spectre feeling as though they are meant to be together. At just a glance the seeds of his love for her are planted.
Seeing an origin tale for what most consider to be the “Batman-lite” of the group is a truly engaging read. If I had my way, Straczynski would be at the helm for all of this series-he is just that good. Peeling the layers back on the Nite Owl proved far more inventive and telling than I expected leaving me wishing they released all four of the issues immediately in a trade. Dreiberg’s penchant for technology and passion for the craft is displayed notably well and is a nice tip of the hat to those of us who like our heroes to have gadgets. The first two were duds for me but after The Comedian last week and the Nite Owl this week, I am warming to the idea that this series was a necessary move for rabid fans of WATCHMEN.
Review: And now we dive, cowl first, into the early adventures of The Nite Owl! As you probably figured, this first issue deals us the origin story of Nite Owl II, Daniel Dreiberg , but it's not the practiced vegas card jockey shuffle, which wows us with polished deck handling. Instead, this is an uneven affair which feels more forgettable than anything more harshly negative. The ingenious magic of the previous Before Watchmen books simply isn't here.
To start with, we're given a quick look at Dan's abusive, money grubbing, banker father- who would be the source of his unlimited crime fighting funds referred to in Watchmen. His dominated mother is no shield to the shouted abuses of a papa who can't understand why his son isn't already working, or why he's always lost within the real, of ideas and inventions. Seeking an escape from his unhappy home life, Dan tracks and deduces the identity of The Nite Owl and it's his scenes with an aging Hollis Mason that shine the brightest. I was personally excited to get a glimpse at the Owl Cave and at the first Nite Owl's crime fighting gear. Sadly, these scenes aren't enough to carry the whole issue through to awesome ends.
Like the story, the art feels very forgettably hum-drum. There is one striking exception, and that's the debut fight scenes of Nite Owl II. Those several pages feel dynamic and powerful. One image specifically, mid combat, fully showcases the raw dangerous power of this crime fighter and his brilliant technical savvy. Still, the entire venture struck me as uninspired. I'm really not sure if I'll continue reading this miniseries, even though it's only a totally of four issues.
Review: Intially the whole origin of the second Nite Owl was what I wanted for this Before Watchmen tale. J. Michael Straczynski is, by far, one of my favorite writers (his run on the Amazing Spider-Man is the best in the last 20 years) so my expectations were high. His training of Dan Drieberg and assuming the mantel of Nite Owl was far too short here. It was this great treat like actually reading Batman: Year One again only to have it be the Cliff Notes version. Straczynski weaves the end of this first issue in and out of key moments of Moore’s original meeting of the Crime Busters. Yet again it feels like more like an Expanded Universe Star Wars comic than something original. If anything, this is how the fourth issue should have ended. Straczynski put Rorschach in here too soon, as well. It’s called Nite Owl. Rorschach will have his own book soon. With as short as this Before Watchmen tale was they should have called it Before Watchmen:When Rorschach met Nite Owl II.
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Mania Grade: B-
Title: Nite Owl
Issue: 1 or 4
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski, Characters created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Artists: Joe Kubert and Andy Kubert
Digital Download Price: $3.99
Digital Download and Comic: $4.99