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 the Dollar Bill One-Shot.
Critic Jarrett Kruse (TV Critic)
While Dollar Bill Brady is not one of the first WATCHMEN that come to mind but I really think that the character is important to examine when looking at the whole WATCHMEN canon. Brady is one of those guys in high school and college that you think is guaranteed to “make it” and that they will live the embodiment of the “American Dream.” But after Bill blows out his knee in a crucial football game and will never play ball again, he is like so many athletes at a cross-roads of not knowing what the hell to do with his life. Without his athletic prowess anymore, Bill is really just a good-looking guy that wants a shot at stardom that soon realizes that your mug can only take you so far. Down and out in a one bedroom four-story walkup in Manhattan, Bill is a starving artist trying to find any gig he can.
Desperate for work, he finds a job where all he needs are his good looks and although reticent at first he takes the gig. Engineered by the PR team of a national bank chain, Bill became the company mascot “Dollar Bill” with a superhero costume to boot that promises to be the official protector of the National Bank Chain. He becomes a recognizable figure nation-wide and when he finally takes his chance on Hollywood dreams he comes back to NYC reluctantly. The agents in La-La land just could not see past his Dollar Bill image. Back in NYC he continues as Dollar Bill but something is missing in his life. When Bill sees an ad from Captain Metropolis and Silk Spectre recruiting new heroes he jumps at the opportunity to be a part of something again. Naturally he is selected to be a part of The Minutemen but assures them he has no real powers or fighting prowess.
For a while, Dollar Bill is not just a corporate shill for a company, he is part of a team again; something he has been longing for since he blew out his knee at Dartmouth. While Bill gels with the team nicely and hones his athletic and fighting skills overflowing with newfound confidence. But he is not a superhero. Ironically as Dollar Bill is trying to foil a bank heist, the cape that he complained about when first being fit for his costume catches on the revolving door of the bank and he is shot dead at point blank range. The Minutemen give him a touching tribute at his funeral and I enjoyed the way they had Bill posthumously talking to the reader. The legacy of a superhero that was not really a superhero will live on. I loved the way Steve Rude drew this book and besides the shiny new cover, it felt like I was reading a book from the 50’s. Len Wein’s writing is stellar and it makes me wish that Dollar Bill was a more prominent figure that had more coverage over the years. He is just a regular guy that briefly was allowed to be a superhero. Secretly I think we all want that even if it is just for a day.
Critic: Chuck Francisco (Columnist and Critic)
As pleasantly surprising as the various titles under the Before Watchmen umbrella have been, this past week's one shot dedicated to Minuteman Dollar Bill rings hollow of meaning. This isn't simply because we know the eventual fate of this caped crusader (he's shot to death after his cape gets stuck in a revolving door), but more because his backstory and motivation are simply uninteresting (I'd guess especially more so to the intended audience of comic readers). Bill was the quintessential handsome high school jock; exceedingly magnificent in all disciplines physical, he only passes academically through the help of friends. College scholarships are all but assured when a traumatic knee injury derails all of Bill's future career options. We're supposed to empathize with Bill during his downward shame spiral, but it fails to hook at all. I find it unlikely that most comics enthusiasts will feel sorry for a character that's the embodiment of their tormentors from high school.
The thrust of this one shot builds on the pity we're supposed to feel for Bill to counteract the distaste we'd have for him as a poser hero. Dollar Bill is merely an employee, someone being paid as a public relations ploy. A few panels show him grow beyond it, but it's too little and too late to impact the mental image of him which we've grown over twenty plus pages. He's a shallow, hollow pretty boy, which is ironically how I would describe this book. It's handsomely drawn by Steven Rude, who manages to fuse a silver age reminiscing style, with striking art deco geometries, while bringing in modern shading. The panel layout is solid, with one particularly brilliant stand out; the top half of page 25 stimulates the hell out of your visual cortex. But despite that, the story is still just as shallow and unmotivated as Dollar Bill himself, marking this as probably the least of the Before Watchmen books.
Critic: Joel Rickenbach (Columnist and Critic)
Not all super heroes get to have a legacy. They don't last long enough to amass a rogues gallery, or have multiple titles with descriptors like "spectacular" or "incredible". Some heroes are casualties, cautionary tales, footnotes. Dollar Bill is such a hero, a guy who died because he got his costume caught in a door, an anti-cape PSA if there ever was one. So, why would you want to read a tale featuring a shlub like Dollar Bill? Because even minor heroes deserve to be remembered, and two comic book legends spin a very enjoyable yarn.
What works in Dollar Bill is the retro feel combined with the Watchmen edge. It doesn't have the golden age look of Darwyn Cooke's Minutemen, but rather its own classic feel. The old style thought bubbles and hand crafted word balloons belie a look at a man who peaked in College, continually made the wrong choices, and paid the price for vanity. William Benjamin Bradley is no Peter Parker or Steve Rodgers, but there's a germ of a good person somewhere in there, he just takes the easy road at every turn. When he approaches the Minutemen, clad in a ridiculous bank-sponsored costume, he at least has the sense to admit his whole persona is just smoke and mirrors, he has no real powers. But that's ok, he has the public's eye, and the Minutemen are happy to use him to gain notoriety, and he's happy to use them to give his life validation. Len Wein and Steve Rude manage to make this footnote's tale an engaging one. As a one-shot, it's a quick story that's over almost as soon as it begins, much like Dollar Bill himself.