Reading more like a launchpad to a “Watchmen” ongoing than a solo feature, “Before Watchmen: Nite Owl” #1 still delivers an insightful and satisfying portrait of the character.
Spoilers after this point!
Basically, the young Daniel Dreiberg’s origin story borrows a page from that of many hardcore comic book fans: frustrating and alienated childhood, really awesome memorabilia collection, and secret dreams of being the hero’s sidekick. After virtually stalking the original Nite Owl (Hollis Mason), the highly-intelligent Danny has two dreams comes true: his abusive dad kicks the bucket, and Mason passes the “cowl” to him. It feels very much like a Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson dynamic, but Dreiberg is truly on his own once Hollis ducks out.
Exit Hollis, enter Rorschach…and here’s where the book starts feeling like a “pilot” for “Watchmen The Series” (or at least the “Dreiberg and Kovacs” show). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The chemistry between Nite Owl and Rorschach is fun, and the foundation for the interrelationships of the rest of the team are re-established. But I’ll absolutely eat my hat (I mean, I don’t have a hat, but I could buy one) if we don’t see a “Watchmen” ongoing along these lines by the beginning of 2013. How that could possibly happen continuity-wise is the $25,000 question, as at the end of the original “Watchmen” Comedian is street-pizza and Rorschach is a bloody smear in the snow. Maybe Superboy needs to punch another hole in the time-space continuum.
variant cover to “Before Watchmen: Nite Owl” #1 by Kevin Nowlan
J. Michael Straczynski’s writing is crisp and keeps the story moving — he’s clearly not trying to “rewrite” the original Moore material, but instead builds off on it. The art by father-and-son team Joe and Andy Kubert is what really “sells” the book, however. The art looks like it stepped out of classic Kubert from the 1960s…which is perfect considering the era in which “Before Watchmen: Nite Owl” takes place. Is it jarring seeing an art style so reminiscent of that earlier, relatively more “innocent” time used to illustrate such themes as domestic violence? Yes, which is exactly the point. This is exactly the way these books in the prequel series should feel: an uncomfortable mix of comics nostalgia and the darker reality behind the “capes.”
The issue ends just like a TV episode, with Nite Owl and Rorschach bouncing snappy dialogue off each other and walking off into what we can only assume is another adventure. No, it doesn’t feel like a groundbreaking meditation on the human condition — but it makes for a pretty decent adventure narrative that stays true to the characters. Which I think is all you can really ask for with this project.